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CD: Crotchet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Eternal Fire
- Cantata Choruses
O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe - BWV 34 [6:51] (from SDG121)
Ihr werdet weinen und heulen - BWV 103 [5:11] (SDG107)
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott - BWV 80 [5:10] (SDG 110)
Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält - BWV 178 [5:35] (SDG 147)
Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott - BWV 101 [5:32] (SDG 147)
Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot - BWV 39 [7:35] (SDG 101)
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen - BWV 12 [[7:47] (SDG 107)
Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding - BWV 176 [1:54] (SDG 138)
Es erhub sich ein Streit - BWV 19 [3:51] (SDG 124)
Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende? - BWV 27 [4:47] (SDG 104)
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort - BWV 20 [4:55] (SDG 101)
Ä rge dich, o Seele, nicht - BWV 186 [3:46] (SDG 156)
Christus, der ist mein Leben - BWV 95 [4:54] (SDG 104)
Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? - BWV 8 [6:18] (SDG 104)
Katharine Fuge, Brigitte Geller (sopranos); William Towers, Robin Tyson (altos); Mark Padmore (tenor); Julian Clarkson (bass); The Monteverdi Choir; The English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
rec ‘live’ at various locations during the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000
German texts and English and French translations included
Experience Classicsonline

Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s cycle of Bach cantatas has been issued progressively on CD over the last four or five years and is due for completion, I believe, next year. All the recordings were made during the epic Bach Cantata Pilgrimage of 2000 when he, The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists and a group of fine soloists travelled round Europe - and, at the very end, to New York - to perform the cantatas on the relevant Sundays of the year. Most of the concerts were given in churches, several of which had direct associations with Bach himself. The series to date has represented a very considerable achievement indeed and the cycle, when completed, will be a major addition to the Bach discography.

From several of these discs the Monteverdi Choir’s own label, Soli Deo Gloria, has issued this most attractive collection of choruses, which gives an excellent taster of the project as a whole. All but one of the discs have been reviewed already on MusicWeb International - a review of Volume 4 (SDG 156) is in the course of preparation - and I’ve included links to the detailed reviews in the header to this review.

One benefit of selecting these choruses from a cycle of the cantatas, albeit one that is not yet quite complete, is that the listener will find some less familiar choruses alongside some of the well known choruses - this isn’t just a “Bach’s Greatest Choruses” collection. Indeed, the choruses have been shrewdly chosen and make a satisfying, contrasting programme in their own right.

So, as well as some familiar choruses we hear the dynamic, driving opening chorus from BWV 176, a fine cantata for Trinity Sunday, and the exciting chorus that opens BWV 19, a magnificent cantata for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This describes warfare in heaven between Satan and the angelic armies, led by St Michael. Gardiner and his forces give an exhilarating account of this chorus, which will surely whet appetites for the complete cantata. Just as splendid, though not as graphically militant, is the chorus from BWV 20. This majestic utterance finds Bach at his most affirmative, proud and confident in his Lutheran faith.

That’s quite a well-known chorus. So is the thrilling chorus from BWV 34, which opens the disc. For this Whit Sunday cantata Bach is in understandably festive mood and trumpets and drums are added to the orchestra to impart a suitably celebratory tone to the proceedings. Trumpets and drums were added to the scoring of the Reformation Day cantata, BWV 80, after Bach’s death by his son, Wilhelm Friedemann, but the additions are inauthentic and, rightly, Gardiner eschews them. Their absence doesn’t detract from the splendour of this chorus as performed here, however. Incidentally, trumpets and drums may be absent but Gardiner boosts the bass line of the orchestra by adding a bass sackbut and the booming sound of this instrument is thrilling.

At the other end of the spectrum of religious sentiment from BWV 34 or BWV 80 is the cantata for the Third Sunday after Easter, BWV 12. This chorus - and the cantata which it prefaces - is quite familiar, not least because Bach later reworked the music of the chorus into the ‘Crucifixus’ section of the Mass in B minor. The text is penitential and the music for the chorus is slow, chromatic and intense. This is the sort of music that Gardiner and his choir do very well and this present performance is as fine as one would expect. The gentle chorus from BWV 8, luminously accompanied, makes a lovely conclusion to the collection.

Three of the choruses include contributions by soloists, all of which are excellent. Mark Padmore is particularly impressive in BWV 95. Mention of the soloists reminds one that, of course, the choruses in these cantatas are only part of the story. The solo arias are of crucial importance in the cantatas and I hope SDG may consider issuing a similar selection of arias. That said, this highly enjoyable disc is as good a way as any of gaining an initial experience of the riches that are contained within Bach’s cantatas. It also gives a very fair indication of the consistent excellence of Gardiner’s performances throughout the cycle.

Documentation is up to SDG’s usual high standards. On this occasion the notes are not by Sir John. Instead Jonathan Freeman-Attwood contributes a very useful and readable essay.

John Quinn

Bach Cantata Pilgrimage review page




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