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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas - Vol. 39

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, BWV 68 (1725) [14:05]
Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen, BWV 175 (1725) [14:51]
Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende (1725) [13:16]
Sie warden euch in den Bann tun, BWV 183 (1725) [13:46]
Ich bin ein gutter Hirt, BWV 85 (1725) [15:09]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. February 2007, Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan
BIS BISSACD1641 [72:42] 

 

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As with many of the Suzuki/BCJ cantata volumes, the most impressive work is presented first.  BWV 68, first performed on 21 May 1725, opens with a richly orchestrated choral movement, based on a melody by Gottfried Vopelius (1682).  The spacious sound of the Kobe Shoin Chapel fits this expansive music perfectly.  Under Suzuki’s direction, the music positively swings and the mood is of affirmation, despite the minor key in which it was written.  The following aria was borrowed from the Hunting Cantata (BWV208), and is played at brisk pace, graced by wonderfully supple violoncello piccolo part (the invention of which is credited to Bach).  Note that Suzuki has decided to use a violoncello da spalla (or ‘shoulder cello’) in its place, and provides convincing evidence for his decision in the production notes. Its famous melody, more complex and ornamental than in its original form, is beautifully expressed by Carolyn Sampson. The positive mood is maintained in the following bass recitative and aria.  The concluding chorus takes the form of a complex and demanding double fugue in which the words of warning (against a brilliant backdrop of cornet and trombones) are hammered home: “He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already”.  This is a wonderful cantata, and I have not heard it bettered.

First performed 22 May 1725, BWV 175 starts off with a short recitative followed by a pastoral alto aria, marked by swirling recorder parts which signify the steady movement of sheep towards greener pastures.  The sense of pining finally gives way to anticipation for the imminent arrival of the true shepherd in a tenor aria (borrowed from an early Köthen cantata (BWV 173a), ably sung by Gert Türk and supported once more by the tremendous musicianship of Dmitry Badiarov on violoncello da spalla.  The declamatory bass aria (movement 6) and concluding chorale (also based on an earlier work, BWV 59) rounds off what might be considered a ‘patchwork’ cantata, and one that does not quite hang together as a unified work.  Nevertheless, the forces show it off in its best possible light.

BWV 28 (first performed on December 30, 1725) reflects on the end of the current year and looks forward to the new year.  The first movement is an energetic soprano aria, praising God for a prosperous year, but there is a certain rigidity in the playing here, and I would have welcomed more relaxed orchestral support for Carolyn Sampson’s expressive delivery.  The vocal parts in the following chorale are very well captured but the movement is again marred, this time by the rather muted brass section (cornet and three trombones), which by doubling the vocal parts evokes the character of a motet. The penultimate movement, a short duet for alto and tenor, is quite lovely – and it is a joy to hear Robin Blaze and Gerd Türk play off each other, before uniting in simultaneous declamation.   The work is rounded off with a simple choral wish for a peaceful new year.

A key movement in BWV 183 (13 May, 1725) is the tenor aria.  Bach presents a stark, spacious musical context for the text which reassures those suffering terror and persecution for following God’s command that they will ultimately receive their heavenly reward.  Suzuki directs this aria at a slow tempo, and although the foreboding nature of the message comes through very successfully, I was left wondering whether it was perhaps too languorous. However, the soprano aria is utterly gorgeous, due in no small measure to Carolyn Sampson’s astonishingly clean yet expressive delivery.  Indeed she seems to draw the orchestra to new heights, and the punchy strings and fluid oboe da caccia ring brilliantly true.

BWV 85 once again returns to the theme of Christ as the good shepherd protecting the sheep.  The first movement, a bass aria, is a rather serious affair notable primarily for the lovely oboe line.  Blaze sings well throughout this volume, but he is especially impressive in the second movement of this cantata with a relaxed performance perfectly suited to the simple message.  Carolyn Sampson once again draws us in to this work in the centrepiece chorale (movement 3), her voice gelling perfectly with the dancing oboe lines.  Pastoral tones dominate the tenor aria (movement 5), with Türk’s line supported by a rich undulating rhythm of strings and continuo.  The work ends with straightforward chorale.

Overall, when measured against the immensely impressive standard set by Suzuki and BCJ, this is a slightly disappointing volume.  However, this is due as much to the relatively uneven quality of the cantatas as the performances themselves.  There are delightful individual movements, and the entire opening cantata is particularly memorable.  I am deeply impressed with Carolyn Sampson’s contributions, and I am convinced there are very few (if any) sopranos able to challenge her in the Baroque repertoire at present.  Dmitry Badiarov also deserves special mention for his exceptional playing throughout four of the cantatas on this disc.

Peter Bright


 


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