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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released March 1, 2011 | SDG

Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Editor's Choice
John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists come to Bach's St. John Passion after their ambitious traversal of all the church cantatas, so they are immersed in the subtleties of the composer's expressive sensibilities and musical styles. Their performance of the St. John Passion is emotionally explosive and often darkly dramatic; the opening chorus, for instance, is roiling and tumultuous, almost chaotic, a wrenching opening to the passion narrative. As dark as the tone is, it is never murky; this is the darkness of obsidian whose blackness is revealed when light glints off its sharply defined surfaces. The performances of the soloists match the brilliance, finesse, and clarity of the chorus and orchestra. As the Narrator, tenor Mark Padmore sings with urgency and acute sensitivity to the text; he comes across as an engrossing storyteller. His voice has an exemplary purity and he is equally impressive in the lyrical tenor arias. Bass Hanno Müller-Brachmann is a warmly sympathetic Jesus, and bass Peter Harvey is a forceful Pilate. The remaining soloists, all of whom are excellent, have relatively small parts in the passion, but soprano Joann Lunn and Bernarda Fink are standouts. The recording offers clean and exceptionally well-defined sound. Gardiner's version should be especially attractive to listeners looking for a polishedperformance that emphasizes the emotionally charged atmosphere of the score. © TiVo
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Masses, Passions, Requiems - Released July 1, 2010 | Carus

Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or
Each new recording of works by Czech Baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka seems to unveil new wonders. The choral music from the end of his career, much of it (including this mass) written with no specific commission in a spirit of thanksgiving following his recovery from a serious illness, is especially impressive. Zelenka, like Vivaldi, stayed up to date on the latest stylistic trends in his old age, and he developed a fusion of operatic language and traditional polyphony that seems, more and more clearly, to be the equal of anything by Vivaldi (whose work he might well have known) or Bach (a personal friend who admired Zelenka's music). The Missa votiva, BWV 18, dating from 1739 and composed in the major operatic center of Dresden, is a substantial work, clocking in at almost 70 minutes. A gorgeous aria given to the alto soloist at the words "Et incarnatus est" is quite somber, but most of the other arias in the large major-key sections of the mass are bright and celebratory, with a clear influence from the new galant style. The most striking passages come in the Credo, where the contrast between polyphonic formality and operatic expression intensifies. The Crucifixus, exceptionally, is set fugally, with the expected appearance of the major key, with trumpets, at the Resurrexit, which then follows the text very closely, pausing at the word "mortuos" and returning to polyphony for the final "Cum sancto spiritu," complete with its own slow introduction. There are many other beautiful expressive details, all taking their places within the expertly handled polyphony, and the cumulative effect is very powerful. Four rather unsung but superb soloists, along with the Stuttgart Chamber Choir and Stuttgart Baroque Orchestra under veteran German conductor Frieder Bernius, capture both the complexity and the warmth of the music, and the Stuttgart label Carus gets wonderful results on its home ground at the Lutheran Church of Reutlingen-Gönningen. A triumphant outing that is going to help rewrite the history books. Booklet notes are in German, English, and French. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2000 | SDG

Conductor John Eliot Gardiner, said England's Independent newspaper, "has had the last laugh" -- Vol. 1 of his Bach cantata series was named Record of the Year at the 2005 Classic FM Gramophone Awards in London, after the big Deutsche Grammophon label pulled out of the project and dropped Gardiner just before it got underway in 2000. No doubt a bit of gloating is appropriate along with justified satisfaction in a tough job well done -- Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists undertook a "Bach cantata pilgrimage," singing all of Bach's cantatas on their liturgically appropriate dates while making a grand tour of acoustically appropriate European churches, many of them with links to the original circumstances in which Bach worked. The recordings, Gardiner said, were "a corollary of the concerts, not their raison d'être" prior to each night's concert, engineers recorded the final rehearsal in situ. By the time these recordings were made in London, the concert series was well under way, and, in the words of bass Dietrich Henschel, the performers "had become spiritually familiar with one another." The results, issued on Gardiner's own SDG label, fully live up to the awards hype. Gardiner's interpretations, though they fall under the historical-performance classification, are personal, subjective, dramatic, and romantic. The program naturally coheres thanks to the common origins of the works in the phases of the liturgical year around which Bach organized his thinking (six cantatas are presented on two discs, three for the Feast of St. John the Baptist in mid-June and three for the first Sunday after Trinity), and every element of the sumptuous booklet presentation contributes to an appreciation of Bach's religious language, as audiences in German churches of the eighteenth century would have understood it. So Gardiner has indeed had the last laugh. But perhaps he would be the first to concede that the difficult birth of this project helped him push classical music toward its future, and even that the music is perhaps better, more urgent, than it might otherwise have been. In place of what would have been a series of implacably standardized albums on Deutsche Grammophon, we will now have releases that are individual, committed, and free. Gardiner's liner notes are taken from journals he wrote during the Bach pilgrimage, and they help bring home the immediacy and excitement of this project. The next step, as recordings like this move online, will be to turn this kind of journal into a blog. The old superstructure of the classical recording industry is collapsing into ruin, but this recording provides some of the clearest testimony yet that new and exciting small enterprises will fill the void. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2000 | SDG

