JS Bach: Sacred Arias & Cantatas: excerpts from Mass in B minor, St John Passion, St Matthew Passion, Cantatas BWV 82a, 170 & 208

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Sacred Arias & Cantatas: excerpts from Mass in B minor, St John Passion, St Matthew Passion, Cantatas BWV 82a, 170 & 208
PERFORMER: David Daniels (countertenor);
English Concert/Harry Bicket
CATALOGUE NO: 519 0372

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Bach produced some of his most seraphic music for the alto voice and this programme presents a selection of sacred arias for alto taken from his cantatas, Passions and the B minor Mass. Countertenor David Daniels is a highly sensitive exponent – his voice pliant, ethereal, androgynous; responsive to the subtlest nuances of text and phrase, if occasionally over-indulgent in his use of vibrato for expressive effect. But he is placed very distant in the recording perspective so that the vocal line sounds washy and ill-defined, at times overwhelmed by the instrumental texture (particularly in ‘Von den Stricken’ from the St John Passion), and words can lack clarity. The English Concert’s artistic director Harry Bicket draws some poised, eloquent playing: dramatically charged in ‘Es ist Vollbracht’, rapt in ‘Vergnügte Ruh’, exquisitely tender in ‘Schafe können sicher weiden’. Only the rather plodding Agnus Dei of the B minor Mass fails to take wing. My main reservation about this programme is that its succession of poignant, minor mode movements, eviscerated from their emotional and spiritual context, makes for extremely intense listening – an overdose of ecstasy and agony indeed. Kate Bolton