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Retrospect Ensemble - Bach Oratorios - The Consort


01 July 2012
The Consort
Frauke Jürgensen

Bach's Easter and Ascension Oratorios (BWV 249 and 11) make a logical pairing for a recording, both liturgically, and in terms of length and performance forces. The programme booklet highlights further connecting threads of Bach's self-borrowing practice, and includes an interesting discussion concerning the effect of this practice upon rhetoric and the expression of text and affekt.

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. The performance choice, here, is a chamber choir of 18 people, which sounds very good, apart from possible musicological quibbles.  On occasion, I found some of the decisions concerning articulation overly fussy, but this is very much a matter of personal taste. In the orchestra, the oboes deserve a special mention for their full-bodied sound, with a great range of colour and expression.

The Easter Oratorio contains two outstanding moments, for me; the first is tenor James Gilchrist's aria Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer, with obbligato recorders and with muted violins doubling at the octave providing a lush orchestration that, when I initially heard the recording, actually sounded like oboes da caccia. Bach was superb at tone painting. Gilchrist's sustained low-register Schlummer was especially pleasing in colour. The other outstanding moment was the short bass recitative, Wir sind erfreuet. Here was a moment of dramatic exuberance which made me regret that we would not be hearing more of Peter Harvey in this piece, and not enough in the next one, either.

In the Ascension Oratorio, my attention was immediately caught by the unusually slow opening of the alto aria, Ach, bleibe doch (more familiar as the Qui tollis peccata mundi of the Mass in B minor, though here accompanied by unison violins rather than oboe d'amore). The effect was mournful, reflective, and generally gorgeous. Even as an oboist that can never have quite enough of the d'amore, I have to admit that this is a beautiful version, beautifully rendered.


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