The Gardiner recordings on Erato were mainly made before he climbed
the top classical charts. This set of the Bach Motets in particular,
were recorded in 1980 in All Saints Church at Tooting. It has since
been reissued (without the cantatas) at mid-price on the Erato "In
Excelsis" sublabel (0630 17889-2. Cover left).
are generally slower than expected. Rather than a compromise being
reached between the desired texture of sound and the fastest possible
tempo; one feels that the whole work is laboring bar after bar as
a result of some unfinished argument between the conductor and the
sound engineer , or that the on-site recording was quite simply
beyond the powers of the tonemeister.
den Herrn, alle Heiden (BWV 230) and Singet dem Herrn ein
neues Lied (BWV 225) suffers from this exactly. This engineering
problem, added to their great complexity and technical demands makes
the choir sounds effortful and contrived. Running notes are chopped
up so as to avoid further muddling of the choral sound due to the
inevitable echoes that arise in the church.
the choral sound is ill-balanced; sounding edgy at many parts in
the set of motets. Individual parts can often be heard apart from
the entirety. The frequent alternation between solo lines and full
choral tuttis are often badly managed by the sound engineers. One
wishes that the laudable effort to create an authentic cathedral
sound were matched by an equally competent sound engineer.
It is a great pity hence, as there are quite a few very remarkable
moments in Gardiner's interpretation of these motets. One can feel
the greatness of Gardiner - the masterful shading and line treatment
of choral forces characteristic of his many Archiv recordings are
already evident here.
being somewhat diminished due to the inconsistent sound engineering,
the Montiverdi Choir remains interesting to listen to. They are
an excellent choir, well above average and capable of delivering
some very beautiful singing. Fürchte dich nicht (BWV 228)
is one example where the sound engineer and the choir seemed to
be working hand in hand. The result is stunning, captivating and
one is thoroughly convinced.
Gardiner's reading does not boast the same energetic feel that the
others in this series of reviews benefit from, what is interesting
is his large-scale treatment of these motets. The effect is grand,
awe-inspiring and with some persuasion, (through repeated listening)
very agreeable as an alternative reading.
choral effects are skillfully managed by Gardiner in Singet dem
Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225). There are moments of real excitement
here despite the choppy feel in the line. However, the sound remains
a let down as spatial effects desired through the placing of two
or more choirs antiphonally in BWV 228 and BWV 225 do not materialise
due to bad engineering.
are well chosen in the Jesu Meine Freude (BWV 227). Both
sopranos Elisabeth Priday and Gillian Fisher, apart from minor inconsistencies
in some parts, achieve sound musicianship with beautiful treble
quality reminiscent of boy sopranos. The alto Ashley Stafford has
an ethereal quality and manages the trio section "So aber Christus....der
Gerchtigkeit willen" quite beautifully. (I would have classified
his voice as a counter-tenor instead) His lack of consistency in
tone production throughout the counter-tenor register is probably
also beyond the skills of most counter-tenors, excepting only the
English Baroque Soloists does an efficient job supporting the Montiverdi
Choir. At moments it is even felt that it is the orchestra that
helps to even out the mess created by the bad acoustics.
has included here several pieces that he considers to be motets
or motet-like works attributed to the great Bach. There are a lot
of arguments for the inclusion of these pieces in this set, thus
making it a two-CD mid-price recording. Sufficient liner notes are
given to explain for their inclusion and the interested listener
can satisfy his curiosity there. The review of these pieces are
out of the scope of this article, save to say that they are extremely
interesting to listen to. They too, however, suffer from the same
problems of sound engineering.
hopes Gardiner will read this review and record a new set of Bach
Motets really soon...
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13.6.1998 © NG Yeuk Fan
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