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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): Cantatas and instrumental works

Daniel Taylor, altoa; John Abberger, oboeb; Jeanne Lamon, violinc
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Jeanne Lamon

rec: March 30 - April 1, 2011, Toronto, Humbercrest United Church
Analekta - AN 2 9878 (© 2011) (68'48")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for oboe, violin, strings and bc in c minor (BWV 1060a)bc; Overture for violin, strings and bc in a minor (BWV 1067a)c; Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, cantata (BWV 170)a; Widerstehe doch der Sünde, cantata (BWV 54)a

This disc comes with no title. It just says "Bach", with the names of the performers. I really don't know which title would have been appropriate as I can't discover a thread in the programme. It seems that the four compositions have been put together at random. One wonders whether it is the composer who is at the centre or rather the performers. Moreover, all four works belong to the most frequently performed and recorded. Considering the world-wide economic crisis one would expect that record companies would avoid releasing discs with repertoire which is already available in many recordings, but that seems not to be the case. If only this disc offered new insights or performances which can compete with the very best, but that is not the case either.

One work in the track-list may catch the eye of a potential purchaser. The Overture in b minor (BWV 1067) is one of Bach's most popular pieces, and its last movement, badinerie, is often played as an encore in concerts. Here it is played in a different key, A minor, and that can be explained by the scoring. There is no transverse flute here, but rather a violin as a solo instrument in various movements. It is assumed that three of the Overtures as we know them are reworkings of earlier pieces. It is possible that Bach composed them originally at the court in Cöthen, where so many instrumental works were created. There is no unanimity as to which instrument Bach had in mind in this particular Overture. Joshua Rifkin suggests the violin, whereas the American oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz believes the oboe is the more likely possibility. That is the version performed by the Ensemble Sonnerie. Jeanne Lamon plays the solo part here, and she does so quite well. On the whole I prefer the Ensemble Sonnerie's performance. In the case of the present disc there is too little differentiation between the notes and dynamically the performances are pretty flat. In particular the rondeau and the sarabande are not very engaging.

That is not just the case in the Overture, but also in the Concerto in c minor (BWV 1060a). This is another reconstruction, but far better-known than the Overture in its original version. It has come down to us in a later reworking for two harpsichords; there is general agreement that it was originally written for oboe and violin. John Abberger and Jeanne Lamon give good readings of the solo parts, but on the whole the performance is rather unremarkable. The tempi are not fully satisfying: the allegros are on the slow side, whereas the adagio is a shade too fast.

The two cantatas are from different periods in Bach's life. Widerstehe doch der Sünde (BWV 54) is an early work dating from 1714. This is reflected by the scoring which includes two viola parts. This was common practice in the 17th century, but went increasingly out of fashion after the turn of the century. In particular the first aria is very expressive, drastically depicting sin as poison scattered by the Devil. That doesn't really come across in the performance, which is far too innocent and too sweet. Daniel Taylor sings nicely enough, but he fails fully to explore the content. In the following recitative too little attention is paid to individual words. Here I also noticed that Taylor's voice lacks strenght in the lowest register. As Bach has set some crucial words to low notes, these don't have enough impact.

That is also the case in the cantata Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (BWV 170) which dates from 1726. In that year Bach composed several cantatas for an alto soloist, probably because he had a specially gifted singer at his disposal. Taylor sings the first aria quite nicely, and the "delightful rest" the text speaks about suites his voice well. The following recitative is different: "The world, that house of sin, erupts only in hellish songs". Again this recitative is far too harmless, and Taylor doesn't make enough of the Affekt. The second aria is another highly expressive piece: "How the perverted hearts afflict me". The voice is here accompanied by the organ which has an obbligato part. Bach requires an instrument with two manuals. "We did not have access to a baroque church organ for this recording, but were fortunate to have use of a beautiful portative organ (...) and have adapted the hand-crossings to make them playable on a single manual", Charlotte Nediger writes in her liner-notes. I find this very odd: other performers have sought and found an appropriate organ. If you can't find one, then take another work to record. The changes in the registration during the aria are uncalled for and damage its unity. The second recitative is accompanied, and once again contains some quite drastic pictures. Taylor's interpretation lacks depth and incisiveness.

All in all, this is a nice disc, sweet and lovely. However the cantatas don't call for these qualities. In these performances they lack depth and expression. Except for diehard fans of the artists I can't see much reason to purchase it.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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