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Bach: Cantatas Vol 2 / Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists

Bach,J.s. / Gardiner / Ebs / Mvc
Release Date: 03/30/2010 
Label:  Soli Deo Gloria Records   Catalog #: 165   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian BachHeinrich Schütz
Performer:  Stephen VarcoeDaniel TaylorJames GilchristLisa Larsson,   ... 
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque SoloistsMonteverdi Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

John Eliot Gardiner's multi award-winning label SDG begins 2010 with volume 2 in its Bach Cantata series, featuring Cantatas for the second and third Sunday after Trinity, recorded live in July 2000.

Performing to an audience of more than 1200, we join Gardiner, The Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists at the halfway point of their Bach Cantata pilgrimage for a concert in one of the great architectural landmarks of Catholic Europe, the Basilisque Saint-Denis (Basilica Cathedral of Saint Denis).

Featuring internationally acclaimed soloists including James Gilchrist, Lisa Larsson, Daniel Taylor and Stephen Varcoe, the programme opens with BWV 2 Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein (Oh God, look down from
Read more Heaven), a chorale cantata based upon Martin Luther's German hymn adaptation of Psalm 12. The psalm describes how easily man is led astray by heresy and Bach deals with such grim subject matter by resorting to composing in an archaic motet style. The result is austere beauty and has the engrossing quality of ritualised worship.

There then follows BWV 10 Meine Sell erhebt den Herren (My soul doth magnify the Lord), the fifth work in Bach's second Leipzig cantata cycle and set to the text of the German Magnificat. The chorale is predominantly joyful therefore and this is beautifully exemplified in the grand, rousing chorus that opens the first movement.

Schütz's superb motet Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (The heavens are telling of God in glory) follows. Published in 1648 and dedicated to the choir of St Thomas in Leipzig, this is a motet that John Eliot remembers fondly, since it is a work he has known since he was six and he can still hear his father's ringing tenor declaiming its powerful text.

The concert ends with Bach's prodigious cantata, BWV 76 Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, a lengthy and complex bipartite cantata, comprising fourteen movements and divided into two equal parts.

We then head to Zürich to hear John Eliot and his Monteverdi forces perform within the stunning Fraumünster Kirche, distinctive for its slender, blue spire.

They open with the two-part Weimar Cantata BWV 21 Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (I had much affliction), considered to be '...one of the most extraordinary and inspired of Bach's vocal works', as stated by John Eliot Gardiner in his booklet note. There then follows BWV 135 Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder (O, Lord, I poor sinner). This is superb music and Bach concludes with a rousing 'Glory to God', to the Passion chorale by Cyriakus Schneegaß (1597).

With only two cantatas for this Sunday in existence, the concert ends with Bach's so-called Triple Concerto, BWV 1044 (Concerto for flute, violin and harpsichord). Despite its similarity to Brandenburg Concerto No.5, it seems to inhabit a different stylistic milieu to that of Bach's other concerti - one much close to that of his eldest sons.

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FULL REVIEW

There are some of Bach's finest choral movements among the five cantatas featured on these two CDs, works intended for the second and third Sundays after Trinity. And although John Eliot Gardiner's "Bach pilgrimage" cantata cycle has had its hits and misses, here there's no doubt that Gardiner and his choir and orchestra really shine, whether elucidating the pleading text and illuminating the chromatic fugal textures of the opening of BWV 2 or rousing the heavens in BWV 76's Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes. Similarly, there's likely never been a more affecting expression of the first chorus of BWV 135, Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, nor more touching, delicately pointed orchestral playing than in the Sinfonia of BWV 21.

As in most of this cantata series, the soloists are the potential weak links--not that they are bad, just that they have their "moments", both shaky and solid: Daniel Taylor sounds uncomfortable in his BWV 2 aria; soprano Lisa Larsson turns her dotted-rhythm articulation into a distracting mannerism in her BWV 76 aria; and tenor James Gilchrist manages to sing an entire aria (in BWV 76) with admirable energy but amazingly ambiguous pitch.

But these same singers, along with always-reliable bass Stephen Varcoe, also deliver some very fine work elsewhere, including the fiery soprano and bass arias from BWV 10, and the tenor recitative and beautiful alto/tenor duet from the same cantata (this last well done in spite of the soloists' having to fight against Gardiner's inexplicably slower and slower tempo).

Generally, the different set of soloists in the Disc 2 cantatas are more satisfying and vocally and musically consistent. Katharine Fuge really (and appropriately) pulls at your heart in her BWV 21 aria Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not (Sighing, weeping, sorrow, care), and the tears are convincing in tenor Vernon Kirk's Bäche von gesalznen Zähren from the same work. The soprano/bass duet Komm, mein Jesu, has a delightful lighthearted quality and easy rapport between the singers that draws us eagerly in. And in the following chorus, the choir and orchestra perfectly convey Bach's remarkable musical depiction of the despairing spirit finding the way to hope and God's ultimate comfort.

There are two different venues involved here, and of the two, the church in Zürich (Disc 2) proves much more agreeable than the unforgiving space of the Basilique Saint-Denis in Paris. The latter is a magnificent structure and revered monument (final resting place for most of the kings and queens of France), but its qualities as a recording location are mostly of the kind that cause problems for recording engineers (who happen to have done a commendable job here!). And unfortunately, engineers aren't the only ones given problems in this ambitious recording project: Gardiner's crazy habit of altering tempos in the middle of movements--mostly slowing down for no apparent reason--must give producers fits! Fortunately these occurrences are relatively few and are not fatally disruptive--but you have to ask why Gardiner does this and why he's allowed to get away with it.

You may wonder why Heinrich Schütz makes an appearance on a Bach cantata program--or why a concerto for flute, violin, and harpsichord (albeit by Bach) are included. It's because the surviving works for these particular Sundays were not sufficient to fill out the two CDs--and we can appreciate that the producers wanted to give us (and their concert audiences) more rather than less. The Schütz motet, which was dedicated to the choir at St Thomas in Leipzig--Bach's future responsibility--and based on the same Psalm 19 text as Bach's later cantata BWV 76, is a more than fitting partner to the Bach work, with its solidly harmonious a cappella sections and assertive accompanied passages, highlighted by sonorous brass flourishes.

So, as we continue to travel with Gardiner's Bach entourage, wending our way through the dozens of cantatas, venues, and solo singers, we occasionally find something we can settle on as being worthy of Bach's genius and intent as a devoutly committed composer of church music. Here is one of those, respectfully recommended with the hope of more to come.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein, BWV 2 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor), James Gilchrist (Tenor),
Lisa Larsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
2.
Meine Seel' erhebt den Herren, BWV 10 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor), James Gilchrist (Tenor),
Lisa Larsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
3.
Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, BWV 76 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor), James Gilchrist (Tenor),
Lisa Larsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Leipzig, Germany 
4.
Geistliche Chormusik, Op. 11/SWV 369-397: Die Himmel erzählen, SWV 386 by Heinrich Schütz
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Daniel Taylor (Countertenor), James Gilchrist (Tenor),
Lisa Larsson (Soprano)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
5.
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Katharine Fuge (Soprano), Robin Tyson (Countertenor), Vernon Kirk (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1714; Cöthen, Germany 
6.
Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder straf nicht in deinem Zorn, BWV 135 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Katharine Fuge (Soprano), Robin Tyson (Countertenor), Vernon Kirk (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
7.
Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord in A minor, BWV 1044 "Triple Concerto" by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1730; Leipzig, Germany 

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