Gabrieli Consort & Players/McCreesh review – superb and exhilarating Bach | Classical music


The main work in Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort and Players’ Bach concert at the Wigmore was the Easter Oratorio, which we don’t hear nearly as often as we should. Originally written as a cantata for Easter Sunday in 1725, it was revised as an oratorio 10 years later. With just under an hour’s music, it’s relatively short when placed beside Bach’s Passions. And, unlike Handelian oratorio, it is rooted primarily in reflection rather than dramatic narrative. “Reflective”, however, doesn’t even begin to describe the impact it makes with its elated opening and closing choruses, recitatives for multiple soloists that veer at times towards operatic arioso, and successive arias with woodwind obbligatos. It’s meditative, exalted and among the most beautiful things in Bach’s output.

McCreesh and his musicians performed it wonderfully well. Using just four singers and 19 players resulted in crystal-clear counterpoint, its sheer complexity adding to the elan of the opening sinfonia and chorus. The arias were exquisite, particularly Sanfte, Soll Mein Todeskummer for tenor (Hugo Hymas, excellent) and two recorders (Rebecca Miles and Ian Wilson), the emotional and theological fulcrum of the work, a meditation on how Christ’s resurrection has turned death into little more than sleep. Rowan Pierce was the silvery soprano, Tim Mead the warm-voiced countertenor. A glorious work, quite superbly done.

Its companion pieces were the Sinfonia from Am Abend Aber Desselbigen Sabbats, a cantata for the Sunday after Easter, and another comparative rarity, the Mass in G Minor, written around 1739. That the latter isn’t a towering masterpiece like the immense Mass in B Minor is no reason to ignore it, as it contains some remarkable things, most notably, perhaps, the breathtaking counterpoint at the start of the Gloria, which really suggests multiple voices excitedly raised in praise of God’s glory. Again the performance was superb and exhilarating, the choruses wonderfully clear, the arias done with admirable poise: bass Matthew Brook, who had comparatively little to do in the Oratorio, came into his own here with the Gratias Agimus Tibi, sung with great fervour and warmth.

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