JS Bach Cantatas – No 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis; No 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben Núria Rial sop Wiebke Lehmkuhl contr Benedikt Kristjánsson ten Matthias Winckhler bass Gaechinger Cantorey / Hans‑Christoph Rademann Carus F CARUS83 522 (66’ • DDD • T/t)
Two Weimar-period cantatas are presented in their revised Leipzig versions, prepared during Bach’s first few months at the Thomaskirche. Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (Third Sunday after Trinity, 1714) was used for the same liturgical occasion in Leipzig on June 13, 1723 – just a few weeks after the Bach family had moved from Cöthen into a newly renovated apartment at St Thomas School. His revision was divided into two parts (heard before and after the sermon), distributed the solo numbers slightly differently and added four trombones to the fugal chorus ‘Sei nun wieder zufrieden’. Hans-Christoph Rademann nurtures a compassionate performance: Andreas Helm’s solo oboe and sorrowful contrapuntal strings in the Sinfonia are consoling, the first chorus is moulded and enunciated immaculately, Núria Rial’s sweetly hushed dialogue with poetic oboe (‘Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not’) has gentle pathos and Benedikt Kristjánsson’s mellifluous illustration of salty tears is cathartic rather than bitterly anguished (‘Bäche von gesalznen Zähren’). The smooth-edged choral fugues ‘Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele’ and ‘Sei nun wieder zufrieden’ might perhaps have afforded dynamic incision but the final chorus (with three trumpets and timpani added by Bach in 1723) packs a brilliant punch.
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Fourth Sunday in Advent, 1716) was adapted and extended for the Feast of the Visitation on July 2, 1723: the order of movements and some texts were changed, new recitatives were inserted and a new chorale setting was added at the end of each part. Rademann lets the Gaechinger Kantorey (particularly trumpeter Hannes Rux-Brachtendorf) off the leash a bit in the effervescent opening chorus. Wiebke Lehmkuhl’s dialogue with solo oboe d’amore (‘Schäme dich,
o Seele nicht’) and recitative with two oboes da caccia (‘Der höchsten Allmacht Wunderhand’) have alluring solemnity, and Rial’s whispered intimacy in ‘Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn’ is matched by Mayumi Hirasaki’s finely shaded solo violin. Matthias Winckhler’s extrovert recitative (‘Verstockung kann Gewaltige verblenden’) and Kristjánsson’s smoothly declamatory ‘Hilf, Jesu, hilf, dass ich auch dich bekenne’ are accompanied alertly by masterful continuo instrumentalists. The bass and trumpet aria ‘Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen’ achieves a deft balance of flamboyance and clarity, and the beloved closing chorale ‘Jesus bleibet meine Freude’ has dancelike elegance. David Vickers
JS Bach ‘Meins Lebens Licht’ Cantatas – No 45, Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist; No 198, Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl, ‘Trauer Ode’. O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV118 Dorothee Mields sop Alex Potter counterten Thomas Hobbs ten Peter Kooij bass Collegium Vocale Gent / Philippe Herreweghe PHI F LPH035 (59’ • DDD • T/t)
Philippe Herreweghe’s corpus of cantatas from Virgin, Harmonia
Mundi and now PHI constitutes one of the most elegant and satisfying of Bachian recorded drip-feeds over the past 30 years. The main work is the Trauer Ode, which Collegium Vocale recorded back in 1987, yet it still remains mystifyingly elusive in the canon given its credentials: an impeccably crafted score, evidence of a close collaboration with the eminent Enlightenment poet Gottsched, and its exquisite repository of bittersweet conceits on the death of a celebrated Saxon Protestant Queen in 1727, redolent of the St Matthew Passion in full flow. It’s no surprise Bach reused much of it for his now lost St Mark Passion. It also offers a rare biographical insight of Bach elbowing aside the prerogative of the University Kapellmeister to compose ‘on his own patch’ when Bach clocked that he had a chance to write and perform for ‘royal personages, high ministers, cavaliers and other such visitors’.
The difference between Herreweghe’s earlier recording and this reading is all about atmosphere. The work’s delicate imagery is now affectionately exhibited with an open grief and an ‘in memoriam’ gratitude generously embedded, rather than the studied restraint of the older version. The singers and instruments circumnavigate the music with collective fluency, from the pungent textures of the opening to the fluttering sounds of funeral bells caught in the wind (in the fourth stanza) and a dancing fugue depicting the queen’s life as an example for great women. The instrumentation is one of the work’s glories with its soft palette of flutes, recorders, gambas, lutes and strings. Herreweghe relishes its seemingly endless coloration and how the Ode at the same time both eschews and adopts galant sensibilities – but entirely on Bach’s terms.
This is where previous readings stand or fall. Only in the last movement do Collegium Vocale rest too much on decorum ahead of poignancy. Elsewhere, the sinews of the Ode are explored with all the success of Jürgen Jürgens’s deeply moving account (Teldec, 11/67 – nla) and, more recently, Pierre Pierlot and the Ricercar Consort. The solo singing is universally excellent and well suited to the soft-grained declamation of Gottsched’s reforming language.
If this isn’t enough, the performance of Cantata No 45 is as uplifting as exists on record (Richter and Gardiner both have something special to say here) and the exquisite short funeral motet, O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, is tailor-made for Herreweghe. No one else peels back those tactile homogeneous phrases with quite such luminosity and deep-seated finesse as Collegium Vocale. Jonathan Freeman‑Attwood Cantata No 198 – selected comparisons: Collegium Vocale Gent, Herrewghe (10/88) (HARM) HMC90 1270 Ricercar Consort, Pierlot (9/07) (MIRA) MIR030
JS Bach St Matthew Passion, BWV244 Julian Prégardien ten Evangelist Stéphane Degout bass Christus Hana Blažíková, Sabine Devieilhe sops Lucile Richardot mez Tim Mead counterten Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Reinoud Van Mechelen
10 GRAMOPHONE 10 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2022