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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 1750)
Cantata No.56: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen BWV56 (1726) [23:22]
Cantata No.82: Ich habe genug BWV82 (1727)[25:41]
Mack Harrell (baritone)
Marc Lifschey (oboe)
RCA Victor Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Shaw
rec. 1958, St. Paul’s Church, Cleveland

Experience Classicsonline

This is a favourite disc of mine, coupling Ich habe genug and Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen in performances recorded in 1958. The baritone is Mack Harrell (1909-60), father of the cellist Lynn Harrell, who was to die of cancer only two years after making the recording. Robert Shaw directs the RCA Victor Orchestra and in one movement, only, of Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, its choir as well.
I don’t know whether RCA LM 2312 or LSC 2312 noted the name of the oboist in Ich habe genug, because he’s not credited in Forgotten Records’s jewel case listing but he was the most distinguished Marc Lifschey, and he adorns the cantata with some magical phrasing and tonal variety. I said it was a favourite disc of mine, but I know that Robert Shaw accounts it one of his favourite recordings from that period too. It is not a performance that necessarily sits in the putative tradition on disc earlier established by Hans Hotter, whose recording with oboist Sidney Sutcliffe and conductor Anthony Bernard in London in 1950 is, in its own way, so beautiful an example of collaborative art.
Mack was seemingly the most instinctively noble of singers. There is an unselfconscious gravity in his singing but never one that elides into the statuesque. He is careful to ensure clarity and rigorous attention to the text and his noble seriousness works outstandingly in the recitatives. The plasticity of phrasing - by oboe and voice - brings a Virgilian beauty to Ich habe genug. Understandably and surely forgivably - though is forgiveness really required for so loving a gesture? - Mack and Shaw elongate the final vocal phrase of Schlummert ein into a languishing ritardando a musical simulacrum of death itself. Recitatives are full of clarity, urgency and verbal awareness. And the final aria, taken at a relatively slowish tempo, finds Harrell dealing finely with the difficulties of the divisions.
The companion cantata fares equally well. High seriousness doesn’t preclude mobility or incision of utterance. The warmth but flexible lightness of Harrell’s baritone vests Ich stehe fertig und bereit with an affirmatory quality, adroitly seconded by the coiling, twisting oboe of Lifschey.
Harrell remains one of America’s most musical, most intelligent, and sensitive singers. In this Bach disc he is heard at his finest, and in Lifschey and Shaw he has perfect colleagues. The recording is good for its time and has been finely transferred. This is for Harrell admirers, then - and music lovers.
Jonathan Woolf
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