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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage - Volume 15:
Cantatas for The Third Day of Christmas
Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget, BWV 64 (1723) [17:39]
Süsser Trost, mein Jesus kömmt, BWV 151 (1725) [17:07]
Selig ist der Mann, BWV 57 (1725) [22:56]
(For the Second Day of Christmas)
Ich freue mich in dir, BWV 133 (1724) [18:15] 
Katharine Fuge, Gillian Keith, Joanne Lunn (sopranos); William Towers, Robin Tyson (altos); James Gilchrist (tenor); Peter Harvey (bass)/The Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
rec. St. Bartholomew’s, New York, 27 December 2000
SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG 127
[76:15]
 


This disc perpetuates a concert given right at the end of Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. The pilgrims ended up a long way from Leipzig, spending Christmas 2000 in New York, where they gave their final concerts. We’ve already had one disc devoted to Christmas cantatas, performed on Christmas Day itself (see review) and now here is its companion, recorded at a concert given just two days later.
 
Two of the cantatas date from 1725 and since BWV 57 is actually prescribed for the second Day of Christmas it’s fascinating to think that the congregation of St. Thomas’s, Leipzig heard the first performances of BWV 57 and BWV 151 on consecutive days!
 
Sir John admits in his notes, which are superb as usual, that BWV 151 was completely new to him. It’s unusual in that it opens with an aria which accounts for over half of the work, nearly 10:00 in this performance. It’s an enchanting soprano aria with a marvellous flute obbligato. Bach enriches the scoring by having an oboe d’amore doubling the first violin part. Gardiner speculates that the outer sections of the aria may suggest Mary singing a lullaby to her newborn son. Gillian Keith gives a performance of disarmingly loveliness.  What Gardiner rightly calls an “inspirational” aria inevitably dominates the whole cantata but I am not complaining.
 
BWV 57 is a dialogue cantata in which the bass soloist takes the part of God and the soprano is the Soul. Peter Harvey, already established through previous releases as a cornerstone of the Pilgrimage project, compels attention in the opening aria, ‘Selig ist der Mann’. He is partnered by Joanne Lunn who, in the following recitative offers compelling singing. She follows this with the aria, ‘Ich wünschte mir den Tod, den Tod’. Gardiner describes this as “one of those tragic triple-time dances at which Bach excelled.” Miss Lunn gives a deeply felt performance of it, receiving fine support from the English Baroque Soloists. Gardiner is not afraid to set a generous, broad tempo and he and all the performers dig deep under the skin of this wonderful music.  Peter Harvey is commanding in the “show-stopping battle aria”, ‘Ja, ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen’. Joanne Lunn is superb in her concluding aria but what really caught my ear was her contribution to the duet recitative that comes before it. She begins with some meltingly beautiful phrases and invests the whole recitative with life.
 
BWV 64 opens with a short chorus in which the Monteverdi Choir offers splendidly animated singing. Bach’s inspired inclusion of a trio of sackbuts in the orchestra adds marvellous depth and gravitas to the overall sound. I liked very much the silvery soprano that Gillian Keith produces for her aria,  ‘Was die Welt in sich hält’ and in the penultimate movement, an alto aria, the delightful oboe d’amore obbligato contrasts with and complements the timbre of Robin Tyson’s voice.
 
Finally, BWV 133 begins with an exuberantly festive chorus and in the aria ‘Getrost! es fast ein heil’ger Leib’ Robin Tyson puts across very well an excited joy at the meaning of the Incarnation. Throughout this concert there are disappointingly few opportunities to hear that fine tenor, James Gilchrist – there isn’t a single tenor aria to be found! In the recitative allotted to him in this cantata he makes us realise what we’ve missed. By contrast, the programme is a feast for lovers of the soprano voice and a third excellent singer, Katharine Fuge, appears in this cantata. She sings the aria, ‘Wie lieblich klingt es is den Ohren’ with wide-eyed joy. I loved the way she switches the mood to tender regret in the more reflective central section.
 
This programme is a delight from start to finish and the music shows Bach’s skill and perspicacity at responding in different ways to differing aspects of the Lutheran interpretation of the Christmas message. As ever in this series the standard of performance is spectacular and Sir John is a superb guide to the music, whether as conductor or annotator.  This unfolding series goes from strength to strength and I look forward with the keenest possible anticipation to further releases in 2007.
 
John Quinn

 

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