Bach St Matthew Passion and Poulenc keyboard works CDs


BACH ST MATTHEW PASSION: Choir of King's College Cambridge / AAM / Cleobury (3 CD / SACD KGS0037-D) ★★★★★

This impressive new recording is a fitting epitaph to Sir Stephen Cleobury who was the Choir's director of music from 1982 until his death last November. It has the virtues we have come to know from his innumerable concert appearances, recordings and broadcasts: clarity, precision and passion in due proportion with the drama emerging naturally without the need for fussy interpretative point-making. The choir of around thirty, plus a similarly-sized ripieno choir for the opening and closing chorales of Part 1, live up to their world-class reputation, from the firm foundation of the basses to the pure-toned trebles. There is an excellent team of soloists with outstanding performances by bass Matthew Rose (Jesus) and tenor James Gilchrist (Evangelist), supported stylishly by the Academy of Ancient Music. The College's expansive acoustic is exploited to full effect, capturing the performance in impressively wide-ranging sound. The handsomely-produced comprehensive 60-page booklet is also first-rate.

Norman Stinchcombe

POULENC: Bebbington / RPO / Latham-Koenig (Resonus RES10256) ★★★★

Mark Bebbington's new series of French music is off to a cracking start with a collection devoted to the effervescent Francis Poulenc. His piano concerto was given a tardy reception at its 1950 premiere in Boston. Profundity was expected but Poulenc offered wit, pastoral grace (the rustic slow movement) and a fun finale with Brazilian dances and a sea shanty. Bebbington plays with zest and a twinkle in his eye with lively support from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jan Latham-Koenig. The insouciant neo-classical Concert Champêtre was composed for harpsichord virtuoso Wanda Landowska. Bebbington plays the less-frequently heard version for piano (very admirably) and while there are few differences one loses the piquant contrast between weighty orchestral opening and quaintly tinkling response. Bebbington is joined by John Roberts (oboe) and Jonathan Davies (bassoon) for Poulenc's Trio, and the Sonata for Oboe and Piano, to round off a highly enjoyable disc.

Norman Stinchcombe

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