This disc is simply terrific.
Guilherme Furtado Filho:
From "The New Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and Cassettes", Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton and Ivan March:
The better-known D major version of the Magnificat receives an exhilarating performance from John Eliot Gardiner. Tempi are consistently brisk, but the vigour and precision of the chorus are such that one never has the feeling that the pacing is hurried, for the singing has fervour as well as energy and, when there is need to relax, Gardiner does so convincingly. A splendid team of soloists, and the accompaniment is no less impressive, with a memorable oboe d'amore obbigato to embroider the "Quia respexit". This is first class in every way, and the recorded sound is well balanced, fresh and vivid.
Gardiner's accounts of Bach's Magnificat and the soprano cantata no.51 are quite simply fantastic. His choice of soloists for the Magnificat is apt, especially David Thomas who is outstanding as the bass soloist. As in all of his recordings Thomas keeps that slight edge to his voice which is so well suited to the Latin language. All other soloists are brilliant, but in my opinion a soprano, rather than a mezzo-soprano, would have been more suited to the aria "Et exsultavit" (as in Andrew Parrott's recording, where Kirkby sings this aria). However, Patrizia Kwella's interpretation is admirable.
In the "Deposuit potentes", Anthony Rolfe Johnson keeps the rhythmic drive going throughout all the semiquaver melismas, which is extremely important so as not to lose momentum in this difficult movement.
The last chorus of the Magnificat is, in my opinion, the most beautiful movement of all. The way Bach brings bach the original "Magnificat" semiquaver motive is quite simply breathtaking. The singers of the Monteverdi Choir excel themselves in this movement to bring the Magnificat to a grand finish.
Cantata no. 51 was an excellent choice to accompany the Magnificat, and Emma Kirkby was definitely the correct soloist. (Funnily enough, this is the only recording in which Gardiner uses Kirkby.) Her purity of tone is what brings out the sanctity of this example of Bach's deep religious devotion. My favourite movement is the chorale in which the two solo violins (Roy Goodman and Alison Bury) have an interesting interplay whilst Kirkby brings out the cantus firmus beautifully.
This is the most concise cantata I have ever heard; even so, it leaves me longing for more. Hopefully Gardiner will use Kirkby again, but in the meantime, this recording is a "must-have".
Gene Herron said:
Measure twice, cut once except with religious cantatas, where you measure thrice. Amazing craftsmanship, both by the composer and performers.
The Aria "Et Misericordia" has a timelessness about it. At once it sounds medieval, then baroque, and then "modern", but always Bach. I don't understand how he did it, perhaps because much of what Bach did forms the basis of today's music.. In any case, add to the skill in composition and performance and perhaps you'll be as overwhelmed as I.
This work actually disappeared for a century. Perhaps those who followed were jealous or felt inadequite by comparison. Such faults could be forgiven.
The quality of performances were sterling. The price is quite affordable. If you've had reservations about these works because they're "religious" then abandon those foolish thoughts. Any of these religious works are at least as good as any of Bach's "secular" works. At least...