Bach, Handel

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach; Handel
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: JS Bach: Magnificat; Handel: Dixit dominus
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay, Karine Deshayes (soprano), Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor), Toby Spence (tenor), Laurent Naouri (bass); Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
CATALOGUE NO: 395 2412

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With Bach’s D major Magnificat and Handel’s youthful, Italianate psalm Dixit Dominus, Emmanuelle Haïm enters a competitive arena. Both works feature a five-strand chorus with divided trebles and both dispense with recitative.

Haïm’s performances are light-footed and elegantly phrased and her mainly pleasing line-up of soloists is attentive to textual content and word-painting.

Perhaps in the Magnificat Toby Spence’s declamation is a shade too theatrical for my ears, and if by-and-large the work springs to life under Haïm’s stylish direction it is Sigiswald Kuijken’s recently reissued recording, coupled with ‘Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis’ (BWV 21) which better captures the grand overall design of Bach’s Latin canticle.

The choice here, though, is difficult and I should not want to be without John Eliot Gardiner’s account of the piece (Philips) with its invigoratingly articulated choruses. On this showing, at least, Haïm sounds more comfortable with Handel.

There is a vitality to the choral singing which reveals itself only intermittently in the Bach. The spaciously laid-out opening chorus, for instance, comes over with splendid declamatory fervour.

The work’s two arias, for alto and soprano respectively, are sung with vocal assurance by Philippe Jaroussky and Natalie Dessay.

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They bring more interest to the music than their rivals in Thomas Hengelbrock’s version (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi) but are pretty evenly matched by the soloists in recordings by Gardiner and Marc Minkowski. Nicholas Anderson