Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Bach - Easter & Ascension Oratorios - Retrospect Ensemble/Halls

Rating: 5/5

Magnificent Bach

I think this is a quite exceptionally good disc of two of Bach's great choral works. The two oratorios here are on a very grand scale by comparison with most of Bach's cantatas, and the performances make them something very special indeed.

The music itself is glorious: Bach included plenty of brass and percussion which gives these works immense power and richness, but also structures them beautifully so that there is plenty of quieter spiritual reflection too. The combination is quite wonderful, and the Retrospect Ensemble and cast of soloists perform it superbly.

Both the orchestra and chorus are relatively large, but there is none of the ponderous, over-reverential and frankly turgid feel of some older large-scale recordings. The entire ensemble is nimble and light-footed throughout while still having plenty of power and spiritual depth where needed. Bach's essential pulse never gets lost, and some of the instrumental playing, notably in the trumpets, is quite brilliant.

The soloists are simply brilliant. They are four of our finest singers in this repertoire and every one of them excels, so that the arias and recitative shine with depth and beauty. Just as one example, I find James Gilchrist's singing of Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer simply spellbinding here, and the same can be said of other arias from all the soloists. It's fantastic stuff throughout.

Linn make their usual beautiful job of the recording, the disc is very nicely presented and it's an all-round gem, in my view. There are an awful lot of recordings of Bach's choral music; this is among the very best. Highly recommended.

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