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CLASSICAL  April 2006

CLASSICAL April 2006

Subject:

An Exceptional New Disc of Bach Cantatas

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 26 Apr 2006 00:09:07 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (124 lines)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
"Sacred Cantatas for Alto"
"Vergnugte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust", BWV 170 [20:22]
"Widerstehe doch der Sunde", BWV 54 [11:23]
"Gott soll allein mein Herze haben", BWV 169 [22:23] *
"Bekennen will ich seinen Namen", BWV 200 [2:33]
"Schlage doch gewunschte Stunde", BWV 53 [5:49]

Marianne Beate Kielland, alto
Cologne Bach Choir *
Cologne Chamber Orchestra
Helmut Muller-Bruhl, conductor
Recorded by Deutschland Radio, Sendesaal des Funkhauses Koln,
Germany, October/November 2004
Naxos 8.557621 [62:40]

A wonderful recording in all respects!  Although a modern instrument
band, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra with Helmut Muller-Bruhl at the helm
performs expertly in an historically informed manner.  Actually, the
only feature missing from what we would expect from a period instrument
band is the pungency of baroque stringed instruments.  Crisp attacks,
minimal vibrato, buoyant rhythms, glowing warmth and beauty of form and
tone inform these performances at every turn and very much remind me of
the interpretations of Masaaki Suzuki in his exceptional on-going cycle
of the Bach Cantatas.

Of course, the quality of the solo alto is crucial in these Bach sacred
works, and I am happy to report that Marianne Beate Kielland passes
the test with flying colors.  She has a dark-hued, husky, and tonally
attractive voice that is highly expressive, determined, and decorated
in sensuality.  Best of all, Kielland excels in conveying the rhetorical
nature of the recitatives.  Her voice does not have the tonal purity of
alto Yoshikazu Mera for the Suzuki cycle, but her range and depth of
expression are much greater than Mera's.  Kielland is a young Norwegian
vocalist who has risen quickly in reputation since graduating in the
spring of 2000 from the Norwegian State Academy of Music.  She now tours
Europe regularly with leading orchestras and chamber groups, while her
recorded discography includes Bach's St. Matthew Passion and his Mass
in B minor in addition to this disc of Cantatas for solo alto.  Kielland
should have a fantastic career ahead, and I am eager to hear more from
her.

Here are further comments about the program and performances:

BWV 170 - Bach composed this cantata for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity,
1726.  The text, written by Georg Christian Lehms, contrasts the contentment
of Heaven with the miserable nature of life on Earth.  Although a mature
work, this was the first cantata where Bach used the organ as an obliggato
instrument having an independent role.

The opening aria is a spiritually uplifting piece in D major replete
with gentle rocking from the lower voices that gracefully supports the
beautiful legato melody from the first violins and oboe d'amore.  The
Cologne performance conveys a fine comfort/security and complete emotional
satisfaction that are enhanced by Kielland's confident singing.  The
mood then becomes nasty in the recitative where Kielland gives us a
laundry list of the vile aspects of the human condition.  I love her
lecturing tone; Kielland's voice has a personality that knows what it
wants, works hard to achieve goals, and expects others to do the same.

The middle aria is in F sharp minor, considered the Baroque key of
distress.  Here, the 2-manual organ takes two primary melodic lines,
greatly enhancing the haunting and disorienting nature of the music.
Organist Wiebke Weidanz performs splendidly, and Kielland makes me shiver
when she sings "I tremble, yea, and feel a thousand torments".  The
following recitative accompagnato restores an environment of optimism,
introducing the final aria in D major that affirms the victorious journey
to heaven.

 From this first work on the disc, it is clear that Muller-Bruhl and
company have the measure of Bach's sound world and emotional content.
Also clear is that Marianne Beate Kielland is among the best of the
current crop of altos in portraying the range and depth of emotion found
in Bach's Cantatas.  That she does so with delectable tonal properties
is a lovely bonus.

BWV 54 - Whereas BWV 170 contrasts heaven and life on earth, BWV 54
pits steadfast faith against the Devil.  Having only two arias framing
a recitative, it is one of the shortest cantatas Bach composed.  However,
it is also one of his richest and most compelling works, the great warmth
of the first aria complemented by the severity and thrust of the 4-part
fugue of the second aria.  Kielland continues to impress as she switches
with complete conviction from comforting refrains to austere declarations.
Also, Muller-Bruhl is an excellent director, imparting a spiritual glow
to the first aria and a rock-steady determination to the second.

BWV 169 - Generously scored for three oboes, strings, obliggato organ
and bass continuo, this extended cantata has two arias, two recitatives,
an arioso, opening sinfonia and concluding chorale.  Unlike the previous
two cantatas, BWV 169 does not thrive on contrasting themes.  Instead,
Bach offers us joyous music-making where security and love are the
dominant themes.  The opening sinfonia, also used in Bach's Harpsichord
Concerto in E major, is an excellent example of Bach's portrayal of the
exhilaration of life and faith, and Muller-Bruhl's buoyant interpretation
leaps out of the speakers.  In the chorale, the only one on the disc,
Bach's arms are stretched outward to envelop, protect, and enlighten all
who enter his sound world.

BWV 200 - This Aria is all that remains of a lost Bach Cantata that
was composed about 1740 for the Feast of the Purification.  The text is
a tribute to the Lord and ends with "the Lord is the light of my life".
For comparison, I listened to the Gardiner version on Archiv Produktion,
and Muller-Bruhl easily takes top honors.  Although the text well
accommodates an exuberant musical approach, Gardiner's four-minute reading
sounds drab and lifeless compared to Muller-Bruhl's vibrant account where
the conversation of the two violins is captivating.

BWV 53 - This programmed aria is just one movement of a larger mourning
cantata.  The music is gorgeous and quite elegant, and Muller-Bruhl
invests it with a comfortable pacing that "fits like a glove".  Those
not familiar with this aria will likely be surprised at Bach's use of
bells, a device he rarely employed in his compositions.

Don's Conclusions: This excellent Bach Cantatas disc for solo alto is
fully the equal of my favorite period instrument recordings by Suzuki,
Gardiner, Herreweghe, Koopman, Leonhardt and Rifkin.  With sonics that
are crisp and appropriately rich, I strongly recommend acquisition to
both period instrument and modern orchestra enthusiasts.  The sole
drawback is the lack of texts, but these can be downloaded from the
internet and should not factor strongly in one's decision to purchase
such a splendid set of performances at super-budget price.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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