JS Bach: Cantatas Vol. 20

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Soli Deo Gloria
WORKS: Cantatas Vol. 20: BWV 18, 84, 92, 126, 144 & 181
PERFORMER: Miah Persson, Gillian Keith, Angharad Gruffydd Jones (soprano), Robin Tyson, Wilke te Brummelstroete (countertenor), James Oxley, James Gilchrist (tenor), Jonathan Brown, Stephan Loges (bass); Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: SDG 153

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This volume of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage contains pieces performed on Septuagesima and Sexagesima, the Third and Second Sundays before Lent.

There is an expressive rigour underpinning the music Bach prepared for the Sundays approaching the penitential and contemplative Lenten season; yet these works never fail, ultimately, to yield a joyful optimism.

BWV 144 has not always fared well in the hands of many rival conductors. Its alla breve fugal opening chorus under Helmuth Rilling and Masaaki Suzuki, for instance, lacks the expressive fervour and eloquent phrasing with which the excellent singers of the Monteverdi Choir infuse their performance.

There is an airiness here, as also in the supple singing of the complex fugal chorus of BWV 181 which both illuminates the text and uplifts the spirit.

There are also some splendid solo contributions, notably from tenors James Oxley and James Gilchrist and basses Jonathan Brown and Stephen Loges, who rise to Bach’s declamatory and virtuosic idiom with a real sense of panache. Altogether, this is a rewarding instalment.

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My only reservations are some unsettled oboe playing at the beginning of BWV 84 and an over-emphasis in the cantus firmus choral declamation in BWV 126. Nicholas Anderson