musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Meine Freundin, du bist schön"

Dir: Bart Naessens

rec: June 28 - July 1, 2016, Aardenburg, Sint-Baafskerk
Et'cetera - KTC 1548 (© 2016) (73'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Parts JChr Bach
Scores JS Bach
Score Kuhnau

Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703): Meine Freundin, du bist schön; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Concerto for harpsichord, 2 recorders, strings and bc in F (BWV 1057)a; Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus tragicus) (BWV 106); Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722): Bone Jesu, care Jesu

Griet De Geyter, Elisabeth Hermans*, soprano; Kerlijne Van Nevel*, contralto; Joëlle Charlier, alto; Vincent Lesage, Yves Van Handenhove*, tenor; Tiemo Wang, baritone; Kai-Rouven Seeger*, bass [* ripieno]
Lidewij van der Voort, Annelies De Cock, Marrie de Mooij, violin; Kaat De Cock, viola; Romina Lischka, viola da gamba; Robert Smith, viola da gamba, cello; Hendrik-Jan Wolfert, double bass; Korneel Bernolet, harpsichord; Bart Naessens, harpsichord (soloa), organ

BachPlus is a young Belgian ensemble which has been founded to perform cantatas by Bach in a monthly schedule in two Belgian towns: Aalst and Aardenburg. Now and then larger works are also performed. The present disc is the ensemble's first, and fits its name in that it includes two pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and two works by composers to whom Bach was connected in one way or another.

The first of these is Johann Christoph Bach, cousin of Johann Sebastian's father. Bach held him in the highest esteem, and regularly performed his cantatas. Johann Christoph's best-known work is the wedding cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön. Two things are worth noticing. First of all, the central section is a very long ciacona of 66 variations for soprano and strings, and the violin has a virtuoso solo part, in particular at the end of the cantata. Secondly this cantata shows that in the baroque era there was no watershed between sacred and secular: the biblical texts are interspersed by comments of a much more secular, and often humorous character. The largest part of the texts is from the Song of Songs, but there are also references to phrases from Ecclesiastes: after the invitation to eat and drink the soli and tutti sing: "For this is a gift from God, and now I see and approve, that it is good, when one eats and drinks and is in good humour" (Eccl 3). Towards the end soli and tutti sing: "The Gratias", leading into a chorale-like grace: "Now let us sing the Gratias. Lord God and Father, we thank thee, for Thou has plentifully nourished us".

This cantata receives a pretty good performance, especially thanks to Griet De Geyter, who is very much a rising star in the early music world. This year she participated in the performances of Bach's St Matthew Passion by the Netherlands Bach Society, where she made a very good impression. She sings her part beautifully, but her low register is a bit weak, and as a result the lower notes are overpowered by the strings. I am less impressed by Tiemo Wang: there is little wrong with his singing, but I don't like the tremolo in his voice. I also prefer a stronger voice here, more a bass than a baritone. Lidewij van der Voort delivers a good performance of the demanding violin part. Overall it seems that the tempo is a little too slow. Especially the ciacona could have been faster.

The tempo is even more of a problem in the Concerto in F (BWV 1057) for harpsichord, two recorders, strings and bc, which is an arrangement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. The performance is rather sluggish and lacklustre. The tempi of the fast movements are too slow. Compare them to the recent recording by Andreas Staier and the Freiburger Barockorchester: allegro 7'30" vs 6'52" and allegro assai 6'33" vs 4'50". The latter is the biggest problem: BachPlus's performance is not allegro assai: very fast. The balance within the ensemble is also unsatisfying: the harpsichord is underexposed and especially when the recorders are playing it is hardly audible.

The two remaining works document the change of style in German sacred music in the early decades of the 18th century. Johann Kuhnau was Bach's predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He is generally considered a rather conservative composer, who did not like the modern trends in sacred music, in particular the influence of Italian cantata. However, that assessment doesn't do him justice: in his work we find a number of pieces in the Italian style, with recitatives and arias. Bone Jesu, care Jesu is one of Kuhnau's few compositions on a Latin text. It dates from 1690 and has the form of a sacred concerto, divided into four sections, and closing with an 'Alleluia'. The scoring is for soprano, two violins and bc. Its content reflects the spirit of German pietism: "Good Jesus, dear Jesus, never forsake me, O dear Jesus, O sweet Jesus. (...) Behold, Jesus embraces tightly, behold, his sacred heart rejoices, He offers divine kisses". Griet De Geyter delivers a most enjoyable performance. She has a very clear and flexible voice, her diction is excellent and as a result the text is perfectly intelligible.

The disc closes with one of Bach's most famous cantatas, Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit, the so-called Actus Tragicus. It probably dates from 1708, when Bach worked in Mühlhausen. The text is a compilation of biblical verses and hymn stanzas. The are no recitatives and arias: the text is divided into solo and tutti sections. The instrumental scoring is very modest: two recorders, two viole da gamba and bc. In this cantata Bach mixes old and new elements. The instrumentation refers to the 17th century, when recorders and viole da gamba were frequently applied in sacred music. Bach only uses biblical texts, without any free poetry. He also makes use of the aria, which was to become one of the main parts of sacred cantatas in the 18th century. The juxtaposition of old and new is also symbolic: it refers to the shift from the Old to the New Testament, connected with Law and Gospel respectively.

The performance has good things to offer. Again Griet De Geyter is the 'star': "Ja komm, Herr Jesu, komm!" is beautifully sung, in a perfect balance with the choir. Joëlle Charlier and Vincent Lesage also make good contributions in their respective arias. In this cantata a baritone is less of a problem than in Johann Christoph Bach's cantata, and as a result Tiemo Wang makes a better impression here. However, again the tempi are rather slow. That goes especially for the last sections, the aria and chorale 'Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein' and the chorus 'Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit'.

All in all I would conclude that this is a sympathetic, but not entirely convincing recording by an ensemble which undoubtedly has considerable qualities. The two cantatas receive good performances, but also suffer from some considerable weaknesses, and are available in better recordings. Kuhnau's sacred concerto could well be new to the catalogue. Bach's Concerto in F is the weakest part of this production. The booklet omits the names of the recorder players.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:


CD Reviews