Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Erbarme Dich
Details after review
Reinoud van Mechelen (tenor)
A Nocte Temporis [Anna Besson (Copy of a Palanca flute, made by Jean-Jacques Melzer at the beginning of the 21st century), Benjamin Alard (André Silbermann organ 1718, restored by Quentin Blumenroeder in 2015, Sainte Aurélie Church, Strasbourg, France), Ronan Kernoa (Baroque violoncello, copy of an Antonio Stradivarius, made by Gérard Sambot in 2000)]
rec. Église Sainte Aurélie, Strasbourg, France, 9-13 May 2016. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
ALPHA252 [69:56]

The raison d’être of this album is quite simply stated in the booklet: ‘Separated from any liturgical or musicological context, this programme aims to stress Bach’s genius for expressing human passions in all their diversity’. In principle I should be complaining about Bach chopped into bleeding chunks in this way, with one or two movements from a cantata thrown together and interspersed with instrumental tracks. In practice, however, it works very well, thanks mainly to the sensitivity of the performances from three performers who work so well together that I’d like nothing better now than to hear them perform some of these cantatas complete.

There’s no point in complaining that cantatas from various parts of the liturgical year are thrown together: even the Schmieder (BWV) catalogue takes no note of times and seasons, which means that the pioneering period performances on Teldec from Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, which follow the BWV order, mix cantatas from different seasons in one programme, as do BIS on their recently completed cycle from the Japan Bach Collegium – of whom more below.

This is the first album to be recorded by Reinoud van Mechelen and A Nocte Temporis, the group which he has formed. He has already appeared on a number of recordings for various labels, most recently on an Alpha mid-price reissue of an earlier (2012) recording of music by Dowland. Apart from the fact that the title Lachrimae gives the wrong impression that it contains the instrumental music of that name – it’s actually a collection of Dowland songs – I enjoyed it, as did Gary Higginson and Simon Thompson (original release).

In principle, too, a succession of tenor arias, interspersed only with instrumental tracks, should sound monotonous. In practice, however, it works well for me, but then I have a number of CDs of Bach’s sacred music in my collection on each of which Harmonia Mundi gather together performances of cantatas for one voice: alto cantatas with Andreas Scholl for example (HMC901644, now download only).

With an outstandingly fine singer like Scholl there’s no question of monotony setting in. Reinoud van Mechelen is not yet as well known, and there’s no sense in which I would contemplate comparing their different voices, except that Mechelen’s has the clarity and beauty of Scholl’s, a quality much in evidence on this new release.

He is extremely well supported. Though an instrumental trio may look like small beer on paper, there’s no sense of anything missing. The Silbermann organ proves to be just right – a brighter sound than Bach would have heard in Leipzig, but sounding just fine here. Marie Claire Alain used to favour Silbermann instruments for Bach and there’s a fine Silbermann recording of Bach’s Leipzig organ music performed by Maude Gratton on another recent Outhere group release (PHI LPH021 – review pending). BWV0139 is actually a work for two flutes and continuo but here the solo flute and organ offer much more than make-do.

This would be an excellent introduction to Bach’s sacred cantatas for a beginner, though older hands should enjoy it too. If it leads to a wider exploration of these works, so much the better. I can think of no better way of making that exploration than from the complete series, recorded over a number of years, from Masaaki Suzuki and his Japan Bach Collegium. It’s not the only such collection – the Teldec set mentioned above is available as a complete set and also on a USB stick containing all Bach’s known works – but it is currently being reissued month by month by at an attractive price, as mentioned in Download News 2016/7 where I wrote about the first ‘box’ containing the first ten albums in the series. We are currently up to the sixth release, containing Volumes 41-45, in mp3, 16-bit and 24-bit lossless and surround sound.

I listened to the Alpha recording from a press preview mp3 download: not ideal, but it leads me to think that the final version will sound fine. I look forward to its availability in 24-bit quality, as I assume that it will be from

The booklet notes are very good and contain the texts – some recent Alpha recordings have been remiss in that regard. We see Benjamin Alard at the keyboard but there’s no specification of the organ.

An attractive album of selections from Bach’s cantatas recorded by a group from whom I hope to hear more.

Brian Wilson

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