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GRAMOPHONE (02/2020)
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Reviewer: Edward Breen

On their much-anticipated debut recording, Solomon’s Knot offer, in chronological order, works from three successive Thomaskantors: Johann Schelle (1648-1701), Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). The programme is built around Bach’s first Magnificat, the work in E flat, BWV243a, and his likely model, the rather splendid C major Magnificat by his predecessor, Kuhnau; both are presented with interpolated chorales. These are introduced by Schelle’s sprightly Machet die Tore weit (‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates’). Solomon’s Knot perform without conductor, from memory and on period instruments (joint artistic directors are James Halliday and Jonathan Sells), hence their preferred description as a ‘collective’; and in order to capture this spirit, this album was made in a live performance at Milton Court concert hall with limited editing.

The singers take an extrovert, expressive approach to text that communicates best in festive choral sections. The opening of Kuhnau’s Magnificat shows them at the height of their powers: bright, powerful and more muscular than Bach Collegium Japan (BIS, 10/99). The instrumentalists are similarly superb, with a blazingly joyful tone in the brass and superbly tight phrasing from oboes and violins. The standout solos are impressive throughout, both from singers and instrumentalists. Just occasionally, however, eagerness tips into giddiness: Clare Lloyd-Griffiths’s otherwise impressive solo ‘Et exsultavit spiritus meus’ would benefit from a less frenetic approach to its angular opening phrase; her pace is set puppyishly fast by the instrumentalists and takes a moment to find the grace that characterises its latter half. Leo Duarte’s oboe-playing is sumptuous, both in tone and phrasing.

Bach’s Magnificat is exciting and immediate throughout. Amy Carson’s ‘Et exsultavit spiritus meus’ is particularly delightful, as is the unaccompanied interpolation ‘Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her’. Alex Ashworth’s ‘Quia fecit mihi magna’ steals the show: if one could bottle gravitas, this would be it. The throbbing passion of the duet ‘Et misericordia’, which James Halliday notes as a potential prefiguration of the opening movement of the St Matthew Passion, is suitably beguiling. Overall this is a joyful disc and an impressive debut but, on CD at least, I feel the more tranquil movements lack finesse.

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