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Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

Magnificat BWV 243 & Oster-Oratorium BWV 249

Conducted by Paul McReesh

Recording

V-1

J.S. Bach: Magnificat · Easter Oratorio

Magnificat BWV 243 [23:30], Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 [41:46]

Paul McCreesh

Gabrieli Consort & Players

Sopranos: Kimberly McCord & Julia Gooding; Alto: Robin Blaze; Tenor: Paul Agnew; Bass: Neal Davies

Archiv Produktion

Apr 2000

CD / TT: 65:16

Recorded at Ev.-Luth. Kirche, Brand-Erbisdorf (Saxony), Germany.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

McCreesh Magnificat

Kenner wrote (March 14, 2001):
Info about this new recording at: http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/home.htms

Jeff Leone wrote (March 15, 2001):
Can anyone give a review yet? I know it was released in USA on Tuesday.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (March 16, 2001):
I just received it...first impressions are very favorable. What I liked especially from the Epiphany Mass was his ability to keep all of the instrumentation very clear and he carries this forward into this new recording. What I didn't like in the E.M. was the fact that the microphones were placed in the middle of the church and this led to a muddied sound. This is not the case in this recording.

I've only listened once, and in my car, so I will comment further upon further listening. But I think I'm going to end up raving about the recording.

Jeff Leone wrote (March 17, 2001):
Well, I finally have listened to it a few times.... Here it goes:

Besides three recordings of oratoria by Handel, this is McCressh's first release that is not intended to recreate a musical event. For those of us who thoroughly enjoyed "Epiphany Mass" but wished all of the recording (not half) was pure music, this is a treat to finally hear McCreesh's version of Bach.

In my opinion, on of the best qualities of McCreesh and his players is their versatility. They are able to go from Gabrieli to Purcell to Händel to Bach with completely different approaches and still come out sounding like they are niche experts rather that a broad musical ensemble. Those who are familiar with the Händel recordings will find a different McCreesh in this recording. Small forces (actually there is a decent sized orchestra, but basically one singer per part) create an extreme sense of intimacy. The placing of the players and singers is very interesting. From what I can tell, the recording sounds like it is made from the congregation area of the church, so the music is coming from behind you. Very interesting sound. But not muted like the "Mass." Interestingly, they returned to the same church that they recorded the "Mass" in and consequentially used the same, large organ. From the notes, sounds like McCreesh's 'pet peeve' is using chamber organs in performances of Bach rather than larger church organs.

As with McCressh, the tempi are brisk but not overpowering, clarity is outstanding even with the overpowering brass and large organ, the singers first rate. This is the first CD to convince me that Robin Blaze is a great singer. Paul Agnew, my favorite new tenor since "Solomon" and many other recordings is equally wonderful. No complaints about anyone. I have to admit, however, that it took me a few listens to get into the CD (as with any great CD).

I really love McCreesh's Bach, but cant wait for some more Händel... Guilio Caesare maybe?

Looking forward to more reviews,

Piotr Jaworski wrote (March 30, 2001):
(To Harry J. Steinman) Almost two weeks .... isn't it the very right time to fulfill your promise? ;-) I've just seen McCreesh Magnificat in the shop, and your further comments would be invaluable.

Charles Francis wrote (March 30, 2001):
(To Piotr Jaworski) The tempo of the Magnificat must be the fastest ever, see: Amazon.com

The orchestral playing and sound quality is fine, and if you like powerful female operatic singers in your OVPP Bach (lots of vibrato, volume etc.), then this is certainly the recording you've been waiting for. As it happens, my slightly used copy, just one week old, is available at a discount, so hurry everyone.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (March 30, 2001):
(To Piotr Jaworski) So sorry for the delay. I've been out of commission lately; I had oral surgury last week and have felt like doing absolutely zero. I've been, and pardon the really bad pun, kind of 'down in the mouth'. I have BWV 1 to listen to for the Cantata list (the cantata of the week) and McCreech's Magnificat. Will try soon, but I'm still oscillating between pain-induced distraction and pain-killer induced lethargy! Sigh! Well, Back to Bach!

Piotr Jaworski wrote (March 31, 2001):
You're sure that you have the right recording??? ;-)

Selling "slightly used copy" of McCreesh with discount?! Hard to imagine. I loved his 'Epiphany Mass', as well as some earlier recordings with Gabrielis, Praetorius, Victoria ...etc.; have most of them. Had never, never been disappointed.

What do others think? I'd be glad to learn.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (April 2, 2001):
Waiting for Harry's recovery (How Are You, Harry?), I'll rather answer for my own question for ... myself.

I've bought McCreesh 'Magnificat & Easter Oratorio' four hours ago. Very good recording. Even if I was not entirely convinced to the OVPP approach in the 'Magnificat' - in 'Oratorio' it works perfectly well - after the second listening I was "sold out" to the whole performance. And I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

So many terrific CDs: Harnoncourt's SMP (BWV 244), Kuijken's cantatas and now new McCreesh. Who said that most of the revelations happened in the Bach year?

