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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Dialogue Cantatas
Cantata No.32, BWV32, Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen (First Sunday after Epiphany, 1726) [20:48]
Cantata No.57, BWV57, Selig ist der Mann (Second Day of Christmas, 1725) [20:14]
Cantata No.49, BWV49, Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (20th Sunday after Trinity, 1726) [23:24]
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano), Michael Volle (bass);
Members of RIAS Kammerchor;
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Raphael Alpermann
rec. October 2017, Teldex Studio, Berlin. DDD
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902368 [64:26]

Cantata No.170, Vergnügte Ruh’, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV170 (6th Sunday after Trinity, 1726) [22:15]
Trio Sonata No.3 in d minor, BWV527 [15:01]
Cantata No.35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV35 (12th Sunday after Trinity, 1726) [25:24]
Fantasia and Fugue in g minor, BWV542 [10:23]
Le Banquet Céleste [Baptiste Lopez, Caroline Bayet (violin); Deirdre Dowling (viola); Ageet Zweistra (cello); Thomas de Pierrefeu (double bass); Patrick Beaugiraud (oboe, oboe d’amore); Jean-Marc Philippe (oboe); Rodrigo Gutierrez (alto oboe); Julien Debordes (bassoon); Kevin Manent (harpsichord); Maude Gratton (organ)/Damien Guillon (counter-tenor)
rec. 2011, Église Réformée du Bouclier, Strasbourg. DDD.
Texts not included
Reissued from Zig-Zag ZZT305
ALPHA 343 [72:39]  

These three ‘dialogue’ cantatas on HARMONIA MUNDI come from the third Jahrgang or cycle which Bach composed for Leipzig, in 1725/26. In each of these, as in the better-known pre-Advent cantata in the same cycle, Wachet auf, BWV140, the soprano voice (the bride) addresses Jesus (the bridegroom), whose reply is delivered by the bass.

Such a coupling is not new: Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam team recorded BWV49 and BWV59, with BWV60 and BWV140 on Challenge CC72288 and there are similar offerings from Oehms (Nos. 32, 57 and 58) and DG (Nos. 57, 152 and 49, download only), though no other recording, as far as I know, matches exactly the Harmonia Mundi coupling.

Though united by the dialogue concept, these three cantatas are different in nature, but all are well worth adding to your Bach portfolio. If in doubt, subscribers to Naxos Music Library can hear the recording there, with pdf booklet. Surprisingly, BWV49, though composed for that dull time post-Trinity, emerges as the most attractive of the three: it’s justly singled out as a fine example of ‘tenderness and eroticism’ in Malcolm Boyd’s classic volume in the Dent Master Musicians series. Try track 18, the soprano’s dancing exultation Ich bin herrlich, ich bin schön and the equally lilting concluding section on track 20, Dich hab’ ich je und je geliebet. Bach echoes the epistle for the day, which speaks of being not drunk with excess but filled with the joy of the spirit and the gospel is the parable of those called to the marriage feast.1

Because of their nature, with the soloists doing almost all the work and the chorus summing things up at the end – no chorus at all in BWV49 – it’s especially important that the soprano and bass should be very good. Sophie Karthäuser and Michael Volle more than meet that requirement. Karthäuser has a light and pleasant voice, well focused but not without powerful emotion in her pleas to Jesus.

I compared the DG recording of BWV49 mentioned above on which Rainer Kussmaul directs the Berlin Bachsolisten. That’s a sprightly account, with a fine bass in Thomas Quasthoff (E4776591, available to stream from Naxos Music Library) but Karthäuser is easily preferable to Dorothea Röschmann, not on best form on that recording.

Several recordings use a boy soprano, which is what Bach would have expected, as on the Teldec complete series with Nikolaus Harnoncourt (in No.49) and Gustav Leonhardt sharing the direction of Concentus Musicus Wien. What is lost in vocal expertise is compensated for by the purity of the youthful voice, preferable to Röschmann’s slight plumminess. In this case the boy is not hopelessly out-sung by the female competition and I return to this series from time to time, but my overall preference must lie with Karthäuser.

Volle is more bass-baritone than deep bass: on a recent Wagner recording for Orfeo he was, indeed, described as baritone (Recording of the Month – review). As such, he doesn’t quite convince on the lowest notes, but otherwise a tonal range not unlike that of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau more than compensates.

I had hoped to compare Volle with Dieskau on DG Archiv’s recently reissued Karl Richter recordings of Bach cantatas but that collection containing one work for each of the Sundays and major feasts doesn’t include any of these three dialogue cantatas. I can’t resist mentioning it here, however, because its occasional infelicities compared to more recent historically-informed recordings don’t diminish its abiding value (4835035, two blu-ray audio discs, or download or stream from Naxos Music Library on separate sets for Advent and Christmas; Easter; Ascension, Whitsun and Trinity and Sundays after Trinity I and II).

If you didn’t pick up the Richter recordings when they were around before, now is the time to do so, but don’t let that prevent you from also going for the new Harmonia Mundi. It may not be offered as a blu-ray and the label dropped the SACD format some time ago, but it sounds very well in 24-bit sound, on offer for the same price as 16-bit for an initial period.

Did I mention that the accompaniment of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and Raphael Alpermann's expert direction clinch the deal for me?

The ALPHA reissue of a Zig-Zag recording of fairly recent provenance reminds us how fickle the fate of a fine recording can be, but we benefit from its reissue at a lower price. It opens with as fine an account of the deservedly well-known BWV170 as you are likely to hear unless, like me, you are besotted with Janet Baker’s recording (Decca Eloquence 4762684, with Cantatas Nos. 82 and 159, download only – review). Damien Guillon, soloist and director, is on a par with Iestyn Davis in an all-cantata collection which includes BWV170, featuring Iestyn Davies, on Hyperion CDA68111 – Christmas 2016.

With the usual proviso that my press preview from Outhere came in mp3 only and not at the ideal bit-rate, the Alpha recording is very good.

The booklet is an improvement on most of the earlier releases in this mid-price series in that it actually tells us something about the composer and the music but, like its siblings, it comes devoid of texts. Surely a reprint of the original booklet with a different cover – at least that’s preferable to the very odd original – would have been feasible; fortunately, subscribers to Naxos Music Library can find its forebear, with texts and translations, there.

Johan van Veen wrote of the original Zig Zag release that it was ‘moving and exciting’. That applies to the reissue as, also, to the new Harmonia Mundi. Make room on your creaking shelves or hard-driven hard drive for both.

1 Dig out your old 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which follows the same pattern of readings as the Lutheran church of Bach’s day.

Brian Wilson

Previous reviews
Harmonia Mundi: Stuart Sillitoe (Recording of the Month)
Alpha (original Zig Zag release): Johan van Veen

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