Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Une cantate imaginaire
Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto)
Mikaeli Kammarkör
Orfeo 55
rec. April 2012, L’Arsenal de Metz
full tracklist at end of review
The title of this disc is misleading. Nathalie Stutzmann has compiled a collection of sinfonias and arias from Bach’s cantatas and passions. The title led me to believe that she might try to link them into some sort of sequence that aspired to coherence. She hasn’t: instead, the disc is more of a selection of “greatest hits” with little in the way of thread to bind them. That’s not a bad thing in itself, though it does make me question the marketing strategy.
Stutzmann has a unique voice, one which hasn’t always appealed to me. However, she uses it to good effect here. Her fruity, sometimes throaty contralto has a unique colour that sets it apart. In a world where proper contraltos are becoming an endangered species, it’s good to have a singer of her artistry who embraces the register. She is at her best in the lower writing, though, and some of the high notes in the third track (from BWV 133) don’t flatter her at all. The mellow textures of Bist du bei mir find her at her best, though, even though the notes admit that this aria isn’t by Bach at all. She brings excellent command of coloratura to many of the arias, most notably BWV 74, and she shows that the skill can be just as thrilling in a low voice as in a high one. She uses her vocal tone to particularly haunting effect in the famous Erbarme dich from the St Matthew Passion, and I enjoyed the supplicatory tone of Vergiss mein nicht, which is sung to the accompaniment of only a solo lute.
Another interesting point about the disc is that Stutzmann directs her own chamber ensemble while singing. Orfeo 55 make a lovely sound, lithe and flexible with great rhythmic bounce, and they’re shown off to their finest effect in the Sinfonia that opens the disc. The bass can be a little heavy at times, though, and this damages the famous “Air on a G string” in particular. They bring a tremendous sense of swing to BWV 174, otherwise known as the first movement of Brandenburg 3 with added winds, though not everyone will love the occasional rhythmic distortion inserted for added effect. The wind textures are a particular delight in BWV 18, though the strings show up Christ lag in Todesbanden as a Sinfonia of daring harmonic invention. The various instrumental solos, all of which are credited in the liner notes, are fantastic, the highlight for me being the cello in Jesus ist ein guter Hirt. The Mikaeli Kammarkör make a clean, if somewhat underwhelming contribution to two tracks, and they take Jesus bleibet at a much slower tempo than we have become used to hearing nowadays.
The packaging includes full texts and translations into English and French, though the accompanying notes are rather self-regarding and uninformative.
Simon Thompson 
Stutzmann has a unique voice and uses it to good effect here.
Full tracklist 
1. Sinfonia (Cantate “Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats” BWV 42)
2. “Kommt, ihr angefochtnen Sünder“(Cantate “Freue dich, erlöste Schar” BWV 30)
3. “Getrost” (Cantate “Ich freue mich dir” BWV 133)
4. Aria (Suite pour orchestre n°3 BWV 1068)
5. “Bist du bei mir” (BWV 508)
6. Sinfonia (Cantate “Ich habe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte” BWV 174)
7. Sinfonia (Cantate “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” BWV 21)
8. “Nichts kann mich” (Cantate “Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten” BWV 74)
9. “Wie furchtsam wankten meine Schritte” (Cantate “Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 33)
10. Sinfonia (Cantate “Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee wom Himmel fällt” BWV 18)
11.“Erbarme dich” (Passion selon Saint Matthieu BWV 244)
12. Sinfonia (Cantate “Christ lag in Todes Banden” BWV 4)
13. “ Stirb in mir, Welt und alle deine Liebe” (Cantate “Gott soll allein mein Herze haben” BWV 169)
14. “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (BWV 191)
15. “Jesus ist ein guter Hirt” (Cantate “Ich bin ein guter Hirt” BWV 85
16. Sinfonia (Cantate “Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen” BWV 182)
17. “Vergiss mein nicht, mein allerliebster Gott” BWV 505
18. “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” (Cantate “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” BWV 147) 
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