This offering from the combined forces of Musica Amphion and
the Gesualdo Consort is presented as a hardback book with a
CD tucked into the back cover. It is the second in the Bach
in Context series. The aim of the project is to present
Bach’s works in a liturgical format. The book goes to
considerable lengths to explain Lutheran liturgy and how Bach’s
compositions would have fitted into a Sunday morning service,
thus presenting a prelude, cantata, choral, motet, choral and
postlude - in this case the fugue. The performers also give
concerts using this format. Whilst the book contains essays
on Bach and Luther the continuation of an established tradition
and Silbermann organs one might a feel a little short-changed.
Each double-page spread has English text on one side and Dutch
on the other, and a significant number of pages are given over
to photographs and biographies of the performers. The content
of the essays is interesting and well written, however, it is
unclear quite who the target audience is. The discussions presented
do not say anything that isn’t available in publications
available to scholars and students, whilst it is rather in-depth
for an enthusiastic amateur.
One issue that the book raises is that of the continuing discussion
about the forces that should be used to perform Bach’s
cantatas. The choice for this performance is one singer per
part. There are various arguments in support of this - and plenty
against - but the recording demonstrates the flexibility and
delicacy that individual singers can bring to the table. The
fabulous counterpoint of the first movement of Ein Feste
Burg is skilfully woven by the singers and instrumentalists
in perfect balance. The chorale melody, played by the pedal
reed, cuts through the texture but doesn’t overpower the
singers. The same forces treat the second cantata, Christ
lag in Todesbanden, in a sensitive manner and the way in
which each part is equal in the accelerando is very commendable.
This is a direct contrast to the recording by the Amsterdam
Baroque Orchestra and Ton Koopman (Challenge Classics CC 72201)
which uses large forces and therefore there is far less control
over the accelerando. Although, given that during this “service”
the choir are performing J.C. Bach’s double motet, one
could assume that Bach would have used eight singers if they
happened to be available.
The motet, written by Bach’s great-uncle, is a very enjoyable
piece. The intonation and accompaniment are spot-on. The only
criticism is that sometimes the harsh consonants are exaggerated
unnecessarily which interrupts the flow of the line; however,
the diction is very clear which is preferable to the other extreme.
The organ works on this disc are performed on the recently restored
Silbermann organ at St. Georgenkirche Glauchau. The sounds produced
are well chosen by the performer; the book is unclear about
who this is, either Pieter-Jan Belder or Leo van Doeselaar.
The “Silbermann” tuning takes a little getting used
to but certainly emphasises modulations in the first chorale
prelude Dies sind die hel’gen zehn Gebot. The Dorian
Toccata and Fugue is very enjoyable and displays the perfect
balance of the instrument’s divisions in the Toccata.
The Fugue is taken at an unhurried pace and the articulation
of the pedal means that the parts are well balanced. The player
could have enjoyed moments of tension more by slowing into them,
but this is a very majestic performance and ends the programme
Overall, this recording seems more worthwhile if the book is
considered as just very extensive CD notes. The increased price
may discourage people from listening to some very worthy performances,
whilst the book doesn’t contain anything earth-shattering.
The liturgical order of the tracks is probably more easily appreciated
in live performance but means that there is a nice selection
of music on one disc.
Masterwork Index: Bach cantatas BWV4