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Justly famous,and for the most part just fabulous !
on 15 January 2002
This is a most generous collection of two well-filled (each disc more than exceeds 70 minutes) CDs featuring six of Bach's most expressive cantatas.I have always been very fond of Karl Richter's marvellous and moving 1961 recording (simply the best of all,I feel)of BWV 147,and you will find it here in all it's glory.Anyone just starting out to explore Bach's superbly rewarding and enriching canon of sacred cantatas could not do better than start their voyage here.From the joyful opening chorus,"Herz und mund und tat und leben" to the justly famous "Jesu,joy of man's desiring" chorale that concludes it;you have a musical experience that will undoubtedly leave you ravenous for more of the same.Luckily,you can then immediately tuck into the sublime BWV 140.Everyone surely knows it as the "Sleepers awake" cantata,but it also features a couple of really attractive duets for soprano (as the soul) and bass (as Jesus).Edith Mathis and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau are excellent here,and in the second of these duets,"Mein freund ist mein !" (My beloved is mine !) the obbligato oboe (Manfred Clement) is just heavenly.
BWV 51,"Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen" (Rejoice in the Lord in all lands !) is a cantata that could not be more exuberant if it tried,with that astonishingly virtuosic interplay between soprano and trumpet.Maria Stader and Willi Bauer make a damn good pairing here,but when it comes to a first recommendation of this brilliant little cantata,I would always come down strongly in favour of the Emma Kirkby tour de force for Sir John Eliot Gardiner.Still,this is not too bad to be going on with.
In the remaining two sacred cantatas,
BWV 4,"Christ lag in todesbanden"(Christ lay in the clutches of death) and BWV 56,"Ich will den kreuzstab gerne tragen"(Gladly I bear the cross) Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau amply displays the vocal qualities and interpretative intelligence that leaves us,three decades later,in no doubt as to why he is considered such a legend.
The final cantata BWV 202,"Weichet nur,betrubte schatten" (Hence dismal shadows) is a quite charming and disarming musical endorsement for wedded bliss,and despite it's recording vintage of 1959 comes up bright and breezy in this particular transfer.It's a nicely varied piece,and the highlight for me is that jewel of a soprano (Maria Stader once more,and a dozen years earlier !) aria,"Sich uben in lieben" (To be loving to one another).
To conclude then:this is a very generous package of cantatas that richly deserve the epithet "famous".Perhaps in one or two instances the period performance movement of recent times is able to shine a brighter spotlight upon Bach's genius,but overall Karl Richter and his luminescent lie-up of vocal and instrumental stars deliver performances that have more than stood the test of time,and as a result make this two disc set a compulsory purchase.