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Classical - Released January 1, 2000 | SDG

The "Bach Pilgrimage" of conductor John Eliot Gardiner, with his English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, is among the most ambitious musical projects of recent decades: a concert tour devoted to Bach's complete church cantatas, matched to the liturgical year in something like real time, and passing through the cities where Bach lived and worked but also stopping in churches in other countries. The funding itself was a minor miracle. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, is the first name listed, but corporations also kicked in, and individual donors could help out with single concerts along the way. The recordings designate themselves as live; actually, they represent final dress rehearsals rather than concert performances, but they have that edge-of-the-chair quality that dress rehearsals sometimes attain, and they're not marred by coughs, creaking pews, and doors opening and closing. The performances are, furthermore, not perfect. In this two-disc set of Epiphany cantatas, rounded out by the motet Jesu, meine Freude, soprano Joanne Lunn is severely challenged by the devilish (sorry, JSB, but that's the right word) quick-triplet mode mixtures in the "Wirf, mein Herze" aria in the Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange?, BWV 155 (CD 1, track 4). Gardiner's overall treatment of the cantatas is quiet and reverential, and he can go to extremes in pursuit of this ideal; the bass aria "Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen" (Groaning and pitiable weeping) in the cantata Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen, BWV 13 (My sighs, my tears) is taken at a grindingly slow tempo and extended to a 10-and-a-half-minute length. Gardiner justifies this decision with reference to symbols of the Cross he finds in the score -- always a risky business. Any complaints one might have, however, are swept aside by the great virtue of these performances -- the intensity of the performers' response to the texts. Gardiner seems to put himself in Bach's shoes as Bach sought to find individual meaning in well-worn Lutheran texts. His observations, expressed in a sort of road diary that serves as booklet notes, are acute, and people will be reading them a century hence to find out what Bach meant to listeners of the early twenty-first century. (They're admirably personal and colloquial -- if you've ever wondered how to say "hair shirt" in German, you can find out from the booklet here.) What's really remarkable, however, is the way Gardiner has involved his performers in his creative response to the texts. The performance of Jesu, meine Freude at the end of disc 2 is one of the very best ever recorded, with absolute conviction from the Monteverdi Choir in singing lines like "Lass den Satan wittern" (Let Satan storm). Those who approach Bach's cantatas from a specifically religious perspective may well find these performances definitive, and they are, from any perspective at all, documents of extraordinary commitment and musical enthusiasm. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2009 | SDG

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Classical - Released November 24, 2009 | SDG

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Classical - Released September 1, 2003 | Collegium

Booklet
Like George W. Bush, John Rutter is either loved or hated, and his Mass of the Children CD probably won't change many minds among either those who find his music gentle and sunny or those who deride it as hackwork. This is the first release of all-new music by Rutter in several years, and as usual he is at the helm of his handpicked Cambridge Singers, accompanied by the City of London Sinfonietta. The new wrinkle here is the inclusion of a children's choir (the excellent Cantate Youth Choir) in the titular mass, a Missa Brevis (excluding the Credo) that Rutter augments, tropewise, with poems and other texts to produce four movements of roughly equal length. Rutter lovers will be delighted with the sentiment a children's choir adds to his music; the anti-Rutter camp will contend that his Gloria sounds like music from a History Channel rerun. Some of his deployments of the children's choir are curious: why should children sing of redeeming "mis-spent time that's passed," as they do in the opening Kyrie trope from the poetry of Bishop Thomas Ken? The remainder of the CD offers recent Rutter pieces for adult choir, some with soloists. A few (hopefully neutral) observations: Rutter brings out his sentimental tendencies to the maximum when he serves as his own text-writer, and, conversely, is somewhat tempered musically by his own encyclopedic knowledge of English poetry and religious writing. In setting the Book of Ecclesiastes, he's ahead of many classical composers but still does not rise to the level of the Byrds. And finally his pieces for unaccompanied choir (the last three tracks on the album, one of which contains a solo flute part) breathe a spirit different from any of the others, with more complex harmonies, sharper contrasts, and greater seriousness overall. © TiVo
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Classical - Released April 1, 2010 | Carus

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Classical - Released May 1, 2011 | K&K Verlagsanstalt

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