Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Hyperion Records) has been named 'Album of the Week' by The Sunday Times (2013).
"..there is infinite variety in this seasoned Bach conductor's trajectory of the six cantatas..."
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Soloists, Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, cond Stephen Layton
"Although Bach called these six yuletide cantatas, composed in 1734, an oratorio, he intended them to be performed separately: on the first, second and third days of Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision, the first Sunday after New Year and the Feast of Epiphany (the visit of the Magi). Yet the composer clearly regarded them as a set, using the same theme for the first chorale in the Christmas Eve and Epiphany cantatas. The opening movement of the first cantata, with magnificent trumpets and drums calling the faithful to rejoice, exults in his most dramatic manner. Layton (pictured) and his orchestral players begin with tremendous verve, but there is infinite variety in this seasoned Bach conductor’s trajectory of the six cantatas with the lively, mixed-voice Trinity choir — singing in excellent German — and elite British soloists. Iestyn Davies’s plush, androgynous alto is perfect for Bereite Dich, Zion, while Matthew Brook’s sturdy and ringing Grosser Herr und starker König is the first of a sequence of great arias for bass. James Gilchrist’s Evangelist here could hardly be bettered among his compatriots, incisively declaimed and subtly nuanced. The quartet is completed by the ethereal-toned Katherine Watson, a new name to me, but clearly one to watch."
Handel: Messiah (featuring Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia) has been voted "The Best Recording" by BBC Music Magazine's Building a Library.
"Stephen Layton's musicians bring an unparalleled freshness to this familiar work, combining power with a delicacy faithful to Handel's Baroque sensibility. The music Handel composed for Messiah is meant to convince audiences of a vision beyond religious factionalism, and Layton rightly shapes his reading around the oratorio's verses. Every phrase, whether played or sung, is suffused with word-meaning. Momentum builds throughout the work, thanks to the excellent musicianship of the choir, conductor, instrumentalists and soloists alike. The choir's responsiveness, the Britten Sinfonia's airy ensemble, the fluidity of Layton's tempos and the musical imagination of the soloists deftly nuance a score forged from Messiah's 1750 version and some later variants. Modern instruments are made to sound like period instruments, with the players adopting a Baroque clarity, nimbleness and ingenuity of extemporisation. Gorgeous instrumental solos abound. Violinist Jacqueline Shave's obbligato lines are particularly delightful , delivered with such sweet vulnerability to make the same passages on rival discs seem clunky. Similarly, while larger than the choirs Handel directed, Polyphony retains the transparency needed to portray Handel's elaborate counterpoint, which culminates in the final 'Amen'. This Messiah not only captures the heart, but ravishes the ear."
Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Hyperion Records) is listed No. 2 in Specialist Classical Albums Top 20 - Official Charts Company
New release - Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Hyperion Records). Soloists, The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment