Retrospect Ensemble - Bach Oratorios - The Sunday Times

Bach's so-called oratorios are essentially cantatas, but he put the boat out for all three (the third being the Christmas Oratorio), with soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists and the grandest possible orchestra, including three trumpets and drums. It is no wonder, then, that Kommt, eilet und laufet (Come, hastening and running - BWV 249) and Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (Praise God in His Kingdoms - BWV 11) are two of the largest and most popular of his almost 200 liturgical cantatas. Like the Christmas Oratorio, they belong to the St Thomas cantor's "parody" works, recycled, or rather refashioned, from earlier works. (Like Handel, Bach was never one to waste a good tune.) The two works in their final forms make ideal partners on disc, and Halls's Retrospect Ensemble make something special of the pairing.

With a choir of 18 and a period band of 26, this is relatively large-scale Bach, but the liturgical occasions for which both works were rearranged merit such lavishness, and the music-making is sumptuous, Halls and his trumpeters revelling in the celebratory clamour of Bach's writing. If Iestyn Davies's plangent alto stands out among the soloists - the soprano Carolyn Sampson, the tenor James Gilchrist and the bass Peter Harvey - it's because he has this Ascension Oratorio's plum aria, Ach bleibe doch (Ah stay - which Bach refashioned magnificently in the Agnus Dei of the B minor Mass), and sings it quite ravishingly. Top-drawer Bach throughout, beautifully recorded and documented by Linn.

28 March 2011