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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Arias"

Sandrine Piau, sopranoa; Christophe Dumaux, altob; Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, tenorc
Dir: Ophélie Gaillard

rec: July 1 - 4, 2012, Paris, Hôtel de l'industrie
Aparté - AP045 (© 2012) (67'31")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH: Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (BWV 68) (Mein gläubiges Herze)a; Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden (BWV 6) (Ach, bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ)a; Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen (BWV 175) (Es dünket mich, ich sehe dich kommen)c; Ich bin ein guter Hirt (BWV 85) (Jesus ist ein guter Hirt)b; Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (BWV 49) (Ich bin herrlich, ich bin schön)a; Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639); Jesu, nun sei gepreiset (BWV 41) (Woferne du den edlen Frieden)c; Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter (BWV 650); Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit (BWV 115) (Bete aber auch dabei)a; Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (BWV 199) (Ich, dein betrübtes Kind)a; Sie werden euch in den Bann tun (BWV 183) (Ich fürchte nicht des Todes Schrecken)c; St John Passion (BWV 245) (Est ist vollbracht)b; Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645); Melchior HOFFMANN (c1679-1715): Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde ("BWV 53")b

Johann Sebastian Bach, [1] Orgelbüchlein; [2] Schübler-Choräle

Jocelyn Daubigney, transverse flute; Antoine Torunczyk, oboe, oboe d'amore; Stéphanie Pfister, Domitille Gilon, violin; Patricia Gagnon, viola; Ophélie Gaillard, cello piccolo; Claire Gratton, cello; Joe Carver, double bass; Fabrice Millischer, sackbut; Thomas Boysen, theorbo; Laurent Stewart, organ

The title page of this disc simply says "Arias". However, the reverse of the tray specifies that this disc is devoted to arias with an obbligato part for the violoncello piccolo. The cello finds its origin in Italy, and at the end of the 17th century the cello with four strings predominated. Elsewhere cellos with more strings were still used, for instance in Germany. The best-known example of a composition for cello with five strings is the Suite No. 6 for cello solo. Today this type of cello is mostly called violoncello piccolo. The precise definition of the cello piccolo is debated, and today some believe that it was rather the viola da spalla which Bach had in mind in pieces which are now mostly played at the cello piccolo. Among them are the arias in eight cantatas which Bach composed between 1724 and 1726.

The subject of this disc is not original. Some years ago Christophe Coin recorded all the cantatas with a part for the cello piccolo. He recorded them complete which is more satisfying than a programme with single arias. Anyone who knows Bach's cantatas is well aware of their strong inner coherence. Obviously this is lost when arias are isolated from their context. In his liner-note Gilles Cantagrel explains the meaning of the arias but the context is largely ignored.

The performances are a mixed baggage. The main asset of this disc is the singing of Sandrine Piau. Her command of German is very good; I hardly could hear that she is not a native German speaker. She is well aware of what it takes to express the meaning of Bach's sacred music. Her articulation and the dynamic accentuation of the good notes is very good, and she is able to really express the text. The aria 'Mein gläubiges Herze' is beautifully sung; the text of the B part is especially well expressed: "Weg Jammer, weg Klagen". The chorale 'Ich, dein betrübtes Kind' from the Cantata BWV 199 comes equally well off, which is anything but natural. Many renowned singers fail to sing a chorale convincingly; they seem rather simple but that is deceptive.

Christophe Dumaux is largely disappointing. I can't really appreciate his voice, which is a little sharp and thin, in particular when he sings forte. His diction is anything but perfect, and he doesn't do that much with the text, for instance in 'Jesus ist ein guter Hirt' from Cantata BWV 85. I have heard better performances of the aria 'Es ist vollbracht' from the St John Passion and of Hoffmann's cantata Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde. Emiliano Gonzalez Toro's singing is marred by a slight tremolo. 'Woferne du den edlen Frieden' (Cantata BWV 41) is largely bland; the performance of 'Ich fürchte nicht des Todes Schrecken' (Cantata BWV 183) is considerably better. His German pronunciation leaves something to be desired.

The instrumental parts are alright, but not as differentiated as one would wish. The accents which I noticed in Sandrine Piau's performance are too often missing in the instrumental parts, and that includes the playing of the cello piccolo by Ophélie Gaillard. Bach's chorale arrangements have been recorded with instruments before, but in most cases I don't find them very satisfying. Here the results are mixed; those pieces where the cantus firmus is performed on the sackbut are the least satisfying. In 'Es ist vollbracht' from the St John Passion - in the track-list confused with the aria of the same title from Cantata BWV 159 - the gamba part is played at the cello piccolo. It is nicely done, but the sound of the gamba is irreplaceable.

On balance, this disc is not entirely satisfying. It is the singing of Sandrine Piau which makes it recommendable.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Emiliano Gonzalez Toro

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