Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata: Ich habe genug, BWV 82 [23:08]
Cantata: Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169 [24:38]
Cantata: Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150 – Sinfonia [1:35]
Cantata: Bekennen will ich seinen Namen, BWV 200 - Aria: ‘Bekennen will ich seinen Namen’ [4:29]
Cantata: Komm, du süße Todesstunde, BWV 161 – Recitativo: ‘Der Schluss ist schon Gemacht’ [2:04]
Cantata: Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde, BWV 53 – Aria: ‘Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde’ [7:31]
Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor)
rec. 23-28 January 2011, Les Dominicains de Haute-Alsace, France. DDD
German texts and English and French translations included
DECCA 478 2733 [63:25]

Recently, I reviewed for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard a concert in Birmingham at which Andreas Scholl and Kammerorchesterbasel performed the two cantatas that form the mainstay of this CD programme. I had reservations about the concert, though a couple of nights later my colleague Gavin Dixon caught the same programme at London’s Barbican Hall and it seems from his review that he was better able to hear the singer and admire his performances. Within just a few days of that Birmingham concert this CD arrived for appraisal.
With the live concert still fresh in my memory two things are evident when considering the disc. Firstly, as I expected, there are no issues relating to balance: Andreas Scholl’s voice come over clearly, even in the low-lying stretches of ‘Schlummert ein’ (BWV 82). Secondly, I’d noticed, though I didn’t specifically comment, that oboist Kerstin Kamp didn’t always sound comfortable in BWV 82 and this certainly bothered Gavin Dixon a couple of days later. I presume Miss Kamp plays on this disc – it looks like her in the session photo – and the oboe part is flawlessly delivered.
With Andreas Scholl’s voice perfectly audible throughout one can appreciate fully his considerable artistry in BWV 82. His rendition of the ineffably poignant aria ‘Ich habe genug‘ is sophisticated and eloquent. A little later he sings ‘Schlummert ein’ with disarming simplicity and with a wonderfully pure tone. In these arias and, arguably, even more so in the recitatives, he invests the words with meaning yet he never exaggerates for unwarranted emphasis. There’s a fine feeling of intimacy to the performance of this cantata, which is just as it should be. The concluding aria, ‘Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod’ finds both singer and instrumentalists imparting a becoming lift to the music and, as before, the low-lying passages present no problem to Scholl. This is a fine recording of the cantata.
For BWV 169 I presume that Giorgio Paronuzzi is the organist, as he was in Birmingham. His playing in the sprightly opening Sinfonia was excellent in the concert and, assuming it’s him playing on this recording, then his playing delights once again – and the orchestra is on fine form too. It’s an ebullient movement and here it launches the cantata in great style. Scholl, rightly, introduces a more thoughtful mood into the following recitative. Organ and voice combine to excellent effect in the aria ‘Gott soll allein mein Herze haben’. Scholl is quite superb here, his tone pure, his diction crystal clear and he manages to be completely involved in the communication of the music while at the same time coming across as fully relaxed and at ease. The organ is a little more discreet than I remember from the concert - the more intimate acoustic here is no doubt a factor – but it’s no less telling and the partnership with Scholl is most effective. In the wonderful aria, ‘Stirb in mir’, Scholl’s command of line is complete and, once again, his singing is enviably relaxed.
The rest of the programme has a slightly ‘bitty’ feel to it. What a pity Scholl, in this sort of form, didn’t include a complete performance of Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170. However, that’s not to say that the pieces he has included aren’t well worth hearing. The single movement BWV 200 was lost until 1924 and Alfred Dürr thinks it may well be all that survives of another cantata written, like BWV 82, for the Feast of Purification. Scholl gives the aria a dedicated performance. He shows his exemplary feeling for the texts in the recitativo from BWV 161 though I don’t quite understand why such a short excerpt from the cantata has been included. Admittedly it does have a relevance to both BWV 200 and BWV 82 because, though written for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, it was probably used by Bach at some stage for the Feast of Purification, according to Alfred Dürr. However, wrenching it out of context in this way rather reduces it to the status of a‘filler’. If an excerpt from the cantata was wanted would not the opening aria of the cantata, ‘Komm, du süße Todesstunde’, which is an alto aria, have been a more logical choice?
The concluding item, Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde, though it carries a BWV number, is spurious - if nothing else, the inclusion of a pair of tinkling bells in the scoring would give it away - and most likely written by Georg Melchior Hoffmann (1679?–1715). Like BWV 200 it consists of a single aria. Scholl and his colleagues perform it with the same care as if it had been by Bach himself.
These exemplary performances have been recorded very well indeed. The sound mixes clarity and intimacy in just the right proportions. The main focus in the booklet is an interesting essay by Scholl himself in which he discusses his approach to singing Bach. It’s very noticeable how much importance he attaches – very rightly – to the words. That comes across strongly in his performances on this disc.
The Birmingham concert was something of a disappointment to me in that I didn’t feel that what I heard was a true reflection of the artistry of Andreas Scholl in Bach. I don’t believe that was his fault; it was just that the venue wasn’t completely suitable on that occasion. We know that commercial recordings are a different matter. There the artists are seeking to create a document so the engineers quite legitimately help them to create a balance that will best help the listener to enjoy the music to the full. I’m glad to have heard this CD because it “puts the record straight”. Anyone hearing it should be left in no doubt that Andreas Scholl is a superb and very thoughtful exponent of the music of Bach.
John Quinn

A true reflection of the artistry of Andreas Scholl in Bach.