CHOIR OF KING'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE/ACADEMY OF ANCIENT MUSIC | Bach Magnificat and other works (EMI)
Every musical anniversary brings with it a rash of dodgy compilations, and the 250th anniversary of Bach's death is no exception. The catalogues of every recording company are groaning with primers to the work of music's most prolifically brilliant composer, but by and large they're pretty tawdry affairs - compiled from a variety of old recordings by obscure, ropey and, above all, cheap bands, and suffering from embarrassing cover art and cheesy titles such as "All the Bach You'll Ever Need, Honest". Ugh. Normally I'd advise steering clear, but this collection of sacred highlights from King's is an exception to the rule. The double CD contains two complete programmes of choral works, especially recorded for the purpose and performed in a good compromise between modern and authentic style. The choir is larger than usual for these historically informed days, the phrasing rather too smooth and the tempi broader, but niceties such as German-pronounced Latin are observed, and the soloists include Susan Gritton and Ian Bostridge. The first CD is an Advent programme and includes Wachet Auf, O Jesulein sÃ¼ÃŸ and the Magnificat. The second disc is programmed for Easter and includes the rarely heard Short Mass in A, a highlight of which is soprano Lisa Milne's Qui tolis peccata mundi accompanied by the deliciously intertwining flutes of Rachel Beckett and Guy Williams. The only low points are the two motets, which simply sound too churchy - Herreweghe's benchmark 1986 recording of them has yet to be bettered.
HAMBURG PHILHARMONIC | Who Is Afraid of 20th-Century Music? (EMI)
It's not my favourite era, but, with nary a squeak from the aleatoric Americans, I'm not exactly quaking in my boots listening to this disc. The Hamburg Philharmonic chose an unthreatening programme for their live millennium concert recording, concentrating on dance-based music from Bernstein and other near contemporaries. The sound is lively and enthusiastic if not always polished, but the title is terribly misleading, with all but two pieces written before 1950. Put it this way - Torvill and Dean could work up a nice routine to any of these tracks and their audience would still be able to clap in time. Almost.
THE CARDINALL'S MUSICK | Music at All Souls, Oxford (ASV)
Co-directors David Skinner and Andrew Carwood must be well-travelled fellows. The manuscripts for this extraordinary collection of 15th and 16th-century devotional music were reconstructed from fragments in libraries as far flung as Australia, America and Estonia - in addition to the more predictable sources of Oxford and Cambridge. Truly a labour of love, this CD is a humbling reminder of the sophistication and emotional intensity of early English sacred music. The Cardinall's Musick is unparalled among the recent crop of young vocal consorts - warm of sound but with none of the rhythmic approximation of the continental ensembles. Lovely, lucid and sinewy singing.