GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019
JS Bach Cantatas – No 22, Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe; No 75, Die Elenden sollen essen; No 127, Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott Hannah Morrison sop Carlos Mena counterten Hans-Jörg Mammel ten Matthias Vieweg bass Ricercar Consort / Philippe Pierlot Mirare F MIR332 (66’ • DDD • T/t)
Consolation is, of course, a prevalent conceit in Bach’s expressive armoury
(as dictated by the cyclical requirements of the church calendar) and Philippe Pierlot inhabits it with perspicacious zeal in highly engaged readings of three magnificent cantatas. They are pieces over which Bach clearly took considerable trouble, including the first cantata he presented for audition in Leipzig and the inaugural work on his appointment soon after. On this evidence, such levels of thematic programming gratifyingly resolve the potential knottiness of listening to one Bach choral work after another.
Die Elenden sollen essen represents his debut cantata as an employee, and in its scale and ambition it must have made a serious impression on parishioners. While Pierlot opts for a single-voice choir, such is the questing intensity of the rounded palate of voices and instruments that even those for whom one-to-a-part Bach isn’t to their taste will not fail to be won over. The devil’s in the detail with the Ricercar Consort, as you can hear in the exquisite tenor aria, ‘Mein Jesus soll mein alles sein’. The power of its singular rising motif provides an obsessional longing, not dissimilar to ‘Ach mein Sinn’ in the first version of the St John Passion, and as gloriously believable as you’ll hear.
Indeed, the key to the success of these readings is that while they are rooted in transparency, they are vibrantly resonant, boldly directional and never brittle. The arias tend to portray the singers as primus inter pares with the obbligato instruments as real partners in the dialogue; and if the singers’ coloratura is not always convincing, the relationships between Pierlot’s deeply felt, strongly rhetorical and sinewy lines always prevail. How exceptionally the opening of Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe conveys the heavy-hearted Jesus as he tries to prepare the uncomprehending disciples for the journey to Jerusalem and his death. It’s a masterpiece of imagery and Pierlot has its full measure.
Just when you feel it cannot improve, the Ricercar Consort present a cantata of the most profound poignancy. Death was never far away in Bach’s family – an orphan at 10, widower at 35, and 10 infant deaths – and Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott traverses the experience like few others in Bach’s oeuvre. The pizzicato funeral bells of the soprano lullaby are among many delights, with Emmanuel Laporte’s oboeplaying representing the golden thread in a lovingly conceived and executed project. Jonathan Freeman‑Attwood (6/18)
Buxtehude ‘Abendmusiken’ Befiehl dem Engel, dass er komm, BuxWV10. Gott hilf mir, denn das Wasser geht mir bis an die Seele, BuxWV34. Herzlich Lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, BuxWV41. Jesu, meines Lebens Leben, BuxWV62. Trio Sonatas – BuxWV255; BuxWV267; BuxWV272 Ensemble Masques / Olivier Fortin; Vox Luminis / Lionel Meunier Alpha F ALPHA287 (85’ • DDD • T/t)
Some Buxtehude discs give us vocal music, some give us instrumental.
This one offers both, a tribute to the Sunday-evening concert series the composer used to give during Advent at the Marienkirche in Lübeck from the late 1660s onwards (and which the 20-year-old Bach appears to have timed his 250-mile walk from Arnstadt to attend). Given the quality of the music-making in Lübeck and the soaring beauty of the venue, they must have been memorable occasions. That and the wonder of the music itself, of course. Seventeenth-century Germany did not lack for church music of rich and noble eloquence but Buxtehude’s cantatas added to that a gift for soothing melody, warming harmonies and pragmatic but satisfying formal structures (some in free ‘motet’ style, some based more or less intricately on chorale melodies) that are not hard to hear echoed in early Bach cantatas such as the Actus tragicus and later on in his motets.
This, then, is music of expressive variety and flexibility, ideally suited to the skills of Vox Luminis, whose name on a release these days is enough in itself to spark a tingle of anticipation. They do not disappoint, charting the emotional contours of Buxtehude’s music with exquisite understanding and demonstrating their now familiar deep but lucid choral blend, out of which expertly executed solos emerge and return. Not only that, but the whole is illuminated and caressed by solo strings, as in the fearfully trembling ‘sonata’ that opens Gott hilf mir or the Mozart-like undulations that suggest the passing soul in Herzlich Lieb hab ich dich, o Herr. These are supplied here by the radiant Ensemble Masques, who also enjoy the limelight in three of Buxtehude’s ever-rewarding trio sonatas for typically left-field combinations of ‘upper’ instruments such as violin and viola da gamba or even gamba and violone.
Perfectly balanced and beautifully recorded, this is another outstanding release from Lionel Meunier and his team. Lindsay Kemp (09/18)
Elgar The Music Makers, Op 69a. The Spirit of Englandb a Dame Sarah Connolly mez bAndrew Staples ten BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis Chandos F Í CHSA5215 (62’ • DDD/DSD • T)
Both soloist and conductor have already given us notable versions of
The Music Makers – for Naxos (12/06) and Teldec/Warner (2/95) respectively – but there’s a wholly idiomatic sensibility, collaborative zeal and unity of vision that mark out this sumptuously engineered Chandos newcomer as something rather special. Certainly, Sarah Connolly’s delivery of the closing lines (‘Yea, in spite
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