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Recordings

Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, Vol. 15
06 Apr 2008

Johann Sebastian Bach Cantatas [BWV 64, 151, 57 and 133]

This installment of John Eliot Gardiner’s impressive Bach Cantata Pilgrimage comes from close to the end of his millennial Wanderjahr, presenting cantatas for Christmas week.

J. S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 64, 151, 57 and 133
Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, Vol. 15

The Monteverdi Choir; The English Baroque Soloists; Katharine Fuge, Gillian Keith, Joanne Lunn, sopranos; Robin Tyson, William Towers, altos; James Gilchrist, tenor; Peter Harvey, bass; John Eliot Gardiner, Director

Soli Deo Gloria SDG 127 [CD]

$21.99  Click to buy

As a group, these cantatas—BWV 64, 151, 57, and 133—seem less typically celebrative than Christmas week might suggest at first blush. “Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget,” BWV 64, is chiefly didactic and homiletic; “Selig ist der Mann,” BWV 57, is a dialogue between Jesus and the Soul, a type of text that Bach sets as allegorical love scenes—the best known example probably being in “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis,” BWV 21. In BWV 57 the text is thus not only intimate, it also takes the hearer into affective territory distant from the joyful events of Bethlehem. The opening aria, for instance, notes that when a man overcomes temptation and trial, the crown of life awaits; later, the Soul sings a heart-rending aria—a lover’s lament- expressing the wish to die should Jesus, the beloved, not love her. The liturgical calendar for Christmas week is a varied one affectively, including the Feast of the proto-martyr, Stephen and the Feast of the Holy Innocents. While the cantatas here do not tidily align with these particular themes, their own affective range underscores the many layers of the Christmas observance.

The Monteverdi Choir sings robustly and with exuberance—a signature trait—though they are here given relatively little to do. The solo singing is a bit uneven. Countertenor Robin Tyson has a compelling sense of articulation and an accomplished technique, but his sound here seems to lack depth and resonance. Soprano Katharine Fuge has a beautiful sense of line, though her upper range seems pinched. However, soprano Gillian Keith is one of the high points of the recording. The opening aria of “Süsser Trost,” BWV 151, is an aria rich in peaceful affection and intricate decoration. Keith brings to her rendition an exquisite control, especially noticeable in her long notes of unusual purity. And with the counterpoint of Rachel Beckett’s sensitive flute playing, the aria is simply stunning. In “Selig ist der Mann,” soprano Joanne Lunn shows considerable expressive range and a sensuous sound that combine to make the Soul’s “lover persona” memorably engaging. Her partner in the dialogue, bass Peter Harvey, is particularly impressive in the aria “Ja, ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen.” As the aria deals with the vanquishing of the Soul’s enemies, the degree of rousing melismata is unsurprising, and Harvey is commanding in his execution of this virtuosic passagework.

Steven Plank

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