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27.12.10

Twelve Days of Christmas: Bach from the Low Countries

available at Amazon
Bach, Magnificat / Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, Netherlands Bach Society, J. van Veldhoven

(released on November 9, 2010)
CCSSA32010 | 64'29"
Jens has already praised the work of Jos van Veldhoven and the Netherlands Bach Society, in concert and on disc. Put me down as an admirer, too, not least for this recent recording of two Bach works destined for Christmas, on the Channel Classics label. Neither of the performances included here is quite perfect but, while not perhaps constituting a must-buy disc, both have provided much enjoyable listening over the Christmas holiday. Bach wrote both of these works early in his tenure at Leipzig: the Christmas morning cantata Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110, in 1725 (the first of a series of cantatas for the Christmas season in 1725-26, I have argued, that may have been a model for the Christmas Oratorio), and the second version of the Magnificat canticle, in D major (BWV 243). For the first version of the work, performed at Christmas Vespers in 1723, Bach inserted four hymns from a Kuhnau Christmas cantata among his own music. Van Veldhoven inserts four different Christmas pieces -- by Dirck Sweelinck, Jan Baptist Verrijt, Johann Hermann Schein, and Johann Michael Bach -- and they are some of the most attractive pieces on the disc (especially Currite, pastores, in which two treble voices chase one another playfully all the way to Bethlehem to see Jesus in the manger). While some of the vocal performances have unvarnished moments -- van Veldhoven uses many of the same singers in his recording of the B Minor Mass -- soprano Dorothee Mields is at her smoky best in an intense "Quia respexit" movement (with a somber oboe solo), as is countertenor William Towers in the "Esurientes" movement (with delightful paired flutes and dancing continuo of lute and organ -- good things to be filled with, indeed). The five soloists join a few other singers for the choral movements, ending up at three on each part, giving transparent, rhythmically propelled sound in the "Omnes generationes" movement, for example.

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