To hear Robert King and his Consort presenting Bach’s Christmas music directly after hearing Stephen Layton and the OAE do the same is to realise what a wealth of approaches are now on offer. King’s forces were much smaller, but they more than made up for it through the gutsiness of their vocal sound and the exoticism of their instrumentation.
With natural horns and ‘early’ oboes letting rip, the Concerto to Cantata BWV 35 sounded wonderfully off-the-wall. And while Layton delivered core repertoire, King brought some fascinating rarities out of the shadows by both Bach and his older mentor Johann Kuhnau, whose style – though engaging - is smoother and less daring.
Over the 33 years his Consort has been in operation, King has launched and nurtured a long succession of stars, and his eye for talent remains keen. Almost every member of this currently very young ensemble has the calibre of a soloist, and on this occasion three players stood out – violinist Alida Schat, oboeist Frances Norbury, and horn-player Ursula Paludan Monberg – while tenor James Oxley’s sequence of arias and recitatives in a Kuhnau chorale-setting was delivered with consummate artistry. Wittily introducing the works, and directing from the keyboard, King was the perfect host.
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