Actus Tragicus: Lionel Meunier conducts JS Bach Cantatas

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LABELS: Alpha Classics
WORKS: Cantatas: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 (Actus Tragicus); Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150; Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131; Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12
PERFORMER: Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier


There are many beautiful moments in this programme of four early cantatas by Bach. The mood is one of rapt solemnity as we progress from Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (BWV 106), better known by its Buxtehudean soubriquet, Actus Tragicus, to the lesser known Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (BWV 150), the sombre Aus der Tiefen ruhe ich, Herr, zu dir (BWV 131), and the fractured lamentations of Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (BWV 12), model for the Crucifixus in the B minor Mass.

The seriousness with which Lionel Meunier and Vox Luminis approach this work is evident, and the forces are ideal: single voices amplified with a further quartet of singers as required; pale, chaste recorders and mellow violas da gamba; single strings; sweet oboe and slide trumpet; a fruity bassoon. But the articulation of the German text is too often smudged, and the organ of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw en Sint-Leodegariuskerk in Bornem, built by Dominique Thomas in 2013 after Gottfried Silbermann, dominates.

It’s a gorgeous instrument and may well be more authentic to Bach’s own performing experience than the chamber organs we have grown accustomed to hearing in ensembles of this size. The more animated vocalists can match its vibrancy – soprano Kristen Witmer gives a bright and spirited ‘Doch bin und bleibe ich vergnügt’ in BWV 150, bass Tomás Král an agile ‘Bestelle dein Haus’ in BWV 106 – but both tenor soloists are overwhelmed and the transparency of Bach’s writing for recorder and gamba is obscured.


Anna Picard