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J. L. Bach: Cantatas: Schlick, Nichols, Max, Das Kleine Konzert


Release Date: 01/22/2008 
Label:  Carus   Catalog #: 83186   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Ludwig Bach
Performer:  Wilfried JochensBarbara SchlickMary NicholsStephen Varcoe
Conductor:  Hermann Max
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Das Kleine KonzertJugendkantorei Dormagen
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The name Johann Ludwig Bach will be familiar to knowledgeable Bach enthusiasts as the cousin whose cantatas were performed by Bach in Leipzig during his third year as cantor of the Thomasschule. He was born at Thal in Thuringia in 1677, educated in Gotha, and appointed as a singer at the court in Meiningen in 1703. He remained there for the rest of his life, becoming first cantor and then Kapellmeister. Johann Ludwig died in Meiningen, where his burial took place on May 1, 1731.

What survives of his music we owe entirely to its dissemination among other musicians, including Telemann during his Frankfurt years, but above all to J. S. Bach. Although J. L. Bach is known to have composed secular cantatas, his extant output
Read more consists solely of sacred works, including large-scale motets (an excellent disc of them was reviewed in Fanfare 22:3) and 22 sacred cantatas, 18 of which his Leipzig relation performed in 1726. This, of course, implies a high level of competence, an impression further enhanced by the fact that one of Ludwig’s cantatas, Denn du wirst, meine Seele, was long considered to be Sebastian’s earliest cantata, being listed as BWV 15. It was fully analyzed by Spitta as such and can be heard on the third of the cpo discs devoted to apocryphal works by Bach.

Given this background, it is perhaps surprising that so few directors have been tempted to explore the cantatas, which makes this new disc all the more welcome. I write “new,” but this Carus is anything but, stemming as it does from a WDR recording made as long ago as 1981, the year after the formation of Das Kleine Konzert by Hermann Max, and several years before his choir became known as the Rheinische Kantorei. There is no evidence to suggest that the recording has previously been made available commercially. Of the four cantatas, Mache dich auf and Ja, mir hast have been positively identified as among those performed by J. S. Bach, while he also had Die mit Tränen säen copied, although there is no firm evidence that he performed it.

Although there are few stylistic parallels with the cantatas of his Leipzig cousin, the cantatas given here provide ample evidence as to why Sebastian Bach obviously thought so highly of his distant relative’s work. There is a directness, a clarity of communication coupled with a rich vein of melodic inspiration, that makes these works instantly appealing, even lovable. Formally, they eschew the alternation of plain recitative and da capo aria in favor of a more flexible format. Arias are mostly through-composed, encompassing a remarkable range of response to the changing emotions of texts that mix biblical quotations with free poetry. Mache dich, for the Feast of the Purification, opens with a bass aria that startlingly contrasts the joyously vigorous rhetoric of opening lines that speak of the light that emanates from the glory of God with the “darkness that comes to cover the earth’s kingdom,” a low lying passage over slow moving chords that causes the otherwise excellent Stephen Varcoe pitch problems. Such writing, of course, harks back to 17th-century precepts, and there are other, perhaps less dramatic, examples to be heard here. Also worthy of note is Bach’s treatment of choruses and chorales. Three of the cantatas end with a contrapuntal chorus that leads directly into a chorale embedded within a busy, freely composed orchestral framework. The process can be equated with the chorale fantasias Sebastian Bach wrote for the his second Leipzig cycle, although Lugwig’s writing is predictably less sophisticated, and it seems distinctly odd that the otherwise good notes should infer that this format was foreign to the former.

The performances wear their age extremely well. Even at this relatively early stage of his career, Hermann Max very evidently had real empathy with the kind of repertoire that subsequently became his hallmark. Only in the final chorale of Ja, mir hast, which is surely too slow and too smooth, is there any suggestion of miscalculation. Max draws some excellent playing from his recently formed ensemble, although the strings have more of an edge than one would expect to hear today. The particularly fine cello-continuo contribution caused me to check the name of the player, who turned out to be no less than Rainer Zipperling. The responsive, fresh sounding chorus is also very good, although it cannot disguise those points where it seems obvious that Bach was looking for one-on-a-part. It is a particular pleasure to be reminded of the warm purity of Barbara Schlick’s angelic soprano and the effortless stylistic ease of Wilfried Jochens, but Mary Nichols, long the alto line of the Consort of Musicke, sounds a little less at ease. The sound is not as refined as we would expect today, but is certainly not sufficiently disappointing to withhold recommendation of a disc that successfully fills a real gap in our understanding of the multitalented Bach family.

FANFARE: Brian Robins
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Works on This Recording

1. Mache dich auf, werde licht by Johann Ludwig Bach
Performer:  Wilfried Jochens (Tenor), Barbara Schlick (Soprano), Mary Nichols (Alto),
Stephen Varcoe (Bass), Stephen Varcoe (Baritone)
Conductor:  Hermann Max
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Das Kleine Konzert,  Jugendkantorei Dormagen
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/1981 
Venue:  Neanderkirche, Düsseldorf, Germany 
Length: 17 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Language: German 
2. Die mit Tränen säen by Johann Ludwig Bach
Performer:  Wilfried Jochens (Tenor), Barbara Schlick (Soprano), Mary Nichols (Alto),
Stephen Varcoe (Bass), Stephen Varcoe (Baritone)
Conductor:  Hermann Max
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Das Kleine Konzert,  Jugendkantorei Dormagen
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/1981 
Venue:  Neanderkirche, Düsseldorf, Germany 
Length: 17 Minutes 32 Secs. 
Language: German 
3. Ja, mir hast du Arbeit genacht by Johann Ludwig Bach
Performer:  Mary Nichols (Alto), Stephen Varcoe (Bass), Barbara Schlick (Soprano),
Wilfried Jochens (Tenor)
Conductor:  Hermann Max
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Das Kleine Konzert,  Jugendkantorei Dormagen
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/1981 
Venue:  Neanderkirche, Düsseldorf, Germany 
Length: 19 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Language: German 
4. Er machete uns lebendig by Johann Ludwig Bach
Performer:  Barbara Schlick (Soprano), Stephen Varcoe (Bass), Wilfried Jochens (Tenor),
Mary Nichols (Alto)
Conductor:  Hermann Max
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Das Kleine Konzert,  Jugendkantorei Dormagen
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/1981 
Venue:  Neanderkirche, Düsseldorf, Germany 
Length: 12 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Language: German 

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