Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Arias from Cantatas and Oratorios
Doch weichet, ihr tollen vergeblichen Sorgen from Cantata BWV8 [5:07]
Herr, so willt from Cantata BWV73 [3:32]
Wohlzutun und mitzuteilen from Cantata BWV39 [2:51]
Mein Freund ist mein from Cantata BWV140 [5:45]
Der ewig reiche Gott from Cantata BWV192 [2:53]
Mache dich, mein Herze, rein from the St. Matthew Passion, BWV244 [6:16]
Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder from the St. Matthew Passion, BWV244 [2:55]
Cantata BWV82 ‘Ich habe genug’ [22:44]
Bist du bei mir (attr. Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, arr. Jessica Wells) BWV508 [2:37]
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass-baritone); Sara Macliver (soprano)
Orchestra of the Antipodes/Anthony Walker; Brett Weymark
rec. 24 March 2003, 15-17 December 2005, 12 December 2006 and 17-18 November 2008, Eugene Goossens Hall of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ultimo Center, Sydney.
ABC CLASSICS 476 3871 [55:15]
That death, and the promise of a better life thereafter are central themes in Bach’s sacred output is no surprise. It would be a century before Pasteur’s connection between bacteria and disease would revolutionize medicine and sanitation practices. Effective pain-killers were practically non-existent and people died with a regularity that would be unimaginable in the modern world. Thus, people turned to charms, rituals and most importantly, religion to find comfort and cure.
Sebastian Bach created an enormous amount of music to be used in the four Lutheran churches in Leipzig, principally, St. Thomas Church. Over a span of fifteen years, Bach composed at least one cantata a month of which some 250 are extant. In addition to the cantatas, there is the tremendous output for organ, four passions (two are extant), Lutheran masses, the Christmas Oratorio and The Mass in b minor.
In dramatic music, the voice of wisdom, age and authority or in some cases malice is most often given to lower voices. In opera bass singers are cast as fathers, villains, judges, or elders in general, while tenors get to be the heroes and young lovers. In the sacred realm, it is traditional to give Jesus a bass voice to assert his authority, and to provide a sense of comfort. Teddy Tahu Rhodes has chosen a program of arias that centers on the themes of hope, exhortation, comfort and the acceptance of death. He is joined by Sara Macliver for two fetching duets cast as dialogues between Christ and the faithful soul.
The centerpiece of this recital is the dramatic solo cantata ‘Ich habe genug’ spoken from the point of view of a man at the end of his life, giving the summation of his earthly journey and preparing for a new life to come. Its poignant opening movement is really a resignation from life. A confession that there is nothing left on earth left to live for and a plea for the release of death. The stunning second movement, Schlummert ein is a lullaby to oneself and is one of the most beautiful melodies in the Bach canon. Such is the dramatic impact of this monumental work, that the innovative and controversial director Peter Sellars created a striking staging of the work for mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who performed the work as a dying patient clad in a hospital gown and confined to her bed connected to tubes and machines. Ironically it would be just a short time from these performances before Ms. Hunt Lieberson would succumb to cancer. Many believed this performance to be her musical will and testament.
Mr. Rhodes is a most expressive singer, whose deep bass hues are combined with the clarity and slight edge of the higher baritone register to result in a voice of both total authority and remarkable beauty. His ability to plumb the lowest notes of his register is balanced by a complete ease in the upper range. His is the perfect voice for Bach, who was seldom forgiving to singers, making demands on the voice that require complete control and a virtuoso technique. It is no wonder that Bach often complained that his music was seldom performed to his standards. Those standards are often well beyond even trained professional singers.
Other highlights include the beautiful dialogue duet Mein Freund ist mein, with its text from the Song of Songs. Mr. Rhodes is joined by soprano Sara Macliver, whose dulcet soprano is a fine match for Rhodes richly colored voice.
The Orchestra of the Antipodes, under two different batons, is a sensitive band, with a sweet and finely tuned string section and ample ability within its ranks to handle Bach’s often challenging obbligato parts. Many of Bach’s arias are effectively duets between the singer and a solo instrument, and none of the instrumental soloists here disappoint.
Excellent notes are provided by K.P. Kemp and complete texts and translations are included. ABC Classics is a new label to me, but it is obvious that the engineers at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have their skills well in hand, giving us a recording that is as warm as it is present, as clear as it is reverberant.
Sensitive and expressive singing on the part of Teddy Tahu Rhodes makes for a very enjoyable hour of listening. This is a well chosen program worth many repeated hearings.