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Christmas Addendum: Bach with Montréal Baroque

Available from Amazon
Bach, Cantatas for the Nativity (BWV 61, 122, 123, 182), Montréal Baroque, E. Milnes

Atma Classique SACD2 2403
We have been following some remarkable Bach cantata series (or non-series) being issued over the last several years, directed by John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, Masaaka Suzuki -- and the list keeps growing. Add to that list one that is new to me, begun in 2005 by Eric Milnes with the forces of the Festival Montréal Baroque. This series, if it is a series, is organized around Biblical figures and their feasts: St. John the Baptist in vol. 1 (BWV 30, 7, 167), St. Michael in vol. 2 (BWV 130, 19, 149), and the Virgin Mary in vol. 3 (BWV 147, 82, 1). The theme of this latest installment is supposedly the Nativity, but the selection of cantatas includes not a single one proper to Christmas: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is for the first Sunday of Advent, Das neugeborne Kindelein for the Sunday after Christmas (at least close to the mark), Liebster Emmanuel, Herzog der Frommen for Epiphany, and Himmelskönig, sei willkommen for Palm Sunday (!). As a set, all four discs could make a nice offering for the four Sundays of Advent next year (in fact, only St. Michael is really not associated with Advent).

These are incisive, lovely performances, with four strong voices (covering both solo and choral parts), especially the clean, clear tenor of Charles Daniels and another admirable performance from countertenor Matthew White. Bass Harry Van der Kamp is the largest weapon, if not the most precise, and soprano Monika Mauch pleases in solo settings but tends to evaporate on the top of the four-part texture. The instrumental obbligati are all impressive, especially the solos for the recorders and traversi. Eric Milnes creates attractive shapes to the music, best when they reflect the all-important German words, as in the insistent, chiffy knock of the organ accompanying the bass recitative, in the voice of Jesus, "Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür und klopfe an" (See, I stand at the door and knock) in BWV 61. Definitely another continuing Bach cantata set to watch.


Anonymous said...

I've eagerly collected all the CDs in this set, and if anything, the earlier three are even better than this one, as fine as it is.

It's true that none of the cantatas on vol. 4 are really Christmas pieces; I can't help thinking that the Montreal Baroque festival found that it couldn't afford that year (2007) all the trumpets-woodwinds-and-drums it would have needed for the big Christmas cantatas. (I think the complement for the 2008 festival was even smaller.)

When this series was first announced back in 2003-04, it was announced as a complete cantatas project. At the rate they're going now, though, it would take about 40 years to complete and most of the musicians and many of today's CD buyers wouldn't live to see it finished.

This series could really use a Betty Freeman-type supporter (if there are any left in this economy).

Charles T. Downey said...

I was already interested in hearing those three previous CDs. Now, based on your assessment, I am even more so. Thanks for the great comments!