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HANDEL: Dixit Dominus BACH & SCHÜTZ: Motets

Fanfare
18 septembre 2019

It seems to have become fairly common nowadays for choruses, some new, some long-established, to issue discs that either show off a particular program or ensemble. Never mind that downloads and sites such as YouTube may be more accessible to the public at large, but the compact disc is not yet on the same path as the dinosaurs in terms of relevancy. These serve an important purpose, in my opinion, as a means of introducing an ensemble to the world at large, as well as providing archival documentation of their talents. The repertory chosen is, for the most part, based upon known works, but occasionally there can be included odds and ends that are not always readily available as repertory pieces. This brings us to this recording of the Ottawa Bach Choir, which has put together a program of sacred works for which it is eminently suited. Handel’s large Dixit Dominus (HWV 232) is the centerpiece, but here we also find a series of four Passion motets by his German predecessor Heinrich Schütz, drawn from the Cantiones sacræ collection of 1625, and concluding with a filler work, Johann Sebastian Bach’s motet Komm, Jesu, Komm (BWV 229). The term used to describe this grouping in the notes is “German roots,” but in reality it seems as if they were chosen as a documentation of works taken on tour. The opening picture of the Bach Choir in Beijing seems to support this, particularly since all of them are readily available individually in the recording repertory; here I am reminded of John Eliot Gardiner’s fine rendition of the Handel as far back as 1992 on Erato, René Jacobs’s recent recording of all of Bach’s motets in 2017 on Harmonia Mundi, and the complete Cantiones sacræ on Carus by the Dresdener Kammerchor about six years ago. Thus there is no lack of fine exemplars of these works, but here, again, it is the choir and its interpretation that is the key to the disc.

The Dixit dates from 1707 as one of Handel’s earliest large-scale works. The accompaniment is limited to strings, albeit with a rather thicker texture, and it consists of various choruses with a few solos and two arias thrown in for good measure. I’ve always liked the first chorus of this work, since it has the restless energy one finds occasionally in Purcell with a steadily marching bass, machine-like strings, and a forceful declamatory statement by the chorus. It is a rousing way of starting off the piece and serves as a nice foil to the more lyrical aria (Virgam virtutis) that follows. This is texturally more sparse, allowing for the alto solo, here capably performed by countertenor Daniel Taylor, to create flowing lines. Elsewhere, the De torrente, which ought to be vivacious and joyous, is a thoughtful and somewhat mysterious duet for two sopranos that requires absolute control of pitch. Happily, soloists Kayla Ruiz and Kathleen Radke accomplish this with serene beauty, beneath which a ghostly chorus enters with occasional commentary. The suspensions are spine-tingling at times. The doxology replicates the opening chorus, with some of the impressive vocal lines for which Handel is famous. They wander and tumble over each other, and the strings and organ follow suit, especially when the harmonically stable cantus firmus enters in the tenors.

The pieces chosen from about a century earlier are quite different, showing that Schütz owed a great deal to the late Renaissance madrigal. For example, the cascading opening lines of Ego sum seem as blatant a statement of “egotistical” madrigalism as one might wish for in their bright and unmistakable effect. As this motet progresses, the harmonies shift fluidly, and there are moments of imitation but no strict polyphony. This seems reserved for Calicem salutaris, where the vocal entrances are scaffolded and the lines weave about each other until coming to a homophonic cadence. These are well-formed works that require close attention to detail in order to be understood.

As ensembles go, the Bach Choir, from which the soloists were drawn, has a nicely transparent sound that reflects this sort of music well. The diction is clear and the intonation is accurate. Conductor Lisette Canton has a fine ensemble to work with, and the period instrument group Caprice functions well as an accompaniment in the Handel without disturbing the vocal dominance. The clarity of the voices alone will give this performance a place in among the other renditions of this repertory. This is one disc that seems to transcend the mundane needs of public exposure, for it shows a disciplined group that is fully at home in the style of music and equal as a competitor for other ensembles. I, for one, am looking forward to their next disc.

