BACH'S CHARISMATIC COUNTERPOINT
Soloists and chorus are one and the same which makes for vocal expertise throughout all four cantatas.
The 4 cantatas performed on this disc were all composed in 1707-08,when Bach was in the first flush of youth, in his early 20's. He was writing cantatas for every Sunday service and at the same time was organist and choirmaster at a church in Muhlhausen.
The cantata 'Christ lag in Todes Banden' (Christ lay in death's strong bonds) confronts death in youthful-eyed and -eared calm, although its basic key in E minor, for Bach,a penitential key and, indeed, his key of Crucifixion in the B minor mass.
The cantata 'Aus der Tiefen rufe ich Herr zu dir' (Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord) seems to have been commisioned to commemorate a savage municipal fire that had ravaged the town of Mihlhausen in the previous year. The words, mostly from Psalm 130, speak 'de profundis', inspiring Bach to an appropriate grandeur and monumentality, though the work is scored modestly for strings with solo oboe and bassoon and organ continuo.
The cantata 'Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit' (God's time is the very best time) was christened 'Actus tragicus' because, although Bach is said to have been scarcely more than 20 years old as the time of its writing, it embraces the essential tragic experience with the utmost profundity.
The cantata 'Der Herr denket an uns' (The Lord is mindful of us) is a longer and grander act of praise, not in tragic G minor but in 'white' C major, emblematic of light.
In Bach's day the 4 soloists would have been members of the small chorus; in this recorded performance the soloists serve, together, as the chorus. In the end, we have to say that Bach wrote his most sublime music for the church; but most important, his writings have a spiritual power, a solid strength and sincerity that cannot be traced to technique, but to the inspiration of pure genius. And the 4 soloists on this disc bring out very clearly his greatness! There are quartets, duets, trios and solos all accompanied expertly by the Purcell Quartet. In addition we have recorders, oboe and bassoon to add to the overall instrumental "color".
I must make a point in saying that this recording is performed by the early music A Team: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Michael Chance (counter-tenor), Charles Daniels (tenor) and Peter Harvey (bass). All are tried and true performers with outstanding individual voices and mega experience in the early music and Baroque genres. Moreover, the Purcell Quartet, outstanding in their own right, fit very well with the voices.
Two of the many high points for me: "In deine Hande.." Michael Chance (countertenor solo);"Den Tod neimand zwingen kunnt" Emma Kirkby & Chance duet. It's all great music and a must if you are an Early Music fan!