Buyers who download this album may miss the unusual lettering on the CD version’s spine: 'Bach Bach Bach Magnificats.' This isn’t a printer’s error, but the unvarnished truth. Hyperion’s fascinating release features three settings of the biblical song of Mary, Magnificat, composed in different decades of the 18th century by three Bachs: JS and his sons JC and CPE. Heavens, they sound like rappers.
Each Magnificat is different in length, tone and emphasis, although with enough common echoes to underline the family tree and the sense of musical history progressing. That’s one reason to buy the album. The other is the unfettered vivacity of Jonathan Cohen’s group Arcangelo. These are no shrinking violets. The soprano Joélle Harvey’s voice is sturdy as a pillar, painted gold. The baritone Thomas E Bauer’s theatrical flourish adds extra spice to Carl Philipp Emanuel’s setting, which is zesty already. Eloquence oozes from the counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, while the instrumental corps bustle away through tumbling arpeggios and racing counterpoint. All delightful, all life-giving.
So is the music. Johann Christian’s ten-minute setting pleasantly skips along with Italianate ease. Carl Philipp Emanuel’s, almost four times as long, offers the most variety, swerving sometimes close to opera and ending with a humungous fugue worthy of his father. Johann Sebastian’s setting, by far the most familiar, wins the prize for sheer splendour and structural cohesion, but all are worth your time and your ears.