Living today, particularly in zones vulnerable to extreme weather disasters,
and the feverish pace of living which oppresses large cities, forces millions of
individuals to a stark existence deprived of the qualities capable of
transforming lives through beauty created by artists of whatever discipline.
Two CDs of Bach cantatas dropped into my life recently, which in itself is
not a reason for my opening paragraph. I focus on the qualities revealed in both
music and performance. This dimension of beauty needs our constant
replenishment, especially when it is under threat from Man's intolerance and
violence, not to mention Nature's growing unpredictability.
In music we have such a wealth of qualities capable of drawing
out our most treasured feelings. Bach's illustration of grief, for instance,
touches a nerve in listeners capable of a deep sympathetic reaction. Only can
this come about through performances recreating music as though new, without
shadow of staleness.
A new release of four cantatas for their ongoing Bach series by Bach
Collegium Japan and a CD of four cantatas from Cantus Cölln
induce our undivided attention as we succumb to Bach performed by a
medium-sized group (with soloists) and five singers respectively. Nothing is
perfect, yet this is music treated with absolute dedication and care for
authenticity, therefore silencing minor quibbles.
With four cantatas apiece, the two records embrace Cantatas 4, 12,
46, 95, 106, 136, 138, and 196. The earliest - Christ lag in Todes Banden
- is one of Bach's most adventurous sets of chorale variations, and the
smaller group perform it to a comparable standard of virtuosity. This
glorious cantata has always had a secure place in my musical
treasure chest. The other seven cantatas could easily become 'also rans' -
excepting the fact that Bach's gems are liberally strewn and glitter in
I easily give way to the temptation of highlighting some of the best
movements, for what better inducement than Bach's sudden surges of
inspiration? Cantata 4 (which is a long 'surge'), and the Actus tragicus
cantata apart, the passacaglia chorus from Cantata 12,
the chorus Schauet doch und schet from Cantata 46, the soprano chorale
Valet will ich dir geben from Cantata 95, the
alto aria Es kommt ein Tag, and the bass aria
Auf Gott steht meine Zuversicht from Cantata 138, all stand out an inch
or so taller.
The circumstances under which Bach toiled with composition and
copying parts, often weekly for the following Sunday, almost defies belief,
except on the premise that utter dedication can shatter any
Both these records contain performances of which Bach would probably have
listened entranced. Maybe some of the tempi would have raised his eyebrows,
but who can tell?
Copyright © 5 April 2000 Basil Ramsey, Eastwood,
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