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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Solo Cantatas"

Dominik Wörner, bass
Il Gardellino
Dir: Ryo Terakado

rec: [n.d.], Sausenheim/Grünstadt, Evangelische Kirche
Passacaille - 997 (© 2013) (71'03")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: F
Cover & track-list

Amore traditore (BWV 203); Der Friede sei mit dir (BWV 158); Ich habe genung (BWV 82); Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (BWV 56)

Franz Vitzthum, discant; Beat Duddeck, alto; Satoshi Mizukoshi, tenor
Jan De Winne, transverse flute; Taka Kitazato, Lidewei De Sterck, oboe; Marcel Ponseele, oboe, oboe da caccia; Ryo Terakado, Mika Akiha, Yukie Yamaguchi, Tomoe Mihara, violin; Sonoko Asabuki, viola; Balász Máté, cello; Rainer Johannsen, bassoon; Frank Coppieters, violone; Masato Suzuki, harpsichord; Andreas Gräsle, organ

A little under 200 sacred cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach have come down to us. Although all of them are available as part of complete recordings only a relatively small number are really well-known and are often performed and recorded. Among them are certainly the solo cantatas of which there are relatively few. Three are for bass and that means that they can easily be recorded on one disc. Dominik Wörner has recorded them with the ensemble Il Gardellino. The difference with other recordings is that he also included the only secular cantata for bass solo, Amore traditore. Moreover, in two cantatas he included alternatives to the versions we know.

The programme opens with one of Bach's most famous cantatas, Ich habe genung (BWV 82). Bach himself must have greatly appreciated this piece: it has been preserved in four different versions, two for bass (each with a slightly different instrumentation), one for soprano and one for alto. In addition he arranged the second aria, 'Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen', for solo voice and bc and included it in the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdelena Bach. This is also one of Bach's most famous arias. There is something special about this performance. In the first version the oboe doesn't participate in this particular aria, as Dominik Wörner writes in his 'Notes on the instrumentation'. However, Alfred Dürr, in his book on Bach's cantatas, casts some doubt on this. He believes that it is conceivable that an oboe da caccia was involved in the first performance as the flute part in the soprano version is based on a lost oboe da caccia part. Here the performers have turned to the fourth version in which the oboe da caccia plays colla parte with the first violin. As the participation of an oboe da caccia in the first version is merely an assumption rather than a verifiable fact this is a questionable decision. In fact we get a hybrid version which may never have existed.

The next cantata, Der Friede sei mit dir (BWV 158), is a bit of a puzzle. No authograph exists, and it is impossible to date this work. It seems likely that it is not complete: it opens with a recitative which is followed by an aria with an inserted chorale, sung by a soprano, accompanied in unison by an oboe. There are doubts about the obbligato violin part. "It is odd (...) that the violin never goes down below d1, so that the G-string remains unused; indeed, at one point an expected c1 sharp is evidently avoided", Dürr writes. He suggests that originally this part may have been intended for the transverse flute. That is the way the aria is performed here; as an appendix we get the aria with obbligato violin, but then with the c1 sharp which is avoided in the preserved version.

In Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (BWV 56) the oboe plays again a major part. In the opening aria the bass is accompanied by strings and bc with two oboes and taille. The second aria has one obbligato oboe part. There is another issue here in regard to the instrumental scoring. Alongside the 'conventional' cello a 'violoncello da spalla' is used. The cello part is split up between these two instruments. This probably only concerns the first recitative which has an obbligato cello part. If this means that one part is split up between the two instruments this seems a bit odd. I have to say, though, that the explanation is not quite clear.

As I already indicated the disc ends with the 'violin version' of the aria from Cantata 158. Before that we hear Amore traditore which is one of two cantatas on an Italian text in Bach's oeuvre, the other being Non sa che sia dolore (BWV 209). Their authenticity is not established, but on stylistic grounds they are generally attributed to Bach and particularly Cantata 209 is often performed and recorded. That is different with BWV 203. It is assumed that Bach composed it in Cöthen, somewhere between 1717 and 1723. The scoring is notable: the opening aria and the recitative are for bass and basso continuo, but in the second aria the harpsichord has an obbligato part which is notated on two staves. For that reason the soloist is mostly accompanied by a harpsichord alone, without the participation of a string bass. "In this performance, the harpsichord part is discreetly complemented by a cello, as in Bach's harpsichord concertos, which gives a better sound balance with the vocal part". I don't see the advantage; moreover, strictly speaking there is nothing to add as the cello only plays the bass line as written down. I would not use the word "discreet" for the way it is performed here; in the first aria the cello is so prominent that it almost overshadows the harpsichord.

As far as the performance is concerned this cantata is the most satisfying part of this disc. The cantata receives a differentiated performance from Dominik Wörner who sings it with the emotional involvement I have missed a little in the sacred cantatas. Don't get me wrong: I greatly admire him. I have heard him in sacred music of the 17th century and he did very well in the latest volumes of the Bach Collegium Japan's complete recording of Bach's sacred cantatas as well as in some of the secular cantatas. And there is nothing wrong with his singing here either. He does everything right, although I am not always convinced by his ornamentation. I often wondered whether any ornamentation was needed. The recitatives are taken with the right amount of rhythmic freedom and - very important - the text is very clearly understandable. However, for some reason these performances didn't really move me. I noted some restraint in these interpretations and a lack of emotional involvement. That little something which makes the difference between a good and a great performance is missing. The singing is good but too static.

A couple of issues need to be mentioned. The ascending triplets of the oboe in the opening aria of Ich habe genung are played rather indifferently; one can hardly hear that these are three separate notes. I would have liked more emphasis on "Ach" in the ensuing recitative. The singing of the soprano part - solo in the aria from Cantata 158 and as the top voice in the chorales - by an alto (Franz Vitzthum) is an interesting option. Some soprano parts - certainly not all - in Bach's music are within the range of a male alto. In case no treble is available the use of a male alto is a good alternative and certainly - for historical reasons - to be preferred to a female soprano.

Lastly a word about the booklet. The liner-notes are written in French by Charles Cantagruel; the notes on the instrumentation by Wörner in German. For Cantagruels text I have used the English and German translations; the former are rather inaccurate and sometimes simply wrong. In regard to the aria from the English translation has "low D sharp"; it should be "low C sharp". The translator probably did use the French translation of Wörner's notes and misunderstood "do dièse grave". Elsewhere we read: "It is good that Bach himself has been heard to sing etc" which is nonsense. Cantagruel seems to suggests that Bach himself has performed this cantata - which obviously is impossible to prove - but his remarks are becoming completely incomprehensible in the translation. English translations of the cantatas can be easily found on the internet but even so their omission in the booklet is a serious shortcoming.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Dominik Wörner
Il Gardellino

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