One can reasonably expect the modern-day successor of J. S. Bach’s choir at the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, to acquit itself well in a selection of Cantatas written originally for the singers’ musical forbears in the mid-1720s. Certainly they do so here in three generally joyful and upbeat works (composed for Ordinary Time in the Christian liturgical year – Trinitytide in this case) with a crisp and alert approach to the opening movements which are built freely upon a given chorale, with elaborate instrumental episodes. The boy trebles give an essentially ethereal quality, even if they are not always absolutely unanimous in intonation, and there is some wobble on the semiquaver melismas of Cantata 17’s ‘Herr, deine Güte reicht so weit der Himmel ist’, which is given to them, instead of the soprano.
But it is the adult vocal soloists and the rhythmically responsive Sächsisches Barockorchester which really elevate these performances as spiritual dramas – chips off the larger blocks of the Oratorios, Passions, and B-minor Mass, as it were – rather than routine accounts of standard Sunday morning Lutheran musical fare. Tobias Berndt holds the greater share of the recitatives, which he conveys with authority and conviction. Wolfram Lattke projects fervently, which carries over into his urgent account of BWV33’s duet with Berndt, and an aria of BWV99 which he sings with a certain reedy vigour. He would make an astute Evangelist in the two Passions.
Stefan Kahle is an idiosyncratic alto (as he is described here) with the intense, nasal timbre of his interpretations that bring theatre into these Cantatas’ devotional world. The slithery twists and turns of the melody of ‘Wie furchtsam wankten meine Schritte’ (BWV33) sound pungent and woozy, especially when allied with the disembodied tonal quality of the violin which resembles that of a viola, together creating a rather disorientating effect that may not be to all tastes. But Kahle remains impressively in tune and the aria is memorably vivid. Julia Sophie Wagner’s brief appearance for No.99’s duet is decorous.
The present Thomaskantor (since 2016) Gotthold Schwarz directs supple and lively accounts throughout, with conspicuous success. The Sächsisches Barockorchester brings out the bustle of BWV33’s first movement with chattering oboes and a rumbling bass line, whilst palpable bite on the choral phrases fills out Bach’s multi-layered soundscape attractively. The oboes are more mellow for BWV17, before yielding to a rippling flute and softer-toned oboe d’amore in BWV99, contrasting with the brighter sonority of the strings and the twinkling of the theorbo. Not the least pleasure is the triple-time lilt in the concluding chorale of BWV17.
Recorded in Leipzig’s late-nineteenth-century Lutherkirche rather than the choir’s home territory of St Thomas’s, the acoustic is ambient and generous, without blurring detail. Further releases are promised, and be awaited eagerly by devotees of this extraordinary corpus of music. German texts of the Cantatas are included in the booklet, alongside notes which are translated into English and French.