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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas - Vol. 42
Alles nur nach Gottes Willen, BWV72 (1726) [15:07]
Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen, BWV32 (1726) [22:46]
Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen, BWV13 (1726) [20:11]
Herr Gott, dich loben wir, BWV162 (1725) [15:51]
Rachel Nicholls (soprano); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan, February 2008
BIS SACD 1711 [75:24]  
Experience Classicsonline

A consistently useful feature of Bach Collegium Japan's BIS Bach cantata series has been the erudite booklet notes by Klaus Hofmann. In the introductory paragraph to the essay accompanying this latest volume he reminds us of Bach's extraordinary industry - a new cantata each Sunday - during the years he worked as Kantor at the church of St Thomas, Leipzig. Some may have been lost from 1726, however, as the allotted cantata for certain Sundays has not survived. It may even be that Bach's rate of production slowed for some reason, but in any event here are four from January of that year, including one composed for New Year's Day.

I was particularly glad of the booklet notes in respect of Meine Seufzer, which takes as its starting point the wedding at Cana where Christ turned water into wine, this being the gospel passage for the particular Sunday for which this cantata was composed. It would take a canny reader, though, to work this out for himself, there being but a single, and rather oblique reference to the story in the text. Christ learned that there was no more wine from his mother, to whom he replied 'Your concern…is not mine. My hour is not yet come.' This last phrase, writes Hofmann, is what the cantata is really about, 'abandonment, hopelessness, but later also about confidence that the hour will come.' Christ's hour came with the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and given that he fully understood his purpose on earth, and therefore his fate, we can understand that he already had presentiments of abandonment and hopelessness. All this serves to illustrate the depth of philosophical debate contained in the libretti of Bach's cantatas, and also to make one wonder how accessible were the messages to the congregations at Leipzig. In the present case, a cantata which takes as its starting point the miracle of turning water into wine is transformed into a meditation of misery and despair. Significantly, though, it is only at the point in the libretto where the vaguest reference to the miracle is made that hope begins to shine through, however dimly. It is a beautiful work, with, in particular, a long tenor aria featuring two recorders and oboe da caccia. Some might find Gerd Türk rather cool here, but he is vocally splendid, and I find that a slight trace of detachment only serves to bring out with even greater pathos the meaning of the words. He sounds oddly out of sorts, though, in Herr Gott, dich loben wir, composed for New Year's Day, but lacking the customary trumpets and fanfares which generally symbolise the joy of that particular feast. The chorus, too, earlier in the work, are rather lacking in festive spirit, and in both cases it seems that a combination of a steady tempo and certain stolid heaviness in the rhythm combine to create this effect.

The link between the cantata subject and its libretto is easy to discern in Liebster Jesu. Another well-known story is the starting point, the occasion when visiting Jerusalem that Mary and Joseph thought they had lost the child Jesus but find him in the temple debating with the elders. The voice of Christ is allotted to the bass, even though he is a child in the story, and in this Concerto in Dialogo the role of his mother - the Soul, here - is sung by a soprano. Rachel Nicholls appeared in Suzuki's recording of the B minor Mass, and now makes her cantata series debut here. I find her singing ravishing; her tuning is absolutely spot-on and she sings with striking purity and beauty of tone. Her opening aria is beautifully complemented by the playing of oboist Masamitsu San'nomiya and the closing duet of contentment with Peter Kooij is a delight. She is even more satisfying in the jewel of an aria which closes BWV72. This cantata deals with Christ healing a leper, but typically focuses on the notion of submission to Christ's will as in the leper's words '…if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.' The soprano aria rejoices in the knowledge that God's will is that mankind be saved, and therefore mankind should have faith in the will of God. Once again she is in duet with the oboe, and the aria serves as a reminder of the glorious jewels to be found hidden away in this immense series of cantatas. Earlier in the work Robin Blaze has also been given the opportunity to shine, and though the chorus has relatively little to do in these four works their contribution is excellent too. The recording - which I listened to in ordinary two-channel stereo - and the production values in general are well up to the standards of the house.

Those collecting this series can, therefore, add this one in without hesitation.

William Hedley



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