Bach: Coffee Cantata, BWV 211; Peasant Cantata, BWV 212

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Analekta Fleur de lys
WORKS: Coffee Cantata, BWV 211; Peasant Cantata, BWV 212
PERFORMER: Suzie LeBlanc (soprano), Brett Polegato (baritone), Nils Brown (tenor); Tafelmusik/Jeanne Lamon
CATALOGUE NO: FL 2 3136
Zimmermann’s coffee house in Leipzig was the venue for concerts by the Collegium Musicum, of which Bach became director in 1729. Coffee was very fashionable at the time, though much frowned upon by older, more conservative members of society. Bach’s light-hearted portrayal of this generation clash – between Herr Schlendrian (Mr Stick-in-the-Mud) and his coffee-drinking daughter Lieschen – resulted in one of his most charming cantatas, BWV 211, composed c1734. Characterisation is deftly handled, with Schlendrian’s devious bluster echoed by a comically sinister continuo ostinato and Lieschen’s paean to coffee accompanied by rapturous flute. Doubtless premiered at Zimmermann’s, it must have been a great hit with the cappuccino set.

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BWV 212’s first performance was at a fête to mark the inheritance of a local estate by tax collector Carl Heinrich von Dieskau in 1742. En route to the tavern, an unnamed peasant and his girlfriend Mieke sing the praises of their new lord in a series of brief, parodic arias. Bach’s music is pointedly rustic, incorporating numerous folk songs and dances, and he gently mocks the couple’s gauche notions of ‘clever’ music.

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Tafelmusik’s approach to these comic cantatas is disappointingly po-faced. Baritone Brett Polegato brings out the humour in his roles well enough, but he gets scant support from Suzie LeBlanc’s lukewarm Lieschen or from the Tafelmusik instrumentalists, who never quite capture the music’s rhythmic sparkle and zestful spirit. In contrast, David Thomas and Emma Kirkby give wonderfully vivacious and characterful performances, ably assisted by a sharp, lively AAM. Their much-praised 1986 recording remains unchallenged. Graham Lock