Bach: Cantatas, BWV 208 & 215

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LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Cantatas, BWV 208 & 215
PERFORMER: Monika Frimmer, Lynne Dawson (soprano), John Elwes (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (bass);; Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment/Gustav Leonhardt
CATALOGUE NO: 454 467-2
Gustav Leonhardt and the Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment have already issued six of Bach’s secular cantatas on Philips. Now comes their fourth volume. It contains a Leipzig ‘dramma per musica’ (1734), for the first anniversary of elector Friedrich Augustus the Second’s accession to the Polish throne, and an earlier Weimar cantata (c1713) for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels. These are captivating pieces, with colourful, strikingly imaginative instrumentation, resonant choruses and several ravishing arias. The most famous of these last-mentioned is the one we affectionately call ‘Sheep may safely graze’, providing an idyll of unsurpassed pastoral lyricism in Duke Christian’s birthday panegyric. Soprano Lynne Dawson could hardly have been a better choice yet the piece just fails to exert its magic. There are small tuning problems, above all in the lovely preceding recitative, but the singing of the aria is too artful and not sufficiently ingenuous. But it is the dreary legato, lustreless – even, at times, relentless – recorder playing which disappoints most of all. Emma Kirkby (Hyperion) and Erika Köth (EMI), in their very different ways, provide a much simpler and more affectionate account of the piece. The Leipzig work comes off well but tenor John Elwes, though impressive in his virtuoso aria, cannot conceal vocal strain in the linked recitative. Notwithstanding several highly successful numbers, Ton Koopman (Erato), and Peter Schreier (Berlin Classics) offer stronger all-round performances. A mixed pleasure. Nicholas Anderson