CD Reviews

Bach: Choral Works - Jesu, meine Freude

The American Record Guide

Jesu, meine Freude 

Agnes Zsigovics, Daniel Taylor, Benjamin Butterfield, Daniel Lichti;
Ottawa Bach Choir & Baroque Orchestra / Lisette Canton

July/August 2009 issue

This rewarding album bears eloquent testimony to Ottawa's vibrant choral scene. Bearing the title of Jesu, meine Freude (the single motet heard here), its pleasing program further includes two of Bach's best-known cantatas. So rather than indulge in needless musicological commentary, I'll concentrate on the stellar performances.

The opening selection is Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lay in the bonds of death), no doubt Bach's most often-performed cantata. Then comes the motet, its only instrumental support being (as Bach intended) organ continuo and some instrumental doubling of vocal parts. Finally, we hear Jesu, der du meine Seele (Jesus, who has saved my soul).

What a choir! They deliver tight, chiselled sound, deliciously pure tone, exemplary balance, squeaky-clean vocal counterpoint, flawless German diction, and utterly convincing spirituality. Director Lisette Canton cultivates a historically-informed approach, but she never takes it to contrived-sounding extremes.

She has also gathered a truly exceptional team of soloists — among the best I've ever heard. I've thrilled to the work of countertenor Daniel Taylor and tenor Benjamin Butterfield in fine recordings from Sony, Koch, and Dorian — and they are just as impressive here. Soprano Agnes Zsigovics owns a limpid, emotionally naked instrument; her exquisite 'Den Tod' duet with Taylor in the first cantata just about reduced me to tears. Bass Daniel Lichti's resonant singing is just as affecting. Just wait till you hear his rendition of 'Hier ist das Rechte Osterlamm' (same cantata).

Their orchestra — apparently a pick-up ensemble — is also first-rate. I'm hardly surprised these days how close really good players can get to what we think of as period sound and style with modern instruments. The strings even sound gut-strung here and there.

Don't let the fact that this is an independent in-house production fool you; it's as thoroughly professional and pleasing a recording as you can hope to find in the crowded Bach choral field, even among the top labels. Early music fans — and rabid Bach nuts in particular — will cherish it. Pristine recorded sound and a well-done booklet seal a most pleasant deal. You can get it from the usual online vendors or the choir's website: Otherwise, call their home office at 613-270-1015.


© American Music Guide 2009


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