The early music choir the Sixteen has achieved unprecedented success with its bright, very English sound and accessible presentations. The Sixteen Edition, the series of which this Bach cantata disc is part, finds the group designated as "The Voices of Classic FM," Britain's middle-of-the-road and widely popular classical music broadcaster; the choir shares airwaves, apparently, with Sarah Brightman and her contemporaries. It's all to the good, for anyone who hears the Sixteen will encounter top-notch performances of music from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries, and this Bach disc is one of the best in Coro's reissue series. Begin with the sound, which is exemplary despite the recording date of 1990; working with some of Bach's most intensely complex polyphonic choral movements, the performers and engineers produced a texture of rich, resonant clarity in the environment of St. Jude's church in London's Hampstead Garden Suburb. The opening Cantata No. 50 is just a single chorus, probably a surviving fragment of some larger work. But what a chorus it is! -- a giant eight-part piece with an orchestra including trumpets, oboes, and tympani. Sample the opening of track 3, the first chorus in the Cantata No. 34, "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe" (O eternal fire, o origin of love), for a good example of the choir's virtuosity as it negotiates the vivid but brutal high-range passagework on the words "ewiges Feuer." Also contributing to the recording's success is the period-instrument Symphony of Harmony & Invention, which featured future star Roy Goodman on violin. The Cantata No. 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," provides a delightful example of his gracefulness in the violin opening to the soprano aria "Bereite dir, Jesu," which concludes with the famed "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" chorale, here given a performance of unusual lightness and calm. There are spiritually deeper performances of Bach's cantatas, and more instrumentally virtuosic ones. For sheer direct appeal, however, these are hard to exceed.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|O ewige Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, Cantata No. 34|
|Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, Cantata No. 147|