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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas Vol. 29: Cantatas from Leipzig, 1724
Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 135 [14:07]
Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 2 [17:04]
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid BWV 3 [22:14]
Aus tiefer not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 38 [16:53]
Dorothee Mields (soprano); Pascal Bertin (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan; Concerto Palatino/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. 25-29 June 2004, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan. DSD
BIS-SACD-1461 [71:39]

 

This distinguished series continues to evolve. In this volume Masaaki Suzuki explores more of the cantatas of Bach’s first Leipzig Jahrgang.

BWV 2, Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein is a cantata for the second Sunday after Trinity and was first heard in Leipzig on 18 June 1724, just one week after the congregation had experienced the mighty O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20. Cantata No. 2 is based on a Lutheran hymn which itself is derived from Psalm 12, a lament for man’s shunning of God. The opening chorus and the chorale with which the cantata closes are enriched by the addition of a cornetto and three trombones, expertly played by members of Concerto Palatino on this occasion. The chorus is rather an elaborate one and the twelve singers of Bach Collegium Japan, including the four soloists, make a splendid job of it.

Gerd Türk does the recitative that follows with just the right amount of dramatic feeling. Given that this is a fairly penitential cantata the alto aria, ‘Tilg, o Gott, wie Lehren’, with its splendid violin obbligato, sounds surprisingly jaunty. The singer, Pascal Bertin, is someone I haven’t heard before but I enjoyed his lively performance. The cantata also contains an important tenor aria and Türk gives an excellent account of it. 

The following Sunday the Leipzig citizens heard another new cantata, Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 135. It’s a sobering reflection on Bach’s industry and inspiration to note that the feast of St. John fell on the preceding day and for this occasion too Bach provided a new cantata, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7. Pressed for time he may have been in terms both of composing all this music and rehearsing it into the bargain, but there’s no suggestion of routine or the second rate about BWV 135 – or BWV 7, for that matter.

BWV 135 is also based on a Lutheran hymn related to a psalm; in this case Psalm 6. It opens with a powerful chorus and the author of the excellent liner notes points out how skilfully Bach varies his instrumental and choral textures in this movement. Once again the chorus is underpinned by a trombone, to good effect. Bach must have had a very accomplished solo tenor at his disposal at this time for this cantata, like BWV 2, contains a taxing aria for that voice. The aria, ‘Tröste mir, Jesu, mein Gemüte’, is a wonderful invention, greatly enhanced by a seemingly endless rippling accompaniment from a pair of oboes. Gerd Türk does it splendidly, using his plangent tone intelligently and the instrumental accompaniment is excellent, as is the case throughout this whole CD. There’s an important alto recitative, to which Pascal Bertin brings an appropriate degree of pathos and the emphatic bass aria, ‘Weicht, all ihr Übeltäter’ is taken in his stride by that most experienced and reliable of Bach singers, Peter Kooij.

There’s one more Trinity cantata on the disc, Aus tiefer not schrei ich zu dir, BWV 38, which is for the 21st Sunday after Trinity. It’s similar to its Trinity companions on this disc in that it too is based on a Lutheran hymn that paraphrases a psalm, in this case Psalm 130. As is the case with BWV 2, the hymn in question is actually by Luther himself. Another similarity with BWV 2 is that the opening chorus includes parts for the cornetto and trio of trombones. It’s an imposing number, begging divine mercy and so picking up the theme of the gospel for the day in which a nobleman pleads with Jesus to heal his sick son. Yet again we find a taxing tenor aria at the heart of one of these 1724 cantatas. ‘Ich höre mitten in den Leiden’ bristles with difficulties but Gerd Türk is equal to all its challenges. The other three vocal soloists blend together very well indeed in the terzetto, ‘Wenn meine Trübsal als mit Ketten’. I admired their skill in singing as a team so that each one of Bach’s contrapuntal lines is in perfect balance and thereby registers clearly and naturally.

The remaining cantata offered here is for Epiphany. Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 3 was first heard on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, 14 January 1725. It’s believed that the same librettist provided all the texts for Bach’s first series of Leipzig cantatas but the supply of texts seems to have dried up in early 1725, possibly due to the death of the author, meaning that Bach was unable to complete the Jahrgang. In fact BWV 3 was one of the last cantatas in this series; only a further six were to follow in this particular cycle.

The gospel for the Second Sunday after Epiphany tells the story of the marriage feast at Cana. Surprisingly, however, the cantata text does not pick up on that theme at all. Rather the cantata opens with a chorus that is penitential in tone. There then follows a section combining recitative, for each of the four vocal soloists in turn, and lines of chorale. Towards the end of this number the bass soloist shifts the mood of the whole piece from penitence to the prospect of redemption through Christ. This new emphasis is continued in the aria ‘Empfind ich Höllenangst und Pein’, splendidly sung by Peter Kooij. This aria displays Bach’s wonderful ability to illustrate and illuminate a word or thought through purely musical means. In particular, every time the soloist sings the word ‘Freudenhimmel’ (‘heaven of joy’) the word is set to an extended, joyful flourish. Among other things to savour in the performance of this cantata is the delectable combination of soprano Dorothee Mields with Pascal Bertin in their duet, ‘Wenn Sorgen auf mich dringen’.

This CD offers us some more examples of the inexhaustible riches contained in Bach’s sacred cantatas. It also maintains the very high standards that I’ve noted in those preceding volumes in Suzuki’s cycle that have come my way. The playing and singing is unfailingly expert and Suzuki’s choice of tempi and his balancing of his forces seems to me to be well nigh flawless. It is clear that the performances are under the direction of someone who has not only a deep knowledge of the music but also an equally deep love for it. I should also report that the recorded sound is excellent – I listened in conventional CD format – reporting a clear, truthful and natural sound picture. Finally, the documentation is exemplary.

Those collecting this impressive cycle can rest assured that this is another fine addition to the series. If you haven’t sampled Suzuki’s Bach yet then I’d heartily recommend this CD as an opportunity to rectify that omission.

John Quinn

see also Review by 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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