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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IF THEY'RE GOOD ENOUGH, THEY'RE ENOUGH, 24 April 2010
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This is a very well planned pair of discs of Bach choral works. It also seems to me a very well performed set, as I shall try to explain. However the first thing that a review needs to make clear is that there is no `chorus' other than the solo singers themselves, not more than 5 in any one work. Anyone who cannot tolerate this style of performance presumably need read no further.

It is not, to be candid, my own favourite way of doing things. Nevertheless it has sound academic credentials, presented first by Professor Joshua Rifkin and put into practice in his own recordings. These have never convinced me to any great extent, but I have remained open-minded about the issue, and now I'm glad I have, because Parrott and his collaborators here are much more persuasive. The instrumentalists are a `period' ensemble, and although I'm only aware of knowing two of the soloists the two are Margaret Cable and the great Emma Kirkby, and they are in good company here. The main difference that I find from Rifkin is that Parrott's beat is more flexible and expressive and his tempi are livelier. You might find the Magnificat too fast, and there is certainly an impression that several numbers, (all of which are short in this work), end rather abruptly. My own view is that the Magnificat is not Bach's best composition, if I dare say so. No interpretation so far has ever persuaded me to the contrary, but this one has come nearest to it, and that despite being a one-voice-per-part rendering. I would even have to agree with the claim made in the sketchy liner note that this style helps with clarity and distinctness in Omnes generationes, which can easily turn into a pea-soup of constant word-repetition and dense imitative counterpoint. I am sure that Bach intended the kind of illustrative effect that so impressed the reverential Donald Francis Tovey, but illustrative effects are not Bach's thing at all in my opinion. If you want to hear how large-scale word-repetition can be astoundingly Handeled within the baroque style try To Thee Cherubim in the Dettingen Te Deum.

The rest of the set consists of one cantata, one fragment of a lost cantata, and the `oratorios' for Easter and the feast of Ascension. The two `oratorios' are just modified cantatas, rather longer than the average and using a larger orchestra than usual. The Ascension effort (Lobet Gott) has suggestions of the two Passions in the recitatives for an Evangelist tenor, very idiomatically done by Wilfried Jochens. It was the opening chorus of this piece that convinced me of the one-voice-per-part approach. The chorus is a majestic effort, and it would be ruined by a scrawny tone. Five voices, if they are the right voices, will do the thing full justice. It is not the same voices in the other choruses, but it is the same effect. They are enough because they are good enough.

The Easter oratorio starts with two sizeable instrumental movements, given with distinction by Taverner Players. Most listeners will, I expect, be particularly struck by a very long soprano aria Seele, deine Spezereien, 10 whole minutes of it. The singer is Emily van Evera, who in fact handles most of the soprano solo work throughout. She is not as individual in tone as Dame Emma is, but she is an assured professional, as indeed are they all. There is also one cantata from the standard canon, the early and solemn Christus lag in Todes Banden. This makes an impressive start to the second disc, with a very effective account of the opening sinfonia in particular, and this performance provides a very interesting foil to the Gardiner account in his great Pilgrimage series. Gardiner is no enthusiast for the one-v-p-p school, and although I am basically on his side I hope he will not view my indecision too unfavourably.

The other item is a fragment, from Bach's Leipzig period like most of his cantatas and similar. It is a majestic three-and-a-half-minute chorus celebrating some triumph of good over evil. This is much the tone of the other items except for Christus lag, and I found that the generally optimistic note, offset by just one of the works, made the set seem well planned and the items well chosen. Whether they have completely won me over I don't know, and it certainly does not amount to an outright conversion, but they have taken me a long way with them. The recordings are good too (1989 and 1993), and although the liner note is vestigial it is still informative up to a point, and I have certainly seen a lot worse. The value offered is excellent, but of course it all starts from a base of some of the most sublime music in the world. Play and sing it with conviction sympathy and understanding and you can suit yourself from there on regarding the precise details of voices per part.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 20 Dec. 2007
Jon Chambers (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This, the revised Magnificat of 1733, with transverse flutes instead of recorders and in D major (from Eb), shows Bach at his most rapturous, inventive and lyrical (even if the actual lyrics were someone else's!).

From the off, Andrew Parrott sets an urgent pace. Although none of the early numbers is indecently over-hasty, none of them gives much pause for thought either, and we have the faint suspicion, initially at least, that Parrott must have had an important connection to make just after the recording. But if the first track, 'Magnificat', seems a bit too jaunty, put it down to the subtle, sub-conscious conditioning you received from those over-sedate recordings of the 60s and 70s. The second number, Et exultavit, is even pacier, and the delivery by first soprano Emily Van Evera, is clipped to suit the tempo. But her pure, unaffected singing style is admirably Baroque and her intonation spot-on. On reflection, of course, the context demands pace and vitality, without a hint of lethargy. Anyway, when we really need some time and space, we get it. The third number, 'Quia respexit', is more expansive. And by the time we hear the central section, Quia fecit and Et misericordia, we have adjusted. The duet with its soulful, minor-third harmonies (in B minor? I can't find the score), is a particular highlight.

Bach's Magnificat is the music of delight as well as devotion, and is the kind of stuff that the devout secularist can enjoy as readily as anyone else. The musical ideas are thick and fast (Bach was in a hurry, too). Parrott's recording impressively conveys a mood of jubilation that is continued into the next work on CD1, the contemporaneous Ascension Oratorio/Cantata, whose trumpets and bright optimism make it an obvious companion piece.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant brilliant, 2 Nov. 2001
brilliant brilliant brilliant pieces and an excellent recording! At last a performance of the Magnificat faster than the usual snails pace! It needs to be proclaimed that Bach has to be played quickly, the musicians have finally got the right idea this time. Also of notable worth is the joyous chorus 'Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft' A testament to the GENIUS of Bach.
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