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Bach: Cantatas Vol 24 / Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists


Release Date: 07/12/2005 
Label:  Soli Deo Gloria Records   Catalog #: 107   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Mark PadmoreJulian ClarksonWilliam TowersBrigitte Geller,   ... 
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque SoloistsMonteverdi Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This set consists of cantatas for the Easter season. The superb BWV 12 is a Weimar cantata, dating from 1714 but heard here in its 1724, Leipzig, revision. Bach opens with a sinfonia, which is a profound meditation led by a keening oboe. Then he plumbs even greater depths in the succeeding extended chorus, which later became the Crucifixus of the B Minor Mass. The opening music of this chorus is performed with great feeling and exemplary control. The tempo picks up in a faster, contrapuntal central section, which puts one in mind of passages in the Motets. William Towers is in fine form for his recitative and aria, the latter being a particularly inspired invention. Julian Clarkson appears for the first time in the series to give a spirited Read more reading of the short aria, ‘Ich folge Christo nach.’ Mark Padmore, on the other hand, is no stranger to the series. He’s a joy to hear in the musically and emotionally taxing aria, ‘Sei getreu, alle Pein’, which is decorated by a gentle trumpet chorale, marvellously voiced and placed here. Rounded off by a stirring chorale, this is a splendid performance of this profound cantata.

BWV 103 (1725) starts deceptively. As Gardiner points out perceptively in his note, the vigorous fugal opening chorus sounds joyful on the surface. However, that’s deliberately somewhat at odds with the sentiments of the text. He leads his forces in a robust account of this music. It’s an astonishingly inventive movement, both in terms of the music itself and also in respect of the scoring, in which an important soprano recorder part is prominent. This chorus seems to present most effectively to the listener the antithesis between sorrow and joy. Happiness is finally attained in the splendid tenor aria, ‘Erholet euch, betrübte Sinnen’. Both Mark Padmore and trumpeter Niklas Eklund make this hugely demanding aria sound almost easy in a performance of exuberant conviction.

BWV 146 is on a huge scale, lasting some 38 minutes in this performance. Bach adapted the first two movements of the D minor Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1052a for the first two movements of this cantata. First comes a sinfonia for which, for once, the organ of the venue itself was used rather than the portable organ that was generally used throughout the Pilgrimage. As soon as we hear the mighty organ of the Schlosskirche, Altenburg it’s obvious why that choice was made. The instrument produces some wonderful sounds, especially in its lower reaches and though its action must have taxed the skills of organist Silas John Standage the results amply justify the pains he took. The sinfonia emerges here as an ambitious, grand canvass and it’s marvellously exciting – and entertaining – to hear it done like this. Bach himself is known to have played this instrument in 1739, shortly after its installation, so its use here is doubly justified. Gardiner’s marvellously apt description of it as a “Baroque ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’” is just another example of his ability to find the mot juste in his notes.

After the thrills of the sinfonia Bach grafts a four-part chorus onto the music of the slow movement of the concerto to transform it into a superb, sustained and intense choral meditation. The recording captures well the fine distancing effect that was achieved by placing the choir at the rear of the church for this movement. There follows a substantial alto aria, which is well sung by William Towers and graced by what is rightly described as a “radiant” violin obbligato. Brigitte Geller, a singer new to me, has had little to do in the concert up to now but she is heard to good effect in this cantata in a dramatic recitative and an aria that is more emotionally relaxed. I enjoyed very much the vigorous performance of the arresting and joyful tenor and bass duet, ‘wie will ich mich freuen’.

The following week the show moved on to Warwick, a late change of plan in the face of complications in Warsaw, which had been the intended destination for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. BWV 166, which was the first item on the programme, opens with a bass arioso. I thought that I detected a suggestion or two that Stephen Varcoe was not quite at his best here, the voice sounding just a little thin. But he’s a highly experienced singer and he still puts across words and music convincingly – and I have to say that I enjoyed his subsequent singing very much. James Gilchrist is in fine voice for the “serene meditation” of the aria ‘Ich will an den Himmel denken’. The alto aria, ‘Man nehme sich in Acht’ is an extrovert, virtuoso piece, which seems to test Robin Tyson, accomplished singer though he is. The cantata ends with a chorale, which begins most effectively, the choir hushed and a cappella. This provides a telling contrast to the outgoing alto aria that precedes it.

