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Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage: Volume
16 - Cantatas for the Sunday after Christmas
Motet: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225 (1727) [12:59]
Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, BWV 152 (1714) [18:01]
Das neugeborne Kindelein, BWV 122 (1724) [14:56]
Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, BWV 28 (1725) [14:05]
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied! BWV190 (1724) [16:53]
(For New Year’s Day)
Fuge, Gillian Keith, Joanne Lunn (sopranos); Daniel Taylor
(alto); James Gilchrist (tenor); Peter Harvey (bass)
The Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot
rec. St. Bartholomew’s, New York, 31 December 2000
DEO GLORIA SDG137 [77:29]
disc contains the very final concert, the fifty-ninth, of
Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. This was
the last of three concerts given in New York to conclude
the Pilgrimage. We’ve already had one disc devoted to Christmas
cantatas, performed on Christmas Day itself (see review),
and its companion, recorded at a concert given just two days
later (see review).
Now here’s the final Christmas instalment.
must have been quite an emotional occasion for the Pilgrims,
knowing that this was the end of their journey – a journey
of discovery and celebration. Gardiner makes that clear in
his notes, but even if he had not done so anyone who has
followed the series to date would have guessed as much from
the comments that various performers have made in their own
recollections, printed in earlier booklets.
concert begins not with a cantata but with a motet, Singet
dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225.This
was a most intelligent piece of programming since the concert
was to close with the cantata that bears the same title.
The motet begins with infectious joyfulness – Sir John refers
to the “joyous, spirited singing” – but the Monteverdi Choir
is no less alive to more reflective moments in Bach’s piece.
This means that the central section is marvellously poised.
In the outer stretches of the work, however, they provide
singing of superb clarity, full tone and rhythmic vivaciousness.
152 contrasts very strongly with the motet.
This is a work from Bach’s
Weimar period and it is scored for very modest forces indeed.
A solo soprano and a bass are accompanied by just six instrumentalists – recorder,
oboe, viola d’amore, viola da gamba and a continuo, comprising
cello and organ. Alfred Dürr suggests, in his definitive
study of the cantatas, that perhaps, after the other musical
demands made on the Weimar musicians during the Christmas
period, Bach had very limited forces available to him and
made a virtue of necessity in his scoring. The result is
a wonderfully intimate creation, which is sung delightfully
by Gillian Keith and Peter Harvey.
Harvey, one of the rocks
of this whole series, is in fine voice. Gillian Keith also
excels, especially in the sublime aria, ‘Stein der über alle
Schätze’. Here the recorder and viola d’amore intertwine
sinuously in support of her touching singing. This is a wonderfully
delicate movement and the fragility of the music contrasts
pointedly with the much more emphatic bass recitatives that
are placed on either side of it. There’s no concluding chorale.
Instead the cantata ends with a dialogue between the Soul
(soprano) and Jesus (bass), which is very well done here.
This wasn’t a cantata with which I was very familiar so I’m
particularly delighted to find it in such an excellent performance.
we hear BWV 122, a Leipzig piece. This is based on
an old hymn, dating from 1597, which would have been familiar
to the Leipzig congregations. Peter Harvey has a challenging
aria, which, predictably, he puts across very well. I like
Katharine Fuge’s lovely, pure tone in the following recitative
and then she and James Gilchrist combine most effectively
in a terzetto, in which they’re joined by the altos
of the choir, who sing the chorale melody beneath the soloists’ florid
first two cantatas have been predominantly reflective in
tone. Now, however, the decks are cleared for some serious
rejoicing, beginning with BWV 28. Against a sprightly
accompaniment Joanne Lunn opens the proceedings with what
Dürr calls a “joyful, dance-like song of thanksgiving.” This
is an engaging, smiling piece of singing; not only is Miss
Lunn characterful but she’s also technically assured. There
follows a magnificent chorus, which finds the Monteverdi
Choir on stunning, incisive form. Gilchrist is at his most
expressive in the recitative ‘Gott ist ein Quell’ and then
he and Daniel Taylor are terrific in the sprightly duet ‘Gott
hat uns im heurigen Jahre gesegnet.’
you sense that the whole concert has been building up to
the performance of BWV 190. This cantata has
come down to us with only a fragmentary orchestral score
and Gardiner and his colleagues engaged in some well-informed
reconstruction. For example, timpani and a trio of trumpets
have been added to the opening chorus, to thrilling effect
and, as we shall see, there’s an even more inspired piece
of re-scoring later on.
piece opens with a chorus that is nothing less than an outbreak
of unbridled rejoicing. On this occasion the music is invested
with the sort of vital, virtuoso singing and playing for
which Gardiner has become renowned. He and his performers
convey a life-enhancing optimism. One senses that everyone
was on their toes to provide the Big Finish to the Pilgrimage.
The cantus firmus interjections from Luther’s German Te Deum
are especially fervent but then so is the whole of this chorus;
it’s a really spine tingling performance.
comes a duet for tenor and bass soloists, ‘Jesus soll mein
alles sein.’ In an inspired piece of scoring, Gardiner allots
the obbligato to the viola d’amore. The obbligato part consists
largely of “chains of wistful, gestural arabesques bouncing
off a silent main beat” (Gardiner). The effect is quite ravishing.
One might have feared that the delicate, husky sound of the
viola d’amore would be swamped by the singers. However, without
holding back, Gilchrist and Harvey sing with such exemplary
control and taste that everything fits together beautifully.
Gardiner chose to repeat this movement as the second and
final encore at the end of the concert and it’s a nice thought
that this was the last music to be heard during the Pilgrimage.
The thought is all the more poignant since the violist, Katherine
McGillvray, died last year aged just thirty-six; the CD is
dedicated to her memory.
this luminous duet comes a tenor recitative. It was the final
solo of the concert and, therefore, of the Pilgrimage and
it’s fitting that this should have been entrusted to James
Gilchrist, since he’s been another mainstay of the whole
enterprise. He produces a marvellously weighted, nuanced
piece of singing, which typifies the skill and perception
of so many of his contributions to the Pilgrimage.
that remains is the final, affirmative chorale, which, as
performed here, seems to be a summation and a salute to the
genius of Bach. This performance anticipated by a few hours
the New Year for which the cantata was written. As such,
it looked back on a year of homage to Bach and celebration
of his music in the 250th anniversary year of
his death. But the performance also seems to look forward
with confidence, perhaps because Gardiner and his team felt
inspired and refreshed by their shared and individual experiences
during the course of the Pilgrimage. For the Pilgrims this
marked journey’s end. For those of us who are reliving their
journey through the medium of CD we have many more volumes
in prospect. The next instalment is keenly awaited but for
now this splendid disc will sustain us.
Cantata Pilgrimage page
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