There are a handful of cantatas designated as Solo Cantatas for Soprano and Bass which are sometimes described as ‘dialogue cantatas’. Strangely, they are seldom released on a single disc despite requiring the same forces. I only found in the catalogues one recording that offers direct competition to this disc, conducted by Patrick Cohën-Akenine on Cypres (CYP1652). There are, however, a few recordings with two of the cantatas featured here. I know best the three-CD set by Ton Koopman (CC72217), which includes BWV32 and BWV57.
These three cantatas are linked by their use of conversational technique. The Soul poses questions to Jesus, and in doing so Bach produces some of the most personal and heartfelt solo writing of any of the cantatas. BWV32 and BWV57 were composed for the Christmas season, BWV49 – for the 20th Sunday after Trinity. Each is made up of arias, recitatives and a final chorale, more contemplative than the more grandiose chorales found in most of Bach’s other cantatas.
In the opening oboe solo of Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen, composed for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany 1726, the Soul desires to find Jesus. It becomes clear right away that this disc will be a recording of distinction – and so it proves, with a performance that deserves the highest accolade. Sophie Karthäuser and Michael Volle are a better-matched pair than that in Koopman’s recording with Johannette Zomer and Klaus Mertens as soloists. I also have Helmuth Rilling’s 1981 recording with the late great Arleen Augér and Walter Heldwein (Hänssler 98.873), a favourite now surpassed by this new recording of BWV32.
Despite the later BWV number, Selig ist der Mann – which opens with Jesus’ declamation that Blessed is the Man – was composed before BWV32. Its first performance was on the 2nd day of Christmas, December 26th 1725. In a Koopman recordings I have, the soprano Sybilla Rubens is a better match for Mertens. In my other recording, Vasilika Jezovšek and Peter Kooy are well matched in Philippe Herreweghe’s excellent recording of three Christmas Cantatas (HMC 901594). Again, this recording has a slight edge;Karthäuser and Volle shine in the two recitatives.
Premiered in Leipzig on the 3rd November 1726, Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen differs in two ways from the other two cantatas: it was not meant for the Christmas season, and it is the only cantata here that begins with a Sinfonia. I know it from Christophe Coin’s recording (AS 128530). He directs whilst playing the five-stringed violoncello piccolo, with the added E string giving the instrument a wider range. Barbara Schlick is in fine form. Gotthold Schwartz sings a good Jesus part, but not quite as characterful as Volle, especially in the opening Aria and the final Chorale which he shares with Karthäuser.
The members of RIAS Kammerchor play a minor role but are, when called upon, in excellent form. They only get just over a minute and a half to sing between the first two cantatas presented here, but they sing beautifully. As for the playing of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, this is a real bonus. It is easily the best orchestral playing of all the versions I know of these cantatas. All the solos are wonderfully performed, with special praise for the oboe and oboe d’amore soloists. The intelligent organ playing of the conductor, Raphael Alpermann, lifts the whole recording. This is a wonderful recording throughout that is backed up with an excellent and natural recorded sound. Peter Wollny’s excellent booklet notes complement the music well. Full texts and translations are also included. This disc is a must for all devotees of Bach’s church music and the cantatas in particular.
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