LABELS: DG Archiv
WORKS: Easter Oratorio, BWV 249; Magnificat, BWV 243
PERFORMER: Kimberly McCord, Julia Gooding (soprano), Robin Blaze (alto), Paul Agnew (tenor), Neal Davies (bass); Gabrieli Consort & Players/Paul McCreesh
CATALOGUE NO: 469 531-2
Bach’s Easter Oratorio is less performed than either the similarly proportioned Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) or the grander-scaled Christmas Oratorio and it has received hardly more than a handful of recordings. All three of these works contain a significant element of parody, or self-borrowing, and all reached their final form during the 1730s. But, alone of them, the Easter piece possesses neither chorales nor Biblical narrative and therefore omits the role of Evangelist. Most of its music derives from a birthday piece which Bach wrote for Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels, who had already been the beneficiary of the composer’s musical largesse.
This new version from the Gabrieli Consort directed by Paul McCreesh has a greater sense of purpose, of occasion, than many of its rivals. Perhaps, because of the absence of a narrator (Evangelist), the work is much the hardest of the three to convey a cohesive element or, indeed, any strong feeling of unity. McCreesh and his singers and players seem to have thought about such things and have landscaped the music accordingly. The splendid two-movement introductory Sinfonia, as a consequence, creates a feeling of anticipation for what is to follow. Katharina Spreckelsen’s oboe-playing in its Adagio further raises this important section of the Oratorio on to an elevated plane. But the one voice to a part in the concerted vocal movements, both here and in the comparably effective performance of the celebrated D major Magnificat, will not suit every taste. Alternative readings of the latter abound but, where the Oratorio is concerned, Gustav Leonhardt’s version with the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is satisfying. Nicholas Anderson