JS Bach • Vivaldi (CD & DVD)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach; Vivaldi
LABELS: Alia Vox
WORKS: Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins, RV578; Magnificat in G minor, RV610; JS Bach: Keyboard concerto, BWV 1052; Magnificat in D, BWV 243
PERFORMER: Hanna Bayodi-Hirt, Johannette Zomer (soprano), Damien Guillon (countertenor), David Munderloh (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass), Manfredo Kraemer, Pablo Valetti (violin), Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord); La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall


To watch as well as hear two outstanding Baroque Magnificats is a thrilling experience. Jordi Savall’s forces are in fine form, his soloists matched yet distinctively characterised (as where two sopranos diverge, cross, and separate again in Vivaldi’s ‘Esurientes’). Bach’s ‘Quia fecit’ reveals Stephan MacLeod as a star-quality bass. Instrumentalists – 13 strings, wind and continuo, plus impeccable trumpets and timpani for Bach – are warm, fluent, animated and poignant by turns, and wholly at one with each other. The opening oboes/bassoon trio of Vivaldi’s ‘Sicut locutus est’ is totally arresting to ear and eye.

Savall paces the Magnificats to sustain the continuity of the text, despite the musical independence of each verse – a subtlety which in turn sustains the viewer’s/listener’s attention. He’s faced with some potentially cloying reverberation in the Versailles Chapel Royale. At times, soloists sound (as they are) behind rather than forward of the accompaniment. In the more complex counterpoint of the Bach version, the 24-strong chorus tends towards constant con belto vitality rather than subtly differentiated dynamics to clarify entries and lines. But the overall exuberance, technical control and commitment of the whole ensemble are infectious from the start.

Vivaldi’s familiar two-violin concerto (omitted from the DVD) is resurrected from 2003. Pierre Hantaï playing the harpsichord concerto is new (2014), and here the Abbaye de Fontfroide in Narbonne sets a virtually insurmountable challenge. Its reverberation lasts upwards of six seconds, and emphasises particular ranges of pitch – a repeated bass ‘pedal’ from most sensitive bass strings builds up to a dense fog around the delicate articulation of harpsichord. At its best, it’s splendidly animated and effervescent playing. Camera-work is helpful, taking the eye where ear would naturally lead. Close-ups of Hantaï’s technique are fascinating, with exceptionally varied hand positions, fingers straight, curved, three-on-a-note, and every conceivable variation of touch – all to magnificent effect.


George Pratt