musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Arias - Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach"

Nuria Rial, sopranoa; Benoît Laurent, oboeb; Julia Schröder, violinc
Kammerorchester Basel
Dir: Julia Schröder

rec: April 2 - 5, 2013, Müllheim
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88765482752 (© 2013) (78'21")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH: Concerto for oboe, violin, strings and bc in c minor (BWV 1060)bc; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (BWV 1056g)c; Die Freude reget sich (BWV 36b) (Mit zarten und vergnügten Trieben, aria)a; Durchlauchtster Leopold (BWV 173a) (Güldner Sonnen frohe Stunden, aria)a; Ich habe genung (BWV 82a) (Ich habe genung, rec & aria)a; Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51) (Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, aria)a; Klagt Kinder, klagt es aller Welt 'Köthener Trauermusik' (BWV 244a) (Jedoch der schwache Mensch - Mit Freuden, rec & aria; Und du, betrübtes Fürstenhaus - Hemme dein gequältes Kränken, rec & aria)a; Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl (BWV 198) (Verstummt ihr holden Saiten)a; Was mir behagt ist nur die muntre Jagd 'Jagdkantate' (BWV 208) (Schafe können sicher weiden, aria)a; Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649-1725): Die ausgesöhnte Eifersucht oder Cephalus und Procris (Einsamkeit, du Qual der Herzen, aria)a; Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (1690-1749): Diomedes oder die triumphierende Unschuld (Bist du bei mir, aria)a

Anna Magdalena Bach played an important role in the life and career of her husband, Johann Sebastian. She not only took care of a growing family but also assisted in musical matters, such as the copying of music. She was musically educated, and had a fine singing voice. It is likely that she participated in performances of Bach's music outside the church.

She was born in 1701 in Zeitz as the daughter of Johann Caspar Wilcke (or Wülcken), who was a professional trumpeter. He entered the service of the court in Weißenfels in 1718 and here she very likely received singing lessons from Christiane Pauline Kellner who participated in a performance of Bach's Hunting Cantata (BWV 208). Anna Magdalena must have attended the performance and therefore have known the aria Schafe können sicher weiden. It is documented that she sang in the chapel of the court in Zerbst; she was paid twice as much as her father. In 1721 she was appointed as a singer at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen on Bach's recommendation. In December of that year the couple married.

The programme of this disc tries to shed light on the musical environment of Anna Magdalena. It is impossible to tell which music she may have sung in public performances. There are several suggestions in the liner-notes, but these are always accompanied by words like "probably" or "almost certainly". The two instrumental pieces are included because Anna Magdalena "will surely have heard them performed" in Leipzig. That is quite possible, but many other concertos could have been chosen. As far as the choice of repertoire is concerned, these are the least convincing parts of this disc.

The argument for the inclusion of the aria Einsamkeit, du Qual der Herzen by Johann Philipp Krieger is much more convincing. He was Kapellmeister in Weißenfels from 1680 to 1725 and composed a number of operas which have all been lost. Two volumes of arias from these works were published, and one of them was the aria sung here. It is a strophic aria based on a basso ostinato. Unfortunately only the first stanza has been printed in the booklet. In 1722 Bach composed Durchlauchtster Leopold (BWV 173a), a serenata for the birthday of his employer Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Anna Magdalena may have sung the soprano part, including the aria Güldner Sonnen frohe Stunden.

In 1726 Bach composed Steigt freudig in die Luft (BWV 36a) for the birthday of Leopold's second wife, Charlotte Friederike Amalie. This was an adaptation of a cantata from 1725 and Bach later adapted it again twice, first for liturgical use (Schwingt freudig euch empor) and in 1735 for the birthday of a Leipzig law professor. Anna Magdalena may have sung in the performance in Cöthen, but certainly not the aria Mit zarten und vergnügten Trieben as it is taken from the last version. It is much better known as Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen from the sacred version.

Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51) is one of Bach's most famous and brilliant cantatas with demanding parts for soprano and trumpet. It is not quite clear when and for which occasion it was written. Some scholars have suggested that it may have been written for a performance outside the liturgy, which opens the possibility of a performance by Anna Magdalena. In the liner-notes it is stated that it was "almost certainly performed for the first time in 1729", written "to mark the birthday of the art-loving Duke Christian of Saxe-Weißenfels" and "presumably to showcase the talents of Anna Magdalena and her brother, the court trumpeter Johann Caspar Wülcken the younger". I would like to hear more about that as I can't find anything in this regard in other reliable sources.

There can be no doubt about the date and place of the performance of the funeral music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. The Trauer-Music was performed during the service of mourning on 24 March 1729 in the Stadtkirche in Cöthen. The music is lost, but the text - by Picander, who also wrote the text of the St Matthew Passion - has survived. It is generally assumed that Bach adapted pieces from his Passion and from the Trauer-Ode (BWV 198). The liner-notes don't suggest that Anna Magdalena may have sung the soprano part, and that seems right, as this was a service and it seems unlikely that women were allowed to sing in an event like that. The programme ends with an aria from the Trauer-Ode just mentioned.

The recitative and aria Ich habe genung were included in the Clavier-Büchlein which Bach put together for Anna Magdalena, in the scoring for solo voice and basso continuo. The liner-notes suggest that they were later included in Cantata BWV 82, but in his book on Bach's cantatas Alfred Dürr specifically denies this. The cantata came first, and the recitative and aria were later included in the Clavier-Büchlein. It is a little odd that in this disc devoted to Anna Magdalena the version with orchestra - in this case strings - is included rather than the one with basso continuo alone. The same goes for the aria Bist du bei mir which is included in the Clavier-Büchlein in a scoring for solo voice and bc, but performed here with strings. This is based on a copy found in the archive of the Berlin Singakademie. This aria was once included in the Schmieder catalogue as it was thought to be from Bach's pen. It is now known to be from a lost opera by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel.

This is definitely an interesting disc and it includes some hardly-known pieces. However, as I have argued, there is every reason to be critical about the choices from the repertoire and the speculations in regard to Anna Magdalena's attendance or even participation in performances. The interpretation has its strengths and weaknesses. Nuria Rial is an outstanding singer and I have enjoyed her previous recordings. She sings generally quite well here; she has a good feeling for this repertoire. Especially nice are the extracts from the funeral music and the aria Mit zarten und vergnügten Trieben. Her German diction is almost perfect - only here and there one can note that she is not a native German speaker. However, I noted that a slight vibrato now and then creeps in, for instance in Schafe können sicher weiden. I hope this is not a bad omen.

In some pieces her performance is also a little short on expression. That goes especially for the recitative and aria from Cantata 82. She should have taken more rhythmic freedom in the recitative, and the aria is too straightforward. That also is due to the performance of the orchestra: its playing is too much legato, there are too few dynamic shades and in general I find the performance not very subtle.

The Concerto in c minor is nicely played; I particularly liked Benoît Laurent's playing of the oboe part. The first movement of the Concerto in g minor is very well performed, with a nice realisation of the rhythmic pulse. The latter is by far not as good in the closing movement which sounds rather rushed; the playing of the solo part is too much legato.

On balance this disc doesn't fully live up to my expectations. Even so, there is enough to be said in its favour and Bach lovers certainly would like to add it to their collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Nuria Rial
Kammerorchester Basel

CD Reviews