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The Bach Cantata Pilgrimage - Volume 12
Cantatas for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht, BWV 55 (1726) [14:35]
Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim? BWV 89 (1723) [11:17]
Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit, BWV 115 (1724) [25:56]
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort II, BWV 60 (172) [16:05]
(For the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity)
Joanne Lunn (soprano); Robin Tyson (alto); James Gilchrist
(tenor); Peter Harvey (bass); The Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
rec. All Saints, Tooting, 17 November 2000
Cantatas for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity
Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott, BWV 139* (1724) [17:29]
Nur jedem das Seine!, BWV 163 (1715) [14:29]
Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht!, BWV 52* (1726) [14:55]
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 (1731) [25:25]
(For the Twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity)
*Gillian Keith (soprano); Susan Hamilton (soprano); Hilary Summers
(alto); William Kendall (tenor); Peter Harvey (bass); The Monteverdi
English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
rec. Winchester Cathedral, 26 November 2000
German texts and English translations included
SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG 171 [68:13 +72:40]
The penultimate instalment in this series brings a “first”.
The cantatas on disc one are not live performances but were
set down under studio conditions a couple of days before the
Pilgrims performed this programme in the chapel of Eton College.
There’s a very good reason for this. Eton lies right under the
flight path of Heathrow airport and so, as an insurance policy
against aircraft noise, a prudent decision was taken to pre-record
the programme, using long takes to simulate concert conditions
as much as possible.
One would not wish for any intrusive noises to mar any of the
cantata performances, especially James Gilchrist’s excellent
and compelling account of the cantata for solo tenor, BWV
55. In the aria that opens the work Bach’s writing, in Alfred
Dürr’s words “conjures up an impression of the writhing sinner
who in vain revolts against his burden of sin, since he is unable
to free himself from it.” Gilchrist rises superbly to the manifold
challenges of Bach’s long, intense lines. He’s just as fine
in the second aria, a compelling plea for mercy from the sinner,
of which he gives a moving account. Praise too for the uplifting
flute obbligato playing of Rachel Beckett in this second aria.
Gilchrist is also vividly communicative in the two recitatives.
In his notes, Sir John Eliot Gardiner is right to draw attention
to the lovely harmonies in the concluding chorale, which is
expertly sung by The Monteverdi Choir.
There’s more admirable solo singing in BWV 89. The opening
aria portrays what Gardiner aptly calls God’s “wistful” anger
and Peter Harvey, with fine, firm singing suggests just that.
The alto recitative and aria that follow are much more vengeful
in tone. Robin Tyson is presented with some challenging, dramatic
writing, which he dispatches convincingly. Later comes a soprano
aria with oboe obbligato in which the tone seems rather light
and gay, which is rather at odds with the words. Gardiner points
out that the text describes “a balance sheet of sins committed
against the drops of Jesus’ redeeming blood.” The optimistic
tone of Bach’s music, captivatingly sung by Joanne Lunn, who
is expertly partnered by Michael Niesemann’s felicitous oboe
playing, perhaps indicates the composer’s confidence as to which
side of the balance sheet will end up in credit.
For all the fine music that has gone before Gardiner is surely
right to rate BWV 115 as the choicest of Bach’s three
cantatas for this Sunday. It contains not one but two magnificent,
eloquent arias. The first, ‘Ach, schläfrige Seele, wie?’ (‘Ah,
somnolent soul’) is a slow, siciliano movement in E minor
for alto, partnered by an oboe d’amore. Robin Tyson’s expressive
singing – and the equally expressive playing by his instrumental
partner – compels attention throughout the ten-minute span of
the aria. If anything, the soprano aria, ‘Bete aber auch dabei’
(‘Pray then, even as you wake’), is even finer. Here the singer
is part of a trio, the other participants being a solo flute
and a piccolo cello. Gardiner is lavish in his praise of the
present performance, and no wonder. Both of the instrumentalists
are superb, while the way in which Joanne Lunn sustains Bach’s
long lines is spellbinding. This is a performance that confirms
her stature as one of the finest soloists to be heard in this
whole series. Alfred Dürr opines that “among Bach’s arias, this
movement…exercises an exceptional fascination on the listener.”
That’s certainly the case with this rapt account of it.
BWV 60 is for the following Sunday and it’s largely a
dialogue between Fear (the alto soloist) and Hope (the tenor).
