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Bach cantatas CKD672
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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]
Joanne Lunn (soprano); Katie Bray (alto); Hugo Hymas (tenor); Matthew Brook (bass); Robert Davies (bass)
Dunedin Consort/John Butt (harpsichord, BWV32, 82)
rec. December 2020, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London,.
German texts and English translations included
LINN CKD672 [66:24]

A Bach recording from John Butt and the Dunedin Consort is always welcome. I’ve previously enjoyed and admired their accounts of the St Matthew Passion (review), the St John Passion (review), the Magnificat (review) and the Christmas Oratorio (review). So, I was delighted to receive this disc of three cantatas for review, though by the time I’d cleared other commitments and got round to listening properly to the disc no less than three of my fellow reviewers had had their say, including my late colleague, Brian Wilson, in what must have been one of his last reviews for MusicWeb International.

Two of the cantatas which John Butt has selected come from Bach’s Leipzig cycles. Ich habe genug is presented in the version for bass voice and it’s entrusted to Matthew Brook. The wonderful opening aria benefits from the exquisite oboe obbligato playing of Alexandra Bellamy. Brook sings well and stylishly; however, I couldn’t help feeling that his voice is a bit forthright; I prefer a more mellifluous approach. At times Brook seems a bit deliberate. However, I’m pleased to say that in the second aria, ‘Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen’ he fines down his voice really well, singing with smooth legato. His voice floats gently on a restful bed of instrumental sound provided by the members of the Dunedin Consort. The performance of this soothing lullaby is beautifully judged. Brook and his colleagues give a lively performance of the final aria, ‘Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod’; the music joyfully embraces death and that is communicated in this performance.

Brook is joined by soprano Joanne Lunn for Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen. This cantata takes the form of a dialogue between the Soul (soprano) and Jesus (bass) although, in fact, in the first aria the soprano also voices the concern of Mary searching for her lost son in the Temple. That first aria, Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen’ is a gem. The soprano is in duet with the oboe and the music has great beauty. The sense of longing and searching is palpable in the music and Ms Lunn and the equally eloquent Alexandra Bellamy give a wonderful account of the piece. Bach displays so much feeling and humanity in the music. There follows a recitativo and aria for the bass in which Matthew Brook offers great reassurance through the way he delivers the music. In the aria ‘Hier, in meines Vaters Stätte’ the music is enriched by a highly decorated violin obbligato which is played to fine effect by Huw Daniel (I presume). Both vocal soloists excel in the remaining movements of the cantata. I’m not quite sure which four of the named singers deliver the closing chorale; Linn don’t make that clear, which is a pity, as is the failure to credit specifically the solo violinist. This is a very good performance of the cantata.

I first fell in love with Cantata 106, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit many years ago when I bought the recording directed by Joshua Rifkin. Like John Butt, Rifkin used just four singers to perform this most intimate of Bach cantatas. In his definitive study of the Bach cantatas, Alfred Dürr has this to say of BWV106: “The Actus Tragicus is 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.” Dürr thinks that the piece may date from 1707 and might have been a memorial to Bach’s uncle, Tobias Lämmerhirt, who died in August of that year.

What first made me sit up and take notice of this cantata all those years ago was the sublime Sonatina with which it opens. The intertwining, ethereal recorders cast a unique spell and that’s certainly the case here thanks to the artistry of László Rósza and Oonagh Lee. They and their instrumental colleagues really draw us in to Bach’s intimate world. The four vocalists – Matthew Brook is not involved this time – make a fine job of their music, blending well as a quartet. Hugo Hymas is well suited to his arioso, ‘Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken’ and I was also impressed with the lightness of touch that Robert Davies brings to the aria, ‘Bestelle dein Haus’; here his partnership with the sprightly recorders is a delight. In the Coro ed Arioso ‘Es ist der alte Bund’ Joanne Lunn’s gleaming soprano makes its mark. In this movement I wondered if once or twice Katie Bray’s entries were a little too forthright in comparison to those of her colleagues but I have no complaints at all about her excellent rendition of the following aria, ‘In deine Hände’. The contrapuntal ‘Amen’ at the end of the cantata is joyfully sung and played, bringing to a conclusion a superbly judged account of this masterpiece.

I enjoyed this disc very much. One or two slight reservations pale beside the skill and artistry of the performers, both singers and instrumentalists. And, of course, this skill and artistry is at the service of glorious music. As ever with John Butt’s recordings, there’s great scholarship behind the performances. That’s evidenced in particular by the evident care which has been taken over the pitch in BWV106 as detailed in the booklet. But as ever with a Butt performance, the scholarship is lightly worn when it comes to performance: the spirit of Bach’s music is what matters.

Producer/engineer Philip Hobbs has done a fine job with the technical side of things. The recording is clear and intimate, ensuring that the music falls pleasingly on the ear. The booklet is excellent, not least John Butt’s fine essay about the music.

This is another notable Bach release from John Butt and the Dunedin Consort.

John Quinn

Previous reviews: Brian Wilson ~ Roy Westbrook ~ Simon Thompson

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