COMPOSERS: JS Bach
WORKS: Cantatas BWV 4, 131 & 182
PERFORMER: Katharine Fuge (soprano), Carlos Mena (countertenor), Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass); Ricercar Consort/Philippe Pierlot
CATALOGUE NO: MIR 057
Bach’s earliest cantatas are stylistically fascinating pieces for their Janus-like stance – a backward glance, or indeed sometimes more than a glance, at their German antecedents and a forward look towards the secular influences of opera and its attendant virtuosity.
Aus der Tieffen rufe ich is one of Bach’s earliest cantatas, dating from 1707-8. It is a striking blend of motet, sacred concerto and chorale. Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (1714), by comparison, has a more modern flavour, at least in its introductory ‘sonata’ and in its well-contrasted arias. The masterly Easter cantata, Christ lag in Todesbanden offers a different treatment of verses of Luther’s great Easter hymn in each of its seven vocal sections.
Philippe Pierlot and his Ricercar Consort have already proved themselves imaginative interpreters of Bach’s cantatas, and this new disc fully endorses my enthusiasm for their earlier recordings. Pierlot’s instrumentalists are pleasingly attuned to each other’s declamatory needs, resulting in a well-balanced and lucidly coloured ensemble. He favours the one-voice-to-a-part approach which works well in the generally lighter textures of Bach’s earliest cantatas.
His four soloists, ever aware of Bach’s imaginative word painting, are excellent in their declamatory fervour both in a solo capacity and in ensemble. The alto aria with treble recorder in the Himmelskönig piece is slower than I have previously heard it, and more expressively potent, too.
Indeed, the performance of this cantata, from the beginning of its eloquently phrased ‘sonata’ for recorder, violin and pizzicato (all but the last five bars) string accompaniment, through to its fugally animated concluding chorus, is the brightest jewel in a richly studded crown. George Pratt