BWV 108, which dates from 1725, has some structural similarities with BWV 166, which had been composed in the previous year. Gilchrist has another demanding aria, this time a much more spirited one than that which fell to him in BWV 166. Once again he rises fully to the occasion. There have already been several opportunities in this series for him to demonstrate his prowess as a Bach tenor and this is another. In passing it should be said that on the evidence of the discs so far issued Gardiner has chosen his tenor soloists for this whole project particularly well. Besides Gilchrist the excellence of both Paul Agnew and Mark Padmore has already been noted. At the centre of BWV 108 lies a vigorous polyphonic chorus, which the Monteverdi Choir sings with tremendous assurance and spirit, after which Robin Tyson sings the important alto aria well.

Finally we hear BWV 117. The date of composition of this cantata is uncertain; it dates from between 1728 and 1731 and the occasion for which it was penned is not certain. However, it fits in well with the two companion works in this programme, not least in terms of its subject matter. Gardiner is surely right to suggest in his notes that whatever the occasion was it was a significant one. It opens with a celebratory and positive chorus, which later reappears to close the work. Though Bach eschews the use of trumpets here the music is still very festive in tone. There’s another fine tenor aria to enjoy and an equally imposing, more reflective one for the bass. Both are stylishly sung by Messrs. Gilchrist and Varcoe respectively. There’s also an engagingly perky alto aria and I found this piece, and Robin Tyson’s singing of it a delight.

[This volume] in this evolving series continue[s] in every respect the extremely high standards set in the previous issues. There are currently two other significant Bach cantata cycles in progress. These are the surveys by Ton Koopman and by Masaaki Suzuki. Both series have attracted much praise and though I haven’t heard any of the Koopman discs, other than on the radio, those from the Suzuki cycle that have come my way have impressed me very much. I am not really in a position to make any detailed comparisons between these rival cycles. What I will say, however, is that this Gardiner series is so far very fine indeed and is promising much. The fact that his performances stem from live performances does give them a certain ambience and immediacy, I think. Of course, one doesn’t know how much editing has taken place (I understand that the dress rehearsals were also taped as a precaution). However, my guess would be that editing has been kept to a minimum; these performances consistently have the feel of a genuine performance and, indeed, convey a palpable sense of occasion.

If you’re already collecting either the Koopman or Suzuki cycles then economic realities will probably prevent you from collecting the Gardiner discs as well. Even so I’d recommend sampling this intriguing and stimulating series. If pressed to choose from the sets that have been released to date I think I’d plump for Volume 1, which was discussed in my previous survey, and Volume 14. However, all the five sets I’ve heard to date are excellent and will give much pleasure.

This is shaping up to be a series of considerable importance and, of course, if it can be completed, it will have the distinction of being the first Bach cantata cycle to be composed entirely of live performances. I recommend [this] latest [addition] to the series with great enthusiasm.

-- John Quinn, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Mark Padmore (Tenor), Julian Clarkson (Bass), William Towers (Countertenor),
Brigitte Geller (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1714; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/14/2000 
Venue:  Live  Schloss Church, Altenburg 
2. Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, aber die Welt wird sich Freuen, BWV 103 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Brigitte Geller (Soprano), William Towers (Countertenor), Julian Clarkson (Bass),
Mark Padmore (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/14/2000 
Venue:  Live  Schloss Church, Altenburg 
3. Es ist euch gut, das ich hingehe, BWV 108 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/21/2000 
Venue:  Live  St. Mary's, Warwick, New York City 
4. Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut, BWV 117 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Bass), James Gilchrist (Tenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/21/2000 
Venue:  Live  St. Mary's, Warwick, New York City 
5. Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen, BWV 146 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  William Towers (Countertenor), Brigitte Geller (Soprano), Mark Padmore (Tenor),
Julian Clarkson (Bass)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1728; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/14/2000 
Venue:  Live  Schloss Church, Altenburg 
6. Wo gehest du hin?, BWV 166 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Bass), Robin Tyson (Countertenor), James Gilchrist (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/21/2000 
Venue:  Live  St. Mary's, Warwick, New York City 

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