For those who want
to investigate Bach’s cantatas, but are not ready to purchase
a pilgrimage's worth in one go, it is hard to know where to start.
Do you simply grab a Brilliant Classics or Hänssler box and hope
for the best? Or do you pick your favourite feast day from the
church calendar and snap up the relevant instalment on Soli
Deo Gloria? Or choose an issue at random from Masaki
Suzuki’s ongoing cycle on BIS?
Naxos has an alternative
answer. Bucking the budget label trend, Naxos is steadily releasing
individual discs of Bach's cantatas built around a single solo
voice. Last year there was a wonderful volume of cantatas
for alto, one of Kevin Sutton's Recordings
of the Year for 2006 and an ideal introduction to the world
of Bach's cantatas. This disc of cantatas for bass is another
great place to start, or to continue.
Our guide is bass-baritone
Hanno Müller-Brachmann, who brings to these cantatas all of
his experience as a lieder singer. He clearly thinks about every
word he sings, shaping each phrase not only with feeling, but
with the right feeling. His recitatives are models and his diction
The two arias of
the first cantata, BWV 56, offer a wonderful contrast between
thoughtful melancholy and unforced joy. The second aria is simply
wonderful here, with Christian Hommel's oboe and Müller-Brachmann's
voice dancing happily around each other, with only a light organ
continuo by way of accompaniment.
I was impressed
by Müller-Brachmann's rendition of the opening aria of BWV 82.
Here it has a feeling of relaxed contentment, rather than the
melancholy which a less thoughtful singer would be tempted to
bring to it, given its minor key. Müller-Brachmann is not quite
on top of his game in the gorgeous second aria. At the slower
tempo, chinks appear in his armour – an unevenness of tone across
his range, and tendency to unsteadiness in sustained notes and
phrases. He recovers for the final aria and overall his performance
is satisfying. Unlike the other two cantatas on this disc, BWV
82 comprises three arias, linked by recitatives, for bass voice
BWV 158, which like
BWV 82 was written for the Feast of the Purification of Our
Lady, is the shortest of the three cantatas on this disc. Müller-Brachmann's
sensitive recitatives frame an aria in which he is joined by
Daniel Rothert's solo flute and interjections from the ladies
of the chorus. As in BWV 56, the choir also contributes a final
chorale in clean, clear voice.
playing of the Cologne Chamber Orchestra is delightful. Caught
in a vivid acoustic, their playing – period style on modern
instruments – is full of delectable details, but completely
at the service of the vocal line. The light organ continuo is
delectable, and Christian Hommel brings playing of great sensitivity
to his numerous solo turns.
The booklet includes
insightful liner notes by Peter Reichelt, but no texts or translations.
These are available from the Naxos website. German speakers
will not miss them though, so clear is Müller-Brachmann's articulation.
If you are looking
for the best possible recording of these three cantatas on one
disc, sung to within an inch of perfection, there is really only
one man for the job, and that man is Thomas
Quasthoff. For the budget conscious, though, Müller-Brachmann
is a commendable second best.