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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata, Ich habe genug, BWV 82 [23.17]
Chorale prelude for organ, Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 662 [7.20]
Chorale prelude for organ, Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 663 [5.44]
Chorale prelude for organ, Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 664 [4.51]
Cantata, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169 [23.51]
Prelude and Fugue in A minor for organ, BWV 543 [9.00]
Céline Scheen (soprano), Nicholas Scott (tenor), Benoît Arnould (bass)
Le Banquet Céleste/Damien Guillon (countertenor)
Maude Gratton (organ)
rec. 2018, L’église réformée du Bouclier, Strasbourg, France
Sung German texts provided with English translations
ALPHA CLASSICS 448 [74.07]

Last year I reviewed an album on the Glossa label of the J.S. Bach Psalm 51, BWV 1083 and Vivaldi Nisi Dominus, RV 608, performed by Le Banquet Céleste, directed by countertenor Damien Guillon, undoubtedly one of the finest releases of sacred baroque music I had heard for some time (review). In addition to singing the solo alto part, Guillon here directs on its tenth anniversary Le Banquet Céleste, the period-instrument ensemble he founded in 2009, in a new album on Alpha Classics, containing two church cantatas for solo alto interspersed with solo organ works, and has again come up trumps.

The church cantata Ich habe genug (I am content), BWV 82, was originally written for bass soloist for the occasion of the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Candlemas) and first performed on 2nd February 1727 in Leipzig. The cantata was rewritten for soprano then later transposed again for alto. The anonymous text concerns the hope that death provides of being freed from the trials of life and the joyful anticipation of entering into a better world. The obbligato oboe part is stunningly played by Patrick Beaugiraud and the continuo part by Maude Gratton on the great organ. The glorious oboe in the opening aria Ich habe genug is quite sublime, weaving its way around the line of countertenor Guillon.

Written the previous year to texts by Christoph Birkmann and Martin Luther concerning how only God can possess our hearts and the love we should bear one another in peace, the church cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (God alone shall have my heart), BWV 169 was first performed in Leipzig on 20th October 1726 on the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity. The scoring includes a pair of oboes d’amore as well as the great organ; incidentally, Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, is thought to have played the organ at performances of least one of this pair of cantatas. A highlight is the captivatingly performed aria Gott soll allein mein Herze haben where Guillon’s solo alto part is accompanied by that great organ which bubbles away delightfully. Joining Guillon in the chorale Du süße Liebe, schenk uns deine Gunst is the notable singing of Céline Scheen, Nicholas Scott and Benoît Arnould.

Guillon is in inspiring form throughout, the attractive timbre of his captivating countertenor conveying both convincing purity and reverential expression. Under his direction, Le Banquet Céleste plays with marvellous alertness and its usual rhythmic vitality; the period instruments sound agreeable, impressively in tune and well unified. Organist Maude Gratton has chosen solo works with links to the text of the two church cantatas performing the Prelude and Fugue, BWV 543, as well as the chorale preludes Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 662, 663 and 664. Gratton adeptly plays the great organ which was built relatively recently, in 2007, by Dominique Thomas; it is well-suited to the works and splendidly registered. The voices, period instruments - notably the gut strings with authentic bows and woodwind - and the amplitude of the organ are all beautifully caught by the recording. Indeed, the sound in general is impressively clear and well balanced but closely recorded; I prefer more space around the sound picture. The presentation of the album is enhanced by Peter Wollny’s highly informative essay. I am delighted to report that the booklet provides the sung German texts with English translations.

The music of J.S. Bach could hardly be better performed and presented than on this Alpha Classics album, making it indispensable listening for devotees of Baroque music.

Michael Cookson

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