Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Psalm 51: Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden for soprano, alto, strings and continuo, BWV 1083 (c. 1740s) (after Pergolesi's Stabat mater) [36.08]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Psalm 127: Nisi Dominus for alto, strings and continuo, RV608 [20.00]
Céline Scheen (soprano)
Le Banquet Céleste/Damien Guillon (direction/counter-tenor)
rec. October 2015 Abbaye aux Dames, Saintes, France
Full texts and English translations included in booklet
GLOSSA GCD923701 [56.17]

French counter-tenor Damien Guillon first came to my attention as a soloist in recordings of J.S. Bach from Masaaki Suzuki with Bach Collegium Japan and Philippe Herreweghe with Collegium Vocale Gent. For his debut on Glossa Guillon has paired settings by Bach and Vivaldi. Here as well as singing Guillon directs Le Banquet Céleste, the period instrument ensemble he founded in 2009.

J.S. Bach’s setting Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden is a slightly expanded adaptation for the Lutheran liturgy of Pergolesi’s Stabat mater using a parody technique. As Konzertmeister Bach undertook this work for his employer Johann Ernst of Duke of Saxe-Weimar who had become enamoured of Italian music that he had encountered in The Netherlands and had brought a number of scores with him back to Weimar. In Bach’s setting the voices of Damien Guillon and soprano Céline Scheen blend magnificently. Familiar is Pergolesi’s celebrated melody in the opening movement Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden. It sounds glorious, highly reverential and is a genuine highlight. Also well known is the uplifting Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden with the fresh-sounding Scheen giving a display of immaculate sacred expression.

The composition date of Vivaldi’s Nisi Dominus a Latin setting of Psalm 127 (Vulgate 126) is unknown. Featuring a solo alto it is thought to be an early work maybe written for Ospedale della Pietà. Held in Turin it survives as a set of handwritten parts. Substantial and reasonably ambitious in scale the work is in nine movements that vary considerably in approach. There is a lovely purity to Guillon’s tone heard to finest effect in the Vanum est vobis. Memorable is the Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum with Guillon providing a haunting, compassionate rendition with the reverberation of the church adding an ethereal feel. The secure counter-tenor also excels in the Gloria padri with its extended vocal line delivering an interpretation of affecting devotion.

Right from the opening bars to the last Le Banquet Céleste under the direction of Guillon plays magnificently with plenty of rhythmic vitality when needed, attentively in tune and unified. Recorded in the challenging acoustic of Abbaye aux Dames, Saintes the engineers have provided vivid, well-balanced sound capturing just the right amount of reverberation. Beautifully presented, the album contains a detailed essay ‘Bach and Italy’ by Stefano Russomanno, some interesting photographs and importantly full texts with English translations. I would have liked some career details about Guillon and Scheen.

This is an exceptional recording of J.S. Bach and Vivaldi. Undoubtedly one of the finest releases of sacred baroque music I have heard for some time.

Michael Cookson

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