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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage - Volume 27
Cantatas for Whit Tuesday

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048 (1721) [12:07]
Erwünschtes Freudenlicht, BWV 184 (1724) [21:47]
Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen, BWV 175 (1725) [15:51]
Lisa Larsson (soprano); Nathalie Stutzmann (alto); Christoph Genz (tenor); Stephen Loges (bass)/The Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
rec. Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, 13 June 2000
Cantatas for Trinity Sunday
Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, BWV 194 (1723) [18.49]
Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding, BWV 176 (1725) [10:29]
O heil’ges Geist- und Wasserbad, BWV 165 (1715/16) [12:54]
Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, BWV 129 (1726) [18:52]
Ruth Holton (soprano); Daniel Taylor (alto); Paul Agnew (tenor); Peter Harvey (bass)/ The Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
rec. St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, 18 June 2000
German texts and English translations included.
SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG138 [50:01 + 61:26]
Experience Classicsonline


The Cantata Pilgrims observed the festival of Whitsun in the English county of Suffolk. Whit Sunday itself, and the Monday following, were spent at Long Melford and the concerts on those days were contained in Volume 26 of this series (see review). The next day the pilgrimage fetched up at another church in the county, at Blythburgh.
 
Bach left only two cantatas for Whit Tuesday. In order to complete the programme Sir John elected to begin the proceedings with the Third Brandenburg Concerto. This was a very logical choice, not least because Bach had used the first movement of the concerto as the sinfonia to cantata BWV 174, which the Pilgrims had performed just the day before. In its original scoring for three each of violins, violas and celli, it is given a sprightly performance here.
 
The two cantatas that follow are both inspired by the gospel for the day, which is found in St. John’s Gospel, chapter 10, and which treats of Christ as the Good Shepherd. BWV 184, which is packed with pastoral imagery, opens with a wonderfully expressive and extended tenor recitativo, in which the singer is tellingly accompanied by a chirruping pair of flutes. This movement finds Christoph Genz in eloquent form. Even more engaging is the duet that follows. Here Gardiner and his players give an object lesson in the use of accents and dynamics to move the music forward with grace and purpose. The rhythms are lifted quite marvellously but it all sounds very natural. Lisa Larsson and Nathalie Stutzmann blend their voices delightfully but the eager, smiling tone of Miss Larsson ravishes the ear particularly. The text speaks of Christ’s ‘glückselige Herde’ (“happy flock”) and here the performers make what Alfred Dürr as described as a shepherd’s dance leap off the page.
 
Later in the cantata comes a tenor aria with violin obbligato. Dürr says that this “forms rather a colourless impression” but that’s not how it comes across on this occasion. Genz, Gardiner and the violinist (Kati Debretzeni?) imbue the music with a light, airy feel. The cantata ends not with a chorale – that forms the penultimate movement – but with a choral gavotte, though I have to say that it would require fairly sprightly dancers to be able to dance to this music at the lithe pace set by Gardiner.
 
BWV 175 is also replete with pastoral and shepherdly images. The first substantial movement is a yearning 12/8 alto aria in which the soloist, accompanied by a trio of recorders, longs for verdant pastures. Nathalie Stutzmann sings this quite beautifully, investing the music with lovely tone and just the right degree of emotional charge. Later comes a tenor aria for which Bach specifies a violoncello piccolo obbligato. Both singer and player are required to reel off almost endless passagework in a very demanding bit of writing. Christoph Genz and his cellist partner are fully equal to the challenges of this piece. Rather oddly, perhaps, Bach introduces a pair of trumpets for the bass aria. This is quite lavish scoring for just one movement but it’s a fine piece, celebrating the victory of Christ over death and the devil and it’s given full value here by Stephen Loges and the trumpet choir.
 
A few days later Gardiner and his team had moved north. In fact they reached the most northerly point on the whole pilgrimage, arriving at Kirkwall in Orkney to mark Trinity Sunday. This was a journey that was fraught with difficulties because unexpected last minute travelling delays meant that they were unable to fly to Orkney until the very day of the concert, thereby greatly foreshortening the amount of available rehearsal time and, surely, tiring out everyone in the party. All I can say is that these extraneous problems do not seem to have affected the quality of the music making in the slightest.
 
