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Baroque Vocal

Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016

JS Bach JS Bach Cantata No 63, Christen, ätzet diesen Tag. Magnificat, BWV243a. Organ Preludes – Fuga sopra il Magnificat, BWV733; Gott, durch deine Güte, BWV600; Puer natus in Bethelehem, BWV603; Vom Himmel hoch, BWV606 G Gabrieli Hodie Christus natus est Julia Doyle, Joanne Lunn sops Clare Wilkinson mez Nicholas Mulroy ten Matthew Brook bass-bar Dunedin Consort / John Butt Linn F Í CKD469 (78’ • DDD • T/t)

We have got used to the idea now that, coming from the Dunedin Consort,

core works will not be quite as they first appear. The Bach Magnificat here is not the piece in its familiar D major version but its original manifestation, cast in E flat and with some slight textual differences, while further potential surprises are that the disc starts with a Gabrieli motet and that the Magnificat doesn’t appear until track 13. The reason, of course, is that this is another of director John Butt’s liturgical reconstructions, this time of Vespers in Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche on Christmas Day 1723, Bach’s first in the job of Kantor. The Magnificat thus gains four delightful little Christmas interpolative movements and sits within a longer programme of congregational chorales and organ preludes (shared between Butt and Stephen Farr on the marvellous organ of Greyfriars Kirk), the Gabrieli and the lyrical, lithe, trumpetbright Cantata No 63. A full reconstruction would have been too long for the CD, so some extra preludes and a clutch of chantprayers are downloadable free from the Linn website, where you can also read Butt’s scholarly booklet‑notes.

As usual the forces are small-scale, save for two lusty congregational hymns (adorned with enjoyably headstrong organ improvisations). The Magnificat itself is exciting, fresh and faultlessly paced: the crystal stream of the first chorus, the ‘Et exultavit’ taking just enough time to allow Joanne Lunn to shape her phrases, the compelling build in ‘Fecit potentiam’ to a timpani-powered conclusion – so many interpretative decisions here seem the right ones. The sound (helped perhaps by the low pitch of A=392Hz) is a treat for the ear; the vocal soloists are lucid and distinctive, so that altogether this vital performance is not just a genuinely fascinating new slant on a familiar masterpiece – as the Dunedins’ St John Passion was (3/13) – but a joyous re-encounter with an old friend.

As for those good churchpeople of Leipzig hearing it for the first time, how they must have marvelled at the man they had hired! Lindsay Kemp

JS Bach Mass in B minor, BWV232 Hannah Morrison sop Esther Brazil mez Meg Bragle, Kate Symonds-Joy contrs Peter Davoren, Nick Pritchard tens Alex Ashworth, David Shipley basses Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists / Sir John Eliot Gardiner Soli Deo Gloria M b SDG722 (106’ • DDD • T/t)

The degree to which conductors are more or less synonymous with particular works is a largely subjective matter, though few would argue that the Mass in B minor captures with special pertinence the flavour of John Eliot Gardiner’s distinctive contribution to music-making over 50 years of professional life. While he has only recorded the work once before, in 1985, performances of the work have peppered his career in all four corners of the globe. That recording was something of a yardstick at a time when the pioneering compact disc coincided with the second birth of the ‘early music movement’ in tsunami mode: Gardiner let rip, in short, with a towering performance of blazing choruses and oratorian solos, firmly planting his feet in the DG space that Karl Richter had vacated with his early death four years earlier.

If that performance now seems uncontained in a bristling vigour of varying durability, the intervening 30 years have transformed Gardiner’s B minor with his consistently impressive Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists from something less culturally reactive and adrenalin-driven towards a more contained, pictorial and inhabited ideal, though no less energised. If there was anything Gardiner learnt from the monumental traversal of the cantatas during that great millennium year, it was to take longer-breathed interpretative positions with Bach and to know when to let the singers, especially, and the music do the work.

From the outset here, Gardiner’s meticulous grasp of the detail and architecture in tandem is almost terrifyingly auspicious. The Kyrie has never felt more naturally contrasting in both that respect and in the etched placement (some might find it a touch too articulated) of the fugal entries; it’s a ‘melos’ – an unbroken evolution of line – which becomes especially evident from the tautly conceived ‘Et in unum’ and the most luscious ‘Et incarnatus’, each underpinned by skilful dynamic contouring.

Indeed, the idea of the Mass as Bach’s ‘summa’ anthology (a work that may never even have been conceived as a single piece) has often inhibited that elusive golden ‘arc’ where the culminating ‘Dona nobis’ feels magnetised to all before it. How can it be uncovered without pressing too hard on the tempi or under-curating those reflections of discrete stillness? If Brüggen’s first reading with its purity of abstraction comes close in its controversially instrumentheavy recording and, more recently, Jonathan Cohen’s elegant and generous account asks further questions – albeit in the difficult acoustic of Tetbury Church – we have a further vision here with Gardiner’s extraordinary, single-minded, quasi-mathematical proof.

It starts with peerless choral singing, the trumpet-led movements bolted into an unerring tactus and purring through the gears; the ‘Et exspecto’ with its luminous lead-in is quite miraculous, as is the shining portal of the Sanctus. Such is Gardiner’s dramatic placement that the predominance of D major never palls. Less consistent are the solo movements. Gardiner’s policy of showcasing young vocal talent inevitably leads to occasional gaucheness and some hints of tiredness, but the price is small: there is much that is winning, and the ‘Laudamus te’ (Hannah Morrison) is one of several examples of fresh tenderness.

Out of this youthful paradigm emerges an especially corporate endeavour, one that challenges pre-conceived ideas on vocal and instrumental ‘role-play’, and celebrates Bach’s endlessly sophisticated relationship gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 7

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