IMO, the best comment for the OVPP debate are Kuijken's words from the booklet of the DHM disc with BWV 9, BWV 94 and BWV 187: "Even if there are historical arguments that on one level are utterly compelling, we shall always be left with the question of taste (good or less good - everyone has the right to evince even the worst possible taste). In turn this offers us the freedom, after due reflection, to do whatever seems best. There can be no question of any moral obligation to copy something merely for the sake of it."

After saying that, I return to work with the company of Harnoncourt (actually - Christine Shafer with 'Erbarme dich...'), to mix it with some Gould at home in the evening.

 

Bach's Magnificat & Easter Oratorio from McCreesh, Part 1

Donald Satz wrote (April 1, 2001):
There has been much anticipation concerning the new release on Archiv of Bach's Magnificat & Easter Oratorio from Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort & Players. Before getting down to the review process, I have a few preliminary observations:

a. McCreesh seems to already have a fine reputation as a Bach interpreter. However, the bulk of his recording efforts have involved music prior to Bach's time. McCreesh did release a 2-cd set of an idealized occasion containing some Bach music and music of other composers. However, this new release is the first time that McCreesh has to stand or fall on how well he interprets and executes Bach's music.

b. McCreesh uses the one voice per part approach(ovpp). Against all common sense, this approach remains an issue to this day. Did Bach use ovpp based on preference or was it largely a matter of resourlimitations? At this point in time, I don't believe it makes much difference. The buying public has many examples of ovpp and multiple voices per part recordings to choose from. Some prefer ovpp, some don't. Personally, I feel that how well the ovpp appproach words depends largely on the quality of the vocalists, how well they blend together, and what the recording process might be doing to add heft to the vocalists. Of course, the importance of each vocalist is magnified in the ovpp approach.

c. McCreesh's tempos in this new release have been criticized as being excessively fast. This is clearly not the case with his Easter Oratorio which is of average tempo. However, his Magnificat is the fastest I've ever heard of. Most performances take close to 30 minutes; McCreesh clocks in at about 23 1/2 minutes. The next fastest performance on record I'm aware of comes from Gardiner who takes a little over 25 minutes. So, tempo in the Magnificat is certainly a consideration I will be commenting on.

Bach's Easter Oratorio BWV 249 began life as a secular pastoral cantata now identified as BWV 249a. Bach subsequently revised it for sacred use, a practice not uncommon for the era. The ressurection of Christ is a big event which is actually the final act which insures the potential redemption of humans. Christ's miracles, his trial, his crucifixion - they don't win the day; only his resurrection has lasting importance. Take that away and the rest becomes meaningless.

I'm using two other period instrument recordings for comparison: Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi and the ovpp recording by Parrott on Virgin Veritas. I have enjoyed both recordings very much over the past few years.

The Easter Oratorio opens with a rousing and celebratory Sinfonia which I consider one of Bach's most masterful sinfonias; it's hard to keep still when listening. At least that's the case with Parrott and Herreweghe; with McCreesh, I can remain perfectly still throughout. There's something about his pacing and attacks which are not sharp and concise. For example, in the opening flourish McCreesh's trumpets sound diffuse and the bounce in the music is indistinct. Overall, it's a flabby beginning for McCreesh.

The Sinfonia is followed by an introductory Adagio for oboe and strings. The music is sad, reflective, and lovely. McCreesh is much better in the Adagio - very tender and gorgeous. The same applies to Herreweghe. It's interesting to note that Parrott replaces the oboe with a recorder which ruins the movement for me; I find the instrument, in this situation, to be poorly projected and it's the recorder which has to provide the melody line.

The third part of the introduction is a chorus which gets us back to celebratory music. It is certainly appropriate since all the folks are thrilled to see that Christ is not in his tomb, and they assume it's because he has risen to heaven. The process of redemption appears to be in full swing. Herreweghe does very well and his chorus is effective. I prefer Parrott's ovpp regimen for this movement. His singers sound just as strong and full as Herreweghe's; also, due to smaller numbers, they provide greater clarity and detail. Further, I find that Parrott's vocalists are happier than those for Herreweghe. This doesn't mean that McCreesh and his ovpp approach is automatically a winner, and it isn't. As in the Sinfonia, the pacing is again flabby. The damage isn't all that great since McCreesh's fine singers deflect the problem.

A recitative for all four voices is followed by a bitter/sweet soprano aria. The three versions do fine in the recitative. In the aria, McCreesh's soprano Kimberly McCord has a deep and gorgeous voice fully up to the task. Barbara Schlick, for Herreweghe, matches McCord; although not as tonally beautiful, Schlick is most expressive. Parrott's singer, Emily Van Evera, has a light and youthful voice which I find does not match well with the music's intent - nothing terrible, just not up to the level of the other two performances.

