‘Nun komm!’ reviewed in IRR

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Marc Rochester reviewed our CD ‘Nun komm!’ for International Record Review.

You need not check out their website (which includes an endearing collage of photographs of the musicians with Bach himself embedded near the middle, the only colour portrait in a sea of black and white) to know that The Bach Players ‘is a collective of like-minded musicians who are drawn together by their passion for the music of J.S. Bach’. That oozes out of every moment of this quite magical disc. Intimate, infused with joy and overflowing with genuine affection, this is music-making which combines enthusiasm and craftsmanship to create something both rare and precious. With just a single voice to each part the choruses may sound a little thin, but in all other respects these are performances which stand out from the crowd for their freshness, vitality and sense of total commitment to the music.

The five voices which carry the entire vocal weight of the two Bach cantatas are unfailing in their purity and precision. In the order in which they appear on the disc, Nicholas Mulroy proves an agile and delightfully athletic tenor in his aria ‘Komm, Jesu, komm’, Jonathan Gunthorpe, while making a mere 47-second solo appearance in a recitative from BWV 61, paves the way beautifully for the delectably pure-toned Rachel Elliott, while Sally Bruce-Payne brings a touch of drama and something approaching majesty to her BWV97 recitative and aria. Peter Harvey delivers his aria ‘Nichts ist spät und frühe’ with a charming buoyancy which seems to float above the graceful support of Alison McGillivray and Silas Standage. A real highlight, and the one track potential buyers should listen to if they need convincing that this is a disc to snatch up at the earliest opportunity, is the beautifully bubbly duet between Harvey and Elliott from BWV97, ‘Hat er es denn beschlossen’.

Complementing such excellent singers, the dozen instrumentalists inform the entire project with a pleasing lightness of touch, infusing it all with the spirit of the dance which finds its apogee in the Erlebach Ouverture, a wonderful suite of dances which is almost more French than the French themselves (hence the otherwise perplexing question posed in the booklet notes, ‘How come that Bach and Erlebach were both German composers?’). In fact, the link between these seemingly unconnected works is the French ‘ouverture’, each of the cantatas following the outline of the French model. It makes for the kind of intriguing programming approach which is clearly one of the hallmarks of The Bach Players, their two previous discs exploring the use of the chaconne and the possibilities opened up by composers rearranging each others’ work. Another hallmark, and one which lies close to the heart of all readers of IRR, is the superlative quality of these recordings, which are models of clarity and balance.

Dotted around the disc like so many rustic seats in an ornamental garden are versions of the ancient song hymn ‘Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen’, which is the chorale melody running through BWV97. We hear it in two instrumental versions, by Christian Hollander and Paul Lütkeman, as well as in an unaccompanied four-part setting by Heinrich Isaac. It all adds another fascinating strand to this programme and serves to demonstrate further the extraordinary musical qualities of The Bach Players.

Encased within a most attractive and stylish package – although tenor Nicholas Mulroy is labelled an alto on the outer cover – complete with rare engravings and a substantial booklet note, this is a highly treasurable recording which cannot fail to enchant those who come across it. It has certainly worked its magic on me.

International Record Review, November 2010