This 1990 recording by French conductor Philippe Herreweghe and his historical-instrument Collegium Vocale of J S Bach's familiar `Magnificat' offered some new perspectives. The Magnificat comprises of challenging vocal lines, and it is never easy to perform the piece in a transparent and serene manner. Herreweghe manages to tone down the work's apparent enthusiasm, delivering the choral movements with Gallic elegance, rhythmic and transparent, in place of the usual imposing and big sound. The difference is evident already in the first section, and one result of Herreweghe's approach is an appealing balance between the choral and solo vocal sections. In a piece where solo or ensemble music making up more than half of the work's 12 sections, that makes a lot of sense, and the Herreweghe's hand-picked soloists are aptly wonderful, offering for the most part absolutely ravishing performances.
Veteran soprano Barbara Schlick offered a hushed, wondrous "Quia respexit humilitatem", and French countertenor Gérard Lesne sung the alto solo "Esurientes" with a lush and rich instrument so uncommon with mezzo-sopranos. Only the second soprano Agnès Mellon disturbs the transcendent mood with her strangely aspirated "t" sounds.
The unusual version of the likewise familiar Cantata No. 80, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," is a bonus inclusion; Herreweghe programs a revision by Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann that includes trumpets and timpani. Again, Barbara Schlick offered a terrific rendition of the soprano solo in true melismatic style and ethereal glory. This Lutheran piece is a contrast in the religious sense to the Marian-oriented Magnificat.
There are many other versions of BWV 243 offering gutsier interpretations, but there are some unearthly delights here that will certainly please Bach aficionados and general listeners alike.