BACH: Cantatas = Herz und Mund und Tat un Leben, BVW 147; Ich habe genug, BWV 82; Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern – Monika Mauch, sop./ Matthew White, countertenor/ Charles Daniels, tenor/ Stephan Macleod, bass/ Montreal Baroque/ Eric Milne – Atma

by | Aug 6, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: “Cantatas for Mary” = Herz und Mund und Tat un Leben, BVW 147; Ich habe genug, BWV 82; Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV BWV 1 – Monika Mauch, soprano/ Matthew White, countertenor/ Charles Daniels, tenor/ Stephan Macleod, bass/ Montreal Baroque/ Eric Milnes – Atma multichannel SACD 2 2402, 71:34 ****(*) [Distr. by Naxos]:

I always look forward to any new ATMA recording, because their sound qualities are invariably topnotch, and these Canadian folks seem to always have something new to say. In this case, the third of their Bach cantata series (how far will they go with this thing?), the sound is up to the usual standards, and it is probably only the interpretative properties that might give some people pause.

I am of course referring to the one-singer-per-part philosophy that was first introduced exactly 20 years ago with Joshua Rifkin’s ground-breaking theories regarding Bach performance, set down on vinyl and then CD in five albums of some truly wonderful music making, philosophical asides not considered. If you disagree with this premise, or just plain can’t stand quartet-choruses, then stop reading and go on to something else, for you will not like this. Here is a little secret: I think Rifkin is about as wrong as one can be on this whole idea, for nowhere in the history of music anywhere have I found the idea that any composer was satisfied with the number of their performing forces. Bach was no different, and while it may be true that he wrote his music knowing that he had only a miniscule number of musicians to help him, and perhaps tailored his music to those forces, I cannot but believe that had 30 chorus members been available to him on any given Sunday in Weimar or Leipzig, he would have been thrilled. On top of this, the music itself seems to me to demand a fuller choral sound.

So I do not agree with Josh, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate his scholarship or, especially, take a liking to performances that are as fine as the ones he produced for L’Oiseau-Lyre, or the recording at hand. It just seems a shame to me that such fine SACD recording is being given to s series using these small forces. Orchestrawise, Eric Milnes is opting for s slightly larger band than Rifkin used, and I am grateful for that at least. But these caveats aside, there is much to enjoy here.

A head to head comparison with Rifkin’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring reveals remarkably similar timings and the Rifkin also sports slightly better ensemble in the singing and a little more direct sound. This ATMA release is still excellent, and the Rifkin cannot compete with the surround properties here of course, but the older record can still hold its own. What I really like about this recording is the lyrical properties of the singers and players—these performances are smooth as silk, an aural cushion offering great support, and they have definitely mastered the intricacies of modern novus-Baroque style. This current way of “doing” Bach is becoming second nature to most period ensembles, and long gone are the days of Harnoncourt-like screeching and out of tune instruments.

This album, like the previous two in the series that were dedicated to cantatas of St. John the Baptist and St. Michael, is likewise thematic, revolving around three feasts of the Virgin Mary: the Visitation (BWV 147), Purification (BWV 82), and Annunciation (BWV 1).  Bass Stephan Macleod does a wonderful job in the Ich habe genug, considered by many to be Bach’s finest cantata (but not by me, wonderful though it is), and Macleod misses no chance to articulate the genuine sadness and contentment in the voice of the unnamed Symeon when he held the baby Christ in his arms. The last listed work here, Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern (“How beautifully shines the morning star”), is also the first listed among Bach’s works. This middle work is a very fine one, being composed for Leipzig by the 40-year-old composer in 1725 for the Feast of the Annunciation. It’s tone is upbeat and declamatory, and while not possessing any “greatest hits” of the composer, is certainly a dark horse among his cantatas. Each of these pieces is performed with a palpable commitment to the text and the sound-world, and you can feel the spirit and love that the performers have for the music.

So, if you are on board with the concept, or really want some fine Bach on SACD, don’t hesitate. And others might want to give this a chance too.

— Steven Ritter


Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01