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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Magnificat in D major BWV 243 [25:38]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Dixit Dominus HWV 232 [30:12]
Natalie Dessay (soprano)
Karine Deshayes (soprano)
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor)
Toby Spence (tenor)
Laurent Naouri (bass)
Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
rec. Paroisse Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, October 2006 
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3952412 [56:06]
Experience Classicsonline

These are vital, often invigorating performances as we have come to expect from these forces. With Emmanuelle Haïm we can be assured of incisive commitment and if one senses a French accent to the readings then so much the worse, maybe, for our provincialism. What Haïm has sometimes been guilty of is a degree of excess – in terms of tempo, most obviously, but also in matters of histrionic, or inappropriate response to the music. That’s not something that one feels here.
Bach’s Magnificat is graced by incisive singing, both choral and solo. The orchestral contribution is just as distinguished, being lithe and buoyant. Questions of sectional balance as well as the broader aspect of the tenor of the music have clearly been attended to with thoroughness. I’m thinking especially of Quia respexit in which the soprano of Natalie Dessay and the oboe of  - I’m assuming it to be – Marcel Ponseele conjoin with truly affecting simplicity in a dialogue of melancholic gentleness. The soloists are all good though Laurent Naouri, the bass, isn’t quite in the league of his colleagues; his rather light bass doesn’t quite do justice to Quia fecit mihi magna. But the general direction of the music making is exciting, as witness a dynamic, operatically conceived Fecit potentiam, a chorus of blistering drive. Toby Spence proves thoroughly fearless in his taxing aria Deposuit potentes whilst Philippe Jaroussky floats his unmistakeable counter tenor legato in his aria. His voice, of course, is very personalised and some will not respond as happily as I do.  The final chorus is exemplary in its eloquence.
The companion Dixit Dominus reveals Haim’s Handelian qualities. Once more the balance between chorus, soloists and orchestra is a just one. And once more there’s plenty of alert and dynamic intelligence on display. One feature of Le Concert d’Astrée is the high level of the obbligato or solo contributions. The cellist in the alto’s aria. Virgam virtutis tuae - presumably Paul Carlioz - proves the point once again. Here Jaroussky reprises his fine work in the Bach – and he’s not at all as mannered as he proved to be on a recent Vivaldi disc of his. Dessay is refined and adroit and Karine Deshayes is splendid too. Haïm gets the propulsive lower strings to accent with chiselled brilliance in Dominus a dextris tuis. Only one or two excessive caesuri spoil things in any way.
The recording, as noted , is first class. And the booklet has texts in four languages.
An auspicious release.
Jonathan Woolf


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