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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Der Seele Paradies"

Dorothea Zimmermann, contralto; Jan Katzschke, organ
Stefanie Tröltzsch, sopranoa; Thomas Pelz, tenora; Jörn Sakuth, bassa
Ensemble Bizzaries
Dir: Jan Katzschke

rec: August 27 - 30, 2007, Naumburg, Stadtkirche St. Wenzel
Querstand - VKJK 1002 (© 2010) (52'44")

Geist und Seele wird verwirret (BWV 35); Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (BWV 169)a

Markus Müller, Nils Jönsson, oboe, oboe d'amore; Peter Heinze, oboe, taille; Elisabeth Kaufhold, bassoon; Christiane Gagelmann, James o'Toole, violin; Lucia Froihofer, viola; Barbara Reiter, cello; Christian Staude, double bass

The two cantatas by Bach belong to his most famous and most often recorded. The reason is not just their quality, but also the scoring. Both are for alto solo, and that means they are especially attractive for male and female altos who would like to shine in music by Bach. In addition, both have obbligato and concertante parts for organ, which make them equally attractive for organists.

This last aspect is also the main reason for the recording of this particular disc. Usually the organ parts are played at a small organ, which is also used for the performance of the basso continuo part. But in Bach's time the organs used in sacred music were usually the large organs which were also played to accompany the singing of hymns by the congregation. It is understandable that this practice isn't followed in live performances. Bach's cantatas are mostly performed in churches which don't have the kind of organs which are suitable to be used in baroque music. And if they have, there is often too little space at the organ loft for all participants, even when the performances are with one voice per part.

Even recordings with large organs in the basso continuo are rare. Even though there is more freedom to choose a church with the appropriate organ, there are not that many such organs anyway. And recordings also require certain logistical circumstances which allow for a good recording. Recently more effort is spent to find an appropriate venue for recordings of in particular German music of the 17th century. In Bach I haven't heard that many recordings where this practice is applied.

From that perspective this disc is most interesting. Jan Katzschke plays an organ which was built by Zacharius Hildebrandt in 1746. Bach knew him well; while living and working in Leipzig Hildebrand tuned the harpsichords in the Thomaskirche. Bach was one of the advisors for the organ in Naumburg which is played here, and where Bach's son-in-law Johann Christoph Altnickol became organist in 1748. That makes the use of this particular organ especially appropriate, which has been recently restored in its original state.

The use of a large organ like this doesn't only make the organ parts becoming more powerful, they are also more colourful as the various stops of the organ offer many possibilities to adapt the sound to the ensemble or the soloist. The most striking example of this is the aria 'Stirb in mir' from Gott soll allein mein Herze haben in which the stop which is played with the right hand blends wonderfully with the voice of Dorothea Zimmermann. The basso continuo also gets more weight, which is working positively in the arias but also in the recitatives. It is the use of a large organ which makes this disc interesting and recommendable for music lovers with a more than average interest in Bach and especially his cantatas.

Otherwise, despite the fact that Jan Katzschke plays the solos in the concertante sections quite well, I hesitate to recommend this disc. There are several reasons for that. First of all, the tempi are a bit slow, and the rhythmic pulse is somewhat underexposed. The balance between organ and instruments isn't always ideal, even less so the balance between them and the soloist. Dorothea Zimmermann has a beautiful voice but not very colourful. Her singing is generally too bland, and she should have done more with the text. I have mentioned the aria 'Stirb in mir' which is one of the best parts of this disc. Interesting is the performance of the B section of the opening aria from Geist und Seele wird verwirret, in particular the words "taub und stumm" which are sung mezzavoce. But in most other sections too little is made of the text. There is too little dynamic gradation, and in the recitatives the performance is too strict in time.

All in all, the concept of this disc is interesting and praiseworthy, but the result of all the efforts are not really impressive.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Dorothea Zimmermann

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