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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Wie freudig ist mein Herz"

Ruby Hughes, soprano
Musica Saeculorum
Dir: Philipp von Steinaecker

rec: August 27, 2011 (live), Brixen, Priesterseminar (church)
fra bernardo - fb1209132 (© 2012) (47'22")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Ich habe genung, cantata for the Feast of the Purification (BWV 82a); Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, cantata for the 11th Sunday after Trinity (BWV 199)

This disc brings together two of Bach's most beloved cantatas which are well represented in the catalogue. They are written in different periods of Bach's career and for different occasions. Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut dates from 1714 and was first performed at 12 August 1714 in Weimar. Ich habe genung was written for performance in Leipzig at 2 February 1727.

Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut ties in with the Gospel reading of the Sunday at which is was to be performed. In Luke 18 (vs 9-14) Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The former thanks God that he is not as the sinners, such as "that publican". The latter just asks God to have mercy upon him. The cantata is written from his standpoint: "My heart swims in blood, for sin's brood in God's holy eyes turns me into a monster", thus begins the opening recitative. In the ensuing aria the protagonist expresses his inability to speak: his "silent sighs" and the "watery fountains of tears" bear witness to his state of mind. The publican's expression is then picked up in the recitative: "God, be gracious to me, a sinner". The aria is an expression of remorse and urges for forgiveness: "Yet have patience with me". After a short recitative the chorale "Ich, dein betrübtes Kind", points to the source of forgiveness: Jesus' "deep wounds". These shall be "my resting-place", as the next recitative says. The cantata closes with an aria in the rhythm of a gigue, expressing the joy about the reconciliation with God.

The performers deliver one of the best performances which I have come across so far. Ruby Hughes gives much attention to keywords in the opening recitative. The low notes are strong enough; whether Ms Hughes is really a mezzo-soprano, as the booklet says, is questionable, but her low register is definitely strong, and that helps to expose this recitative's content. The rueful character of the first aria comes off perfectly, and is performed with great intensity. The urgency of the following recitative and aria are very well realised; they receive quite incisive performances. That is especially important as this is the heart of the cantata. Singing a chorale seems easy, but it is not, as so many recordings prove. Ruby Hughes sings "Ich, dein betrübtes Kind" as one would hope. One of her assets is the excellent diction and her impressive command of German, probably due to the fact that she has studied in Munich for some time. The closing aria is also nicely done, but the tempo is a bit too fast; as a result the text is given too little attention. The cooperation between Ms Hughes and the orchestra is outstanding; the latter follows her in every detail.

Ich habe genung exists in four different versions: originally written for bass, it was later adapted for soprano and then for mezzo-soprano. The fourth version is again for bass, slightly different from the original version. Considering that Ruby Hughes is called a mezzo-soprano one would expect the third version to be performed here, but that is not the case. Instead we hear the version for soprano in which the obbligato part for the oboe is replaced by a part for the transverse flute.

The Sunday for which this cantata was intended is known as Candlemas: the Feast of the Purification. Jesus is presented in the temple and here Joseph and Mary meet Simeon. God has told him that he won't die before his eyes have seen the Saviour of the world. When he meets Jesus he recognizes him as the promised one and sings what has become known as Nunc dimittis. The opening aria links up with this: "I have enough, I have taken the Saviour, the hope of the devout, into my eager arms." The following recitative urges the congregation: "Let us go with this man". The idea of having enough of this world is then expressed in the famous 'slumber aria': "Slumber, you tired eyes, close peacefully and blessedly". In the second recitative the wish to leave the world is expressed with even greater insistence. The closing aria is a lively piece which anticipates the moment the protagonist leaves the world and "shall escape from all the misery".

The opening aria is again done very well. Ruby Hughes's fine diction helps well to bring out the rhythm in this piece. Also notable is the perfect blending of voice and instruments. The following recitative is performed well, but with less rhythmic freedom than is required. The aria 'Sclummert ein' is slightly disappointing. In particular the playing of the ensemble is too loud and lacks the subtlety in the rhythmic design. A more quite and softly swaying rhythm had been preferable. At some moments the breathing spaces could have been longer. The second recitative is better than the first, and the closing aria gets an energetic performance.

Two issues need to be mentioned. Now and then Ms Hughes uses a bit too much vibrato. On the whole she keeps it well under control, though, and therefore it doesn't really damage this recording. I noted several differences between the text Ms Hughes sings and the one printed in the booklet (which can also be found in Alfred Dürr's standard book on the cantatas). To mention the most striking example: in the opening recitative Ms Hughes sings "will ferner mehr kein Trost befruchten", whereas the lyrics in the booklet have "befeuchten". Considering that the previous line mentions an "ausgedorrtes Herz" (dried-up heart) "befeuchten" (moisten) is quite logical, in contrast to "befruchten" (fructify). Such things can happen in a live performance, but should then be corrected afterwards. If such deviations are intentional, they should be explained in the booklet.

On balance, this is a fine disc which I have greatly enjoyed. The Cantata BWV 199 is especially well done, and there are not that many recordings of the soprano version of Cantata BWV 82. Every reason to recommend this disc to Bach lovers.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Ruby Hughes
Musica Saeculorum

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