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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Cantata No.82: Ich habe genug, BWV82 (Candlemas, 1727) [22:55]
Alexandra Bellamy (oboe)
Cantata No.32: Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen, BWV32 (Epiphany I, 1726) [22:42]
Cantata No.106: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit ‘Actus tragicus’, BWV 106 (funeral, c.1708) [20:39]
Dunedin Consort/John Butt (harpsichord, BWV32, 82)
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 3–6 December 2020.
Texts and translations included
LINN CKD672 [66:24]

John Butt and his Dunedin Consort have received much acclaim for their earlier recordings of Bach’s Passions, the Mass in B minor and Christmas Oratorio, all with the bass-baritone Matthew Brook. This Bach cantata disc opens with Brook singing one of the best loved of the cantatas, Ich habe genug. It is a good, touching performance, as it almost always is, with its two memorable arias and one of the most sublime oboe solos of the Baroque era.

However Brook’s voice is not always the firmest or most varied, and of course his is the only voice we hear in this solo cantata. There is a sense of world-weariness in Brook’s first aria, not inappropriate in a cantata concerning preparedness for death, but that is compounded by a very slightly ponderous tempo. This is a much recorded work, and the many other singers whose voices have more sap in the tone and variety in the treatment include Thomas Quasthoff (DGG 2004,) Jan Van den Grabben with Kuijken (Accent 2005), Peter Harvey with John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv 2000), and supremely Matthias Goerne with Norrington, whose 6:48 timing is preferable to Butt’s 7:17 (Decca 1999). These are small differences however, and Brook and Butt are very absorbing on their own terms, and oboist Alexandra Bellamy is as fine as any, with her plangent sound and eloquent phrasing.

The next cantata also opens with a sublime oboe solo from Bellamy. Now bass Matthew Brook is joined by soprano Joanne Lunn for Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen BWV 32, a dialogue of Jesus (bass) and the Soul (soprano). Both sing well, and if Lunn’s upper register has an occasional hint of a ‘hoot’ (born of the avoidance of vibrato in such repertoire perhaps), her line and breath control - at another steady tempo - are exemplary, as is her articulation in decorated passages. Brook, in his familiar role of Bach’s Jesus, exudes an easy vocal authority here, and Butt finds just the right lift to the dance tempo of the duet, not of the sort that might have provoked irreverent foot-tapping among the Leipzig congregation, but rather a graceful enlisting of the gavotte to a higher purpose. Hitherto I had favoured Suzuki’s Collegium Japan in this work, with Rachel Nicholls and Peter Kooij (BIS 2009), but this new one belongs in that company.

The cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit BWV 106 a funeral piece known as ‘Actus Tragicus’, comes from twenty years before the two Leipzig works. Yet it is seen, not least by Alfred Durr in his great book on the cantatas as “a work of genius such as even great masters seldom achieve. Here in one stroke, the twenty-two-year-old composer left all his contemporaries far behind him.” (Handel lovers need not write in). Suffice to say that this recording does justice to the work’s stature, so the CD ends with the best performance. The three singers who join Lunn sound fresh-voiced and committed, and sing well solo and in ensemble. The piping of the recorder players makes a delightful sound, but then the Dunedin Consort musicians contribute greatly to the charm and polish of these accounts.

Overall this is a fine issue. Any collector for whom this programme appeals, or who knows and admires the work of these performers, need not hesitate. John Butt’s very good booklet note tells us what we need to know about the music and the performance choices made, and the sound is as good as we have had from this group, at least since Linn (along with other companies) abandoned its commitment to the SACD sound that graced the earliest Dunedin Bach discs. Here the two channels deliver plenty of detail and atmosphere and the recording location provides bloom on the voices but not too much reverberation, so the diction is clearly heard. We could be in the best pew in the Thomaskirche.

Roy Westbrook

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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