Gabrieli Consort & Players/McCreesh review – superb and exhilarating Bach | Classical music
Jhe main work of Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort and Players’ Bach concert at the Wigmore was the Easter Oratorio, which we don’t hear as often as we should. Originally written as a cantata for Easter Sunday in 1725, it was revised into an oratorio 10 years later. With just under an hour of music, it’s relatively short when placed next to Bach’s Passions. And, unlike Handelian oratorio, it is rooted primarily in reflection rather than dramatic storytelling. “Reflective”, however, does not even begin to describe the impact it makes with its exalted opening and closing choruses, its recitatives for several soloists which sometimes veer towards the operatic arioso and its successive arias with obligate woods. It’s meditative, uplifting and among the finest things in Bach’s output.
McCreesh and his musicians interpreted it wonderfully well. The use of just four singers and 19 musicians resulted in a crystal-clear counterpoint, its sheer complexity adding to the momentum of the opening sinfonia and refrain. The arias were exquisite, especially Sanfte, Soll Mein Todeskummer for tenor (Hugo Hymas, excellent) and two recorders (Rebecca Miles and Ian Wilson), the emotional and theological linchpin of the work, a meditation on how Christ’s resurrection turned death into little more than sleep. Rowan Pierce was the silver soprano, Tim Mead the warm-voiced countertenor. A glorious job, quite superbly done.
His companion pieces were the Sinfonia de Am Abend Aber Desselbigen Sabbats, a cantata for the Sunday after Easter, and another relative rarity, the Mass in G minor, written around 1739. May the latter not be an imposing masterpiece as the huge Mass in B minor is no reason to ignore it, for it contains some remarkable things, most notably, perhaps, the stunning counterpoint at the start of the Gloria, which really suggests multiple voices rising enthusiastically in praise of the glory of God. Once again, the interpretation was superb and exhilarating, the choirs wonderfully clear, the airs executed with admirable balance: the bass Matthew Brook, who had relatively little to do in the Oratorio, imposed himself here with the Gratias Agimus Tibi, sung with great fervor and warmth.