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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Bach Privat"

Anna Lucia Richter, sopranoa; Georg Nigl, baritoneb; Petra Müllejans, violinc; Roel Dieltiens, cellod, cello piccoloe; Andreas Staier, harpsichorde

rec: Nov 10 - 15, 2015 & Nov 14 - 16, 2016, Berlin, Teldex Studio
Alpha - 241 (© 2017) (84'56")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden (BWV 6) (Ach, bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, chorale)aef; Der Friede sei mit dir (BWV 158); French Suite in c minor (BWV 813) (courante)f; Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille (BWV 460)be; Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (BWV 49) (Mein Glaube hat mich selbst angezogen - Ich hab' dich je und je geliebet, duet); Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn (BWV 92) (Es kann mir fehlen nimmermehr, rec & chorale; Das Stürmen von den rauhen Winden, aria)bdf; Ich habe genung (BWV 82) (Ich habe genung - Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen, rec & aria, arr for voice and bc); Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (BWV 21) (Komm, mein Jesus, und erblicke, duet)abdf; Komm, süßer Tod (BWV 478)bf; Prelude in D (BWV 936)f; Schwingt freudig euch empor (BWV 36) (Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen, aria)acdf; Sonata in G (BWV 1019a) (cantabile, ma un poco adagio)cf; Suite in c minor (BWV 1011) (sarabande)d; Vergiß mein nicht (BWV 504)af; Vergiß mein nicht (BWV 505)bf; Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (BWV 691)f; Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende (BWV 27) (Willkommen! will ich sagen, aria)acdf

Domestic music making was an important part of social life of the higher echelons of society during the 17th and 18th centuries. A large part of the output of Georg Philipp Telemann was intended for amateurs of those circles. Some of its members collected pieces which they liked to play and put them together in their personal notebooks. The Clavier-Büchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach can be considered a specimen of such a notebook. We are pretty well informed about the intensity of domestic music making in the Bach household. After all, every member of the family was musically gifted and was able to sing or to play one or several instruments. Pupils also may have participated in such events. The present disc attempts to give an impression of such a concert at the family home of the Bachs. Rather than recording the pieces in the Clavier-Büchlein the performers have chosen various pieces from Bach's oeuvre and, when needed, adapted them to the voices and instruments available, just as Bach or his wife may have done. However, most pieces could be performed unaltered.

One of the most beloved cantatas is Ich habe genung (BWV 82); from the fact that Bach himself adapted it several times, one may conclude that he also had a special liking of it. The first recitative (Ich habe genung) and the ensuing aria (Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen) were also included in the Clavier-Büchlein. Originally scored for solo voice (bass, alto or soprano respectively), oboe, strings and basso continuo, it was reduced to a scoring for voice and bc. One cantata is performed complete: Der Friede sei mit dir (BWV 158). Not much adaptation was needed here: the cantata is scored for soprano, bass, violin and bc. In the second part, an aria for bass with a chorale for soprano, the latter is to be supported by an oboe, but as it plays colla voce it can easily be omitted. The aria 'Willkommen! will ich sagen' from the cantata Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende (BWV 27) is scored for alto, oboe da caccia, obbligato keyboard (either organ or harpsichord) and bc; here the solo part is transposed from E flat to G and the oboe da caccia part is performed on the violin. From the cantata for the second Day of Easter, Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden (BWV 6) the third section is selected: 'Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ', a chorale setting for soprano, obbligato cello piccolo and bc. The two excerpts from Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn (BWV 92) are originally scored for bass and bc. The aria 'Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen' from Schwingt freudig euch empor (BWV 36), a cantata for the first Advent, is also performed in its original scoring for soprano, violin and bc.

In the oeuvre of Bach we find several dialogue cantatas, without exception scored for soprano and bass. One of them is Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (BWV 49); the programme closes with the recitative and aria which end the cantata. In the aria Bach has included, as he so often did, a chorale: 'Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh', the seventh stanza of 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern'. Here a pretty radical adaptation of the instrumental scoring is needed. The parts of the strings are played on the harpsichord, whereas the violin takes care of the right hand of the obbligato organ part. The cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis includes a duet for soprano and bass, representing the soul and Jesus respectively. As the two voices are accompanied by basso continuo alone, it is performed here as originally intended by Bach.

The remaining vocal items are from the Musicalisches Gesangbuch, which Georg Christian Schemelli published in 1736, and is therefore often called Schemellis Gesangbuch. It contains the texts of 954 hymns; 69 of them with the melody, figured bass and first verse or text incipit. These songs were obviously intended for domestic music making, and their texts reflect the spirit of Pietism. It is not quite clear what exactly Bach's contribution to this collection may have been. He probably wrote the basso continuo parts of a number of songs or corrected the pre-existing bass line. Only two of the songs are composed by Bach: Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen (BWV 452) and So gehst du nun, Jesu, hin (BWV 500). A number of others may have been written by him, and among them are the second setting of Vergiß mein nicht (BWV 505) and Komm, süßer Tod (BWV 478). The latter two are included here, and in addition we hear the first setting of Vergiß mein nicht (BWV 504) and Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille (BWV 460).

The vocal pieces dominate here, for whatever reason. The programme opens with the Prelude in D (BWV 936), one of six 'Little Preludes' which Bach composed for the musical education of his children. The chorale prelude Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (BWV 691) is ranked among the organ works in the Schmieder catalogue, but seems intended for the harpsichord. The other instrumental pieces are all very well known as they are taken from some of Bach's most famous chamber music compositions.

It was a nice idea to create a programme which can give us some idea of domestic music making at the Bach's, even though it is based on speculation. After all, the Clavier-Büchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach is well represented on disc. That said, Bach lovers won't find anything here that they are not familiar with, probably with the exception of some of the songs from Schemellis Gesangbuch. The arias and duets are taken from some of Bach's best-known cantatas. In this respect Andreas Staier, who is responsible for the programme concept, could have been a little more creative. There are certainly cantatas which are far less often performed and recorded.

That would be less of a problem, if the performances had been really outstanding, but that is not the case, I'm afraid. The instrumental items are given fine performances, but I am not particularly impressed by the vocal contributions, especially those by Georg Nigl. I don't find his voice very attractive, but that is a matter of taste. I dislike the slight vibrato in his voice, and I also find his singing a bit bland. The two excerpts from cantata BWV 92 come off best. Some tempi are rather slowish. I really don't see any reason to sing Komm, süßer Tod in such a slow tempo. I am tempted to call it 'romantic': the very idea that a song about death needs to be sung slowly is not in line with the treatment of this subject in Bach's oeuvre. Ich habe genung ends with the aria 'Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod', which obviously requires a fast tempo. I am more positive about Anna Lucia Richter's performances, although she certainly is not free of vibrato either. But 'Schlummert ein' and 'Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen' are sung pretty well.

On balance there is not much reason to recommend this disc unequivocally.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Anna Lucia Richter
Roel Dieltiens
Andreas Staier

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