Bach: Cantatas, BWV 35, 169 & 170

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Cantatas, BWV 35, 169 & 170
PERFORMER: Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano); Ostrobothnian CO/Juha Kangas
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25325-2
It seems a curious notion for a mezzo-soprano and a chamber orchestra that specialises in Nordic contemporary music to record a CD of Bach’s alto cantatas. Yet repeated listenings have quelled my initial scepticism: there is much to enjoy and admire here.

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Less easy to dismiss are comparisons with the Andreas Scholl/ Philippe Herreweghe recording of BWV 170 and 35 which appeared last year and which remains a personal favourite – few singers can match Scholl for sensuous tone and supple phrasing. Nevertheless, Monica Groop sings with total conviction and assurance. She favours a precise, formal approach that some may find mannered, but hers is a scrupulous reading, sensitive to the nuances of music and text. The Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, playing modern instruments, adopts a ‘period’ performance style, effectively so in terms of their deft articulation and taut, well-sprung rhythms, though I did sometimes miss the brighter tone-palette that period instruments allow.

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BWV 170 is perhaps the CD’s outstanding success, its potentially tricky middle aria negotiated with a breathtaking delicacy. If Groop’s formality and the orchestra’s blanched sound have a chilly edge, their performances here still pay impressive homage to the beauty and profundity of Bach’s music. Graham Lock