Related Reviews
Opera News
'A new period-instrument ensemble from London brings verve, precision and spontaneity to a recording of J. S. Bach's Easter and Ascension Oratorios.'
more >>
The Consort
'This particular recording, featuring the Retrospect Ensemble, has a lot to recommend it; especially the technically refined and elegant quality of both the orchestra and the soloists. The choruses are refreshingly crisp and bright, sung in a soloistic manner that I find very appealing.'
more >>
musica Dei donum
'... the closing line of the B section is beautifully sung'.
more >>
PS Tracks
'It is simply the most musical realization of these two works I have ever encountered'.
more >>
The Absolute Sound
'The Retrospect Ensemble's Bach performances are pretty much ideal...'
more >>
OregonLive.com
'...a bright British conductor...'
more >>
Fanfare
'Heartily recommended.'
more >>
Classica
4 Stars
'...le duo meditative de la soprano et flute traversière idéalment assure par Carolyn Sampson et Rachel Brown.'
more >>
tommanoff.com
'...the conductor is an exceptional interpreter of [Purcell's] music.'
more >>
American Record Guide
'...a nicely blended and balanced instrumental group'.
more >>
MusicWeb International
"...the Linn recording is a must."
more >>
Gramophone
'The Retrospect Ensemble's orchestral playing and choral singing is of the highest quality...'
more >>
Scotland on Sunday
5 Stars
"There is plenty of action and passion in these two, quite different, works..."
more >>
BBC Music Magazine
4 Stars
'...enjoyably relaxed and unselfconscious performances.'
more >>
Pizzicato
5 Stars
'...superbement interprétées.'
more >>
Audio Video Club of Atlanta
'...the impression is that of heavenly beauty without earthly weight...'
more >>
International Records Review
'...highly impressive playing...'
more >>
San Francisco Classical Voice
'The soloists are all excellent.'
more >>
McAlister Matheson Music
'top class'
more >>
The Observer
"Matthew Halls directs sprightly singers and accomplished players."
more >>
The Times
4 Stars
"A disc to make your heart leap."
more >>
ResMusica
Clef de ResMusica Award: 'Un premier disque d'un ensemble prometteur, enregistré qui plus est de fort belle manière par Linn Records.'
more >>
AudioVideoHD
'...dirigiendo esta brillante y fresca interpretación de dos de los tres monumentales oratorios de Bach...'
more >>
Early Music Review
'Fielding an excellent group of singers and players, and with soloists of such calibre, this is a landmark Bach recording.'
more >>
The Sunday Times
4 Stars
Classical Record of the Week: "Top-drawer Bach throughout, beautifully recorded and documented by Linn."
more >>
Le Monde
'...la plus belle musicalité...'
more >>
The Scotsman
5 Stars
"Musical highs don't come much better...Conductor Matthew Halls gleans warmth from this wonderful music."
more >>
SA-CD.net
5 Stars
"Retrospect Ensemble simply sparkles in this repertoire...Johann Sebastian himself would give this one not 5 but 10 stars as well."
more >>
Classics Today
5 Stars
'...can boast renditions of Bach's Easter and Ascension oratorios as fine as--or better than--any in the catalog.'
more >>
Musical Pointers
"The recording at St Jude's Church in Hampstead...makes the most of a perfect acoustic."
more >>

Retrospect Ensemble - Bach Oratorios - Audiophile Audition


08 July 2011
Audiophile Audition
Steven Ritter
5 Stars

Multichannel Disc of the Month

The “parody” nature of these “oratorios” (a term which has an enormous amount of interpretative latitude) easily gives rise to speculations about sincerity and even authenticity in their manifold religious expressions. The notes to this superb release cover a lot of ground in this area, though ultimately I wonder if it matters a hoot whether Bach’s revised versions of these mostly previously-secular settings into seriously religious subject matter have anything to do with his own profoundly religious beliefs or lack of the requisite devotional aura we have come to associate with him. I think that first and foremost Bach was a man trying to put dinner on the table, and come hell or high water he was going to do just that (he did have a rather large family). If that meant a sudden reworking of certain pieces that just happened to be set with texts almost antipodal to the ones found here, then so be it. And in the case of the Easter Oratorio, we are not exactly sure which of the three versions—two secular and one sacred actually came first, though you can easily read semi-learned commentary suggesting that the two secular works did appear first. We do know that a certain Birthday Cantata was created by February 1725, and another for 1726 based on these same sources, and that BWV 249 was apparently premiered in April of 1725 but we don’t whether Bach had already composed his “Easter” work by early 1725 or not. But either way it is obvious that a lot of borrowing was going on.

The three oratorios are actually cantatas, and the “Christmas Oratorio” is a series of six of them. Both the Easter and Ascension works have moments and movements of exquisite beauty, notably No. 7 in the former for tenor, though there are many others as well, like the familiar No. 4 in the Ascension Oratorio found also in the B-minor Mass. Philippe Herreweghe’s reading on Harmonia mundi has probably reigned supreme until now, but this new Linn offering is posed to upset it. The fact is that there is not a weak link anywhere in this cast, and I have become almost Pavlovian in my automatic acceptance of any disc that has the name of Carolyn Sampson on it. The good-sized period orchestra and fat and full 18-member chorus perform wonders in this music, making even the few weak moments seem better than they are.  Retrospect is a relatively new ensemble concentrating on about a 400-year period of the past, and once again Linn scores big with great production values and really standard-setting performances. Do I recommend this? Are you kidding?


Bookmark and Share


Related Links

Matthew HallsMatthew Halls
Retrospect EnsembleRetrospect Ensemble
J.S. Bach Easter and Ascension OratoriosJ.S. Bach Easter and Ascension Oratorios