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