© 2019 Fanfare
 

Gramophone
18 septembre 2019

Showing that Toronto is not the only Canadian city capable of producing superb period ensembles, the Ottawa Bach Choir, conducted by founding director Lisette Canton, have combined with Matthias Maute’s Ensemble Caprice from Montreal in eloquent, persuasive performances of Handel, Schütz and Bach. The two have teamed up before, most notably in 2016, when they played in Beijing and Shanghai, and this is reflected in how easily they move to the heart of the music’s spiritual message, and how organically they integrate their HIP knowledge in order to communicate that message.
Their performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus also gets the young composer’s precocious power and the passion of his utterances. From the exuberant, rigorous physicality of the opening chorus and the clear enunciation of the singing, the choir sing as if the words were actually being listened to and reflected upon by an engaged congregation.

The Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor’s sweet-toned singing of ‘Virgam virtutis tuae’ is one of a number of lovely vocal contributions, another being sopranos Kayla Ruiz and Kathleen Radka’s exquisite ‘De torrente in via bibet’. There is splendid instrumental work throughout, including Jean-Christophe Lisette’s cello solo in the ‘Virgam’. And the choir show their virtuosity and staying power in the fugue that concludes the ‘Gloria Patri, et Filio’.

The Schütz songs are similarly vivid and engaged, but even so the grandeur of Bach’s motet is staggering and movingly performed. The sound is captured splendidly by Montreal’s own ATMA Classique label in the audiophile space of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church in Ottawa.

© 2019 Gramophone
 

American Record Guide
22 juillet 2019

The recent flow of recordings of Handel’s Dixit Dominus has brought the recognition that this Psalm setting of 1707 was the composer’s first great choral masterpiece.

I have lost track of how many recordings it has been given, but I can say that this new one is among the very best. The Ottawa Bach Choir, a 21-member mixed-voice group, digs into the work with wonderful enthusiasm and strength, capturing all its exuberance. With the addition of countertenor Daniel Taylor, the soloists come from the choir ranks and they are quite good.

Choices amid competition for this halfhour work will partly depend on what other material is paired with it. Here five brief Passion motets from the 1625 publication of the Cantiones Sacrae of Heinrich Schutz are offered. This entire program was recorded in May 2018, but the choir sounds different here—more dense and constricted. The composer’s use of post-Renaissance polyphony and madrigalian textures seems to dampen the performers’ precision and clarity.

For the finale, Canton and her choir turn to their namesake, JS Bach, with his Komm, Jesu, Komm, one of his unaccompanied motets. These musicians are beautifully attuned to the music’s richly contrapuntal eight-voice double choir texture.

There really was space for more music here, and I wish more had been added (like another Bach motet).

© 2019 American Record Guide 

The WholeNote
27 mars 2019

The Ottawa Bach Choir and Ensemble Caprice join forces in this recording for thrilling performances of Baroque masters Handel, Bach and Schutz. From the outset of Dixit Dominus, the quick pace and precision with which the chorus deftly moves through Handel’s ever-running and cascading phrases is aweinspiring. Daniel Taylor guests for the alto aria Virgam virtutis in which the interplay between his golden voice and the continuo instruments is sublime. Soprano Kathleen Radke maintains a wonderfully relaxed vocal line through the execution of elaborate lines in Tecum principium in die virtutis and later she and Kayla Ruiz create enchanting chemistry in the soaring duet De torrente in via bibet.

Looking back almost a century, next on the recording are rarely heard Passion Motets from Heinrich Schutz’s Cantiones Sacrae. Heavily influenced by Italian madrigals of the time, Lisette Canton coaxes the full anguish of the thematic material from the choir in emphasizing dissonances and highly expressive rhetoric. The recording ends with homage to the choir’s eponym. In Bach’s Komm, Jesu, komm, excellent recording technique and choice of venue shine through, with a lovely resonance from the start and an erudite interchange captured in the dialogue of a choir divided into two sections by the composer.

Dianne Wells – The WholeNote