BACH: Cantatas for Bass/ Concerto for Oboe d’amore = Ich hatte viel Bekuemmernis, BWV 21: Sinfonia; Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56; Concerto in A Major for Oboe d’amore, after BWV 1055; Ich habe genug, BWV 82 – Matthias Goerne, baritone/ Katharina Arfken, oboe and oboe d’amore/ Freiburger Barockorchester/ Gottfried von der Goltz, violin and conductor – Harmonia mundi HMM 902323, 56:41 (9/22/17) ****: 

A tasteful collection of Bach’s Leipzig cantatas for solo voice and oboe brings us devotional, ardent performances. 

Recorded in February 2017, these pious products of 1726 convey an austere sense of Bach’s evolving cantata style, which moved away from massive, intricate choruses to a more intimate ensemble involving solos and duets, and the large chorus appears only in closing moments in simple chorales. Bach’s text-painting, his sense of augenmusik, also assumes a new and vivid dimension, especially in the relatively dark Cantata No. 56, conceived for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, a positive, definitive testament of the shriven Christian. The text by Christoph Birkmann (1703-1771) refers to the Gospel, of a sick man with palsy who finds healing upon a ship that takes the former sufferer “into his own city.” The opening movement, which claims, “I would gladly bear the cross-staff,” mixes a cruel sense of dragging a heavy cross with an eerie longing for death. A double counterpoint includes a tritone that invokes the pains of the cross, even as the descending musical line succumbs to the weight of the punishment. The orchestral scoring – which invokes both a seascape and Jesus’ joyous arrival on dry land – includes strings supported by three oboes. As the movements progress, it is the “yoke” of mortality that one drags with him that falls away. All fleshly burdens are put away, “all grief in the tomb,” and the small skiff of this life sails into the Kingdom of Heaven, the port where abides “my most sweet Jesus.” The entire five-movement cantata proceeds with a nasal intensity that asks of baritone Goerne any number of sustained melismas, a test of faith and of musical stamina.

The tone for entire disc the oboe d’amore and string ensemble proclaim at the outset, with the Sinfonia from Cantata No. 21 (from 8 April 1725) for the first Sunday after Easter. The plodding weight of the musical line and the dire coloration in the scoring have much in common with the Erbarme dich of the St. Matthew Passion. Bach marks the middle section of the movement cantabile, a rarity in his scores.

The Cantata No. 82—Ich habe genug—dates for 2 February 1727, meant to celebrate the Feast of Purification of the Virgin Mary, the text taken from Luke. This impressive workamong Bach’s own favoritescontains three arias set in the operatic da capo (A-B-A) format, of which the second “Schlummert ein, ihr matten augen,” presents a blissful rondo-lullaby that bids farewell to this life of misery and embraces the bliss of “Sweet peace, quiet rest.” Gently rocking rhythmic motion finds dramatic expression in the use of fermatas and nuanced harmonic blends. Once more, the sec, nasal quality of Goerne’s powerful baritone impresses me, though it lacks the lulling resonance I had gleaned from Hotter, Fischer-Dieskau, and Mack Harrell. The opening movement provides a lovely siciliana for solo oboe and strings, utilizing a minor sixth to gain emotional urgency. The last aria bestows upon us a festive dance, a celebration of that soul promised to see the Lord Christ before his mortal death.

Matthias Goerne

To complement the aural mixture of strings, voice, and oboe, conductor von der Goltz has arranged the A Major Klavier Concerto, BWV 1055 into what he supposes is the work’s original texturethe urtext’s having been lost-  as a concerto for oboe d’amore. The melodic lines each convey a clear, flexible cantilena. The Larghetto presents a siciliana in the relative minor. The last movement gives us a series of four-bar periods that define a fast minuet that maintains a paradoxical calm. Solo Katharina Arfken securely intones her virtuoso part with flair and easy grace. The entire musical journey has enjoyed fine taste, grace, and eminently pious treatment.

Gary Lemco