... plus a lot of superb musicianship! Praise should be specific:
* The oboists Emmanuel Laporte and Jean-Marc Philippe brilliantly clarify why Bach and other baroque composers assigned so much of their most exciting music to the 'double-reeds'; the modern symphonic oboe is a degenerate honker in comparison to the mellifluous expressivity of its baroque forerunner.
* Soprano Maria Keohane has the perfect 'clarino' technique for singing Bach's most triumphant compositions; she and the three trumpeters make a thrilling quartet.
* Alto Carlos Mena fully justifies the decision of many conductors these days to assign the alto parts to countertenors; his voice is lushly affective in his "Esurientes" solo with obbligato from two traverso flutes.
* Conductor Philippe Pierlot has chosen a robust celebratory interpretation of the Magnificat, with bold contrasts of tempi among the twelve sections. His most exuberant sections remind me of the recent recording of the Magnificat conducted by Emmanuelle Haim, while his softer, tenderer sections surpass Haim's in delicacy. He's a formidable rehearsal perfectionist; that's obvious in the tight control he keeps over tempi and balance of voices.
There are dozens, literally dozens, of recordings of the Magnificat. This has to be one of the top five. On the other hand, there are only a sparse few recordings of Bach's 'Lutheran' Missa Brevis BWV 235, and this one is surely the best. All the generous vigor of Ricercar's Magnificat is sustained in the Missa, which Pierlot clearly regards as a triumphant declaration of Power and Glory. But in addition to its emotional plenipotence, this mass has remarkable contrapuntal complexity. It requires extremely transparent balance of all voices and instruments. And that's what Pierlot achieves; I hear passages in this performance that were mere background rumble in other recordings, including even other one-voice-per-part recordings.
This CD is accompanied by a DVD (NTSC format) 'film' of the generation of Pierlot's Magnificat interpretation. It's a composite of film footage from rehearsals, sound editing sessions, and live performances. That is, it's not a filmed performance of the Magnificat in entirety. I can testify that the rehearsal moments are as veritably representative of real rehearsals as anyone could wish for. You won't see/hear extended read-throughs; instead you catch Pierlot stopping the band after two or three bars, adjusting an attack, demanding more or less vocal effort of a singer, rejecting the imprecision of tempo in a passage that might have seemed awfully good to any casual listener. It's a very educational experience, watching this little film, particularly if you've never had the painful pleasure of rehearsing under a precise conductor.