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Sacred Cantatas For Alto And For Tenor
Johann Sebastian BACH
Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV35 (1726) [25:30]
Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht, BWV55 (1726) [11:12]
Melchior HOFFMANN (c.1679-1715)
Mein Seele rühmt und preist (c.1714) [15.29]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Ich weiss, dass mein Erlösse lebt (c.1721) [10.30]
Marianne Beate Kielland (alto) (Bach BWV35)
Markus Schäfer (tenor) (Bach BWV55, Hoffmann, Telemann)
Cologne Bach Choir (Bach BWV55)
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Müller-Bruhl
rec. 1-3 June 2004 (Bach BWV55, Hoffmann, Telemann), 22-23 November 2004 (Bach BWV35), Deutschlandrundfunk, Sendesaal, Cologne
NAXOS 8.557615 [62:41]

For most of the past 250 years all four of these cantatas were thought to be the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. However, two of them, formerly BWV189 and BWV160, are now believed to be by Hoffmann and Telemann respectively. With this in the background it is clear that this Naxos collection has been thoughtfully compiled, which itself becomes a strong selling point.
The programme opens with an attractive cantata by Bach: Geist und Seele wird Verwirret. This has a florid role for an alto soloist, taken here by Marianne Beate Kielland. While a male alto or even a boy alto might be alternatives, her voice is nicely in focus for the music, but this asset is not enhanced by the ‘larger than life’ nature of the recording of the solo voice relative to the ensemble. This has the effect of emphasising what seems like a sense of struggle in her response to the decorative line of the music. In other respects the recording and performance are more satisfactory, not least in the splendid instrumental sinfonia, complete with obbligato organ, with which the piece begins.
A similar point can be made about the voice of Markus Schäfer in the other Bach cantata, Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht. For he is not heard to best advantage in either the recitative or the arias, and particularly in the taxing opening number. There are fewer signs of strain in the two pieces by Hoffmann and Telemann, perhaps because the demands on vocal technique are less strenuous. In BWV55 the obbligato flute is very well played and the recorded balance of the instruments is pleasing too. Throughout the programme the musical direction from Helmut Muller-Bruhl is sensitive to the nature of the music.
Since the Hoffmann and Telemann cantatas were long associated with Bach, there is no need to worry about their musical qualities. To be sure, they are lighter pieces but they are none the worse for that. Keith Anderson’s lucid insert notes give useful and necessary information about these pieces and their context relative to each composer’s career. There are no texts and translations, however, and while this omission can be rectified quite easily from other sources in the case of the two Bach cantatas, it is a more frustrating matter in the context of Hoffmann and Telemann, since the required material is less readily available elsewhere.
Terry Barfoot


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