The first movement is an arresting duet for the singers, strongly
scored by Bach and punchily delivered by the English Baroque
Soloists. The alto, reinforced by a horn player, delivers the
chorale melody and when the tenor joins the musical argument
the two voices intertwine thrillingly. Later in the cantata
the bass soloist takes the part of Vox Christi in a duet
with Fear in which his calming arioso passages always start
with the words ‘Selig sind die Toten’. Peter Harvey is magnificent
here, striking just the right tone of dignified reassurance.
The final chorale features some daring, whole tone harmonies.
This was the music that exerted such a powerful fascination
on Alban Berg when he was writing his Violin Concerto (1935).
The following weekend brought the Pilgrims to Winchester for
their final concert in England. In BWV 139 tenor William
Kendall produces some forthright singing in the aria, ‘Gott
ist mein Freund; was hilft das Toben’, in which he’s accompanied
by a busy pair of obbligato violins. In the bass aria that we
hear a little further on Peter Harvey is firm of tone in his
striking projection of the music but the piece also contains
some lighter stretches in which he’s equally successful. He
has been my favourite among the bass soloists throughout the
entire project and this excellent piece of singing is a very
good example of him at his best.
Moving on to BWV 163, the aria with which the cantata
opens gives William Kendall a good opportunity to demonstrate
the lyrical side of his voice in music that contrasts with the
aria allotted to him in the previous cantata. Susan Hamilton,
a member of The Monteverdi Choir, and the Welsh alto, Hilary
Summers, join in two successive duet movements, an arioso followed
by an aria. I don’t believe that either singer has appeared
as a soloist before in this series. Miss Summers has quite a
rich-toned voice, more contralto than mezzo, I’d say. They’re
effective here though I don’t think either makes quite as positive
an impression as some of the other sopranos and altos we’ve
encountered in earlier volumes.
The opening sinfonia to BWV 52 is an early version of
the music that became the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto
No 1, complete with a pair of exuberant hunting horns, which
make a splendid sound here. The rest of the cantata, apart from
the concluding chorale, is for solo soprano. On this occasion
the soloist is the excellent Gillian Keith. She sings with burning
intensity in her opening recitativo, grabbing the listener’s
attention with her very first phrase and never letting go thereafter.
The piece contains two arias. The first is a dramatic piece,
carrying on from the recitativo, while the second, in which
the singer is joined by a trio of oboes, is more relaxed. Miss
Keith gives a convincing account of both arias and I particularly
enjoyed the second one.
With BWV 140, which is actually for the Twenty-seventh
Sunday after Trinity, when Advent is fast approaching, we encounter
one of Bach’s most celebrated cantatas. Gardiner has recorded
this piece before, a studio recording made for DG Archiv back
in 1990. That’s a good reading of the cantata but, on balance,
I prefer this newer version. I like the purposeful tempo that
Gardiner adopts for the opening chorus, which is just a smidgeon
more sprightly than in the 1990 version. The Monteverdi Choir
of 2000, whose singing has been excellent throughout both of
these discs, excel here, conveying just the mood of eager anticipation
that the music and the text require. Gardiner is daring in the
way he uses dynamics – he did the same thing in 1990 but the
effect is even stronger here. One example that really made me
sit up was at the words ‘Mitternacht heisst diese Stunde’, where
he takes the volume right down before getting his singers to
make a thrilling crescendo during the next line, ‘Sie rufen
uns mit hellem Munde’. A little later, when what he terms the
“funky” alleluias start, the altos lead off almost cheekily.
In the fugal writing that follows the singing has bite and commitment
– and great clarity. I can’t recall hearing a more exciting
account of this well-known movement. The cantata contains two
duets between soprano and bass. In the first of these Susan
Hamilton’s singing seems to me to be somewhat plain in expression,
suffering somewhat by comparison with Peter Harvey’s much more
characterful delivery. She’s better in the second, delicious
duet; I think the lively, eager-eyed music suits her light voice
better. The pert oboe obbligato is deftly played - by Susanne
Regel, I assume. A fervent account of the famous final chorale
sets the seal on an excellent performance of this cantata.
This penultimate volume in Gardiner’s cantata cycle offers eight
fine examples of Bach’s church music. The quality of the music
is consistently high and so too is the standard of the performances,
with the expert and committed singing and playing we’ve come
to expect – but not take for granted, I hope – as this series
has evolved. As usual the recorded sound is very good and Sir
John’s notes are as perceptive as ever, inviting and drawing
the listener into Bach’s musical world. For all who have been
collecting this series this latest addition is another mandatory
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