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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage - Volume 9
Cantatas for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens, BWV 148* (1723?) [16:13]
Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost, BWV 114** (1724) [24:12]
Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden, BWV 47*** (1726) [21:47]
Motet: Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 (1729) [7:47]
Katharine Fuge (soprano); *Frances Bourne (alto); **Charles Humphries (alto); ***Robin Tyson (alto); Mark Padmore (tenor); Stephen Loges (bass)
The Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
rec. Allhelgonakyrkan, Lund, 14 October 2000
Cantatas for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottessohn, BWV 96 (1724) [19.22]
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169 (1726) [23:39]
Du Friedenfürst, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 116 (1724) [15:29]
(For the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity)
Chorale: Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit, BWV 668 [9:29]
Katharine Fuge (soprano); Nathalie Stutzmann (alto); Christoph Genz (tenor); Gotthold Schwarz (bass)
The Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
rec. Thomaskirche, Leipzig, 22 October 2000
German texts and English translations included.
SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG159 [2 CDs: 70:22 + 68:19]


Experience Classicsonline

The cantatas for two consecutive Sundays after Trinity are contained in this latest volume in the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series.

The pilgrims were in Sweden for the first of these two Sundays, performing three fine cantatas. Each begins with a noteworthy chorus and each of these movements finds the Monteverdi Choir in fine form. In BWV 148 their singing has tremendous vigour. I love the way they use words such as “bringet”, articulating the rhythms and investing the music with irresistible vitality. Later on, the elaborate fugal chorus at the beginning of BWV 47, which is introduced by the solo quartet, is admirably incisive; this is the sort of music in which the Monteverdi Choir excels.

There are some good soloists on parade too. Mark Padmore is in especially fine voice. In BWV 148 his light, airy singing of the florid aria ‘Ich elle, die Lehren’ is much to be admired, as is the playing of the difficult obbligato part by violinist Maya Homburger. Even better, though, is Padmore’s rendition of the aria ‘Wo wird in diesem Jammertale’ in BWV 114. This piece, well described by Sir John Eliot Gardiner as “bleak but hypnotic”, with its “rapt atmosphere of pained dejection”, suits Padmore’s voice very well. He produces some plangent, splendidly controlled singing and has just the right timbre. No less impressive is flautist Rachel Beckett, whose flute is a desolate partner for Padmore’s voice.

Another soloist who catches the ear is soprano Katharine Fuge. To her falls the extended and demanding aria ‘Wer ein wahrer Christ will heissen’ in BWV 47. This is in ABA form and the majority of the piece, which enjoins the Christian to humility, is slow and graceful. Miss Fuge’s long, expressive phrasing gives much pleasure but in the short, faster central section, where reference is made to the devil’s arrogance, she’s suitably acerbic.

Gardiner uses three different altos in this concert. Frances Bourne is the best of them and she also has the pick of the pieces assigned to the alto soloists, the pastoral aria ‘Mund und Herze steht dir offen’ in BWV 148. Here the obbligato trio of two oboi d’amore and an oboe da caccia makes a delectable sound.

The programme is rounded off with one of Bach’s motets, Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf. In this we hear much energetic and buoyant singing from the choir and Gardiner balances the parts excellently. The concluding chorale is sung, for the most part, with quiet fervour but, rightly, the final alleluias are invested with more overt feeling.

Then the caravan moved on to the city and building that, more than anywhere else, is identified with Bach. It might have been expected, perhaps, that the pilgrims would visit the church of St. Thomas, Leipzig on a special feast day. However, whether by accident or design, the chosen day was a “routine” Sunday in the church’s year and I think that’s rather appropriate for Bach plied his trade in Leipzig for some twenty-seven years, during which time so much of the wonderfully inventive music that he wrote was designed for ordinary Sundays such as this. Fittingly, both of the male soloists on this occasion were former members of the Thomanerchor.

In BWV 96 one of the members of the English Baroque Soloists was particularly in the spotlight. The opening chorus includes an important part for a sopranino recorder. The instrument’s deliciously piping tone adds a nice touch of frisson to the music and Rachel Beckett’s agile playing is a delight. Shortly afterwards she switches to transverse flute to supply a lovely obbligato in the tenor aria ’Ach, ziehe die Seele mit Seilen der Liebe’. Here Miss Beckett’s playing is the perfect foil for the light, supple voice of Christoph Genz.

Genz is also very communicative in the recitativo movement in BWV 116 and immediately before that Nathalie Stutzmann impresses with some very expressive singing in the aria ‘Ach, unaussprechlich ist die Not’. However, it’s in BWV169 that Miss Stutzmann particularly claims our attention.

This is one of Bach’s finest cantatas for a solo singer. The vocal part is memorable but so too is the instrumental accompaniment. The extended opening sinfonia (7:32 in this performance) is also familiar to us from the Harpsichord Concerto in E major BWV 1053. It’s an invigorating piece, dominated by a sparkling organ part, here delivered by the nimble fingers of Howard Moody. He also has a prominent part in the third movement where Miss Stutzmann’s rich tone and lovely legato line contrasts beautifully with the agile and ornate organ part. The fifth movement, the aria ‘Stirb in mir’, is a movement that Bach also included in the aforementioned concerto. For the cantata, however, he skilfully added a completely independent vocal line. In this exquisite siciliano movement, paced to perfection by Gardiner, Nathalie Stutzmann spins a winning vocal line. Indeed, overall this is a distinguished performance of the cantata.

The choir has less to do in the cantatas than was the case the previous Sunday. However, what they do have to sing is well delivered, not least, the fine opening chorus of BWV 116, which is deftly sung. This, by the way, is a cantata for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity but it was included here because in 2000 the vagaries of the calendar meant that this particular Sunday was omitted from the church’s year. But if the choir was relatively under-employed in the cantatas for this particular day they made ample amends at the end of the concert.

After the three cantatas had been performed Gardiner and his singers moved to the choir of the church for an a cappella rendition of the so-called ‘Deathbed Chorale’, BWV 668, which has been held by tradition to be the last piece that Bach composed. The move to a different part of the church was an inspired move for the microphones catch what the audience must have experienced, namely a magical distancing of the sound with the singers beautifully heard within the acoustic of the church. As an act of homage to Bach it could scarcely be bettered and even through the slightly impersonal medium of CD the effect is very moving, especially as the singing is so controlled and devoted. Gardiner refers to “the heart-stopping beauty of this two-versed envoi” and I’d say his superb choir convey that beauty in a way that disarms criticism.

The booklets accompanying this series of discs are always beautifully produced and the notes are consistently fascinating. Here one thing caught my eye in a short essay by soprano Katharine Fuge. One has been aware that, in order to realise such a project as the Cantata Pilgrimage, the performers must have had to master the music, much of it unfamiliar, at short notice. I must say I’ve never felt that the performances sound under-prepared or superficial. However, Miss Fuge reveals that each week the performers received not only their music for the forthcoming week’s concerts but also photocopies of the scriptural readings prescribed for that Sunday’s liturgy and “notes giving us the context of Bach’s life at the time each cantata was written. Perhaps we would learn that a particularly fine trumpeter had been in town or, more poignantly, that one of his children had recently died.” That attention to detail and the determination that these were to be much more than a series of concerts goes a long way to explaining why this evolving series of recorded performances seem so often to penetrate to the heart of what this wonderful music is about.

John Quinn

see also
The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage themed page



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