JS Bach: Cantata BWV 105; Schumann: Ballade vom Pagen und der Königstochter; Adventlied

Carolyn Sampson, Benno Schachtner, Werner Gura, Cornelius Uhle, Jonathan Sells; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Helsinki Baroque Orchestra/Aapo Häkkinen (Ondine)

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Schumann • Bach
JS Bach: Cantata BWV 105; Schumann: Ballade vom Pagen und der Königstochter; Adventlied
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Benno Schachtner (countertenor), Werner Gura (tenor), Cornelius Uhle, Jonathan Sells (bass); Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Helsinki Baroque Orchestra/Aapo Häkkinen
Ondine ODE1312-2 70:56 mins

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Here are hitherto unrecorded works by Schumann – his 1848 oratorio Adventlied, combined with the magnificently atmospheric 1852 choral-orchestral Ballade vom Pagen und der Konigstochter, sandwiching a Bach cantata that Schumann himself performed. Schumann’s large-scale works from the late 1840s until his death in 1856 get a bad press, but have fascinating affinities with both Wagner’s early operas and Handel’s dramatic oratorios. Aapo Häkkinen clearly thinks this music needs a fresh approach. His superb liner note shows that his score, instruments and orchestral placement are as historically informed as possible. More importantly, he has also immersed himself in Schumann’s elusive mindset.

Still, he makes some puzzling choices. The near-absence of orchestral vibrato transports Schumann back a century, and a countertenor narrator instead of Schumann’s stated alto is inexplicable. Though Cornelius Uhle (the King) never quite sounds regal, tenor Werner Güra (the Page) is compellingly heroic. The near-seamless integration of choral and orchestral sound is gorgeous, but at the cost of textual clarity. On the other hand, the Bach cantata Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht is beautiful and stylishly convincing. Sampson’s instrumentally inflected style is a lovely fit here, as are the more translucent timbres of the male voices. Both approaches combine successfully in the Adventlied with the choir providing a velvety cushion of sound for the more individual soloists. So, despite quibbles, a highly worthwhile recording.

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Natasha Loges