Bach, Cantatas BWV 27, 84, 95, 161, Collegium Vocale Gent, P. Herreweghe
(released April 8, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901969
Today's CD collector has quite a choice when it comes to excellent recordings of Bach's cantatas: several complete cycles are in progress, including Masaaka Suzuki's with Bach Collegium Japan and John Eliot Gardiner's on Soli Deo Gloria, and there are older sets by Nikolaus Harnoncourt ("Das Kantatenwerk"), Helmuth Rilling (with the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart), and Ton Koopman (with Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra), as well as many fine non-cycles here and there. An example of the latter that will hopefully end up as one of the former is the series of Bach cantata discs under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe, with Collegium Vocale Gent. One particular volume, including one of Bach's best cantatas (Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen), has come in for special praise here before.
BWV 2, 20, 176
BWV 8, 125, 138
BWV 12, 38, 75
BWV 35, 54, 170
BWV 63, 91, 121, 133
BWV 207, 214
Herreweghe has organized many of his cantata releases around a liturgical theme, and for this disc he brings together three of Bach's cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel reading for that feast, which usually falls somewhere in September, was the story of Jesus raising the son of widow of Nain from the dead. Told in Luke 7:11-17, it is one of three resurrections that Jesus performed in the Gospels: he comes across a funeral procession near the gate of the city of Nain, feels compassion for the bereft mother, and orders the dead son to rise from his bier. Bach's cantatas do not meditate on the joy of the mother who has incredibly regained her son from death; rather, their texts focus on the son and the door to joy that death represents for the believer. The attempt seems to be to put the listener in the role of the corpse lying on the bier, as in BWV 95, "Mein Sterbelied ist schon gemacht; / Ach, dürft ich's heute singen!" (My funeral hymn is already prepared; Ah, that I might sing it today!).
As he usually does, Herreweghe uses singers from his elite choir for the solos, except for bass Thomas Bauer who steps in for Peter Kooy (not without some disappointment). Hans Jörg Mammel is an impressively light and sweet high tenor in the mold of Mark Padmore, but not quite up to the demands of "Ach, schlage doch bald" in BWV 95 (Christus, der ist mein Leben, from the first Leipzig cycle in 1723). Matthew White has an elegant countertenor voice on the alto solos, like "Willkommen! will ich sagen," with its equally sparkling bassoon obligato by Philippe Miqueu. As is often the case in Bach's cantatas, the choral movements are among the most satisfying, like the chorale with interpolated solo lines that opens BWV 27 (Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?, from the third Leipzig cycle in 1726).
The instrumental playing is no less pleasing, with the two recorders and organ's mellow chiff making the hour of death seem very sweet indeed, in the opening aria of BWV 161 (Komm, du süße Todesstunde, composed in 1716, during Bach's tenure at Weimar). To round out the set of four, Herreweghe adds BWV 84, a solo soprano cantata intended for Septuagesima Sunday (from the third Leipzig cycle in 1726). Although the Gospel reading for that Sunday was different, the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the theme of Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke is contained in its first line, "I am content with my good fortune." Herreweghe's lead soprano, Dorothee Mields, has an unaffected purity that sits beautifully with the resignation of the libretto.