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GRAMOPHONE (December / 2017)
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Soli Deo Gloria

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Reviewer: Peter Quantrill

This is Gardiner’s second recording of the Christmas Cantata No 151, which dates from Bach’s golden period of cantata composition, two years after the Magnificat: even more exquisitely refined and restfully possessed of consoling authority than his account from the 2000 Cantata Pilgrimage (12/06). Exemplified by the unselfconscious innocence of Angela Hicks in the cantata’s long opening aria, Gardiner has more and more tended to cast and coach singers in a vein of expression peeled of traditionally soloistic or assertive methods of delivery: here, the text is everything. With the E flat version of the Magnificat, the tension is turned up over its more familiar D major cousin as well as the pitch, like retuning a fiddle, though the choral work is remarkably relaxed in what amounts to 10 of the trickiest minutes in Bach’s entire output. The soloists are all appreciably youthful in tone, especially alto Eleanor Minney (‘Et exultavit’) and soprano Hannah Morrison (‘Quia respexit’). Reginald Mobley and Hugo Hymas combine to an especially affecting degree in ‘Et misericordia’.  

Even if the members of the Monteverdi Choir aren’t singing off the book, as they and other vocal ensembles have done in recent years, they sound liberated from the score. The fugues are tight without being regimented; indeed, Gardiner’s old recording sounds a little stiff by comparison, even if it set a standard at the time which this new recording supersedes. The alien, harmonically disconcerting nature of the four interpolated movements is emphasised by placing them in a different, more distant perspective. The chorus is also slightly recessed in the parody F major Mass, the better to uncover busy instrumental detail such as a bounding pair of horns and lovely obbligato contributions from violinist Kati Debretzeni and oboist Rachel Chaplin.


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