Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner at St Giles Cripplegate – J. S. Bach Music for Ascension Day

Cantata ‘Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein’, BWV128
Cantata ‘Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen’, BWV43
Ascension Oratorio, ‘Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen’, BWV11

Lenneke Ruiten (soprano), Meg Bragle (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Tortise (tenor) & Dietrich Henschel (bass)

Monteverdi Choir

English Baroque Soloists
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 10 May, 2012
Venue: St Giles Cripplegate, London

Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Phoptograph: Sheila Rock. ©DeccaThere was something not quite right about this concert of Ascension Day cantatas. For starters, it was given a full week before Ascension Day (17th). Then there was the programming – two concerts with two works repeated, but with a different central cantata. Then there was the venue. Directly opposite the Barbican Centre it may be, but St Giles Church does not have good acoustics. Much of the sound, at least at the back of the venue, is stunted and distant. But the main purpose of the concert seemed to be for recording. That probably explained the double programme for editing. And the array of microphones that decked the space at the front of the church hopefully picked up a better quality of sound.

The performances were mixed. The central work of the three by J. S. Bach, ‘Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen’ is a fairly standard work (rather like ‘Wer da gläubet und getauft wird’ which replaced it in the first of the evening’s concerts). Its highlights are a French-style introduction, and resounding opening and closing choruses. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists were top notch, investing the score with rhythmic drive and orchestral flourish. The solo singers were inconsistent. Lenneke Ruiten’s voice had a coarse quality about it and tightness in the upper register. Andrew Tortise displayed the opposite – fluently expressive high notes, but a strained rustiness below.

The opening cantata, ‘Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein’, fared better. Dietrich Henschel proved adept at issuing the clarion call to the faithful in his recitative and aria in a clear, ringing tone. Tortise had the edge over Meg Bragle in their duet. Why John Eliot Gardiner opted for a mezzo soloist instead of Bach’s stipulated alto is unclear, but Bragle’s grainy tone seemed to tack onto rather entwine with the tenor part.

Again, choir and orchestra showed why they have been at the top of their game for so long. In the Ascension Oratorio (‘Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen’) the musicians tripped along at a racy pace, entirely in keeping with this joyful celebration of heavenly ascent. The chorale ‘Nun liegt alles unter dir’ was delivered in an effectively hushed manner. Timpani and trumpets blazed, while oboes and flutes twittered brilliantly. Only the solo arias remained forgettable – except for Bragle’s numerous spits on the word “Ach”, which will hopefully be edited away.

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