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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Köthener Trauermusik (Cöthen funeral music), BWV 244a (1729) [73.53]
Funeral Music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen
(Reconstructed by Morgan Jourdain in collaboration with Raphaël Pichon)
Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Damien Guillon (counter-tenor), Thomas Hobbs (tenor), Christian Immler (bass)
Ensemble Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
rec. 2014, Chapelle Royal, Versailles, France
Full German texts with translations in French and English
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902211 [73.53]

This review follows on from two substantial evaluations from my colleagues, and I refer you to their fulsome descriptions and background to the Cöthen funeral music. The completeness of these reviews means that any further elaboration would amount to little more than subtly adapted plagiarism. Having read these reports and being a massive fan of J.S. Bach I was keen to get in on the act however, and this exhilarating recording proved my instincts correct from the start.

This is the kind of work which, with its well-researched history and scholarly reconstruction, offers something ‘new’ or at the very least ‘more of’ for us souls who hold the Matthäus-Passion and other substantial choral masterpieces close to our hearts. There will always be an element of the speculative mashup in such a venture, but with the quality of music and musicianship here who cares. The arguments outlined in the booklet notes are convincing enough, and the likelihood that a hard-pressed craftsman such as Bach would have recycled his musical material is more likely than not.

Context is a strong factor in how one perceives or appreciates music, but magically beautiful pieces such as the aria Erhalte mich will stand out wherever you place them. The natural feel of the performances and the sequence of arias and recitatives with their contrasting instrumental accompaniments flows as does water through a tree-lined brook. Raphaël Pichon’s fairly urgent tempi are at times more the delivery of the concert hall than what I imagine would be respectfully funeral church performance, but there is real repose in such numbers as the sparely instrumented aria Mit Freuden sei die Welt verlassen, and there is no sense that we are being hustled through the service with undue haste.

The large acoustic of the Chapelle Royal is as much a member of the performing crew as any individual, but there is plenty of nicely captured detail in the sound, the harpsichord continuo adding just enough sparkle but not overly exposed, the choir a finely honed entity rather than a collection of individuals, the soloists all very good indeed. This release is a genuine J.S. Bach delight from beginning to end, and I wholeheartedly commend it to any collector of and enthusiast for the old master’s vocal music.

Dominy Clements

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson and John Quinn


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