Vivaldi's sacred music is not so famous as that of his contemporaries Bach and Handel, so this is a bargain opportunity to catch up. You might think Vivaldi's playful, virtuoso Italianate character and Catholic context would produce radically different music, but in George Guest's urgent readings, the mixture of restrainedly exultant choruses and austerely beautiful arias are near-identical to Bach.
Originally released between 1975 to 1991 on the now-defunct Calliope label, Andre Isoir's recordings of the complete organ works of Bach have been unanimously acclaimed by both the press and the public. La Dolce Volta now offers these landmark recordings (unavailable since 2008), completely remastered, in a deluxe, specially priced boxed set. The set includes a 152 page, full color booklet rich with photos and information about the music and the recordings.
The Belgian early music group Vox Luminis has made several wonderful recordings of lesser-known Baroque repertory. They cultivate a distinctive sound with ten or 15 singers (here there are ten) and a small instrumental group, diverging completely from the general Italianate-operatic trend toward brisk tempos, sharp accents, and dramatic conceptions. Here they take on two very familiar works and meet the challenge of creating unique interpretations. Even in the splendid Bach Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 (sample one of the big choruses, perhaps "Fecit potentiam"), they are smooth and even delicate. The sound is all the more impressive in that leader Lionel Meunier does not really conduct; he sings in the choir itself. Yet the carefully burnished sound is extremely coherent. The effect is to deliver a personal aspect even to these highly public works. In this kind of reading there is the necessity for the performers to deliver text intelligibility and for the instrumentalists to deliver balance, and all succeed nicely, as do Alpha Classics' engineers, working in a pair of churches (Belgian for the Handel, Dutch for the Bach). This is a beautifully rendered representation of standard repertory that draws you into entirely new ways of looking at the music.
Widely considered as one of the leading exponents in early music, Emma Kirkby is renowned for her purity of production, clarity of diction and extraordinary degree of vocal control. From this release it is obvious that Emma Kirkby's artistic vigour and sense of discovery are undiminished. Alongside her incomparable performances of well-loved works such as Bach's cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, she uses the esteem in which she is held by musicians and audiences alike to champion long-forgotten repertory such as William Hayes's The Passions. Emma is accompanied by Cantillation and the Orchestra of the Antipodes conducted by Antony Walker.
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.