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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Recreation for the Soul
Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78 [19:58]
Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150 [13:18]
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 [28:02]
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano); Daniel Taylor (alto); James Gilchrist (tenor)
The Magdalena Consort/Peter Harvey (bass)
rec. 17-19 April 2013, The Church of St. John the Evangelist, London.
German texts and English translations included.

This release has been reviewed extensively and was enjoyed considerably by John Quinn. I refer you to his comprehensive background notes on each of these cantatas. With increasing numbers of easily accessible themed, part or complete sets of J.S. Bach's remarkable catalogue of cantatas this kind of single-disc release can seem like a little boat bobbing around on an ocean of choices. The qualities of this recording and performance make it easy to welcome in any context, even if you find yourself duplicating BWV numbers.

Following the single voice to a part chamber-music approach pioneered by Joshua Rifkin, this is a period instrument ensemble with a starry vocal cast. None of this is any guarantee of success, but the colourful sympathy of the instrumental accompaniments and the vocal give-and-take heard from the soloists is a delight from start to finish. The first soprano and alto duet of BWV 78 reassures us of this very early on in the programme, the lightness of Elin Manahan Thomas's soprano uniting with Daniel Taylor's high alto to create an energetic and playful antidote to the darker dramas elsewhere. James Gilchrist's communicative tenor is more than just a safe pair of hands, his recitatives and arias delivering all of the defiance asked for in BWV 78 and tenderness in BWV 147. Founder of The Magdalena Consort Peter Harvey's bass is powerful and emotive, but as with all of the other soloists there is a sense of control and restraint which keeps us in our respectful ecclesiastical place, and doesn't run the risk of taking us to the bawdiness of the opera house.

The famous chorales in BWV 147; Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe and Jesus bleibet meine Freude are taken at a suitably brisk but not overly hasty pace, and with impeccable ensemble the voices blend both with each other and the rich sound of the full ensemble. What you miss with the single voices in these and other choral sections is that opening out into realms of greater richness which a fuller choir can achieve. A snatch of BWV 78 gives this sort of spiritual flavour on the BIS A Choral Year with Bach, which amounts to a sort of Bach Collegium Japan sampler (review). John Eliot Gardner's Monteverdi Choir is similarly elegant in BWV 147 (review), but the drier acoustic of this recording doesn't give me quite the same level of sublime enjoyment as Bach Collegium Japan. The subtle weighing up of preferences in these aspects of a recording can be an enjoyable life's work and never be resolved entirely, so as ever we can relax and take pleasure in the ease with which we can have numerous versions of the music we love, and chose which version to play at any particular time based on the mood of the moment. Illustrating this point you can have James Gilchrist on Gardner's account of BWV 78 (review), a pilgrimage made by Daniel Taylor in Gardner's Vol. 16. Peter Harvey's contribution to Gardner's St John Passion and Cantata Pilgrimage should also be acknowledged. Popular soprano Elin Manahan Thomas's credentials also precede this release, and she proves a perfect Bach singer.

Production standards are up to Channel Classics' usual fine standard. The booklet provides all texts in German and English, and Peter Harvey's notes are informative and useful in taking a peek behind the content of the scores. The recording is nicely atmospheric, the continuo instruments perfectly audible without being too prominent, the whole balancing brightness and detail perfectly against a nicely broad stereo spread of sound which becomes all-embracing as more musicians take their entries.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: John Quinn


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