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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Secular Cantatas - Volume 9
Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde, BWV201 [47.32]
Auf, schmetternde Töne der muntern Trompeten, BWV207a [32.30]
Joanne Lunn (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), Nicholas Phan (tenor), Katsuhiko Nakashima (tenor) (BWV201), Christian Immler (baritone) (BWV201), Dominik Wörner (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan, 2016
Texts and English translations included
Reviewed in CD stereo
BIS BIS2311 SACD [80.53]

This is the latest instalment in Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan's ongoing series of Bach recordings. Over the years I've collected quite a number of their 55 CD sacred cantata volumes, together with the motets and the B minor Mass, and have been consistently impressed by their level of musicianship, polish and refinement. The secular cantatas are now running at Volume 9. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of their recordings, as I haven't encountered any disappointments to date. I also had the pleasure of reviewing their 2 volumes of the Lutheran Masses (review ~ review).

It seems very likely that the magnificent secular cantata Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde, BWV 201 arose from a personal attempt by Bach to defend "his artistry and his musical attitudes against the trends of the time, against philistinism, superficiality of artistic judgement and an unquestioning preference for easy fare", rather than a direct commission. Picander, his regular librettist, was roped in for the project. The subject matter chosen was an episode from Ovid's Metamorphoses, a musical competition between two Greek Gods, Pan and Phoebus, with the latter eventually claiming victory. The libretto is set out along the lines of a singing competition. In 1729, the date of composition, Bach had recently assumed the post as leader of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, initially established by Telemann. For this almost 50-minute long opulent score, the composer harnesses six soloists, backed by trumpets, timpani, flutes, oboes, strings and continuo. Vivid whirlwinds are summoned up in the impressive opening chorus. Other characters are brought into the drama, including Momus, a soprano, who acts as the voice of wisdom. Recitatives alternate with arias. Phoebus' aria  "Mit Verlangen drücke ich deine zarten Wangen" is particularly attractive, lyrically beguiling, ardent and tender. So too is Momus' "Patron, das macht der Wind", sunny and warm, and exquisitely articulated by Joanne Lunne. Nicholas Phan eloquently contours the beautiful aria "Phoebus, deine Melodei". A rousing chorus, in celebratory mode, brings this astonishing work to a close.

Auf, schmetternde Töne der muntern Trompeten, BWV 207a showcases Bach as the indefatigable recycler, drawing on a pre-existing cantata Vereingte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten (BWV 207) of 1726, and adding a new libretto, whose author remains anonymous. This new reincarnation was composed for the name day of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus 111 on 3 August 1735. A further 'parodied' element can be found in the opening chorus, which is a reworking of the third movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, BWV 1046. Again, this festive piece is cast in the grand style and is scored for soprano, alto, and bass soloists, four-part choir, three trumpetstimpani, two flauti traversi, two oboes d'amore, tenor oboe (taille), bassoon, two violinsviola, and basso continuo. In the tenor's first recitative "Die stille Pleisse spielt", with cello and lute accompaniment, I love the way Bach conveys the rippling waters "The tranquil Pleisse plays with its little waves". It’s followed by a minor-key aria delivered by Nicholas Phan, an excellent soloist with an attractive voice and compelling musicality. There's a lovely lyrical duet for bass and soprano “Mich kann die süße Ruhe laben”. The two voices blend seamlessly against a discreet cello continuo accompaniment. The cantata ends triumphantly with a march.

BIS' state-of-the-art sound quality is ravishing, sharply defined with bloom and depth due, in part, to the highly desirable acoustic. All the soloists are superb, offering stylish readings, clearly enunciated and idiomatically phrased. Texts and English translations are included. Those who have been steadfastly collecting this magnificent Suzuki cycle will no doubt be keen to bag this one.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Dave Billinge



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