Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Entirely Successful, 25 Oct. 2007
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This review is from: Bach: Cantatas, BWV140 & 147 (Audio CD)
Of the two cantatas on offer on this disc the first, "Wachet Auf", has become hugely well known through innumerable alternative versions of its central movement, in which the choral melody is accompanied by an utterly charming string obbligato. As a whole work, however, it is not well represented in recordings, and does not often receive live performances. A brief survey of other discs currently available returned only the old Helmut Rilling recording from the 1960s, a more recent version by Harnoncourt, and some other sessions by ensembles I had never heard of. It has not yet appeared on Gardiner's beautifully packaged new versions, and Suzuki's Bach Collegium Japan have also neglected it thus far.

In all honesty, I must admit that their decisions seem justified when one engages with the music itself, as this is not Bach's finest hour. True, there are some moments of sublime inspiration, but much of "Wachet Auf" seems distinctly workmanlike: the opening chorus, for example, wears very thin very quickly, and the two duets between soprano and bass (representing the soul and Christ) seem fidgety and almost slightly rushed. The second cantata ("Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben") is a more ambitious and overall much more successful affair, with much more variety in its writing for chorus, and the solo arias offer the sort of quality one expects of Bach.

Given the lack of other options (at least ones recorded within the last decade), this disc would seem to be the best possible choice. However, there are some caveats. The performance overall is very polished and professional, and the chorus singing is excellent (if a little monochromatic), but it feels a little like a rushed job. The acoustic of St Andrew's Church in Fontmell Magna is dry (it is not a large building) and while this makes for a very "present" sound, in which every detail comes through, at times any unevenness is very difficult to disguise (such as the oboe obbligato in "Wachet Auf"). Moreover, there are points when the echo is nothing if not a little "bathroomy": one need only listen to the soprano aria "Bereite dir, Jesu" to hear a reverberation that would not be out of place in a railway waiting room. The soloists are a good team, but Ruth Holton is too straight for my taste, sounding too much like a treble and not really colouring the music in a way that conveys the text. Similarly, Stephen Varcoe (whom normally I rate very highly indeed) comes across as strangely underpowered and lacking in warmth.

Can I recommend this recording? I would say at the time of writing (October 2007), yes, as it is the best of a pretty average bunch, but I would suggest waiting until Suzuki and Gardiner have released newer versions before going for this one.
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