JS Bach – Jesu, deine Passion

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Jesu, deine Passion: Cantatas BWV 22, 23, 127 & 159
PERFORMER: Dorothee Mields (soprano), Matthew White (countertenor), Jan Kobow (tenor), Peter Kooy (bass); Collegium Vocale Gent/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901998

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Bach wrote each of these cantatas for Quinquagesima Sunday or, in other words, the Sunday before Lent. BWV 22 and 23 are the works that he chose as his audition pieces for the post of Leipzig’s Thomaskantor in 1723, while BWV 127 and 159 were performed in 1725 and 1729 respectively.

They all contain strikingly expressive music of deep personal commitment and affecting poignancy. Philippe Herreweghe and his accomplished band get their measure admirably, with eloquent phrasing, fervent declamation and appropriate gravitas.

That is not to imply that the performances are in any way lugubrious: indeed the lyrical, dance-like character of the opening chorus of BWV 127 is commendably light-footed, knocking almost two minutes off Karl Richter’s version (Teldec) made almost 50 years ago. More recently, much stronger competition is offered by Masaaki Suzuki (BIS), and John Eliot Gardiner (Soli Deo Gloria) whose disc also features the same four cantatas.

Choosing between the several fine performances currently available is difficult but, in one respect, at least, Herreweghe’s recording reigns supreme. It is, for me, the oboe playing of Marcel Ponseele which tips the scales in favour of the newcomer. The oboe occupies a position of prime importance in three of the four cantatas; and nowhere more so than in the profoundly poetic meditation on Christ’s last words before his death, ‘Es ist vollbracht’ (It is accomplished) from BWV 159.

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Only the opening chorus of BWV 22 sounded a little unsettled – for this Gardiner and Suzuki are to be preferred. Otherwise, a splendid achievement by all concerned. Nicholas Anderson