COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: ‘Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut’, BWV 199; ‘Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!’ BWV 51; Arias from Cantatas BWV 31, 57, 105 & 84
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Watts (soprano); The English Concert/Harry Bicket
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 807550
Perhaps the greatest challenge of Bach’s solo cantatas is that often singer and instruments express opposite passions, creating a counterpoint that is not only musical but also affective.
Apart from the cantata Jauchzet Gott, the selections on this recording are filled with such contradictory verse settings, demanding a subtle synthesis. Alas, soprano Elizabeth Watts fails to provide this.
Some memorable climaxes and evocative gestures capture the richness of Bach’s word-painting, particularly in Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, but because Watts focuses on the meaning of individual words, rather than on Bach’s cumulative statements, spine-prickling moments are few.
Her reach for an emotional punch through emphatic declamation is sometimes misplaced, even in Jauchzet Gott, whose title words are twice barked out as if on drill. She also overuses messa di voce, using a crescendo to ‘lean’ into notes to give them weight, by which Watts appears to be simulating, rather than experiencing, emotional intensity. Berta Joncus