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Cantata - Yet Can I Hear…
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Mi palpita il cor (HWV 132c) [12.27]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata BWV 82, Ich habe genug [21.17]
Melchior HOFFMANN (c. 1679-1719)
Trauermusik - Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde [6.46]
George Frideric HANDEL
Siete rose rugiadose, HWV 162 [5.09]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Pianti, sospiri e dimandar mercede, RV 676
Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703)
Lamento: Ach, daß ich Wassers g'nug hätte [7.13]
George Frideric HANDEL
Air: I will magnify thee, HWV 250b [4.10]
Yet, can I hear that dulcet lay: The Choice of Hercules, HWV 69 [4.41]
Bejun Mehta (countertenor)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
rec. 2017, Nikodemuskirche, Berlin
Sung texts with English translations provided
PENTATONE SACD PTC5186669 [71.51]

American countertenor Bejun Mehta has made quite a name for himself and his new Erato album Cantata – ‘Yet can I hear…’ provides more grist to the mill. This is a varied collection of baroque solo cantatas/oratorios both secular and sacred chosen by Mehta from the Italian, German and English tradition. The composers range from those of world renown - namely Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach and Vivaldi - to the lesser known Johann Christian Bach through to Melchior Hoffmann, a name mainly recognisable to baroque specialists.

In the introductory note to the album, entitled ‘Humanist Spirituality’, Mehta reveals that it was as recently as 2015 that he first came across Handel’s lyrical air Yet, can I hear that dulcet lay from the oratorio The Choice of Hercules and became enamored with the work which served as the programme’s “building block.” Here, Mehta does the air full justice, imparting a first-class rendition that is tender and entirely captivating. Other highlights include, from Handel’s secular cantata Mi palpita il cor (My heart is racing), the aria (Lamento) Ho tanti affanni in petto (I bear such sorrows in my breast) with obbligato flute, smoothly delivered with an affecting expression of grief. From J.S. Bach’s famous church cantata Ich habe genug (It is enough), the title aria with obbligato oboe is a personal favourite work, especially when sung by bass voice. Yearning for death, Mehta renders the aria with arresting purity and deep reverence. My benchmark performance is from bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff on his 2004 Berlin album ‘J.S. Bach - Cantatas’ on Deutsche Grammophon. Hoffmann’s Trauermusik contains the undemanding da capo aria Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde (Strike then, longed for hour) with its unusual chimes accompaniment; the uplifting sacred text is given a performance of gloriously warm expression. Particularly striking is the performance of Ach, daß ich Wassers g'nug hätte, a lament with conspicuous sighing motifs by Johann Christoph Bach. I have grown to cherish this piece, especially on mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená’s outstanding 2002 Cologne recording titled ‘Lamento’ on Archiv Produktion. Set against such deep and rich string accompaniment, Mehta’s countertenor sounds simply glorious as the sinner recognising his guilt.

Captivating throughout, Mehta confidently blends vocal virtuosity with remarkable textual nuance and colour. He could not have finer support than the renowned ensemble Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. Sixteen strong, the players of the chamber orchestra play their period instruments with all the proficiency and commitment that audiences have come to expect, communicating a strong sense of admiration for this Baroque repertoire. Directed from the violin by concertmaster Bernhard Forck, the ensemble is gloriously moulded into a characteristic unity. Recorded at Nikodemuskirche, Berlin, this hybrid SACD, played on my standard player, has a clear, well-balanced sound quality, with no problems whatsoever. The booklet contains a helpful essay, ‘The eighteenth-century cantata: versatility and emotion’, together with full sung texts and English translations where needed.
Michael Cookson



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