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VINE VOICEon 14 January 2008
Cantata 82 is one of Bach's best-loved and a multitude of recordings are available for this superlative example of the genre (48 since 1970 at the time of writing). But even those who have numerous versions of 82 will find something of interest here. Originally written for bass in 1727, this version is the 1731 rewrite for soprano (BWV82a, in e). Essentially, the music is the same and the emotional intensity as great. The first two arias evoke a mood of peaceful resignation as, at the end of a laborious life, death is seen as a welcome release and a cause for celebration - conveyed by the jubilation of the final movement. Jonathan Miller once said that he couldn't listen to the Aria 'Erbarme dich, mein Gott' from Bach's St Matthew's Passion without a tear in the eye. This cantata will have a similar effect upon those of a lachrymose disposition.

To quote Joshua Rifkin from the notes of another recording: 'Nothing [Bach] wrote opens more arrestingly than the first Aria, with its murmuring strings and plaintive oboe'. True enough, but one of the most attractive features of this version is the flute substituting for oboe. The current recording's resonant bass provides a striking contrast to the higher registers of the flute and soprano.

But despite the fact that the Ensemble Sonnerie is directed by Monica Hugget, and despite knowing that this same Nancy Argenta has recorded cantatas in both (full-price) Suzuki and Gardiner series, I must admit to having reservations about her voice. (In truth, I have reservations about nearly all vocalists, whose style seems so at odds with that of the early music instrumentalists developed over the last half-century or so.) Anyway, Argenta can sound too brash and operatic for me. Peter Kooy is, therefore, still ahead on points for his 1992 recording of the original bass version with Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi).

Whatever its shortcomings might be, this is a budget recording which offers exceptional value. Not least because 82a isn't the only beautiful work on the double CD - there are other inspired and inspiring cantatas, like the invigorating 'Italian Cantata' (BWV209) and 'Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen' (BWV51). The 'Wedding Cantata' has some astonishingly avant-garde harmonies for the early eighteenth-century (more suggestive of marital discord than harmony I'd have thought). The only really lack-lustre piece is BWV199, despite its captivating viola da gamba solo in the sixth movement.
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