JS Bach: Cantatas, BWV 56, 82 & 158

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WORKS: Cantatas, BWV 56, 82 & 158
PERFORMER: Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone); RIAS Chamber Choir, Berlin Baroque Soloists/Rainer Kussmaul
CATALOGUE NO: 474 5052
Thomas Quasthoff’s latest release almost exactly duplicates the programme of Bach cantatas Matthias Goerne recorded for Decca (466 5702). When first reviewed in April 2000, Goerne’s album was hailed as one of the most revelatory recordings of the repertoire since Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s renowned set with Karl Richter. Like Goerne, Quasthoff was brought up with the church music of Bach pulsing through his veins; both performances use period instruments, and each is outstanding in their own way. In the end, personal preference will out. But there are significant differences. Whereas Goerne is accompanied by the somewhat ascetic playing of the Camerata Academica Salzburg under Roger Norrington, Quasthoff is joined by the Berlin Baroque Soloists, whose strings are allowed a little more life-enhancing vibrato, and who are given a more spacious and well-balanced recording (indeed, for those who have the equipment, this is a super audio surround-sound CD). Goerne’s vocal partners in the chorales are the bright-eyed boys of the Salzburg Bach Choir; Quasthoff’s choir is audibly adult. Albrecht Mayer is the oboe soloist on both discs. But for Quasthoff, in BWV 56, his flight of spiritual release is yet more eager, more friskily ornamented. Goerne’s strength lies in the sheer legato beauty of his characteristically long-breathed phrasing. Quasthoff inflects and articulates the words with greater vigour and variety: one is made to feel the weight of every dragging step, the drama within the dialogues, the ardour of the arioso. With more physically vivid, excitingly paced orchestral playing under Rainer Kussmaul’s direction, and with an edge of sinewy substance in the verbal expression, Quasthoff, for me, just pips Goerne to the post, and becomes the benchmark for our time. Hilary Finch