The next recitative and aria for tenor deal with the tomb being empty, the rising of Jesus, and the 'sleep' and rest that can now be savored. The opening motif of the aria has a 'winding sheet' effect largely created through low-lying violins. Herreweghe's aria is a delight with a fully realized winding sheet effect, supreme relaxation, and a great tenor contribution from James Taylor whose voice is ever so soothing and pleasureable. When listening to Parrott, I was somewhat taken aback by his very brisk tempo; he takes a 7 1/2 minute movement and shaves off 2 minutes.

Of course, the winding sheet can move at any speed, but Parrott's interpretation has little affinity for resting; he wants to keep things moving. Also, Parrott's tenor Charles Daniels is a little nasal and no match for James Taylor in tonal beauty or interpretation. McCreesh brings us back to a more reasonable tempo, and he directs as well as Herreweghe. His tenor Paul Agnew is also as effective as Herreweghe's Taylor.

In the next recitative and aria for alto, the sense of urgency and impatience is heating up. This reflects the condition that although Jesus has likely risen, nothing on Earth has changed. In present time, believers take for granted their faith which has come down through many generations. Back then, faith must have been more tenuous without the tradition that we now have.

Surprisingly, the alto aria is a lively one which I feel does not align itself well with the text. Regardless, the music is infectious. McCreesh has no problems with pacing this time, but his alto Robin Blaze is problematic. I've not thought well of Blaze in the past in terms of his expressiveness, but his voice is usually very impressive. But not this time. The tonal beauty is largely missing, and the man sounds petulant instead of urgent. Parrott also has alto problems in Caroline Trevor who, if anything, is more of a trial to listen to than Robin Blaze. But there's worse to come in the voice of Kai Wessel for Herreweghe; the way it sounds to me, Wessel has nothing of value to offer in this aria. So it's thumbs up for the conductors and instruments, thumbs down for the challenged altos.

The Easter Oratorio concludes with a recitative for bass followed by the Chorus. Jesus has made a commmand appearance on Earth to bolster the faith of his followers. Now they have no doubt of the resurrection. The Chorus begins with a fanfare and ends with the gates of heaven opening wide to take in Jesus; this is highly rousing and uplifting music.

Herreweghe, Peter Kooy, and the chorus are great; it's so easy to picture those gates opening majestically. Parrott has equally fine success with David Thomas and the smaller number of singers. Everything goes equally well for McCreesh except for his bass Neal Davies. Mr. Davies was a bit of an irritant in the first Chorus with his blustery tone. In the recitative, Davies is more irritating since he has center stage. Also, in the concluding chorus I just seem to be more aware of his presence. On the bright side, you couldn't ask for a more majestic opening of heaven's gate.

Overall, I find McCreesh's Easter Oratorio to be a fairly good version with a few problems, about as good as the Parrott recording. McCreesh gets excellent support from Kimberly McCord and Paul Agnew, but Robin Blaze is not very effective and Neal Davies has little to offer. Also, McCreesh's pacing in the Sinfonia and first Chorus does not have sufficient spine and reduces my musical enjoyment. Parrott is also let down by his vocal soloists with David Thomas the only one fully satisfying. More than any other factor, the better soloists for Herreweghe make his version the best of the three. Only Kai Wessel is less than excellent, although I can't imagine less plesureable singing from a professional. Another advantage is that Herreweghe always has good pacing and doesn't stray from reasonable tempos.

Part 2 will cover the Magnificat in in D major, BWV 249. It should be interesting to hear those faster tempos that McCreesh uses.Since the Magnificat has a bass aria and an alto aria, Robin Blaze and Neal Davies aren't going to disappear. Perhaps they will do better and McCreesh won't create any problems either. What I am certain of is that I don't feel that McCreesh has yet shown any qualities that would lift him to the top ranks of Bach conductors. Hopefully, his Magnificat will erase my doubts.

P.S. - I'll be out of town in Las Vegas next week, so I won't be posting any reviews during that period or listening to any music either. I leave all that behind when I'm a visitor in a strange land. Besides, it's good to get a break and come back refreshed. When I do return from a trip, I am always starving for Bach's music; I like the anticipation.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 1, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< Herreweghe, Peter Kooy, and the chorus are great; it's so easy to picture > those gates opening majestically. Parrott has equally fine success with David Thomas and the smaller number of singers. >
I think you are wrong here. The bass in Parrott's recording is Peter Kooy as well. David Thomas is only involved in the other work on that CD: Cantata BWV 4.

Donald Satz wrote (April 1, 2001):
(To Johan van Veen) Yes, I was wrong. Thanks for pointing it out.

 

Bach's Magnificat & Easter Oratorio from McCreesh, Part 2

Donald Satz wrote (April 6, 2001):
Bach's Magnificat in D major, BWV 243, like the Easter Oratorio, began its life in another form. Originally in E flat and composed for Christmas, Bach revised it nine years later and set it in the brighter key of D major. This work is likely the most popular Magnificat composed up to this time. It's through-composed and has a grand total of seven arias including a duet and trio; there are also five choruses. That's a lot of great music as the recitatives take a vacation.

