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William J. Gatens
American Record Guide, December 2001

"I am pleased to report that these are splendid performances. The period string tone is warm and ingratiating, yet precise and rhythmically incisive. All the vocal soloists have a clean and solid tone combined with a flexibility of technique that makes Bach's lines sound almost effortless. It is worth noting that soprano Teri Dunn does not sing with a straight tone, but her light vibrato neither interferes with the clarity of the melodic line nor obscures the intonation. Together the soloists make for an excellent ensemble, as all their voices have the essential clarity with a tone that is not so aggressive as to impede blend. These performances compare favorably with ones directed by Koopman, Suzuki, Gardiner, Herreweghe, and a host of eminent early-music specialists.

The Toronto-based Aradia Ensemble bears watching. I recently reviewed their recording of Purcell's music for The Tempest (Naxos 554262; Mar/Apr 2001), and I very much liked what I heard. Oddly enough, none of the soloists on that recording reappear in this one. Director Kevin Mallon evidently has access to an impressive roster of singers with an aptitude for demanding baroque vocal music.

On this recording, 36 and 132 are performed with one voice to a part. The results are entirely convincing. For 61, Mallon makes a distinction between a vocal concertino and ripieno, presenting the opening and closing ensembles with a choir of three voices to a part. The strings are one to a part in all three cantatas. Readers familiar with my reviews of Bach's sacred vocal works will know that one of my pet peeves concerns the performance of four-part chorales. So often they are taken in such a brisk and off-hand manner that they lack all sense of reverence and devotion. Blessings, therefore, on Kevin Mallon for giving us the concluding chorales of 36 and 132 with all the dignity and gravity these great songs of the Lutheran tradition so richly deserve.

In addition to the three cantatas, we have here an instrumental suite on 'Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland', consisting of the four-part chorale and arrangements by Mallon of a three-part organ fughetta from the so-called Kirnberger chorales (S 699) and the familiar slow setting from the Leipzig organ chorales (S 659)."

David Vernier, September 2000

"So, the debate over how many singers and players to a part in Bach's cantatas lives on. This time, it's another vote for the Joshua Rifkin theory, a one-voice-per-part configuration primarily based on circumstantial evidence and informed deduction from surviving part books. It's an intriguing if porous theory that nevertheless satisfies curiosities and fancies of legitimate and well-intentioned musicologists and performers. Whenever this subject comes up, I only have to wonder what an investigator, with little other direct evidence, would determine to be my own performing forces if, 300 years from now he or she were to discover the contents of one of my church choir libraries! I prefer to look at the single voice to a part idea as just another way to perform music that by its nature stands up to almost any configuration of voices and/or instruments you want to throw at it. Of course you can perform Bach badly, but whether you use four voices or 40, if you sing it well, it still works.

"There's no getting around the fact that many of the cantatas -- as is true for the three on this disc--are dominated by solos, with only perhaps an opening chorus and closing chorale. So for these works, we're not so aware of the size of the vocal forces, and the key to performance becomes finding sensitive and competent instrumentalists and some very good solo singers. Luckily for us, we get rather formidable doses of both on this recording from the Toronto-based Aradia ensemble, a relatively new group with some personnel ties to Tafelmusik and who specialize in period instrument performance of Baroque works. In fact, the main reason to hear this recording is for the exceptional solo singing -- and I do mean exceptional, especially from tenor John Tessier, countertenor Matthew White (listen to the recitative in BWV 132), and...soprano Teri Dunn. Dunn's aria in BWV 36, with one of those sublime violin obbligatos that only Bach could have conceived, and a melody with one of the best 'hooks' ever to work its irresistible, unforgettable way into a listener's heart, is a shining example of what happens when performer and music perfectly match. It would be easy to go on about all the felicities of the singing and how much really wonderful music is packed into these three relatively short works..."

Frank Nakashima

Music director Kevin Mallon of the Aradia Ensemble opts for ultimate and delicate clarity in choosing to perform cantatas 36 and 132 with one voice to a part as well as single string players (although, for Cantata 61, there is a choir for the chorales).

On the Naxos CD, the singing of Canadian soprano Teri Dunn is a treasure to behold. Surely she must be the ideal soprano for the music of Bach? Both she and countertenor Matthew White possess great musical instinct. Of the various obbligato instruments, the sweet oboe of Washington McClain is memorable as a lyrical complement to the solo voice. However, I can't help feeling that some of the tempi are too slow, perhaps too careful - but this is a minor objection for an effort which brings attention to some overlooked Christmas cantatas.

Whichever recording you choose, the spirit and joy of Christmas is sure to be there, whether it is Aradia's meditative or Collegium Vocale's dramatic approach.

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