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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata: Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV33 [21:28]
Cantata: Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich, BWV17 [15:55]
Cantata: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV99 [17:26]
Julia Sophie Wagner (soprano), Stefan Kahle (alto), Wolfram Lattke (tenor), Tobias Berndt (bass).
Thomanerchor Leipzig
Sächsisches Barockorchester/Gotthold Schwarz
rec. 2018, Lutherkirche Leipzig
ACCENTUS ACC30471 [55:02]

Serious collectors of Bach Cantatas on CD have, in recent years, naturally gravitated towards the two complete cycles from Gardiner (on DG) and Suzuki (on BIS) and tend to use one or other of these as yardsticks in measuring other entrants in the crowded field of Bach cantata recordings. In direct comparison with those august sets, they might be disappointed with some of the solo singing on this disc, or with the very full, almost raw, sound of the boys of the Thomanerchor Leipzig. Some might find Gotthold Schwarz’s unflaggingly enthusiastic tempi and unfettered cheerfulness of approach verging on the inappropriate for such hallowed musical ground, and a few might even question the prominence given to the instrumentalists of the estimable Sächsisches Barockorchester. But not me. I love this with a passion and have barely been able to rip it out of my CD player since the moment I first put it in and pressed Play.

If only all Bach cantata recordings were like this. Vivid and full of vitality, energetic to the point of exhaustion and so completely committed that it would take a very hard-hearted critic not simply to sit back and allow him or herself to be carried along on by this great wave of musical enthusiasm. I had a thought about identifying the individual tracks which I felt would convince even the most cynical sceptic; but the fact is, that list included just about every track, so that idea would not have worked. Instead, let me simply draw attention to those elements in these performances which I find particularly endearing.

And the word endearing is the right one in this context, for these are performances which exude affection and admiration for the music, rather than technical excellence, musical insight or stylistic integrity. It would be easy to suggest that, as Bach’s own choir, the Thomanerchor has this music in its blood, but that would be wrong. Having the music in the blood implies a deep familiarity with it which results in a naturalness of delivery and an almost unthinking coherence in interpretation, and nothing could be further from the case here. Schwarz certainly does push his musicians along, at times to a point where they cannot avoid a hint of rushing, and while all of them have the technique to withstand the pressures of such energetic momentum, you get the impression that this is very much not something they do every day of the week, and that they are all in a state of constant amazement at what the music reveals in performance. It is far from ragged or rough, but it certainly is not highly polished or unblemished.

These are not perhaps Bach’s most well-known cantatas, and they are certainly not among the more frequently recorded. But Schwarz and his Leipzig team present a compelling case for them, and with the emphasis on dance and generosity of spirit, it is difficult not to be persuaded by such obviously affectionate performances.

The solo voices are not all, perhaps, of the very highest order – although I simply, adore the wonderful bell-like quality of Stefan Kahle’s remarkably fluid alto – but that may be as it should be. Bach’s genius was very much in the instrumental writing in these cantatas, and at times there is a strong feeling of concerto-like virtuosity in the often busy and intricate orchestral writing. A particularly satisfying inclusion to the instrumental line-up is the soft-padded tones of an archlute in the continuo.

A generous booklet, somewhat (if understandably) focusing on photos of the boys having fun during recording sessions, and a glorious recording in the sumptuously generous acoustic of the Leipzig Lutherkirche rounds off what is, for me at least, one of the most enjoyable of all recordings of Bach cantatas. The suggestion that more are to follow is almost too good to be true.

Marc Rochester

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