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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas 67, 108 and 127

Cantata No. 67, Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ, (Hold in remembrance Jesus Christ) BWV 67, for alto, tenor, bass; 4-part chorus, corno da tirassi, transverse flute, 2 oboes d’amore, 2 violins, viola, organ and continuo
Cantata No. 108, Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe, (For you it is best that we be parted / It is for your good that I go) BWV 108, for alto, tenor, bass; 4-part chorus, 2 oboes d’amore, 2 violins, viola and continuo
Cantata No. 127, Herr Jesu Christ, wahr'r Mensch und Gott, (Thou who, a God, as man yet come / Lord Jesus Christ, true man and God) BWV 127, for soprano, tenor, bass; 4-part chorus, trumpet, oboe, 2 flutes, 2 violins, viola and continuo
Antonia Fahberg (soprano)
Lilian Benningsen (contralto)
Peter Pears (tenor)
Keith Engen (bass)
Edgar Shann (oboe d’amore on BWV 108 and 127)
Fritz Sonnieithner (violin on BWV 108)
Georg Donderer (trumpet on BWV 67 and 127)
Hedwig Bilgram (organ)
Münchner Bach-Chor
Members of the Orchestra of Münchner Staatsoper/Karl Richter
Recorded in the Haus des Sports, Munich, Germany, 1958
WARNER CLASSICS ELATUS 2564 613161-2 [61:07]

Warner Classics on their mid-price Elatus series of previously released material have issued well regarded 1958 performances for Teldec of three sacred cantatas by J.S. Bach from the baton of eminent conductor Karl Richter.

Bach wrote this strikingly original Cantata Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ, (Hold in remembrance Jesus Christ) BWV 67 at Leipzig in 1724 for the first Sunday after Easter. The text is provided by an unidentified author and is closely allied to a Gospel reading from John XX 19-31, which contains the story of the ‘doubting Thomas’. Unlike the music Bach had performed during the Easter festival itself, for which he had fallen back on earlier cantatas, Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ was entirely new. In both content and formal symmetry the work resembles five other cantatas scheduled for the subsequent Sundays, leading some writers to believe that Bach conceived them as a little cycle within the larger one embracing the liturgical year.

American Bass Keith Engen is particular effective in his celebrated Aria: Friede sei mit euch! (Peace be unto you!) which duets most successfully with the chorus. The voice of English born tenor Peter Pears has often divided opinion. Although recorded at around the time of his prime I feel that Pears is not at his best in his Aria: Mein Jesu ist erstanden (My Saviour is risen) where he seems to be struggling with the demands of the phrasing, like an acrobat uncomfortably leaping from trapeze to trapeze.

Bach concluded his great second cycle of sacred cantatas (1724-5) with an unbroken sequence of nine works set to texts by the Leipzig poetess and gifted amateur musician, Christiane Mariane von Ziegler. The Cantata Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe (For you it is best that we be parted / It is for your good that I go) BWV 108 is the second of the nine von Ziegler texts and uses settings from John, Chapter 16. The Cantata was first performed at Leipzig in 1725 for the fourth Sunday after Easter.

Pears redeems himself in his tenor Aria: Mich kann klein Zweifel storen (All care and doubt defying) with its violin obbligato in a sensitive and refined performance. The distinguished third and final Aria in the Cantata Was mein Herz von dir begehrt (Thou wilt fill my heart’s desire) is for contralto and strings. Austrian Contralto Lilian Benningsen offers an extremely successful and attractive interpretation which displays Bach's undoubted genius for word painting.

First performed at Leipzig in 1725 on Quinquagesima Sunday, the Cantata Herr Jesu Christ, wahr'r Mensch und Gott (Thou who, a God, as man yet come / Lord Jesus Christ, true man and God) BWV 127 uses texts by Paul Eber and probably Christian Friedrich Henrici. Renowned Bach scholar Alfred Dürr has written, "Listening to the cantatas Bach wrote for Quinquagesima one gets the impression that he devoted special care to this Sunday of the Church’s year… Almost all of them bear the mark of specially high artistic skill."

For me the highlight of this finely sustained work is the performance of Austrian soprano Antonia Fahberg. Accompanied by a lovely melody for the oboe, the soprano in her Aria: Die Seele ruht in Jesu Handen (My soul will rest in Jesus’ keeping), gives a beguiling and beautifully restrained performance.

Using modern instruments with no attempt at period informed performance practice, Bach specialist Karl Richter directs the forces of the Münchner Bach-Chor and Members of the Orchestra of Münchner Staatsoper with abundant precision and splendid refinement. With admirable clarity and first-rate balance these 46 year old performances are standing up remarkably well. Really interesting and informative annotation by Nicholas Anderson who never seems to disappoint.

It is good to have these splendid performances back in the catalogue. Although there are alternative versions of each work that I prefer I do not know of any single CD that currently offers the same three Cantatas. An impressive achievement by Karl Richter! This Elatus release is worthy of inclusion in any collection of Bach Cantatas.

Michael Cookson


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