Bach: Cantatas

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Cantatas: BWV 29, 61 & 140
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer, Julia Kleiter (soprano), Bernarda Fink (alto), Werner Güra, Kurt Streit (tenor), Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerald Finley, Anton Scharinger (bass); Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Concentus Musicus Wien/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 88697602662

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It is interesting when an interpreter of originality revisits old territory. Harnoncourt first recorded these cantatas in 1974 (BWV 29), 1976 (BWV 61) and 1984 (BWV 140). A most obvious difference between those earlier versions and these new performances is whereas Harnoncourt’s pioneering series made use of the boys’ voices of the Tölz and Vienna Boys’ Choirs (as did Gustav Leonhardt’s recordings), the new recording features the female voices of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir.

Harnoncourt now also brings greater refinement to the playing, noticeable above all in the elegant shaping of the instrumental strands which are here afforded greater prominence. One positive result is the translucent textures of the great chorale fantasia of BWV 140; but there is also a price to pay in the sacrifice of innocent declamatory urgency conveyed by the boys’ voices. 

Harnoncourt has assembled a starry line-up of soloists of whom Werner Güra and Gerald Finley are outstanding. There are also some praiseworthy contributions from members of the excellent Vienna Concentus Musicus, above all from the continuo cellist in BWV 61 and from Herbert Tachezi who plays the exhilarating organ obbligato which introduces BWV 29.

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I shall never want to be parted from Harnoncourt’s earlier thoughts, especially on BWV 61, but there are delights aplenty in the new release which freshly illuminate Bach’s music. Readers may be interested to know that a two-CD album is available on the continent in which the earlier recordings are included alongside the present versions. Nicholas Anderson