The opening cantata, BWV 194, was adapted by Bach from a longer cantata which was originally written for Cöthen some time between 1717 and 1723. In 1723 he employed the cantata for a service to celebrate the inauguration of a new organ at Störmthal near Leipzig and the following year he made a foreshortened version, cut down from the original twelve movements to just six, for his first Trinity Sunday in Leipzig. The cantata begins imposingly with a stately orchestral introduction in the style of a French Overture. Dotted rhythms predominate and I like Gardiner’s tempo, which accentuates the grandeur but at a sufficiently lively tempo to avoid any pomposity. Without a break a vigorous, celebratory chorus follows, superbly sung, before the orchestral material is reprised. This is a most impressive opening.
 
The first aria, ‘Was des Höchsten Glanz erfüllt’ (‘What the Highest’s light has filled’) is given to the bass, here the ever-reliable Peter Harvey. This is in Gardiner’s words, “one of those spacious, pastoral 12/8 movements.” Harvey sings this graceful, delightful aria with dignity, understanding and a lovely, even tone. The soprano soloist, Ruth Holton, has previously been encountered in Vol. 21 (see review). She has rather a light voice and it’s well suited to the demands that Bach makes of his soloist in the aria ‘Hilf, Gott, dass es uns gelingt’ (‘Grant, O God, that we succeed’) where vocal agility is a prerequisite.
 
When we reach BWV 176 there’s another demanding soprano aria and here I thought I detected occasional signs that Miss Holton was a bit pressed by the writing. On the other hand, the singing of the Monteverdi Choir in the opening chorus personifies assurance and conviction. This cantata is inspired by the gospel of the day (St. John, chapter 3), which relates the story of Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus. It is instructive, perhaps, that in the bass recitative (movement IV) Bach added a final line to the librettist’s text, paraphrasing a line from the gospel: “For all who but believe in You shall not be lost”. There’s a fine alto aria, accompanied by a trio of oboes, playing in unison, and Daniel Taylor does this very well. As Gardiner puts it “[Bach] signs off his second Leipzig cycle with this cantata crammed with provocative thoughts and musical exegesis.”
 
Next comes BWV 165, a much earlier piece that dates from Bach’s time at Weimar. Watery images abound in the text for this cantata, not least in the fluid soprano aria with which the piece opens. It’s a demanding piece and I like the vocal purity that Ruth Holton brings to it. Daniel Taylor impresses once again in the aria ‘Jesu, der aus grosser Liebe’, with its spare accompaniment by continuo only. The cantata contains two important recitatives for the bass soloist and Peter Harvey despatches both eloquently.
 
The final offering, BWV 129, is probably the best known of these cantatas. It’s another Leipzig piece, setting five stanzas from a 1665 hymn. Trinity Sunday is such an important feast in the Lutheran calendar that it’s slightly surprising, on the face of it, that this is the only surviving cantata for that day in which Bach pulls out all the celebratory stops. Here he adds three trumpets, drums, a flute and a pair of oboes to the orchestra and begins with a festive chorale fantasia. The choral sopranos have the cantus firmus around which the orchestra and the rest of the choir scurry jubilantly. There are no recitatives in this cantata but instead there are three fine arias. Those for bass and soprano are well done by Peter Harvey and Ruth Holton respectively but it’s to Daniel Taylor that the plum aria falls. He sings it beautifully and the gorgeous oboe d’amore obbligato is a perfect foil. However, for once I find myself a little unsettled by Gardiner’s tempo. It just seems a notch on the hasty side and as a result the expressive oboe line, in particular, doesn’t quite make the expressive points that I’d hoped to hear.
 
The concluding chorale is splendidly festive, providing a joyous conclusion to what Gardiner aptly describes as “a genial, uplifting work”. He records in his notes that the Kirkwall audience ”seemed a little resistant to the music’s charms.” I can’t imagine for the life of me why this should have been the case because I concur with his view that the performance, like everything else on the disc, was “spirited.”
 
Yet again there’s some incomparable music on both these discs and the standard of performance is uniformly high. Wherever they went on their pilgrimage Sir John and his team dispensed enlightenment and musical experiences that were as enriching as they were enjoyable. Collectors of this ever-impressive series should not hesitate to add this latest volume to their collection.
 
John Quinn

For reviews of other releases in this series, see the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage page
 


 


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