If this inaugural disc of Daniel Taylor along with the choir and orchestra of the Theatre of Early Music is the baseline for quality and artistic integrity, then the Sony/BMG catalogue should soon be bursting with full-length productions of the major vocal/choral/orchestral glories of the Baroque era from these talented performing artists.
In this sampler, Taylor’s well-known ability to draw purity and passion out of every phrase is confirmed once more in his solo arias. It’s hard to imagine a more engaging performance of Erbarme dich, mein Gott. From the splendid violin solo introduction (moved along ever so gently by double bass Reuven Rothman and Matthew Halls’ stellar organ work) the bar is set high. Taylor pushes his colleagues even further as the minor ninths find extra weight and the phrasing abandons the bar lines but never the pulse. Being his own conductor is worth the gamble: what few and far between moments of ensemble untidiness are more than compensated for by a singularity of purpose and craft that are the hallmark of these readings. The marvellously interwoven strands of violin and voice (“Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder”) is a constant pleasure; the lovely match between oboe and violin lifts “Bereite dich, Zion” to the heavens; Richard Campbell’s admirable contribution on the viola da gamba adds an extra degree of colour to “Es ist vollbracht!,” even as Taylor moves deftly between despair and victory.
The trio of orchestral sinfonias serve their purpose of showcasing the orchestra and preparing the way for the arias which follow. The only quibble comes with a surprisingly overly-legato bass line (Cantata BWV 21) depriving the excellent work of the soloists (oboe and violin) of some much-needed contrast.
A pair of duets features soprano Agnes Zsigovics. In “Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten” the delightfully dry continuo is the perfect foil to the singers who are at one with each other in diction, tone and delivery. An occasional rush (measured in milliseconds) to the second beat of the sequences is the only distraction in this marvel of texture and balance. “Du wahrer Gott, und Davids Sohn,” walks along easily (allowing the triplets to move with vibrancy and grace). The cadences are especially polished with each phrase being truly finished before a snatch of breath then on to the next. Once again, maestro as soloist understands this process better than most.
In many ways, the two choral works are the finest music-making of the disc. The choir is superb: the sopranos’ entries are a marvel of exactitude and clear colour; the altos bring out the inner voices with subtle skill; the tenors always support—never push—their lines, while the basses provide a real bottom upon which to build. Accordingly, the rich harmonic writing in “Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich hiermit” is incredibly realized; its last chord lingers in memory long after it has disappeared into the ether. “O Jesu Christ, mein’s Lebens Licht” also has much to savour, yet the recording balance left the nearly pitch-perfect trumpets a little too distant to mix effectively with their colleagues.
Let’s declare this musical experiment a resounding success and begin planning for more. JWR