Notes and Editorial Reviews
Easter Oratorio. Magnificat in D
Paul McCreesh, cond; Kimberly McCord (sop); Julia Gooding (sop); Robin Blaze (alt); Paul Agnew (ten); Neal Davies (bs); Gabrieli Players (period instruments)
ARCHIV 4776359 (65:16
Text and Translation)
It somehow seems especially appropriate that my final review for
should be of a disc that played an important role in effecting what has been one of the major changes to my musical
philosophy during the more than 13 years I have been writing for the magazine. When first reviewing Paul McCreesh’s recording of these works as part of a feature review in 24: 4, I confessed to my ambivalent attitude to one-per-part choruses in Bach (and, for that matter, his contemporaries), receiving a stern rebuff for my efforts from the conductor. Notwithstanding such reservations, I concluded the review by stating that these revelatory performances “go far to undermine the defenses of this particular skeptic.” During the seven years that have followed that review, I made it my business not only to examine as thoroughly as possible all the evidence available on the topic (have all reviewers of Bach’s choral works done the same?), but also to open my ears to the aural evidence. The result has been that today I find myself firmly ensconced in the Rifkin/Parrott camp, not as a fundamentalist (I can still derive pleasure from the sensitive cantata performances of such as Masaaki Suzuki), but at the same time fully convinced that the nature of Bach’s choral writing consistently suggests one-per-part performance.
McCreesh’s performances of these two festive works immediately destroy two of the abiding myths perpetuated by opponents of single-voice choruses (as indeed does his
St. Matthew Passion
). The first is that satisfactory balance between voices and instruments is near impossible to achieve, the second that the power of the music is in some way diminished. And please don’t tell me that, yes fine, this is a recording, where you can do a bit of cheating. I’ve heard one-per-part Bach live, and with thoughtful disposition of forces believe me it works; it would have been even easier using galleries where the sound reflected from the roof, as would have invariably have been the case in Bach’s day. The other essential ingredient is of course a team of soloists sympathetic to the concept, not just outstanding soloists, but a group familiar with the demands of consort singing. McCreesh was astute (or fortunate) in this respect, fielding a team that not only works together like a group of chamber musicians, but from first to last note sounds fully committed.
A few random points for those without access to the original review. All three arias in the
are well sung, with Kimberly McCord sweetly sensitive in the long (and not terribly distinguished) soprano aria, and Paul Agnew superb in the exquisitely lovely “slumber” aria, where the attentive listener will also be aware of the benefits of McCreesh’s decision to use the full church organ for the continuo, its quiet bass pedal setting off the ethereal sound of the recorders to unforgettable effect. Listeners to more traditional choral accounts of the
, here given its more familiar D-Major version, might be disconcerted by some of the fast tempos, but they are very much part of the conductor’s intensely dramatic vision of the work, being cast into unusually sharp relief against the more contemplative movements.
Anyone who has yet to embrace or who has fought shy of single-voice choruses in Bach is fervently recommended to try this outstanding disc, especially now that the opportunity has arisen to do so at midprice. Who knows, it may even set you on the road to a Damascene conversion.
FANFARE: Brian Robins
Works on This Recording
Easter Oratorio, BWV 249 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Written: 1732-1735; Leipzig, Germany
Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Written: circa 1728-1731; Leipzig, Germany
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