‘Bach arranging and arranged’ reviewed in IRR

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Nicholas Anderson reviewed our CD ‘Bach arranging and arranged’ for International Record Review.

The main piece in this interesting programme is Bach’s own arrangement, or parody of Pergolesi’s celebrated Stabat Mater for soprano and alto voices with strings and continuo. Pergolesi completed it in 1735, shortly before his death in the following year, and Bach produced his version a decade or two later. The German-rhymed paraphrase is by an unidentified author and Bach, of necessity, had to make many small adjustments to accomodate the new text. Nevertheless, in the main he remained faithful to Pergolesi’s original, though enriching the texture with an independent viola strand.

The performance is a delight from start to finish. All too often this music is spoilt by the uneven results and almost invariable rivalry stemming from the partnership of a soprano with a counter-tenor. Neither Rachel Elliott nor Sally Bruce-Payne is over-assertive or over-eager to take centre stage, much preferring to preserve the penitential context of the piece and the ethereal beauty of the music. Both voices strike my ears as about ideal as you could get. Their lightly articulated phrasing, stylish decoration and, where occasion requires, even partnership are a constant delight. Indeed, I find their sublime duet ‘Denn du willst kein Opfer haben’ outstandingly sensitive in matters of expression and here, as throughout, they are accompanied by gently complementary string playing.

In short, no rival version that I have heard on disc, and there are several, matches this one. Well-judged tempos and an ideal recorded sound set the seal on a particularly satisfying issue. To hell with the credit crunch, go and buy it, at once.

International Record Review, February 2009