Susan Gritton & Lisa Milne (sopranos), Michael Chance (countertenor), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Michael George (bass), Choir of King's College, Cambridge, The Academy of Ancient Music, Stephen Cleobury, conductor (EMI 7243 5 56994 2 8 - a 2 CD set)

What do you get when you gather some of the best-loved works of a musical genius, performed by one of the world's finest choirs, a world-renown chamber ensemble, and five top-drawer vocal soloists? Well, naturally you get a superb recording.

True, many selections on these two CDs are readily available in other recordings. However, what makes this disk stand out is how it brings together the ethereal sounds of the world-famous King's College Choir of men and boys and the period instruments of the Academy of Ancient Music-- all tailor-made for this repertory. Their 150 minutes of music, spanning major portions of Bach's musical career and offering excellent examples of his finest compositions, is about as close to artistic perfection as one could hope for.

Recorded in multiple sessions in the splendid acoustics of King's College Chapel at Cambridge University, this recording is a major undertaking, and the result is well worth the gargantuan effort. The two-CD program of Bach cantatas, cantata excerpts, motets, chorales, and organ works has been wisely chosen to showcase the strengths of choir, soloists and instrumentalists. Remarkably well-written, insightful program notes and text translations assist in navigating each piece.

The first disc opens with the well-known Cantata 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," followed by a brief organ solo played by Stephen Cleobury, "Kommst du nun, Jesu," and by the final movement from Cantata 22 "Ertöt uns durch dein' Güte." Also on the first disk is "Magnificat in D major", the "Air" from Suite No. 3 in D, the motet "Lobe den Herrn, alle Heiden," the chorale "O Jesulein Süss," and the organ solo "In Dulci Jubilo".

On the second disc are the "Missa Brevis in A" and the "Sanctus in C." If these are somewhat lesser known pieces--the movements were borrowed from other preexisting arias and choruses of various Bach cantatas--they are followed by the ever-popular "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" [Jesu, Joy] from Cantata 147 and by Cantata 12 "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen." Next comes the motet "Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf," the chorale "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier," the "Prelude and Fugue in G" for organ, concluding with the chorale "Nun danket alle Gott."

The five vocal soloists work well, particularly in the larger works such as the Magnificat and the Missa Brevis in A. King's College Choir and the Academy of Ancient Music are superbly balanced, blended, and polished. All of the singing and playing is of the highest standard and displays the full range of Bach's musical genius.

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