Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas, vol. 8
28 Sep 2005

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 8

On Christmas 1999, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists with conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner set out on one of the most unusual musical tours ever undertaken.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas, vol. 8

Malin Hartelius; Katharine Fuge; William Towers; Robin Tyson; James Gilchrist; Mark Padmore; Peter Harvey; Thomas Guthrie; The Monteverdi Choir; The English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner

Monteverdi Productions SDG 104 [2CDs]

 

The group performed all 198 surviving sacred cantatas of J. S. Bach in the course of one year, traveling to a variety of churches in Europe beginning in Weimar, and culminating in three Christmastime concerts at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. For the most part, each performance featured cantatas written by Bach for the particular liturgical feast day on which the concert was presented. All the concerts were recorded live, this set containing the programs of September 28 and October 7, 2000, the fifteenth and sixteenth Sundays after Trinity, at the churches Unser Lieben Frauen in Bremen and Santo Domingo de Bonaval in Santiago de Compostela, respectively.

Given that the group had been traveling, rehearsing, and peforming a different handful of cantatas week after week for nine months, one would think the members would have run out of steam when these concerts took place. Indeed, Sir John writes in the liner notes that “our approach was influenced by several factors: time (never enough), geography (the initial retracing of Bach’s footsteps in Thuringia and Saxony), architecture (the churches both great and small where we performed), the impact of one week’s music on the next and on the different permutations of players and singers joining and rejoining the pilgrimage, and, inevitably, the hazards of weather, travel and fatigue.” So do these performances reflect the ravages of this devilish performance schedule? Far from it, the performances are fresh, energetic, sensitive, and suffused with the spirit of Bach at its finest.

This set, one of the first two to be released—the other, recorded in London, includes three cantatas for the Feast of John the Baptist and three for the First Sunday after Trinity—contains two of my favorites (well, really, my favorite is whichever one I’m listening to at the moment), “Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz? BWV 138” and the solo cantata for soprano “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! BWV 51.” In the heart-rending opening movement of BWV 138, Bach gives us a wonderful mixture of recitative for the middle voices—alto and tenor soloists—skilfully intermeshed with the chorale of the title (Why are you troubled, my heart) sung by the full chorus. The same forces are employed in the third movement, which follows a bass recitative and is itself followed by solo movements for tenor, bass, and alto. For the closing chorale, Bach foregoes the usual plain, chordal setting and instead gives us a full-scale “chorale-prelude”-type setting.

The mood of next cantata on the program, “Was Gott tut das ist wohlgetan II” BWV 99, contrasts greatly, reflecting the praiseful text (What God does, is well done). In BWV 51 (Rejoice unto God in all lands!), the talented soprano soloist Marlin Hartelius acquits herself extremely well, as does the trumpet soloist, Niklas Eklund. Following a recitative, we hear a beautifully sensitive rendition of the aria “Höchster, mache deine Güte ferner alle Morgen neu” (Highest One, extend Thy goodness newly each morning). Next we get another chorale-prelude setting, but with the soloist instead of a chorus singing the chorale melody. The trumpet returns for the rousing “Alleluja!” that brings the work to a close.

The final cantata on disc 1, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan III” BWV 100, presents all six verses of the chorale text, each in a different setting: chorale-prelude setting for full chorus and orchestra, including flute, 2 oboes 2 horns, and strings; a contrapuntal duet between alto and tenor, with continuo; a soprano aria with flute obbligato; a bass aria with string accompaniment; an alto aria with oboe obbligato; and full chorus together with the full orchestra to balance the opening chorus and frame the whole work. There is no intermediate text, therefore no recitatives.

Disc 2 contains four cantatas: “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” BWV 161; “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” BWV 27; Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben?” BWV 8; and “Christus, der ist mein Leben, BWV 95. Translations of these titles—“Come, Sweet Hour of Death,” “Who Knows How Near My End Is?” “Dearest God, When Will I Die?” and “Christ Who Is My Life, which continues “to die is my reward”—clearly proclaim their subject. Death, according to the Lutheran tradition of Bach’s time, is viewed as sweet, desirable, and a release from what is regarded as an unfulfilled and difficult life. Nevertheless, in most of the music to which Bach set these words is not as happy and joyful as one might expect, given those—one might say lugubrious—texts. Indeed, as John Eliot Gardiner points out in his excellent program notes, BWV 95 uses four successive funeral hymns.

If this set is indicative of what is to come, Bach cantata fans should start saving now to purchase all of them. Of course, these same listeners should already own the 17 or so volumes released so far of the complete cantatas recorded by Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir. But just think, you’ll never have to buy Bach cantatas again unless, of course, another group comes out with such first-class performances as these.

Note a possible confusion: four CDs of cantatas from the Pilgrimage were issued on the Archiv label by Deutsche Grammophon, which then backed out of the project. Sir John then established his own label, Moteverdi Productions, to continue the set, picking up from where DG left off.

Michael Ochs

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):