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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Leipzig Cantatas
Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe (There is no soundness in my flesh), BWV 25 (1723) [14:00]
Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz? (Why are you troubled, my heart?) BWV 138 (1723) [15:54]
Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht (Enter not into judgement with Thy servant, O Lord) BWV 105 (1723) [20:34]
Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgendein Schmerz sei (Behold, and see if there be any sorrow), BWV 46 (1723) [16:18]
Collegium Vocale Gent/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. 27-29 January 2012, Jesus-Christe Kirche, Duhlem, Berlin
PHI LPH006 [67:24]

I grew up with the Karl Richter (1926-1981) version of the Bach Cantatas. It was issued as part of the massive Bach Edition on Arkiv back in the early 1970s. They were in bluey-green boxes and were literally to die for! Since then I have got rid of the LPs and bought the CDs where appropriate. I guess that they are still my preference, in spite of learned criticism highlighting his failure to create a ‘true’ baroque sound. As an aside, I admit to preferring my Bach on the piano to the harpsichord, so that at least allows the reader to judge my credentials –for better or worse. Times change. Over the years I have heard Bach’s Cantatas and Passions performed by Gardener, Harnoncourt, Koopman and Herreweghe. In fact, it was a performance of the St John Passion (2001 version) conducted the latter that first introduced me to his style.
The four cantatas chosen by Philippe Herreweghe for this compilation date from the first year of Bach’s sojourn at St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig during 1723. They were composed between July and September of that year. This was when the composer had decided to perform his own compositions on the Sundays and the feast days of the liturgical year. The texts to these cantatas are all from unknown sources – except for the biblical verses.
An interesting feature of these cantatas is the variety of formal construction. I guess that it would have been easy for Bach to have stuck to a successful Chorus-Recitative-Aria-Recitative-Aria-Chorus formula. This was used in BWV 25 ‘There is no soundness in my flesh’ which was composed for the 14th Sunday after Trinity. However the cantata for the following Sunday, BWV 138 ‘Why do you trouble yourself, my heart’, has a totally different structure, with an opening tenor recitative and chorus. This is immediately followed by a recitative, this time for bass. In this cantata there is only one aria, a stunning example for the bass. BWV 105 ‘Lord, do not pass judgment on your servant’ written for the 9th Sunday after Trinity and BWV 46 ‘Behold and see, if there be any sorrow’ follows the ‘standard’ pattern. However the allocation of voices to each aria and recitative varies considerably between cantatas.
Another thing that I noticed is the variety of instrumentation. Naturally the strings and the continuo are of a piece; however the diversity is apparent in the woodwind section. Quoting the liner-notes, BWV 105 and BWV 138 utilise two oboes doubling an oboe d’amore. Cantata BWV 105 adds to this a horn. BWV 46 calls for pairs of recorders and oboes da caccia. Finally, BWV 25 requires three recorders, two oboes and a four part ensemble of cornett and three trombones. This is quite an array of instruments.
Philippe Herreweghe (b, 1947), a Belgian conductor, is regarded the founding father of truly authentic baroque musical practice with extensive use of original instruments. Since the late nineteen-seventies he has been at the forefront of Bach performance with many CDs to his credit as well as countless live performances. His musical interest is not limited to Bach; however, it would seem that out of 136 recordings listed in the current Arkiv catalogue, more than fifty are of Bach’s music.
The Collegium Vocale Gent was founded by Herreweghe in 1970 and has since that time attained an impressive world-wide reputation. The group was in the vanguard of bringing the insights of musicological development in instrumental music to choral works. Their main emphasis is on the music of J.S. Bach; however their repertoire includes music as diverse as Bruckner, Fauré and Orlando de Lassus.
The sound quality of this disc is perfect. The balance between the chorus, the soloists and the instrumentalists is ideal. The liner-notes by the renowned Bach scholar Christoph Wolff are extensive, however many Bach Cantata enthusiasts will already have a variety of textbooks or web-based resources to aid and supplement their appreciation of this music. The texts are provided in German, English and French.
There are a couple of presentational issues that ought to be mentioned. I have a personal dislike for ‘gatefold’ CD covers. To my mind they look untidy, do not fold squarely and the cardboard cover soon becomes ragged. I found it difficult to fit the liner notes back into the ‘slot’ provided without damaging both. Additionally, the plastic insert for holding the disc is already coming adrift from the backing cardboard on my copy: it would have been better to have opted for a traditional box. Finally the title on the spine is printed so small that I needed a magnifying glass to read it.
However, with those few criticisms out of the way, I have to say that I was most impressed with this CD. It will be required listening for all enthusiasts of Bach’s cantatas irrespective of their normal preferences. I note that there are many other recordings of these works available (Arkiv Catalogue: 12/15/13/14 respectively) however, I cannot claim to have listened to them all!
I believe it is the sheer variety of mood, instrumentation and voice that impressed me most in this recording. It is clear that the music reflects the theological breadth of Jesus Christ as ‘Lord of the Dance’ and as ‘The Man of Sorrows.’ The depth of the liturgical thought is reflected in the words, the music and the interpretation. I found this recording uplifting, challenging and ultimately moving. Little else can be demanded of any performance of Bach’s music.

John France