BACH Cantatas 211 & 213. Bonney/Various/OAE/Leonhardt (Philips) – INKPOT
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
|Barbara Bonney soprano · Ralf Popken countertenor
Christoph Pregardien tenor · David Wilson-Johnson bass
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
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PHILIPS Classics 442 779-2
|The crowning glory of this disc is the singing of the soprano Barbara Bonney, and not the collection as a whole. In fact I bought it for that reason, after listening to her deliciously sung Heute noch, the most famous aria of the “Coffee Cantata”. The OAE is in fine form under Leonhardt, and allow me to single out Lisa Beznosiuk for her contributions in the Baroque flute department.
But let’s begin with the “Hercules Cantata” (BWV 213). The Jacobs performance with Andreas Scholl in the role of Herc is better, unless you can ignore Ralf Popken’s singing on this disc. It’s really sad, because no one at this moment can seriously compare to Scholl – the countertenor market is still very small. My problem is that because I have heard Scholl on many records, almost all countertenors sound downright horrible compared to him. It really is that drastic. Two notable exceptions are Alfred Deller and James Bowman (getting old though). Anyway, if you ignore the Hercules role here (which is a little odd since it is the “title” role), the rest of the singers are very much worth hearing.
Again, Barbara Bonney proves the best reason to buy this CD. Her single 10-minute aria for her role (Pleasure) is enough reason for Herc to throw Mr. Virtue out the door. Just listen to Bonney’s opening on the word “Schla…fe” – this is easily the most beautiful rendition of the aria of all the versions I have reviewed at the Inkpot (OK, it’s just two others – the ones conducted by Jacobs and Koopman).
Bach’s music society, the Collegium Musicum of Leipzig (founded 1702, by none other than G.P.Telemann), often met for coffee at the coffee house of Gottfried Zimmermann, also frequently attended by professional musicians and university students. Ah, some things in this world don’t change at all. The drinking was naturally accompanied with music. These were divided between small-scale pieces such as harpsichord concertos and chamber pieces, and large-scale open-air festive cantatas held outside the house. Sounds kinda more engaging than piped radio music.
There is every reason to believe that the amusing “Coffee Cantata” (BWV 211), composed around 1734, was performed for one of these occasions. The story is simple: the young Lieschen is -severely- addicted to coffee. Her frustrated Dad, in a bid to get her to give up caffeine, promises her a husband if she abandons her three-cups-a-day. She agrees, and while Dad goes out to find a suitor, she slips a clause into her marriage contract that no one can marry her unless she is allowed to have her drink. So she wins, and so does coffee!
The libretto by Picander is a simple, informal and humourous affair. Herr Schlendrian (the father) “growling like a honey-bear”, storms into the fore launching into an irritated aria on her obstinate daughter. wilson-Johnson really sounds annoyed here, totally flabbergasted! In response, she threatens to “shrivel up in torment /like an over-roasted piece of goat meat” if she is not allowed her coffee!
An aria in praise of coffee follows, where Bonney sings with fragrant tenderness mixed with sugared passion. The frustrated Schlendrian returns, threatening her with no parties, no “hooped petticoats”, no jewellery, not even the permission to look out the window! Lieschen gives up all these for coffee, but changes her mind when her father offers a husband in exchange for her addiction. Overjoyed, she bursts into song, singing of married bliss in “Heute noch” .
Bonney is the type of singer who makes every word’s every syllable count. (My other favourite is Lynne Dawson). Ranging from sweet to impassioned, her manner is deliciously coy and often trembling with joy. But one is always aware that she is perfectly in control, unconsciously and with pleasing naturalness. As is the common practice for Early Music performance today, Bonney is not afraid to use vibrato (this is a 1994 recording) – and she gets it just right.
The way in which she moulds her words is very appealing – listen to the many ways she inflects the word “heute” (“today”). In fact, if you were to ask me, the word “heute” is the single sexiest sound on this CD…
Not surprisingly, CHIA HAN-LEON drinks more coffee than he really should. Glug glug glug glug glug… (22 Jan 2001 – I no longer drink coffee regularly).
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284: 14.9.1998 Chia Han-Leon
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