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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas Volume 30Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! BWV51 [17:01]; Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn BWV1127 [48:30]; Spielet, ihr beseelten Lieder (from O Holder tag, BWV210) [7:37]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, September 2005
BIS BIS-SACD-1471 [73:08]

 

Maestro Suzuki’s traversal of Bach’s chorale cantata cycle of 1724 is interrupted by this release, which features the first recording of a strophic aria – Alles mit Gott – which was only discovered in 2005 in Weimar.  Such discoveries are rare enough these days: this one was doubly fortunate in that much of the Weimar music archive was destroyed in a fire in 2004, but this document was stored separately with other non-musical manuscripts connected with tributes to, or celebrations of the Weimar rulers of the early 18th century.  Michael Maul, a researcher for the Bach Archive in Leipzig, pored over more than 1,000 documents before turning over a page to find music in the hand of JSB!  He describes the thrill of discovery in the sleeve notes: “O God, this looks like Bach”.

Before you get too excited at the prospect of almost fifty minutes of new Bach, let me explain what a strophic aria is.  It uses the same music for a number of verses of text, with a ritornello from the low strings and basso continuo to connect them.  Therefore, the discovery is only four new minutes of new Bach music, repeated eleven times.

In twelve verses, the librettist, Johann Anthon Mylius, pays homage to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar by including the letters of his name across the verses.  The first line of each verse is the same – the title of the piece – while the second line only varies by one word: that word begins with the appropriate letter of the Duke’s name.

The music itself reminds me of the Coffee cantata – a delicious flowing melody – but when it comes back more often than a Philip Glass theme, the attraction fades.  I have to admit, on first listening, to turning it off after about five verses, when I realised what was going on.

The soprano on this recording, Carolyn Sampson, has appeared before for Maasaki Suzuki on the recent secular cantata recording (BIS-SACD-1411 – see review) and has featured on a number of highly regarded Hyperion recordings with the King’s Consort.  She has a beautiful rich tone, honeyed and silky smooth.

The other complete work on the disc is the well-known cantata for solo soprano and trumpet, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV51).  Initial research indicated that it was part of the usual Sunday Leipzig church service around 1730, but recent studies have suggested that its use in a church service was unlikely and that a more likely performance venue would have been the court of Sachsen-Weißenfels.  It was for celebrations of Duke Christian’s birthday that Bach composed the Hunt (BWV208) and Shepherd (BWV249a) cantatas, and in 1729 Bach returned from the court with a new title: Hofkapellmeister of Sachsen-Weißenfels.

The other reason that Jauchzet Gott is unlikely to have been a regular church service work is the demand that it places on the solo vocalist, which would have been too much for a boy soprano from the Thomaskirche.  Carolyn Sampson deals effortlessly with the demands.  

The only other recording I have of this work is by Emma Kirkby with John Eliot Gardiner conducting (Philips 411458) from 1983.  This is instantly recognisable as a period instrument performance of that era with the burble of the valveless trumpet, the harshness in the strings and fast tempos.  Gardiner comes in almost 1½ minutes faster than Suzuki, which makes even greater demands on Kirkby and Crispin Steele-Perkins (trumpet).  I’m not normally enamoured by this type of period instrument performance (see review), but I have lived happily with the Kirkby performance for a number of years.

Do I prefer the new one?  The answer is a reserved “yes”.  The sheer virtuosity of Kirkby’s singing in the opening aria, is breathtaking in the true sense of the word.  The new recording takes this movement more leisurely (4:33 compared to 4:01), and seems sluggish when heard after the Kirkby.  However, when the order of playing is reversed, the Kirkby seems rushed and showy – not a problem with Vivaldi or Handel, but my feeling is that Bach is never showy). 

In the remaining movements, especially the slow recitative and aria, Sampson’s honeyed tones match my conception of Bach better than Emma Kirkby’s bell-like clarity.  In the Alleluia that closes the cantata, Sampson shows that she, too, can rattle through the high notes with the best of them.

The instrumental accompaniment to this cantata is totally dominated by the solo parts, but when it is heard, for example in the Chorale, the Bach Collegium Japan is the perfect combination of lightness of touch, smoothness of tone and tempos which are neither too slow nor too rushed.

Rounding out the disc (for no obvious reason apart from advertising) is a “bonus track”: an aria from the Wedding Cantata, from the secular cantata disc mentioned above.

The new Bach work on this recording will make it indispensable for completists, those collecting this series will have bought it already for both works, but for everyone else, it is an optional purchase, despite the outstanding quality of the performances.

David J Barker

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Visit the Bach Collegium Japan webpage for reviews of other releases in this series

 



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