Bach: Cantatas: Nun komm, der heiden Heiland, BWV 61 & 62; Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36

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WORKS: Cantatas: Nun komm, der heiden Heiland, BWV 61 & 62; Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36
PERFORMER: Nancy Argenta (soprano), Petra Lang (mezzo-soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Olaf Bär (baritone); Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 463 588-2 Reissue (1992)
The present clutch of Bach cantata recordings focuses on the Advent and Christmas seasons of the liturgical year. John Eliot Gardiner’s Advent disc, containing Schwingt freudig euch empor and the two works based on Luther’s great Advent hymn ‘Nun komm, der heiden Heiland’ is a reissue of a studio recording made some eight years ago. The Christmas disc, released for the first time, contains three studio recordings made in 1998 (BWV 63, 64, 121) and a live performance (BWV 133) given later in the same year. These are enjoyable versions on the whole, though I still find Gardiner’s choice of tempo for the tenderly expressive and dance-like soprano aria (BWV 36), with its muted violin obbligato, too slow to bring out the music’s many subtleties. But the joyful, concerto-like chorus which introduces BWV 133 reveals the strength of these musicians in a performance full of vitality and expressive delicacy. Likewise countertenor Derek Lee Ragin’s A major aria from the same work, warmly coloured by two oboes d’amore, comes off wonderfully well.


Kevin Mallon and his Canadian-based Aradia Ensemble approach Bach’s cantatas from a different angle. Inclining towards the one-to-a-part thesis propounded by Joshua Rifkin over 20 years ago, Mallon offers lucidly textured and rhythmically light-footed performances of BWV 36 and 132. Both cantatas fare very well indeed with outstanding solo contributions from soprano Teri Dunn, and Kevin Mallon himself on violin. In BWV 61 Mallon introduces a modest ripieno element to the vocally concerted outer movements which comes over quite well, but the beautiful bass accompagnato illustrating the words of Christ, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’, feels too brisk and lacks lyricism. Nicholas Anderson