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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata No. 82 Ich habe genug (BWV 82) [23:50]
Cantata No. 199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (BWV 199) [26:50]
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo)
The Orchestra of Emmanuel Music/Craig Smith
Recorded in May 2002 at Emmanuel Church, Boston, USA. DDD
NONESUCH 7559-79692-2 [50:40]


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The two cantatas on this disc belong to the most famous and most performed and recorded. Cantata 82 is in particular renowned for its second aria, 'Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen'. Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena, must have loved the aria. She included a version for solo voice and b.c. - with the preceding recitative - in her second Clavierbüchlein. Bach composed this cantata in 1727 for bass, oboe, strings and b.c. He reworked it three times: 1730 or 1731 for soprano and transverse flute, 1735 for mezzo-soprano and oboe and in 1745 or 1748 for bass again, this time with oboe da caccia.

The second cantata, BWV 199, is one of Bach's earliest works, and dates from 1714, when Bach was employed in Weimar. It is scored for soprano, oboe, strings and b.c. Remarkable is the fact that - with the exception of one very short recitative (nr 5) - all recitatives are 'recitativi accompagnati', in which the solo voice is accompanied by strings and b.c. It contains one chorale, which is sung by the soloist, with a solo part for the viola, and accompanied by basso continuo.

I don't think there are many recordings which combine these two cantatas, performed by the same singer. The version of Cantata 82 here is the one for mezzo-soprano, of course, but Cantata 199 is for soprano. Originally it was intended to be sung at high pitch. The organ in Weimar was tuned at 'Cornet-ton', in which the a'=ca 465 Hz. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is only able to perform it, because here the modern standard pitch is used, with a'=440 Hz. Even so her voice does sound stressed at some high notes.

The orchestra uses modern instruments. That doesn't make it impossible to apply some of the insights of the historical performance practice. There are some hints that this is the case here - the dynamic differentiation and the articulation in the strings in the first aria of Cantata 82, for instance. But on the whole this is a pretty old-fashioned interpretation. For some this will come as a relief. But I don't like it. So let me sum up what is wrong with it, in my view.

The singer uses too much vibrato and so does the oboist. (She uses an oboe d'amore, for which I can't find any explanation in the booklet.)

What is worse: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson ignores the word accents in the text. The main means of expression she uses are tempo and volume. But it has more to do with creating an atmosphere than with expressing the text.

The players are doing basically the same. The oboist plays legato almost all the time, and so does the violist in the chorale "Ich, dein betrübtes Kind". But in vocal music of the baroque the instrumentalists have to express the text just like the singer(s).

The strings sometimes produce a thick sound which one associates with traditional symphony orchestras. That is the case in particular in the aria ‘Tief gebückt und voller Reue’ from Cantata 199.

In a number of cases the character of the music is completely missed. For example, the aria 'Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen' (BWV 82,3) is a lullaby, but it is very unlikely that anybody will be lulled by this performance, except from boredom. The last aria of Cantata 199, 'Wie freudig ist mein Herz', is a gigue. Here the playing is rather stiff and hardly suitable to express the joy the aria is about.

The tempi are often unsatisfying. The aria ‘Tief gebückt’ is not a very sad piece, in contrast to what one would expect. It is, as Michael Steinberg writes in the liner notes, as if "the sinner felt relief after the confession of her guilt" (in the preceding recitative). The key of E flat reflects this character. But the tempo here is far too slow. And when the B part ends with a short passage with the tempo indication 'adagio', the music almost comes to a standstill.

The disc ends with the closing aria of Cantata 199, saying (in translation) "How joyful is my heart". After having listened to this recording, mine wasn't.

Johan van Veen

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