"The Powers of Heaven" - Orthodox Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Paul Hillier, cond.
HARMONIA MUNDI SACD HMU 807318 (F) (DDD) TT: 70:14 (5 channel)

"Death and Devotion"
Music of Weckmann, Tunder, Buxtehude and Ritter
Netherlands Bach Society/Jos van Veldhoven, cond.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA 20804 TT: 67:22 (5 channel)

BACH: The Art of the Fugue
New Century Saxophone Quartet
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA 20204 TT: 77:45 (5 channel)

Here are three fine SACDs of unusual repertory. The Powers of Heaven consists of eleven sacred choral pieces from the Slavic tradition of Divine worship, written by composers of the 17th and 18th century: Bortniansky, Sarti, Titov, Galuppi, Diletsky and Vedel as well as two anonymous works, sung by the 26-member Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir directed by Paul Hillier who has been leader of the group since 2001. Bass voices, so important in this music, are strong—and augmented by Russian basso profundo Vladimir Miller. Liturgical music of the same era but from another part of the world is heard on Death and Devotion, with music of Weckmann, Tunder, Ritter and Buxtehude in sterling, authoritative performances by soprano Johannette Zomer and bass Peter Harvey, with the Netherlands Bach Society directed by Jos van Veldhoven. Both of these well-filled recordings have a resonant acoustic appropriate for the music. The third SACD is highly unusual. Johann Sebastian Bach didn't indicate which instrument was to play his mammoth The Art of the Fugue. Currently there are more than forty recordings of this music performed on a variety of instruments, usually organ, harpsichord or piano, as well as two pianos, a reed quintet and a recording by Canadian Brass. This new recording by the expert New Century Saxophone Quartet surprisingly isn't the first for the instruments; already on cpo there is a recording by the Berlin Saxophone Quartet. While I have admiration for the fine playing of the New Century Quartet, when I listen to Bach's masterpiece I'd prefer to hear it on organ or piano. Channel Classics' sound is fine, very resonant, and they have resisted the temptation to put one saxophone in each corner.

R.E.B. (June 2004)