This disc is a far cry from the typical fare we’ve come to expect on the shelves around the Christmas season. The inclusion of Bach’s sublime Cantata 63 and Mendelssohn’s Vom Himmel hoch give the disc a year round appeal. Vaughan Williams’ joyful The First Nowell is a veritable feast of well loved carols and the London Philharmonic Choir together with soloists Lisa Milne and Christopher Maltman exude Christmas cheer.
Recorded in the City of London in 2012, this album features the missing cantatas from the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage: the Ascension Cantatas. They were recorded live at St Giles Cripplegate (one of the original Pilgrimage venues) in two concerts entirely funded by the generosity of hundreds of donors across the world, following a heartfelt appeal from British comedian Alexander Armstrong.
This is the fourth volume of ATMA's ongoing Bach Cantata cycle and it is a big improvement over Bach: Cantatas BWV 1, 82, 147 - Montréal Baroque because Eric Milnes has moderated his previous excesses of interpretative choices. Now pauses fit in the overall conception of phrases and the longer line is immediately identifiable without recourse to a score…
Although Ton Koopman's fine Bach cantata series, begun in the mid-1990s, was abandoned by Warner Classics/Erato in 2001, the conductor managed to resume the 22-volume edition's issue through his own label, Antoine Marchand (a sub-label of Challenge Classics). And while distribution in the U.S. hasn't always been steady, that question seems to be resolved and we can expect to enjoy the remaining volumes as they appear over the next few years. This Volume 2 is by no means a "new release", but since Classicstoday.com last visited the series in June, 2003, with a review of Volume 1 (type Q6613 in Search Reviews), we thought we'd pick up where we left off. As collectors of these cantatas already know, Koopman initially released 12 of the 22 volumes with Erato, so if you already own any of these, you don't need to consider the Challenge Classics versions since they are identical...–David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
In evaluating a Bach cantata recording, there are so many variables to consider--programming choices; quality and type of soloists; tempos and balances among soloists, orchestra, and chorus; quality of choir and orchestra; use of alternate arias (or voices for a particular aria); version of the score (where more than one exists); instrumentation (period or modern instruments; configuration of continuo); and of course, the quality of the recorded sound--that comparisons between different recordings often become more descriptions than critiques. No matter how "good" a performance is, if you don't like period instruments you won't like Herreweghe or Koopman; likewise, if a certain countertenor soloist bugs you, you'll be unlikely to enjoy a cantata in which that singer is prominently featured, no matter how wonderful the work's other movements sound. On the other hand, if you like Koopman - or Herreweghe, both of whom are the most interpretively consistent among period-instrument practitioners (Rilling fits that bill in the modern-instrument category; "periodists" Gardiner and Harnoncourt are notoriously unpredictable) - then you'll likely be pretty satisfied with most of their efforts in this repertoire...David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com