For comparsion listening, I'm using Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi, Parrott on EMI, Gardiner on Phillips, Suzuki on BIS, and Sigiswald Kuijken on Virgin Veritas.

The opening chorus is pure excitement and exaltation. Kuijken shows that great excitement can be obtained from a 3 minute performance. Except for McCreesh, Gardiner is the fastest and I was thinking he might be a little too quick until the chorus entered and great washes of sound enveloped me. This is fantastic choral execution. McCreesh is another matter as he races so fast that even the trumpet has trouble maintaining projection. When the chorus enters, I hear no great washes of sound; I hear four brave singers trying to keep up with McCreesh. This performance isn't exalting; it's exhausting. McCreesh has put himself in a big hole, and it's only the beginning.

The first aria is for soprano, and it's one of Bach's best. As in the opening chorus, exaltation is in the air as represented by the rising motif. The music has a wonderful momentum, string contributions which stretch the envelope, and the music's flow carries me ever higher into musical bliss.

My following comments pertain to tempo and the sopranos. At the usual or slow tempo, the aria has a strong degree of nobility. Gardiner, who speeds things up, loses that nobility and replaces it with nothing. This is where the even faster Parrott and McCreesh come in. They also lose the nobility, but they do replace it with excitement. Unlike in the opening chorus, McCreesh's very fast tempo pays dividends.

But all is not well for McCreesh. There's the matter of the appropriate type soprano voice. Since the aria is based on a 'rising' motif, I feel that the voice which best matches the music is a high and naturally optimistic one. For example, I think that Barbara Schlick would be a disaster in this aria; she's all about urgency, pleading, and bad times. Well, McCreesh's Julia Gooding has the deepest voice of any version I've heard. It's a fine voice, but I consider it ill-matched for the music and it brings diminishing returns. There is one other soprano I want to tell you about - Evelyn Tubb for Parrott. The woman has serious pitch problems and it is painful to hear them; this is just not acceptable. Whatever happened to re-takes? I like the Suzuki and Herreweghe versions most. Suzuki has the best momentum, and Herreweghe the best strings. Also, Agnes Mellon for Herreweghe and Yukari Nonoshita for Suzuki shine in the aria.

The aria with the rising motif is followed by another with a falling motif for soprano. The music has a strong element of sadness with the oboe d'amore providing a haunting melody. Herreweghe makes a good decision in using Barbara Schlick here instead of in the previous aria. She brings urgency and a little desperation which enhances the impact of the music; most important, falling motifs simply play into her vocal strengths. Herreweghe's tempo is just about average. McCreesh is quicker, but nothing unusual. His soprano Kimberly McCord, excellent in the Easter Oratorio, comes up with another great performance. As with Schlick, McCord is a natural for this type music although she is not as expressive as Schlick. So Herreweghe and McCreesh lead the way in this aria. Kuijken's version could have been in this category with some lovely singing from Greta de Reyghere; however, he uses the instruments to essentially add notes by reducing note values and thereby maintaining the beat. I don't like it as the music loses substance; to me, Kiujken is just messing around.

Without pause, the powerful and assertive chorus "Omnes generationes" begins. The reason for no pause is that the two words of the chorus, "all generations", completes the verse of the previous aria. Some versions have a sledgehammer effect; that's not inappropriate but I find it too much of a good thing. McCreesh has a more serious problem in his chorus; it sounds like a motley crew at best. My ears tell me that some of them must have a microphone in their throats as their projection is so much stronger than the other members. Even worse, those same voices sound poor; the low ones are blustery, and the high ones unmusical. What a relief it is to turn to Kuijken whose chorus is majestically distinct and at the same time fully in unison. This performance shows that there's plenty of wallop and intensification toward the climax without pummeling the listener.

Power and assertiveness are also major elements of the bass aria with bass continuo. However, this isn't the up-front strength of the previous chorus; it is the supremely confident strength of the Lord who feels no need to prove might. Also, there is a tenderness and understanding in the music and text which performers should recognize. The Suzuki and Herreweghe versions get it right. Peter Kooy for Herreweghe and Chiyuki Urano for Suzuki express the range of personality in the music superbly. Also, Herreweghe's bass continuo is beautifully confident, while the harpsichord contribution of Mamiko Nagahisa for Suzuki is wonderfully playful and uplifiting. I'd also like to give special notice to Pierre Hantai's harpsichord playing in Parrott's version, easily the best element in that performance. As for McCreesh, he is faster than the others, but I don't have any problem with his tempo. However, Neal Davies is rather blustery and not the type that anyone would want to worship unless forced or tricked into it.

"And his mercy is on them who fear him throughout the generations". That's the text of the aria for alto and tenor. This "fear" element is quite prevalent in many religions; personally, I don't feel that a true God would require it. However, humans at the source of power love using fear to consolidate their positions and ward off challengers who are also using fear to move up; its a potent weapon. That's as far as I'm taking this theme.

