Bach: Cantatas Vol 24 / Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists

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Listeners whose knowledge of German, like mine, encompasses the titles of Wagner’s operas but little more are prone to identify Bach’s cantatas by their BWV designations (as above), even though the numbers are essentially meaningless––remnants of a time when musicology was a hobby, not a discipline. One can only hope that Gardiner (and Koopman and Suzuki as well) will provide an index upon completion of the cycle. Gardiner organized his Cantata Pilgrimage by function, not by number, and the recorded edition is supposed to suit. But the random order of its first three releases suggests that you may have to acquire the complete set in order to achieve the intended sequence.

Volume 24 (following Volumes 1 and 8) is devoted to cantatas for the third Sunday after Easter––BWV 12 (composed in Weimar, 1714), BWV 103 (1725), and BWV 146 (1726 or 1728) and the fourth Sunday after Easter––BWV 116 (1724) and BWV 108 (1725). The original purpose of Cantata 117, composed between 1728 and 1731, is not known. Undoubtedly the best known of the six cantatas is No. 12, owing to its exquisite opening sinfonia for oboe and strings and the extraordinary following chorus––later adapted transformed into the Crucifixus of the B-Minor Mass––that has few rivals in all of music. Cantata 146 features another adaptation, this time in reverse; its opening sinfonia and first chorus are taken from the first two movements of the D-Minor Harpsichord Concerto (itself derived from a lost violin concerto), with the solo part, undoubtedly played by Bach himself, assigned to the organ. The transcription of the first movement is straightforward enough, but the integration of the chorus into the second movement is yet another example of Bach’s remarkable ingenuity. Cantata 103 was composed during Bach’s second annual cycle at Leipzig, but it came after he had abandoned the chorale cantata format. Like BWV 12 and 146, it traces a progression from grief to triumph. The duality is expressed in the opening chorus: sorrowful melismas sung against the joyful figurations of a solo violin and soprano recorder lead to an exultant conclusion.

The cantatas for Easter, composed for the first two Leipzig cycles, seem to be more modestly conceived. Both open with a bass solo rather than the expected choral fantasia, and in each the argument is carried by its arias. The choir’s soprano section makes an appearance in BWV 166, intoning a chorale; in BWV 108 a brief but energetic (and surprisingly complex) triple fugue lends emphasis to the day’s message. Both cantatas end with the usual four-part chorale. Cantata 117 is exceptional for two reasons. Individual programs for the Cantata Pilgrimage had to be adjusted when the catalog of extant cantatas contained either too many or too few cantatas, and to accommodate cantatas that have no known function. No. 117 is such a cantata and a masterpiece to boot. It is one the few cantatas in which the texts for all verses are taken directly from the original chorale. Each verse ends with the words “Gebt unserm Gott die Ehre!” (“Give honor to our God!”), but each instance is set to different music, except for the first and the last verses, which were unusually set to the same music. Gardiner’s notes mention some numerological speculation that has to be considered fantastic, whether it’s true or imagined. Read it and scratch your head.
With six discs down and 45 to go, only one musician, violist Colin Kitching, still has perfect attendance.
Performances, recording, and presentation are superb. It’s getting harder to choose just one cantata series. Get them all!

George Chien, FANFARE


Product Description:


  • Catalog Number: SDG 107


  • UPC: 843183010721


  • Label: SDG


  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach


  • Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir


  • Performer: Brigitte Geller, James Gilchrist, Julian Clarkson, Mark Padmore, Robin Tyson, Stephen Varcoe, William Towers



Works:


  1. Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

    Performer: Julian Clarkson (Bass), Brigitte Geller (Soprano), Mark Padmore (Tenor), William Towers (Countertenor)

    Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner


  2. Ihr werdet weinen und heulen, aber die Welt wird sich Freuen, BWV 103

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

    Performer: Julian Clarkson (Bass), Brigitte Geller (Soprano), Mark Padmore (Tenor), William Towers (Countertenor)

    Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner


  3. Es ist euch gut, das ich hingehe, BWV 108

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

    Performer: James Gilchrist (Tenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor), Stephen Varcoe (Bass)

    Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner


  4. Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut, BWV 117

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

    Performer: James Gilchrist (Tenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor), Stephen Varcoe (Bass)

    Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner


  5. Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen, BWV 146

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

    Performer: Julian Clarkson (Bass), Brigitte Geller (Soprano), Mark Padmore (Tenor), William Towers (Countertenor)

    Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner


  6. Wo gehest du hin?, BWV 166

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

    Performer: James Gilchrist (Tenor), Robin Tyson (Countertenor), Stephen Varcoe (Bass)

    Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner