> BACH Cantatas Volume 2 Rilling [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas Volume 2

CD 21 - Cantatas BWV 65, BWV 66, BWV 67
CD 22 - Cantatas BWV 68, BWV 69, BWV 70
CD 23 - Cantatas BWV 71, BWV 72, BWV 73, BWV 74
CD 24 - Cantatas BWV 75, BWV 76
CD 25 - Cantatas BWV 77, BWV 78, BWV 79
CD 26 - Cantatas BWV 80, BWV 81, BWV 82
CD 27 - Cantatas BWV 83, BWV 84, BWV 85, BWV 86
CD 28 - Cantatas BWV 87, BWV 88, BWV 89, BWV 90
CD 29 - Cantatas BWV 91, BWV 92, BWV 93
CD 30 - Cantatas BWV 94, BWV 95, BWV 96
CD 31 - Cantatas BWV 97, BWV 98, BWV 99
CD 32 - Cantatas BWV 100, BWV 101, BWV 102
CD 33 - Cantatas BWV 103, BWV 104, BWV 105
CD 34 - Cantatas BWV 106, BWV 107, BWV 108
CD 35 - Cantatas BWV 109, BWV 110, BWV 111
CD 36 - Cantatas BWV 112, BWV 113, BWV 114
CD 37 - Cantatas BWV 115, BWV 116, BWV 117
CD 38 - Cantatas BWV 119, BWV 120, BWV 121
CD 39 - Cantatas BWV 122, BWV 123, BWV 124, BWV 125
CD 40 - Cantatas BWV 126, BWV 127, BWV 128, BWV 129
Sopranos - Arleen Augér, Nancy Burns, Inga Nielsen, Maria Friesenhausen, Helen Donath, Ingeborg Reichelt, Edith Weins, Ulrike Sonntag, Barbara Rondelli, Constanza Cuccaro, Nancy Amini
Cantatas Volume 2 [approx 20 hours]
Altos - Julia Hamari, Helen Watts, Verena Gohl, Gabriele Schreckenbach, Hildegard Laurich, Else Paaske, Carolyn Watkinson, Martha Kessler, Gabriele Schnaut, Margit Neubauer, Marga Hoeffgen, Ann Murray, Karen Hagerman, Elisabeth Graf, Mechthild Georg, Tsuyako Mitsui,
Tenors - Aldo Baldin, Adalbert Kraus, Theo Altmeyer, Kurt Equiluz, Peter Schreier, Lutz-Michael Harder, Douglas Robinson, Frieder Lang
Basses - Philippe Huttenlocher, Walter Heldwein, Siegmund Nimsgern, Hanns-Friedrich Kunz, Wolfgang Schöne, Niklaus Tüller, John Bröcheler, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Norman Anderson
Gächinger Kantorei, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Figuralchor der Gedächtniskirche Stuttgart, Helmut Rilling
Rec: 1968 - 1985 (dates for the complete set).

HAENSSLER 92.562 [approx 20 hours]


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Helmut Rilling had the honour of recording the second complete cycle of Bach’s sacred cantatas. This second box of three contains 20 CDs, one third of the total set, and includes cantatas BWV 65 to 129 (some numbers are missing, and represent works that have been attributed to other composers). Rilling’s recording came on the heels of the groundbreaking set by Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. But the two sets are very different - while Leonhardt and Harnoncourt broke new ground by not only recording the first complete cycle of the cantatas, their approach was one of almost orthodox historical performance practice. With original instruments and pitch and small forces, they also went as far as to record with boy sopranos and altos, and an all-male choir. Rilling took a different road - his recording can be seen as more "traditional", using modern instruments (in most cases; there is still a harpsichord, the occasional viola da gamba, etc.) and a much more modern approach to singers. Not only does he use women for all the soprano and alto parts, and in the choir, but his singers use more "modern" technique, with much more vibrato, for example, than is common in historical performance practice.

Another important difference is the huge number of vocal soloists used. More than 40 soloists are present on this set of one-third of the cantatas (only a few additional soloists appear on the other two sets), compared to a much smaller number for the Leonhardt and Harnoncourt. (Subsequent "complete" sets, such as that by Leusink, and those in progress by Suzuki and Koopman, use small numbers of soloists as well). This gives the latter set more unity, especially in the alto and tenor ranges, where there are very few soloists. Rilling’s set is therefore more varied vocally than others; this has its advantages and disadvantages. While one might want to hear some of the best voices more often, at least the weaker ones are not too present. Listening to this set straight through - which is certainly not what most people will do - this vast number of soloists shows both a great deal of variety and a certain lack of unity.

