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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas for Alto

Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170 [20:22]
Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54 [11:23]
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben,*BWV 169 [22:23]
Bekennen will ich seinen Namen, BWV 200 [2:33]
Schlage doch gewünschte Stunde, BWV 53 [5:49]
Marianne Beate Kielland (alto)
Cologne Bach Choir *
Cologne Chamber Orhcestra/Helmut Müller-Brühl
rec. Sendesaal de Funkhauses, Deutschlandradio, Cologne, October-November 2004.
NAXOS 8.557621 [62:30]

For Martin Luther, the making of music and the writing of poetry were vehicles for the praises of God. Thus, the creation of hymns for the congregations and the composition of more florid music for the edification and education of same were of paramount importance to him. Luther regarded the musical portions of a church service to be second only to the sermon in order of significance. It was this bent toward music that gave rise to the wealth of German church music; a direct result and byproduct of Lutherís reformation.

This musical expression reached its apex in the person of Johann Sebastian Bach and his vast output of church cantatas, just over two hundred of which remain extant. Strangely, these were some of the last of his works to gain recognition as the great works of art that they are. With the exception of the "occasional" cantatas - works for birthdays, town events, etc - Bachís cantatas have a direct tie-in with Scripture. They were composed to coincide with the Sundays for which specific verses were used. Those texts that are not direct biblical quotes are poetic exhortations, elaborations or commentaries on the biblical texts.

The works presented in this disc cover a broad span of Bachís career, beginning with his time in Weimar all the way through to late in his Leipzig years. There is an alternation between aria and recitative, and in typical Bach fashion, the music is most descriptive of the texts. The vocal writing requires considerable virtuosity.

What utter joy it is to hear this music sung by a true female alto instead of one of the barrage of under-skilled and over-rated counter-tenors that litter the current playing field. Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, is a tour de force of vocal requirements, from the astoundingly beautiful and lyrical opening aria to the rather florid closing. Widerstehe doch der Sünde, is another dramatic work, quite serious in nature with a demanding opening aria. The closing aria, with its sin and hell subject matter is brutally low in vocal range, a tactic oft used by Bach to depict such dark material.

Gott soll allein mein Herze haben is particularly interesting as it makes use of music from a lost concerto that was not only to be resurrected here, but also in the Concerto for Harpsichord in E major, BWV 1053. The program closes with two arias from cantatas not otherwise designated for solo voice.

Marianne Beate Kielland has a rich voice, filled with deep amber and cobalt hues that evoke the mental image of the colors in fine stained glass. She has an exceptional command of her entire range, and in particular, sings her lowest register with conviction and beauty of tone. There is no evidence that she is struggling with the low tessitura that might be the bane of lesser singers. She sings with pristine enunciation and spot-on intonation. Her attention to the nuance of the texts makes for immediately engaging listening. Hers is a soothing, motherly voice that has instant appeal.

She is ably accompanied by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, a period-sensitive modern instrument ensemble that plays with great sensitivity and aplomb. I must confess that I rather enjoyed the richer tone produced by modern strings.

Naxos as usual has produced a fine sounding recording with good and informative notes, but must be chastised for the inexcusable omission of texts and translations. Come now, being on a budget is all fine and good, but there can be no justification for producing a program of such text-dependent music without including said texts!

Except for that glaring issue, this is first rate music-making and well deserving of your attention.

Kevin Sutton

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