Bethlehem Bach Choir

Bach: Magnificat BWV 243; Cantata BWV 191; Vivaldi: Gloria RV 589

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AllMusic Review by

It's not common to see Canadian recording companies release performances by American ensembles; the key here seems to be the presence of several top Canadian soloists. As it happens, the soloists, choir, and orchestra seem to occupy somewhat separate spheres in this performance of Bach's and Vivaldi's choral standards. The Bach Magnificat in D major, BWV 243, and Vivaldi Gloria in D major, RV 589, are nicely joined with the little Bach Cantata No. 191, another setting of the Gloria in excelsis Deo text, for what the booklet (in French and English) calls a set of "Glorious Glorias." The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, founded in 1898 and resident at an annual festival in Bethlehem, PA, is as old-school in its orientation as one might expect, and it executes the big American choral sound as well as any of its contemporaries. The long notes in the slow sections of the Vivaldi never flag in their intonation, and the sinewy polyphony of the Bach is clear. With 100 members in the choir, you mostly hear choristers and brasses, with just flashes of the small string group of the Bach Festival Orchestra when it ascends to the upper register. The soloists, each of whom apparently holds a named "Endowed Chair" with the choir, are uniformly superb, but perhaps the standout is British-born soprano Julia Doyle, who forges a warm sound to match the choirs in Bach's perilous arias. The sound, from Bethlehem's First Presbyterian Church, is clear and accurate in a situation where the music could easily have overwhelmed the space. No texts are provided; you are directed to Analekta's website, where you have to hunt to find them. But the texts and translations of them are not hard to locate online. The bottom line: if you like to hear Baroque standards sung by a large mass of vocalists, you should give consideration to this recording.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Magnificat, for 5 voices, 5-part chorus, orchestra & continuo in D major, BWV 243 (BC E14)
1
3:04
2
2:15
3
2:46
4
1:22
5
2:03
6
3:29
7
1:56
8
2:07
9
2:46
10
1:51
11
1:30
12
2:06
Gloria, for 3 solo voices, chorus, trumpet, oboe, violin (ad lib), 2 violas, 2 cellos, strings & continuo in D major, RV 589
13
2:19
14
5:12
15
2:23
16
0:23
17
0:55
18
3:43
19
2:12
20
3:47
21
0:41
22
2:28
23
0:47
24
3:13
Cantata No. 191, "Gloria in excelsis Deo," BWV 191 (BC E16)
25
6:14
26
4:10
27
4:35
blue highlight denotes track pick