JS Bach

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Köthener Trauermusik, BWV 244a
PERFORMER: Sabine Devieilhe (soprano), Damien Guillon (alto), Thomas Hobbs (tenor), Christian Immler (baritone); Ensemble Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902211

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The mystery of the missing music for the 1728 funeral of Prince Leopold has vexed Bach scholars since 1873, when Wilhelm Rust detected similarities between the texts of ten arias from Picander’s libretto for the occasion and ten movements from the St Matthew Passion. Friedrich Smend’s 1951 discovery of similarities between two further movements and Bach’s 1727 Trauerode, composed for the funeral of Princess Christiane Eberhardine, came close to completing the puzzle.

But what about the Dictum, which frames the second part of the music? Working with the musicologist Morgan Jourdain, Raphaël Pichon has recorded a new reconstruction with Ensemble Pygmalion, using the music of the second Kyrie of the B minor Mass for the Dictum. It’s a snug fit, though whether it is closer to the original than Andrew Parrott’s differently ordered and scored 2011 reconstruction, recorded for Avie, is unknowable.

The choral sound is refreshing; the instrumental performance attractive. Lutes are tucked delicately into the orchestral fabric and thrown into glorious relief in the bass aria ‘Lass, Leopold, dich nicht begraben’, replacing the gamba of ‘Komm, süsses Kreuz’. Save for a hint of nôtes inégales from soprano Sabine Devielhe, the solo singing is suave and idiomatic, with particular honours to tenor Thomas Hobbs. Pichon is unlikely to have the last word on the Trauermusik mystery but it’s a fine recording nonetheless.

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Anna Picard