My appreciation of the infinite musical genius of Bach only gains from hearing him interpreted by different artists. I already owned two formidable accounts of cantata 82, one from the great tenor Ian Bostridge in his debut disc, the other from a great bass (the work was originally written for a bass soloist) John Shirley-Quirk. Shirley-Quirk's performance dates from 1965, but he performs with the Academy of St Martin's under Marriner, and they were already committed to an `authentic' style in Bach and Handel. The authentic movement rapidly became `still more authentic' in the hands of, say, McCreesh, but Bostridge and Europa Galante in 2000, and now Hunt Lieberson with her Boston associates two years later, have settled for much the same style as Marriner's. She thus faces formidable competition (if that is any way to look at the matter), but the comparisons only invite gratitude and applause for the special excellence that each exhibits.
One thing that gives this disc a special appeal for me is that the instrumentalists are apparently freelancers. They are totally professional, but the professionalism manages to be combined with the special sense of enthusiasm that I associate more with good amateur music-making, a feeling of individuals coming together to make music together rather than the atmosphere of a band with contracts of tenure. The lengthy and garrulous liner-note tells us all about it, as well as much else. Lieberson's tempi are rather faster than those in the other sets, and the engineers have given her a more forward balance. No complaints from me, not when it is a voice like this. For exquisite vocal sound may I recommend in particular her low notes on `Schlummert ein' and the heavenly treatment of the imperfect cadence (a technical term of course) at `selig zu'.
I have no other account of cantata 199, an earlier work and not quite the equal of its great companion here. That makes this one all the more welcome, and the performance is fully on a par with other. One interesting point is that the chorale is sung by Lieberson on her own, but as you might expect that gives me no kind of problem. This music is all radiant with Bach's perception of death as a gateway to final fulfilment, and it would be a very dull sort of atheist who can't sense and share the sheer transcendental greatness of the inspiration.
The recorded sound is just fine by me, provided there is no objection to the forward recording of the soloist, which is not overdone in the old manner by any means. The liner note is nothing if not informative, and I urge you to get through it to the end, with the help of a drink if necessary. Bach would not mind that in the least, if certain anecdotes about him are to be believed. Above all, this disc has brought the voice and musicianship of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson into my collection and into my home for the first time, and for that Wie freudig ist mein Herz.