Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square – Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier – Pachelbel, Kuhnau, Bach

Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt, P213
Magnificat, BWV243

Vox Luminis
Lionel Meunier

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 11 December, 2017
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Lionel MeunierPhotograph: © Robert BucklandSt John’s Smith Square resounded to the joyful tones of Vox Luminis. Pachelbel’s Jauchzet dem Herrn (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord) is an expansive and jubilant work blending choral passages and arias with Luther’s translation of Psalm 100 and religious poetry. Vox Luminis’s special attention to detail brimmed over with meaning and beautifully shaped phrasing. The words were always distinct and soprano Zsuzsanna Tóth impressed with her fervency. Pachelbel’s sincere simplicity was beautifully conveyed, and the balance of voices – solo and choral – was finely contrasted.

Johann Kuhnau’s Magnificat followed. He was J. S. Bach’s predecessor at Leipzig. Trumpets and additional strings reinforced the organ and woodwinds. From the opening lilting theme with bird-like trills, Kuhnau’s setting proved captivating, expressing the sublime joy of God, and was often thrilling, the choral sound so natural and gorgeously blended. The soprano and oboe duet was ravishing, extending the birdsong analogy, and later the music emphasised the power of God. The final ‘Gloria’ opened with Sebastian Myrus’s resonant bass solo and danced to its stunning conclusion with all guns blazing.

These works paved the way for Bach’s Magnificat. Exquisite in construction, Bach weaves an intricate structure with glorious vocal and instrumental colours. The resonances between the three pieces were as fascinating as was the detail of each one. In spite of relatively small forces Lionel Meunier created an epic sound for Bach. Vox Luminis’s wonderful and intimate music-making finished with a seasonal encore, Praetorius’s Es ist ein’ Ros entsprungen, in Meunier’s arrangement: subtle and unforgettable.

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