Kuijken clocks in at about 4 1/2 minutes; Parrott takes it down to under 3 minutes, and McCreesh finishes it off in 2 1/2 minutes. But to me, the aria is all about urgency and mystery. Can performances as quick as Parrott's and McCreesh provide those qualities? Since Parrott doesn't and McCreesh does, I'd have to say yes. Also, McCreesh's soloists, Blaze and Agnew, do very well together with well-proportioncontributions. However, I do prefer the slow and very serious Kiujken reading and Gardiner's exciting performance. Both use pacing to establish a strong reservoir of urgency, and the mystery is pervasive through their swirling flutes and strings. I'd also like to note that Suzuki, although giving a lovely performance, is rather benign as he pays little attention to mystery or urgency.

The next chorus deals with the power and might of the Lord. Now that's a good reason to have some fear; the Lord can snuff you out at will. Ultimately, the power of the Lord leads to an omnipotence which a fine performance needs to display. McCreesh is the fastest of the six versions, but I don't feel that the tempo is extreme. The problem this time is again the quality of the vocal soloists. They don't blend well together, and I had the impression that they had no desire to blend at all. Further, a couple of them don't sound good to begin with and seem to think it's "opera time". I must also relate that McCreesh does little to provide the requisite power and omnipotence until the conclusion which is a blast. My preferred versions come from Suzuki and Gardiner. Suzuki's reading is majestic, and Gardiner's provides the most thrilling display of power and might.

Speed goes too far in the tenor aria which concerns how the Lord takes down the powerful and lifts the lowly. Both Gardiner and McCreesh sound like they are rushing along; this high speed needs excitement as compensation, and they don't give it. Gardiner has the added disadvantage of a snarling Anthony Rolfe-Johnson; it doesn't suit him at all. Herreweghe's reading is a pleasure with those wonderful strings.

Next is an alto aria which is uplifting music quite calming and serene. Two flutes provide an exquisite melody line, and an excellent alto can wrap up this gorgeous music into a hugely pleasureable three minutes. Kuijken takes a little over three minutes with a lovely reading; René Jacobs is at his best. At about the same tempo, Herreweghe is just as effective, and Gerard Lesne is excellent although I do prefer Jacobs. But even better than Jacobs is Akira Tachikawa for Suzuki; the voice is fantastic and very expressive. However, Suzuki is a little quick for my tastes with reduced calm. Gardiner is also on the quick side; Charles Brett is very good but not in the same league as Jacobs, Lesne, or Tachikawa. Parrott picks up the speed even more although I hardly notice it with flutes that are mesmerizing; Caroline Trevor is really good - probably not as fine as Tachikawa - but a voice that brings out my sensual side. It wouldn't be easy for McCreesh to equal the versions of Parrott, Suzuki, or Kuijken, but he almost gets there. He's only held back by less expressiveness on the part of Robin Blaze compared to his very tough competition. Regardless, it's a fine performance on McCreesh's part. For my part, I'm going back to more of Caroline Trevor. Unfortunately, there is no photograph of her in the booklet, just one of Parrott.

What follows is a trio for two sopranos and alto, although Kuijken treats it as a Coro. This is quite a piece of music: soothing yet poignant, comforting yet urgent, uplifiting yet sad. It can suck in the listener in a flash, and all six versions do just that to me. Perhaps it's just the mood I'm in, but I feel that every conductor and vocalist is totally taken in by this trio and in the same ways. Tempos are hardly different among them, no vocalist tries to stand out, the oboes are equally effective, etc. I give a big round of applause to all involved.

Some may consider the next fugal Chorus to be a rousing one, but McCreesh treats it in a very restrained manner and I love it. He and his vocalists are in total unison in applying this restraint. I consistently get the feeling that they will break out into great washes of sound, but it never happens. They keep me on the edge throughout the performance. Another big plus is the McCreesh speed which enhances the joy in the music. Until listening to McCreesh, I doubted that I would hear as fine a reading as the Gardiner which is so uplifting and exciting. Although very different, McCreesh is Gardiner's equal here and his interpretive decisions are exceptional.

The final Chorus has two basic sections. The first is pure majesty, the second goes back to the first movement. Herreweghe and his chorus can't be beat in the finale; the majesty is supreme. McCreesh does quite well and is competitive. Parrott's reading is somewhat anemic with singing of little distinction.

Does McCreesh's Magnificat hold up to the best versions? No it doesn't. Too frequently, his fast speeds are problematic and his vocalists either not sufficiently engaged or of low tonal beauty. Kuijken, Herreweghe, and Suzuki are, in my opinion, much more consistently satisfying.

Don's Conclusions: McCreesh would be well advised to re-think tempos, sharpness, and whatever reasons used in selecting vocalists. Without these reconsiderations, I think it unlikely that he will join the select group of Bach conductors. For those who tend to be of differing opinion, just sample the opening movements of the Easter Oratorio and Magnificat. If impressed, the disc should be a fine acquisition. My overall recommendation is to proceed with caution.

 

McCreesh Maginificat’s review

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 12, 2001):
http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=3131

Charles Francis wrote (April 12, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) Yes, unfortunately I have to agree with this review.

