BACH: Cantatas, vol. 18

This volume contains 6 cantatas, 3 each for the third and fourth Sundays after Easter. Despite the unimaginable number of difficulties in coordinating the series (differing pitch of various organs, very limited rehearsal time, changes in personnel, travel arrangements for some 40 musicians and a crew of other people) that such a project entails, this disc ranks in quality with the finest in modern Baroque performances.
From the titles of the cantatas for Jubilate Sunday, the first group of three, we might gather that the works provide a lugubrious mood: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, Wailing, Fretting, Fearing), BWV 12; Ihr werdet weinen und heulen (Ye shall weep and lament), BWV 103; and Wir m¸ssen durch viel Tr¸bsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen (We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God), BWV 146. (As the reader may note, Richard Stokesís English translations, provided in the accompanying booklet, can be quite inelegant, even though they were not devised to match the German text syllable for syllable so that they could be sung without altering the music.)
The mournful feeling is reflected in the first two numbers of BWV 12: a sinfonia with a slow, plaintive, and beautifully played oboe solo (are there ever slow, non-plaintive oboe solos?), followed by a choral movement that Bach later adapted for the Crucifixus of the Mass in B minor to portray the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. Gardiner terms each of the first four words ìa heart-rending sobî that may be thought of in connection with the ìfour hammer blows nailing Christís flesh to the wood of the cross.î The image takes on credibility when one realizes that the corresponding syllables in the Mass are Cru-ci-fi-xus, He was crucified.
The words of the alto recitative that follows, Wir m¸ssen durch viel Tr¸bsal from Acts 14:22, would later find their way into the title and opening chorus of BWV 146. The mood brightens considerably in successive arias for bass and tenor, both with a trumpet obbligato playing the melody of the Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my delight), and the closing chorale is positively joyful: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does is well done).
The Cantata BWV 103 follows a somewhat similar trajectory: weeping, lamentation, and transgression are the subjects of the first three movements, although Bach plays a little trick on listeners. The opening orchestral introduction sounds quite jolly, but when the solo voices enter, we realize that ìthe festive instrumental theme represents not the disciplesí joy at Christís resurrection but the skepticsí riotous laughter at their discomfortî (Gardiner). Then an alto recitative begins to turn things around, trusting ìthat my sadness shall be turned into joyî; a rapturous tenor aria declares that Jesus will reappear; and the happy and uplifting chorale at the end of the work is a verse from Was mein Gott will, das gíschehí allzeit (What my God wants, that will always happen), stating that brief pain shall turn to joy.
Finally, in the third cantata for Jubilate, BWV 146, we hear an opening sinfonia that sounds suspiciously like the first movement of the D minor Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1052a) with an organ playing the solo part. Well, that is exactly what it is, and the opening chorus that follows, Weinen, Klagen, equals the second movement of the concerto with added choral parts. The now-familiar turn to happier matters occurs more gradually through the middle movements, and the cantata ends with a verse from the chorale Werde munter, mein Gem¸te (Become enlivened, my spirit).
Disc 2 of this set includes three works composed for Cantate Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Easter, including Wo gehest du hin? (Whither goest thou), BWV 166; Es ist euch gut, dafl ich hingehe (It is expedient[!] for you that I go away), BWV 108; and Sei Lob und Ehr dem hˆchsten Gut (Give laud and praise to the highest good), BWV 117. I will let the listener enjoy the disc without comment, except to point out a single cut: the dramatic and sensitive performance of the closing chorale of BWV 166, Wer weifl, wie nahe mir mein Ende (Who knows how near my end is). It is Gardiner and his group at their very best.
Michael Ochs

image_description=J. S. Bach: Cantatas for the Third and Fourth Sundays after Easter
product_title=J. S. Bach: Cantatas for the Third and Fourth Sundays after Easter
product_by=Brigitte Geller, William Towers, Mark Padmore, Julian Clarkson, Robin Tyson, James Gilchrist, Stephen Varcoe, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (cond.)
product_id=Soli Deo Gloria SDG 107 [2CDs]