The following are some of the highlights of this set.

Cantata BWV 68 opens with a fairly long choral movement - over 4 and a half minutes - with a rich instrumentation of strings, oboes, bassoon and organ. This is a good example of Rilling’s choral style - dense, yet richly textured. The choir is very good here, creating a great deal of tension and drive.

Julia Hamari is a fine alto, and gives a moving performance of the aria Wenn kömmt der Tag in cantata BWV 70. Her voice is pure and limpid, and the interplay with the cello obbligato in this aria is very moving. But she uses a touch too much vibrato, and her diction is a bit lacking. But she has a voice that fits Rilling’s style perfectly, and makes many excellent appearances in this set.

There is the occasional howler. Cantata 80, recorded in 1983, features soprano Arleen Augér, who is usually excellent. But in the aria Komm in mein Herzenhaus she is weak and wavering, attacking the high end of her range with a chirpy sound that is terribly annoying.

This set contains one of the greatest Bach cantatas in one of its finest performances - cantata 82, Ich habe genung, for solo bass, sung here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. This recording is simply amazing, full of heart-rending emotion, and shows Fischer-Dieskau’s mastery of this repertoire. While he recorded some sacred Bach music, it is a shame that he did not sing more of the cantatas.

Cantata 84 opens with a plaintive oboe melody - Bach often uses the oboe with soprano arias. This is a modest cantata; there is only one soloist, the soprano (Arleen Augér, who is excellent), and the oboe is featured throughout the work. The second aria, Ich esse mit Freuden mein veniges Brot, is a fine example of Bach's best arias. This displays the delightful joy of the soprano, with the oboe and violin weaving around her melody; about as good as it gets.

Cantata 85 is quite uneven. Oddly enough this work was recorded in three sessions, with two and a half years between the first and the last. It opens, as cantata 84, with a plaintive oboe melody (Bach really did like the oboe), accompanying an aria by bass Walter Heldwein, who sounds a bit weak here. The second aria is quite nice, with violoncello piccolo obbligato. This is one of the few cantatas with this instrument. Unfortunately, alto Gabriele Schreckenbach uses a bit too much vibrato for this music. The third section is the longest of this cantata, and is scored for only two oboes, bassoon and organ backing up soprano Arleen Augér, who is excellent.

Cantata 86 features four soloists, with arias sung by the bass, alto and tenor (the soprano sings a recitative). The first aria, for bass, is especially moving, and very well sung by Walter Heldwein. The second aria, Ich will doch wohl Rosen brechen, alto (Helen Watts), is a delightful movement, with a violin solo playing a rich, rhythmic accompaniment to the voice. This is another of Bach's most wonderful arias.

Cantata 90 features one of the most exhilarating obbligato violin sections in all of Bach’s music. The opening aria, Es reißet euch iein schrekclich Ende, begins with a brilliant exposition of the violin’s theme - performed with brio by Walter Forchert - which continues as an undercurrent to the tenor’s vocal part. Adalbert Kraus sings capably, but the violin vastly overshadows him.

Cantata 96 features a beautiful opening chorus, with a piccolo flute playing obbligato. While Rilling’s choir is excellent, the flute is just a bit too loud and harsh. It is naturally intended to stand out well above the choir - its range guarantees that. However I cannot help but feel that it detracts from the overall sound.

The opening sonatina of cantata 106 is one of the most moving instrumental sections in all the cantatas. This cantata, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, know also as Actus Tragicus, is one of Bach’s most popular cantatas. Featuring beautiful melodies (such as the flauto dolce in the opening sonatina), excellent choral movements and beautiful arias, this work is brimming with beauty and joy. The flauto dolce and viola da gamba act as a thread that hold this work together, and the singers here are excellent, with the exception of Alto Hanna Schwarz, who is a bit weak.

As for the first set of these cantatas, Rilling shows a variety of strengths and weaknesses. With some excellent soloists, and a wonderful choir, the vocal aspects of the cantatas are usually (though not always) commendable. However, at times the music is lacking in conviction and emotion. The ordering of the cantatas not being the same as their recording order also juxtaposes some very different sounds, but instrumentally and vocally. At times, you can here the same singer in two different cantatas, recorded 10 or 15 years apart, on one disc. Nevertheless, this set remains one of the monuments in the discography of Bach cantatas, and certainly deserves this place because of Rilling’s personal vision. While many people may not agree with this vision, Rilling is consistent. At this low price, it is certainly worthwhile.

Kirk McElhearn


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