BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 19

As in other volumes, the forces of the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner offer renditions that are technically, stylistically, and interpretatively benchmark performances.
That said, there are issues here and there about which one might quibble. Chief among them is a tendency in highly energetic sections to allow zeal and fervor too free a hand. As a result, articulations can seem, on occasion, exaggeratedly aggressive, even pecky, as in the opening chorus to ìAch wie fl¸chtig,î BWV 26 or the penultimate verse of ìJesu meine Freude.î Rhythmic verve is a signature trait of Gardinerís interpretations and is often thrillingóthe extraordinary storm aria of ìJesus schl‰ft,î BWV 81 is a splendidly red-blooded exampleóbut the line separating thrilling and ìover-the-topî is not always easily judged.
Sometimes, too, the attempt to heighten the text with rhetorical delivery can seem exaggerated and mannered, especially in chorales. Satanís storming and the raging of the foe in ìJesus meine Freudeî (mvt. III) finds the choir arguably too dramatic for this straight-forward context. Sometimes it seems well to let a chorale be ìonly a chorale.î
However, how much remains that is superb! Soprano Joanne Lunnís singing in ìMein Gott, wie lang?î BWV 155 is exquisite, with wonderfully clear timbres in the high register. Bass Gerald Finley is outstanding in ìEmpfind ich Hˆllenangst und Peinî from ìAch Gott wie manches Herzeleid,î BWV 3. His sound is rich, though well focused, and its forward placement and leanness allows his voice to move with clarity and flexibility. The text of the aria contrasts fear and pain with heavenly joyóchallenging melodic contours for the former, decorative melisma for the latteróand Finley negotiates the whole affective range with ease.
In the liner notes to the recording Gardiner observes that in ìAch Gott, wie manches Herzeleidî ìBach reserves his most winning musicî for the duet, ìWenn Sorgen auf mich dringen.î We would have immediately reached this conclusion with or without the tip! The buoyant uplift of the rising intervals is memorable, especially when teamed with elegant articulation and expressive decay on long notes, a characteristic care in the details. This is particularly evident in the bass aria ìƒchzen und erb‰rmlich Weinenî from ìMeine Seufzer, meine Tr‰nen,î BWV 13. The aria is devoted to groaning and weeping, and Gardiner responds with a mannered degree of slowness in his tempo. The extreme slowness is something of an interpretative gamble, as it raises the risk of tedium, and challenges the performersí control. However, the degree of nuance by soloist, violin, and recorder keeps the ear closely attuned, and the result is an unusually textured essay on sorrow.
The attention to detail marks these performances as singular, and that attention to detail seems all the more impressive in the circumstances of the Cantata Pilgrimageóa year of new cantatas every week in different venues. This volume, like its companions, thus documents not only the wealth of Bachís output, but also the rich resources of seasoned historical performers and their inspired leader.
Steven Plank
Oberlin College

image_description=Bach: Cantatas, vol. 19
product_title=J. S. Bach: Cantatas, Volume 19 [BWV 15, 3, 13, 26, 81, 14, and 227]
product_by=The Monteverdi Choir; The English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner, Director
product_id=Soli Deo Gloria SDG 115 [2CDs]