JS Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 3: BWV 24, 71, 88, 93, 131, 177 & 185 Cantatas, Vol. 27: BWV 129, 165, 175, 176, 184 & 194; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Soli Deo Gloria
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Cantatas, Vol. 3: BWV 24, 71, 88, 93, 131, 177 & 185 Cantatas, Vol. 27: BWV 129, 165, 175, 176, 184 & 194; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048
PERFORMER: Magdalena Kozená, Joanne Lunn (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann (mezzo-soprano), William Towers (countertenor), Paul Agnew, Kobie van Rensburg (tenor), Nicolas Teste, Peter Harvey (bass); Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner, Lisa La
CATALOGUE NO: SDG 141

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These two latest releases of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage feature works for Whitsun and Trinity as well as including an elegant, lightly bowed and organically satisfying performance of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. By now, enthusiasts of Gardiner’s Bach cycle will be familiar with its sterling qualities: lively and clearly articulated choral singing, fervent solo vocal contributions and sympathetic instrumental support. Among the less often encountered cantatas in the present clutch are BWV 165, a Weimar piece, BWV 184 which is a parody of a secular work from Cöthen, and BWV 88 which Bach composed at Leipzig. Gardiner notes similarities between the soprano/alto duet in BWV 184 and the famous duet from Lakmé but acknowledges the long odds of Delibes ever having seen the incomplete surviving material of the piece. Lisa Larsson and Nathalie Stutzmann sustain a limpid partnership in a pastorally flavoured movement, while the Monteverdi Choir is given an opportunity, albeit a brief one, to flex its vocal chords in the bucolic concluding gavotte. Christoph Genz and Stephen Loges make strong contributions in their respective arias in BWV 175, a pastoral cantata with a text by Marianne Ziegler whom Bach rated highly. Three recorders and a violoncello piccolo on occasion lend distinctive colour to the work.

The Monteverdi Choir finds greater opportunity to shine in the splendid choruses of BWV 194, BWV 177, BWV 93 (which is based on one of Bach’s most oft-used chorale melodies, ‘Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten’), in the scintillating centrally placed chorus of BWV 24, and in the early cantatas BWV 71 and the poignant BWV 131. Paul Agnew and Peter Harvey make gracefully inflected contributions to BWV 194 while Ruth Holton brings clarity and intimate charm to her music in BWV 129. An unusual feature of BWV 88 lies in the contrasting images of the fishermen and the hunters contained in its opening movement. This is not a chorus but an aria in which Bach draws sharp distinction between the undulating wave-like rhythm in 6/8 for the fishers and by the startling introduction of two horns and a change of rhythm for the hunters. Soloist Peter Harvey makes the most of the expressive opportunities of this highly original aria. Joanne Lunn and William Towers are comfortably matched in their duet while Kobie van Rensburg delivers his distinctively constructed aria with declamatory fervour.

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Readers preferring a more purely scholarly approach with a hint every now and again of the hair shirt will probably prefer Masaaki Suzuki directing Bach Collegium Japan. Others are unlikely to be able to resist Gardiner’s amiable, stylish and expressively fervent performances.