JC Bach: Salve regina; Laudate pueri Dominum; Si nocte tenebrosa

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COMPOSERS: JC Bach
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Salve regina; Laudate pueri Dominum; Si nocte tenebrosa
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Markus Schäfer (tenor); L’Orfeo Baroque Orchestra/Michi Gaigg
CATALOGUE NO: 999 718-2
Before he decamped to London and made his name as a fashionable society composer, JS Bach’s most cosmopolitan son seemed destined for a career as a church musician in Italy. And these three liturgical settings, each making its debut on disc, were composed either in Bologna or Milan around 1760, after Johann Christian had been received into the Catholic church – much to the chagrin of his Lutheran family. All three works are in the worldly, operatic idiom of contemporary Italian church music, giving the singers maximum scope to display their virtuosity and ‘taste’.

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The Salve regina, for solo soprano, is surely a candidate for the most limpid and euphonious of all settings of the Marian antiphon, though the beseeching, minor-keyed ‘Ad te suspiramus’ does touch a deeper note; and while there are brief moments of tension and drama in the tenor motet Si nocte tenebrosa, the overall effect is one of unabashed extroversion. Still, if these works may not stir the soul, they all reveal Johann Christian’s gift for shapely galant melody, by turns brilliant and delicately sensuous, and refined orchestral colouring.

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Emma Kirkby is on superlative form in the Salve regina, singing with all the grace, agility and command of ornament (including a perfect trill) this music demands. Her partner in the Laudate pueri Dominum, Markus Schäfer, with a reedy timbre slightly reminiscent of Peter Schreier, matches Kirkby in coloratura pyrotechnics (though, unlike her, he aspirates his runs), and is fluent and incisive, if a tad monochrome, in his solo motet. The orchestra accompanies tidily. If you fancy a change from, say, Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, this attractive disc could well be the answer. Richard Wigmore