JS Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 25: BWV 44, 86, 87, 97, 150 & 183; plus JC Bach: Furchte dich nicht

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Soli Deo Gloria
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Cantatas, Vol. 25: BWV 44, 86, 87, 97, 150 & 183; plus JC Bach: Furchte dich nicht
PERFORMER: Katharine Fuge, Joanne Lunn (soprano), Robin Tyson, Daniel Taylor (countertenor), Steve Davslim, Paul Agnew (tenor), Stephan Loges, Panajotis Iconomou (bass); Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: SDG 144

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Gardiner gives a disarmingly candid account of the hazards he encountered in the year 2000 on attempting to record the complete Bach cantatas: rehearsal time never enough, varied church acoustics, new performers arriving and leaving, the vagaries of weather and travel, and simple fatigue. These are live concerts with ‘safety-net’ recordings of final rehearsals. Yet the palpable enthusiasm and spontaneity are more than ample recompense for some recording imbalance, while the technical polish is virtually unblemished. Although these are smaller-scale cantatas, accompanied by strings and continuo with only oboes and bassoons, some of the tone colours are striking: two each of oboes d’amore and da caccia in BWV 183, and here too a heavenly tenor aria (Paul Agnew’s nuances so subtle) with piccolo cello (David Watkins) in which time stands still. Oboes da caccia are particularly plaintive, their intonation intrinsically unstable yet admirably controlled. BWV 97 includes a strikingly demanding violin obbligato full of multiple stoppings and arabesques. The Bourrée final aria of BWV 86 is boundingly rhythmic – it haunts the memory. Two soloists sing also in the choir, free of soloistic assertiveness and matching the scale of the cantatas. Gardiner’s analyses of the music are both personal and revealing, first to read and then to hear in practice. This is Bach at a very high level – a match for anything else that is currently available on disc.