Magnificats in D Major
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J.S. Bach' famous Magnificat and that of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel were the templates for the teenage Mendelssohn' first major work for soloists, chorus and full orchestra, a brilliant setting of the Blessed Virgin Mary' song of praise, composed in
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What can be said about Bach's Magnificat? It's the most famous setting of the canticle in the choral repertoire and it's been recorded hundreds of times before. I was taken with the energy and precision of this performance led by Simon Carrington. Carrington is one of the wonders of the choral world, a teacher, singer and conductor of the highest order and the Yale Schola Cantorum is fantastic. If you have choral radar you will know that Carrington founded the group in 2003 (when he was running the Yale Institute of Sacred Music) to sing early music and contemporary works. The ensemble has recorded brilliant records of Biber's Vesperae longiores ac breviores, Bertali's Missa Resurrectionis and J.S. Bach's St. John Passion in the 1725 version - all are sublime. Carrington has moved on--Masaaki Suzuki of the Bach Collegium Japan now runs the show--but this recording is a marvelous tribute to how skilled a Carrington-led choir can be. It's a really top-notch Magnificat performance.
As good as the Bach is, it's the Mendelssohn that's going to sell the recording. Mendelssohn sampled some ideas from J.S. and C.P.E. Bach's Magnificats as well as dipping into an instrumental palette that tastes Baroque--check out the high trumpets in the opening chorus. There's much to love here. The Fecit potentiam is a Bach-styled bravura aria for bass, brass and timpani that all but stops the show. The Deposuit potentes, a florid trio for soprano, alto and bass with some lovely support from the winds is outstanding. Perhaps most memorable is the gorgeous setting of the Quia respexit for soprano, viola, bassoon and chorus that is stunning. The Ave Maria is another terrific find. Carrington opts for the work's original scoring for chorus, winds and brass and it showcases the rich sound of the excellent choir.
The CD is rounded out with a stirring performance of the thrice-familiar D Major Magnificat by Johann Sebastian Bach. All of these works are directed by Simon Carrington, known primarily as one of the founders of the fabled King's Singers and for the past several years a professor at Yale University, where he founded the Yale Schola Cantorum. Assisting Carrington in preparation of this CD are Robert Mealy, editor of the String Symphony fugue, superb baroque violinist, and leader/concertmaster of the original-instruments Yale Collegium Musicum, and the well-known oratorio tenor James Taylor, artistic director of the Yale Voxtet. Taylor is best-known for his association with Helmut Rilling on whose Bach Cantata recordings he made frequent appearances.
This disc, aside from containing excellent performances at budget price, is interesting for showing how the compositional style of the young Mendelssohn was influenced strongly by Bach, whose music he later effectively fostered after nearly a century of relative neglect.
One wishes that Mendelssohn might have done more fully with Bach what Bach did with Vivaldi. What if Mendelssohn had more obsessively pursued this track and given us a nineteenth century set of Brandenburgs or a Goldberg or a set of solo violin sonatas and partitas? In truth, much of the life opus of Mendelssohn abounds in felicities still waiting to be discovered.
The Yale University forces do a first rate job and are no reason to shy away in search of something performed and recorded in a medieval abbey across the Atlantic. The Naxos sound is fresh and lively and gives the listener atmosphere and detail.