Philippe Pierlot and the Ricercar Consort's 2006 recording of Bach's Magnificat brings back the glory days of historically informed performances, those halcyon days in the 1980s when musicians, empowered by scholarship and energized by virtuosity, were recording the Baroque repertoire with the zeal of the newly converted. Though Pierlot and his musicians are of a younger generation, they bring a missionary fervor to the music, a program of Bach's Magnificat, BWV 243, and Missa Brevis, BWV 235, interspersed with two well-chosen organ works, the Fuga sopra il Magnificat, BWV 733, and the Präludium und Fuga, BWV 541. Pierlot's textures are clean, his rhythms buoyant, his colors bright, and tempos brisk, but not rushed in the fast movements, and contemplative but not moribund in the slow movements.
These works both received their first performances in Leipzig - the Magnificat in 1723 and Cantata 82 in 1727. It was in 1723 that Bach had taken up thepost of Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, having previously been Kapellmeisterto Prince Leopold in Cothen. The Magnificat was originally heard ina version in E flat major at Christmas Vespers when movements with seasonaltexts were inserted; the version included on this disc was rendered by Bach someyears later, returning to the ordinary Magnificat text in order to makethe work performable all year round. Bach's approach to the evening canticle ischaracteristically large-scale. There is no use of recitative, owing perhaps tothe poetic nature of the text: the verses have little natural hierarchy and itis appropriate that they should all be afforded extended settings. The scoringis unusually rich and includes three trumpets, two flutes, two oboes, strings,continuo, and timpani - one of the largest ensembles to be assembled at theThomaskirche in Bach's time. Bach takes a literal view of the text in which, forinstance, the full five-part choir is used to demonstrate Omnes generationes ("All generations") with soloists used for the more reflective movements. Ina typically Bachian gesture the opening material returns for Sicut erat inprincipio ("As it was in the beginning").
What a wonderful contrast! Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Magnificat represent the two oft-compared composers at Dixit . He had already written two Italian operas, and his career path clearly pointed in that direction. The Dixit is as extravagant as Bach’s Magnificat is controlled. The two pieces are such a good fit that one wonders why they haven’t turned up together more frequently, if, in fact, they have at all.
A new live recording of Bach’s Lutheran Mass in F Major (BWV223), Cantata "Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt (BWV 151) and Magnificat in E flat (BWV243a), recorded in London at the end of a European tour in December 2016.
"It is…a fine pairing of two of Bach’s more extroverted works, in which Herreweghe delves beneath the masculine surface of the Magnificat to find its more tender interior and boldly explores Bach’s expansion of Luther’s great Reformation hymn, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. For whatever reason, Cantata 80 seems to have lost a degree of popularity lately, and it’s good to hear it again, complete with W. F. Bach’s interpolated trumpets."– George Chien
Given the considerable number of recordings that have tried to place Renaissance compositions within the context for which they were written, it is odd that the same has so rarely been done for Bach. After all, most of Bach's output consists of Gebrauchsmusik, music written for daily use. This release by Scotland's historical-instrument Dunedin Consort and its leader John Butt shows the possibilities of this approach.