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American Record Guide: (09/2017) 
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 3149020758922


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Reviewer: Willia, J. Gatens


The two Bach cantatas on this recording—54 (Widerstehe doch der Sünde) and 170 (Vergnügte Ruh! Beliebte Seelenlust!)—are both for solo alto. Here they are vehicles for the technical brilliance and artistry of countertenor Tim Mead. They come from different periods in Bach’s career: 54 was written for Weimar in 1714 and 170 for Leipzig in 1726. Mead’s strong and clear tone serve the music well. With many singers, ornamentation consists of occasional smudges of the vocal line. Here the ornaments are crisp and unequivocal. Mead’s execution of the formidable roulades in the second aria of 54 is especially impressive. Mead teams up with soprano Lucy Crowe for Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and she is in every respect a worthy collaborator. All of the music here is performed one instrument to a part, giving the performances the flavor of chamber music.

The Bach performances are impressive, but I find the Pergolesi misfiring at almost every turn. The string tone is rather weedy and frigid, and the playing is anything but subtle. String accents tend to be hammered. The continuo ensemble includes a harpsichord, but much of the time the playing is just too busy, almost giving the impression of radio static. Fast tempos are grotesquely fast, like a horse race. To their credit, the vocalists have the technique to keep up, but they shouldn’t have to. This recording induced me to revisit Robert King’s 1987 recording with Gillian Fisher and Michael Chance (Hyperion), as their performance is in its forces essentially the same as the present one: solo voices (no treble choir) and one-to-a-part period strings with chamber organ. The one difference is that King’s continuo ensemble has an archlute instead of a harpsichord. Where David Bates’s performance tends to be brash and edgy, King’s period strings have a warm tone with beautiful ensemble blend, and his interpretation is elegantly paced, bringing out the poignant tenderness of Pergolesi’s masterpiece, but making bold gestures as the music calls for them.

The Bach cantatas are better here, but not above reproach. For instance, a rushed and unsettled tempo mars the final aria of 170. This cantata has an obbligato organ part, and here the playing sounds frantic. Masaaki Suzuki with Robin Blaze and the Bach Collegium Japan (BIS 1621; Mar/Apr 2008) takes a slightly more relaxed tempo and gives us a performance of extraordinary elegance and poise.

David Bates, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Schola Cantorum in Basel, founded the early music ensemble La Nuova Musica in 2007 during a residency at the Snape Maltings. They have gone on to compile an impressive record of concert performances and recordings.

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