Magazine article Gramophone

Session Report: Layton Records Bach for Hyperion

Magazine article Gramophone

Session Report: Layton Records Bach for Hyperion

Article excerpt


Work Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248

Artists Soloists; Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Stephen Layton

Venue Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge

Producer Stephen Johns

Engineer Dave Hinitt

Label Hyperion

Dates of sessions January 10-14, 2013

Words Geoffrey Norris

Christmas music is so often recorded in unseasonal mid-summer that it makes a nice change to be here in Cambridge's Trinity College Chapel on a chilly January afternoon for the first session of the Christmas Oratorio. Stephen Layton's performances of the six cantatas that make up the oratorio have become a regular festive feature at London's St John's Smith Square, so everything is still fresh in everyone's minds from having just sung and played them in December.

I arrive just as the process of microphone-adjusting and knob-twiddling has started, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment giving the control room some level in the second cantata's Sinfonia. There is something unconventional about the orchestra's configuration. In the chapel's chancel the players are arranged in a circle with Layton conducting in the middle. As Steve Johns, the producer, explains, there are acoustical and logistical reasons why this should be so: the available space is quite constricted, and it makes for a truer ensemble to have the orchestra in the round. Johns has made many recordings in Trinity's chapel, so he knows what's what. The choir and soloists, when they arrive for subsequent sessions, will be placed behind the orchestra, nearer the altar. Layton describes this arrangement as a 'win-win situation', allowing him closer eye contact with all the players and making for an interesting 'sonic picture'.

Balancing done, it's time for the Sinfonia to be recorded. From the vestry/control room, various suggestions for nuances are mooted over the intercom. There is much talk of 'pleading dissonances', and there are stoppages from time to time for retuning. After 30 minutes or so, the whole of the Sinfonia is done, but we go back to re-record the second half, and then, again and again, the final bars. All the takes sound fine to me, and the finished CD will certainly have lots to choose from, not to mention several separate takes of the very last chord. …

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