John Eliot Gardiner’s latest volume of live recordings contains pieces which Bach performed at Leipzig on the Sixth and Seventh Sundays after Trinity. BWV 9 and BWV 170 were both recorded in the pleasing acoustic of St Gumbertus’s church in Ansbach while the remaining three were recorded much nearer home in St Mary’s church, Haddington, not far from Edinburgh.
What I have liked consistently about Gardiner’s cantata performances is his attention to matters of text. He insists that the vocal declamation illuminates the words: a good instance of this is the tenor aria in BWV 9 whose text is reflected in the anguished contours of the violin obbligato.
Moreover, James Gilchrist confidently sustains his vocal line here, notwithstanding Gardiner’s daringly slow tempo, completing an abysmal picture of the sinner’s plight. What a contrast between this aria and the soprano/alto duet with its playful flute and oboe d’amore accompaniment.
Best known among this clutch of cantatas is the solo alto ‘Vergnügte Ruh’. Michael Chance turns in a fervent performance, tonally pure and full of expressive nuance. Seldom have I heard him in better form than he is in the poignantly lyrical opening aria and subsequent recitative. Praise, too, to Susanne Regel for her sensitive oboe d’amore playing.
An affecting bonus in this concert, by the way, is a beautiful funeral motet, originally the work of Bach’s Leipzig predecessor, Kuhnau but arranged, perhaps by Bach. The other cantatas on this recording come off comparably well with notably fine singing by Katharine Fuge in her chromatically inclined aria and infectious, gigue-like duet (BWV 186) and in BWV 187.
All in all, these are first-class renditions recorded in good sound.