Vesna wrote (April 12, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) I'm new on this group and I just read your e-mail. Thank you Riccardo, you really help me a lot with this link. I wasn't able and haven't enough time and energy to articulate my thoughts as precisely as the author of this review.

I haven't bye this CD of McCreesh, but I was on his ORLANDO (Händel) recently and I had the same perception of McCreesh "sound" as the writer of this article. It gives me more confidence in my music sense which I thought is not reliable because of the simple fact that I'm not professional musician as most of you from this group, I suppose, are. Nice to meet you all,

P.S. I booked the ticket for Magdalena Kozena and Chour et orchestre de Paris for Saturday: http://www.pariscope.fr/cgi-o2/MusiqueConcert?131016 I'm looking forward to hear for the first time my favorite Händel's soprano. Anyone heard her live? And Frans Brüggen conducting Bach?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 12, 2001):
< Vesna wrote: It gives me more confidence in my music sense which I thought is not reliable because of the simple fact that I'm not professional musician as most of you from this group, I suppose, are. >
Oh, no, there are very few professional musicians on this list as far as I know...

Piotr Jaworski wrote (April 13, 2001):
(To Vesna) VESNA!!! Is this your real name??? Magic! Guys, do you all know what the word 'VESNA' means? SPRING!!! (At least in some Eastern-European languages...) By the way - where are you from Vesna?

I saw Magda Kozena a year ago in Warsaw - she was singing alto part in the B minor Mass with the King's Consort. She was great, the whole concert was simply unforgetable. She is a great personality (already!) and definitely a kind of artist, that her development should be followed with attention.

And don't be affraid about the number of professional musicians here - it's exactly as Kirk writes; anyway - home-made musicians are in majority ;-) VESNA, Happy Easter to you and all others!

P.S. My opinion about the last McCreesh CD is rather dissenting from the Classics Today review, and some opinions presented here so far. Maybe this is the influence of the Glenn Gould biography I've recently read....(?) This will be my Easter CD this year.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (April 17, 2001):
Vesna wrote:
< (...) I'm French and living in Paris for a long time but my name is very common in Yugoslavia (I came here from Belgrade). >
Once again: you're more than welcome here, Vesna! I was in Belgrade in the ...Spring (!!!) of 1992, and have met a girl called Vesna .. it seems not only to be beautiful but also quite popular name ;-)

< (...) I adore her cantates of Händel with Marc Minkowski. I'll tell you how it was. >
It's not Bach - so maybe I should ask you to write me off-list – a friend of mine said that I should rather avoid this recording. "Dissappointing" was the word that she used .
Write me more - please.

< (...)Maybe this is the influence of the Glenn Gould biography I've recently read....(?) I haven't read it, but I'm sure I should. What he did say? >
You haven't and you probably will NEVER read - unless you'll start some Polish lessons ;-) The book titled "Glenn Gould - The Art of Fugue" had been written by the
Polish musical journalist - Stefan Rieger - and published only in Poland. But what GG said about the practice of performing musical works - simply, that every new interpretation should be the act of creation, and not the re-creation. If an artists has nothing new to express by his act of performance, recording etc. , then should rather avoid this. And should not perform the certain work.

In my opinion - the last McCreesh CD is exactly the 'new voice'. His arguments from the booklet - about the 'Oratorio', about the performing practice etc. are well balanced, well motivated and clear. Since we merely live in the sphere of speculation as for the Bach music had been performed, why not to speculate a bit more? Do we really need another copy of Herreweghe, Suzuki or Junghänel style?

Is that kind of 'musical correctness' necessary? That's my opinion. By the way - I do not belong (yet!) to the group of GG un-critical enthusiasts. But the above statement convince me much - and not only in the world of MUSIC.

 

Review from MusicTeachers.co.uk Online Journal, April 2001

Editor, MusicTeachers.co.uk wrote (April 15, 2001):
Review from MusicTeachers.co.uk Online Journal
(http://www.musicteachers.co.uk/journal)

JS BACH: OSTER-ORATORIUM (BWV 249), MAGNIFICAT (BWV 243)
Julia Gooding, Kimberly McCord - soprano
Robin Blaze - countertenor
Paul Agnew - tenor
Neal Davies - bass
Gabrieli Consort and Players
Paul McCreesh - conductor
Archiv Produktion 469 531-2
TPT 65'16

Only two other works by Bach, written for Christmas and Ascension tide, bear the title Oratorio and although the Christmas example is a collection of six cantatas, written for the major feasts of the festival, both its contents and the Ascension Oratorio share the same cantata format. The Easter Oratorio, on the other hand, is unusual in that it uses neither biblical nor chorale-based texts and consists solely of choruses and arias. It originated as a secular cantata Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen (BWV 249a) based on a pastoral theme, which was presented to the duke of Saxe-Weissenfels as a birthday present in 1725. Its revision as a sacred text only a few weeks later attests to Bach's need to continually adapt existing works for other purposes - the characters of the secular text became replaced with Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and the disciples Peter and John. Framed by trumpeters in its outer movements, euphorically referring to the Resurrection, the text and music of the main body are surprisingly contemplative in their affekt and, despite being a parody of the earlier version, the work shows no signs of its original intent.

