BACH Cantatas 205 & 214. Various/OAE/Leonhardt (Philips) – INKPOT

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
SECULAR CANTATAS

BWV 205 – Zerreiet, zersprenget, zertrmmert die Gruf
(“Destroy, break asunder, shatter the tomb”)
“Aeolus Pacified”

BWV 214 – Tnet, Ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!
(“Sound, ye drums! Ring out, trumpets!”)

Mieke van der Sluis soprano · Rene Jacobs countertenor
Christoph Pregardien tenor · David Thomas bass

Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
directed by Gustav Leonhardt
performing on period instruments
Includes full libretto in German, English, Italian and French.

PHILIPS Classics 432 161-2
[66:28] full-price

by Chia Han-Leon
The opening track – the gigantic chorus of Cantata BWV 205, Zerreiet, zersprenget, zertrmmert die Gruf – is staggering. Its propulsive momentum blows Koopman’s version away. The beauty of the OAE’s tone is also equiped with the fury of Jacob’s Akademie fr Alte Musik (but the latter has the most unappealing tone). In other words, Leonhardt’s group has the best of both worlds!

J.S. Bach - 1746 portrait by E.G.Haussmann Listen to the heady turbulence and cannon-shots from the trumpets, the blustering blare of horns, the tornadoes driven up by the strings – in the midst of all these, even the woodwind rush above the orchestra clearly and excitedly. The choir positively sings for their life! Philips’ recording – often very inconsistent – captures every performer to perfection. You can feel Gustav Leonhardt’s conducting – listen to the dynamic shifts, or the drops of volume with the sudden feeling of anticipation. Throughout, not a single ounce of energy lost or wasted. If you thought Bach was capable of wondrous music of whirlwind energy – well, here it is!

The soloists all prove themselves fine performers, starting with the bass David Thomas as Aeolus. In a voice full of arrogance he portrays the God of the Winds with stately drama. He laughs heartily in “Wie will ich lustig lachen”, practically salivates at the approach of the goddesses Pomona and Pallas, irritated at being asked to yield to a “woman’s whim” and seems truly awed by the name of August. In the orchestral aria “Zurcke, zurcke”, Koopman has the wilder and more exciting version, but the Philips account shares Erato’s wider body of sound.

What a delight it is to hear Rene Jacobs singing the role he will conduct later (on Harmonia Mundi – click here for review). Indeed, as a countertenor he is also one of Andreas Scholl’s teachers – a student who eventually surpassed him. Jacobs voice is brighter, of the eerier “Oberon” variety. Scholl’s is darker and much more beautiful to my ears. Jacobs is himself a fine and secure countertenor soloist, and compliments the soprano colourfully.

In the soprano role of Pallas, Goddess of Flowers, van der Sluis for Leonhardt has the most attractive and youthful voice of the three versions. Kammerloher on Harmonia Mundi is heavier and operatic, while Grimm on the Erato is relatively dull.

Tenor Christoph Pregardien gets to play games with all three conductors. In his Zephyr aria, it’s just a little nervous and hasty with Jacobs (3’47”), quite lilting and impassioned with Leonhardt (4’03”) and langourous – plus a little dramatic – with Koopman (4’52”). Think I’ll go with Leonhardt for this one.

Gustav Leonhardt The disc continues with another festive Cantata BWV 214 Tnet, Ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!, later used in the first of the cantatas forming the Christmas Oratorio. The cantata was written in honour of the birthday of the Queen of Poland Maria Josepha.

The massive opening choral movement nearly stops the choir from breathing for eight minutes. Also available on Volume 4 of Koopman’s cantata cycle, Leonhardt (left) provides another full-blooded account here. However, Koopman’s reading, though it is more relaxed, comes across as more musical and may I add, “queenly”. The Amsterdam choir is tonally superior to the OAE choir, but both conductors are served by expert orchestras. Anyway, I think some readers may still prefer the more forceful Leonhardt account.

One of the most gorgeous gems in the Philips disc is on track 18: van der Sluis’ very appealing account of the aria “Blast die wohlgegriffnen Flten”. As the words suggest, “Blow the well played flutes”, her girlishly pretty voice is accompanied to aural delight by the OAE flutists and cello (pizzicato) continuo. Koopman takes the aria quicker, and his soprano Els Bongers sings in a more commanding tone. It isn’t as attractive, though it does fit the libretto better (“Ring out with your clash of weapons!” goes one line).

Jacobs takes the alto role for Leonhardt, while von Magnus serves Koopman. Both have their merits, though von Magnus is sometimes wobbly. Thomas (and Mertens for Koopman) gives a noble account of “Kron und Preis” (“Crown and Prize”) accompanied by a great trumpeteer. (I beg your pardon – it is likely to be the same trumpeteer – Stephen Keavy. Period instrument players are famous for simultaneously playing for half a dozen period orchestras at any time.)

The OAE employs the traditional continuo, and so sadly lacks the added colour of the lute available in the other two versions. Not a big matter though. A set of good notes is provided in this Philips production (one of an irregular series featuring these musicians). This CD makes a good companion to the performances by Jacobs and Koopman. If you don’t intend to invest in the multi-CD sets, try this one for a one-disc appetizer!

CHIA HAN-LEON takes immense pride in having once peeled an orange, by hand, in one single 4-foot-long strip.

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316: 13.10.1998 Chia Han-Leon

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