- Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
- Cantata No. 80, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," BWV 80 (BC A183)
This 1990 recording offered new and unusual perspectives on Bach's very familiar "Magnificat." Most amateur choristers who have sung the "Magnificat" think of it as a loud shout of joy, partly because they've had to bellow their way through the challenging vocal lines. But French conductor Philippe Herreweghe and his historical-instrument Collegium Vocale tone down the work's enthusiasm, delivering the choral movements with transparency, a bit of a dance-like quality, and perhaps Gallic elegance in place of the more usual big sound. The difference is apparent right from the start, but don't confine your sampling to that -- one result of Herreweghe's approach is an appealing balance between the choral and solo vocal sections. With solo or duo music making up more than half of the work's 12 sections, that makes a lot of sense, and the soloists here are for the most part absolutely ravishing. Hear the hushed, wondrous "Quia respexit humilitatem" (track 3) of soprano Barbara Schlick, or the lush countertenor alto of Gérard Lesne in the "Esurientes," track 9. Only second soprano Agnès Mellon disturbs the transcendent mood with her strangely aspirated "t" sounds, which may be more of a problem for some listeners than others. The unusual version of the likewise familiar "Cantata No. 80, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," is a bonus inclusion; Herreweghe programs a revision by Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann that includes trumpets and tympani. Those new to Bach's "Magnificat" on original instruments might check out performances by John Eliot Gardiner for a comparison with a gutsier interpretation, but Bach devotees will find unearthly delights in this famous recording.