The Magnificat needs little introduction; a regular part of the Lutheran Vespers, it was sung in the vernacular by the congregation, although on principal feasts a more elaborate setting in Latin was usually provided. Two versions have survived, in E-flat major (BWV 243a) and the earlier one in D major (recorded here), which was composed over several weeks in 1723. It is a through-composed work - a sequence of short movements, each of which portrays a verse of the text, they are an able demonstration of Bach's characteristic versatility of form and musical material. There can be few who doubt McCreesh's intention in the field of historical performance and although recently his releases of Händel's Solomon and Theodora have received excellent reviews world over, one cannot help but feel that with Bach he somehow misses the mark altogether. Overall, there is little that is questionable in the Easter Oratorio, but the performance is rather bland. Gooding fares particularly poorly: she has a remarkable wobble - I think in artistic terms I should refer to is as vibrato but that implies a modicum of control that seems to be lacking altogether. Davies doesn't fare much better - in fact, he flounders around in both solos and choruses and it is only through Agnew and Blaze that we find the sort of clarity and consistency one would like to associate with Bach. Particularly questionable is McCreesh's approach to speed: with the exception of the (in this case over-) slow, central movement of the Easter Oratorio 'Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer', which recalls the 'bad old days' of Karl Münchinger's accounts of Bach, many of his tempi are upbeat and, in the Magnificat, almost at the point of being ludicrous. Take, for instance, the bizarre 'Deposuit potentes': with a crotchet speed of around 126, even performers of Agnew's vocal agility are going to suffer - he manages to hang on by a hairbreadth. If this were restricted to the odd movement alone, one might be prepared to forgive and forget, but, no doubt egged on by his belief in Andrew Parrott's feeble arguments for a one-to-a-part approach, McCreesh provides a pretty vulgar display in which musicianship and sensitivity are laid waste in favour of so-called virtuosity. The result? Well, some pretty flimsy accounts by most of the soloists, intonation problems and poor rhythmic control from singers and band alike. Blaze strives to overcome this serious obstacle in 'Esurientes implevit bonis' with a particularly admirable account, and even McCreesh seems to have brought down the speeds for 'Suscepit Israel'. But what follows seals the recording's fate as quirky and eccentric. Breaking even Eliot Gardiner's speed record (Philips 411 458-2, 1983), McCreesh pushes the boat out in a vain attempt to capture the essence of the Baroque; instead it becomes a freak show, an ugly performance that lacks the dignity demanded by not only the words, but the tradition in which the piece was originally conceived and written.

To read more... http://www.musicteachers.co.uk/journal

 

Review: McCreesh OSTER-ORATORIUM (BWV 249), MAGNIFICAT (BWV 243)

Charles Francis wrote (April 20, 2001):
Another review of the recent McCreesh OVPP performance:
http://www.musicteachers.co.uk/journal/index.php?issue=2001-04&file=bach

Donald Satz wrote (April 20, 2001):
John Woodford's review in the attachment is about the most negative I have read. I just have one point of disagreement. Woodford admires the singing of Robin Blaze, and I have never found him particularly good in Bach's music. He's quite generic, and I don't feel he digs deeply into the characters and moods he is required to play. But Paul Agnew is excellent on the disc as indicated by Woodford.

Sybrand Bakker (April 20, 2001):
(To Charles Francis) Question: Why do you only forward URLs of negative reviews? This is the second time you've done so. Apparently you agree with them. So, why don't you review the disc yourself for this list?

Donald Satz wrote (April 21, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) I think Sybrand is being pretty hard on Charles. If he prefers to attach a review instead of doing one himself, that's fine with me. It's much better than nothing. Also, it could be difficult to find a favorable review of the McCreesh effort that makes any sense.

Charles Francis wrote (April 20, 2001):
Sybrand Bakker wrote:
< Question: Why do you only forward URLs of negative reviews? >
Do I really? I don't believe youcan substantiate that claim! This particular review arrived today lunch-time in my newsgroup folder for alt.music.j-s-bach and I forwarded it immediately to BachRecordings (at least one member here apparently cannot access the newsgroups). I just know of two reviews of the McCreesh recording (both bad), so please do not judge my motives according to your own character.

< This is the second time you've done so. >
And pray which other negative URL did I forward???

< Apparently you agree with them. So, why don't you review the disc yourself for this list? >
Perhaps you could provide some insightful reviews of Gardiner's recordings to indicate why you claim he doesn't have much understanding of Bach? As I pointed out this time last year, a holiday can be recommended.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 21, 2001):
The first one sending an URL with a review of the latest Magnificat by McCreesh was me, not Charles (that I know as a very kind person). I think that sending links to reviews should be useful : more voices you hear, more informed you are. If what I do is wrong I please the list'moderators to tell me and I'll stop.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 21, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) Nope, keep 'em coming.

