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Johann Sebastian Bach had no greater acolyte than Felix Mendelssohn. Everybody knows the story of Mendelssohn's great love and respect for Bach's music and his revival of the Saint Matthew Passion in 1829, so this coupling of Bach's Magnificat and an 1822 setting by Mendelssohn is nicely conceived. Mendelssohn's Grave and Fuga for strings and a fantastic 1830 of the Ave Maria round out the program.
What can be said about Bach's Magnificat? It's the most famous setting of the canticle in the choral repertoire and it's been recorded hundreds of times before. I was taken with the energy and precision of this performance led by Simon Carrington. Carrington is one of the wonders of the choral world, a teacher, singer and conductor of the highest order and the Yale Schola Cantorum is fantastic. If you have choral radar you will know that Carrington founded the group in 2003 (when he was running the Yale Institute of Sacred Music) to sing early music and contemporary works. The ensemble has recorded brilliant records of Biber's Vesperae longiores ac breviores, Bertali's Missa Resurrectionis and J.S. Bach's St. John Passion in the 1725 version - all are sublime. Carrington has moved on-Masaaki Suzuki of the Bach Collegium Japan now runs the show-but this recording is a marvelous tribute to how skilled a Carrington-led choir can be. It's a really top-notch Magnificat performance.
As good as the Bach is, it's the Mendelssohn that's going to sell the recording. Mendelssohn sampled some ideas from J.S. and C.P.E. Bach's Magnificats as well as dipping into an instrumental palette that tastes Baroque-check out the high trumpets in the opening chorus. There's much to love here. The Fecit potentiam is a Bach-styled bravura aria for bass, brass and timpani that all but stops the show. The Deposuit potentes, a florid trio for soprano, alto and bass with some lovely support from the winds is outstanding. Perhaps most memorable is the gorgeous setting of the Quia respexit for soprano, viola, bassoon and chorus that is stunning. The Ave Maria is another terrific find. Carrington opts for the work's original scoring for chorus, winds and brass and it showcases the rich sound of the excellent choir.