 

McCreesh and … Tureck (1)

Piotr Jawoski wrote (April 23, 2001):
The discussion on the last McCreesh recording is getting .. warmer ;-)
Good - as long as we discuss qualities of performance.

I've read two reviews in the Polish press - one in the musical magazine, one in the most reliable weekly - both very favourable. Strange how much Polish reviewers differ from the Anglo-Saxon ones ...

I gave another extensive listening to McC during the weekend – comparing it to Suzuki (Magnificat) and Herreweghe (Oratorio). And one strange thing came to my mind.... GOLDBERG VARIATIONS - one played – for instance by GG (1981) or Maria Yudina (!) and another by Rosalyn Tureck (1957 recording). What about tempos in those recordings? Let's put Yudina for McCreesh and Tureck for Herreweghe - what would you think? What about tempos?? What about the 'overall concept, interpretation'?

I can't listen to Tureck after Yudina (or Perahia) any longer....; What is so precious about the McCreesh recording - IMO - is that we have to re-think our previous perception of both works. He shows that baroque "Sacrum" was very much mixed with "Profanum", possible to found in almost every work..

Sybrand Bakker wrote (April 23, 2001):
I have the Magnificat score and I will be calculating tempi the next few days for: McCreesh, Gardiner, Herreweghe, Suzuki, Parrot.

Charles Francis wrote (April 23, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) In the meantime there are some timings at:
http://groups.google.com/groups?q=McCreesh&hl=en&lr=&safe=off&rnum=5&seld=909628339&ic=1

I must say, the Simon Preston Magnificat with the choir of Christ Church, Oxford is one of my favourites. It's such a shame that the excellent singing of these choir boys is confined to Bach's Latin works.

Donald Satz wrote (April 24, 2001):
(To Piotr Jaworski) Just today, I read a glowing review in Fanfare concerning the McCreesh CD of the Magnificat and Easter Oratorio. His performances obviously are controversial; folks either love 'em or hate 'em.

As for Yudina's Goldberg Variations, the best I remember is that my lack of affection for her readings didn't have much to do with tempo per se. I feel that she pulled rhythm out of joint quite often and was very low on tonal beauty. Further, I often felt she was indulging herself at Bach's expense. The Goldberg Variations is one of Bach's more delicate works and doesn't respond well to an aggressive approach. Also, the sound quality didn't do Yudina any favors.

Concerning very fast tempos in general, I find they can work wonderfully as long as I feel that one or more favorable elements comes to the table as a result of the faster tempo. More excitement would be a fine benefit, and in a couple of movements of McCreesh's disc I did find greater excitement. As with the Yudina Goldbergs, the McCreesh tempos were just one negative among quite a few. There were times when McCreesh's vocalists and brass had trouble keeping up with the tempo. Generally, his instrumental support lacked strong bite. His vocalists were not a strong element, particularly the bass and alto. Every time I have heard Robin Blaze in Bach, he sounds to me to sing in a generic fashion, usually not into the character/mood he is portraying. So even if there was no need for McCreesh to revise his thinking about tempos, I maintain that he needs to rethink his approach to his orchestra and selection of vocalists. Herreweghe is not one of the Bach conductors who greatly emphasizes the orchestra "stretching the envelope", but he's way ahead of McCreesh in that area.

Piotr Jawoski wrote (April 24, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] (First - does FANFARE have a web site? I'd love to read this review.)

And B2B - I used the 'GVs' and Yudina/Gould/Tureck example to reflect the first impression that comes to ones mind after the first tracks of the McCreesh disc. Tempos. Just afterwards - the very operatic style of performance (some reviewers already criticised that). I can imagine, that McC used those tempos to justify (to support somehow) his entire concept of how both works should be performed. Simply added some 'secular spices' - if you accept completely unprofessional notion. The final result...? "Love it or hate it!" You're absolutely right. I can see your point (presented below), accept it and partially share it.

More comments from others? Harry!!! You've promised! ;-)

 

Magnificats BWV 243 & BWV 243a: Details
Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | BWV 243a | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Systematic Discussions: BWV 243 | BWV 243a
Individual Recordings:
BWV 243 - E. Haïm | BWV 243 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 243a - T. Hengelbrock | BWV 243 - P. McCreesh | BWV 243 - J. Rifkin | BWV 243 - H. Rilling | BWV 243 - R. Shaw | BWV 243 - M. Suzuki | BWV 243a - P. Herreweghe

Oster-Oratorium BWV 249: Recordings of BWV 249 | Recordings of BWV 249a | Details of BWV 249b | Recordings of Individual Movements | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | BWV 249 - McCreesh

Paul McCeesh: Short Biography | Gabrieli Consort & Players | Recordings | General Discussions
Individual Recordings:
Epiphany Mass - McCreesh | BWV 243 & BWV 249 - McCreesh | BWV 244 - McCreesh | BWV 245 - McCreesh

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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Last update: ýAugust 21, 2006 ý14:52:40