BACH, J.S.: Christmas Cantatas (Aradia Ensemble/ Christopher Dawes/ Kevin Mallon) (Naxos: 8.554825)
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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)
Cantatas Nos. 36, 132and 61
Born in Eisenach in 1685 into a continuing dynasty of musicians, JohannSebastian Bach was orphaned in 1695 and went, with his older brother Jacob, tolive with their elder brother Johann Christoph Bach, organist at Ohrdruf. Hecontinued his schooling there until 1700, acquiring his early skill as anorganist and, it may be presumed, as an expert on the construction of theinstrument. From Ohrdruf he moved to Luneburg as a chorister, employment thatallowed his continuing education. After employment as a musician at the courtin Weimar in 1703, he next held positions as an organist at Arnstadt, then atMuhlhausen and then again at Weimar, now as court organist. He remained inWeimar until 1717, holding the position of Konzertmeister
from 1714 andmoving in 1717 to Cothen as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold ofAnhalt-Cothen. He only left after the Prince's marriage to a woman withoutmusical interests made a position that had been very congenial to him now verymuch less so. In 1723 he took what seemed to him socially inferior employmentas Cantor at the Choir School of St Thomas in Leipzig, with responsibility forthe training of choristers and the provision of music for the principal citychurches. He remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life, but was able tobroaden his musical activities when, in 1729, he also took over the directionof the University collegium musicum, founded earlier in the century byTelemann. Whereas in his earlier years there had been need for organ music,Cothen, with its Pietist court, called principally for secular music. Leipzigdemanded a quantity of church music, largely satisfied in the first years thatBach was there, but the collegium musicum itself allowed a return to thesecular instrumental music that had been a principal preoccupation of theCothen years.
In Leipzig there was a requirement for sixty cantatas in the churchyear, covering Sundays, except in Lent and part of Advent, and major feastdays. For his first cycle, for 1723-4, Bach had recourse on occasions toearlier work. The second cycle, for 1724-5, brought the development of theunified chorale cantata, while the third cycle, written between 1725 and 1727,uses a variety of forms. In these first years in Leipzig he is said to havecompleted five cycles of cantatas, but of these a number is now lost. Latercantatas were presumably written to fill gaps in the complete annual cycles andthere were, of course, occasions when Bach used the work of other composers inthe course of his duties. In the Lutheran Hauptgottesdienst
(principalservice) in Leipzig, which started at seven in the morning and would finish ateleven, the cantata was the main musical item, generally following the Credo
and preceding the hour-long sermon. The text would be related to the gospelreading of the day.
The cantata Schwingt freudig euch empor,
BWV 36, was written forthe first Sunday of Advent 1731 and is an arrangement of a secular birthdaycantata of 1725, with an original text by Christian Friedrich Henrici, known asPicander, adapted by him or by Bach. The extant sources offer two versions, theearlier copied by Bach's pupil Johann Philipp Kirnberger and here recorded. Thecantata is scored for oboe d'amore, strings and continuo, with four voices, allused in the opening movement. Here the voices often enter in imitation one ofthe other, while the instruments provide an introduction and a series of ritornello
passages in which the oboe and violin are prominent. The second movement, DieLiebe zieht,
is set for tenor with oboe d'amore obbligato and continuo inthe form of a B minor da capo
aria, the first of the three sectionsrepeated to frame a central section in a contrasted key. The D major bass aria,Sei mir willkommen,
is set with strings and continuo and the fo1lowing Amajor da capo soprano aria, Auch mit gedampften, schwachen Stimmen,
hasa solo violin obbligato in 12/8 metre. The cantata ends with the chorale verse Wiebin ich doch so herzlich froh.Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn,
BWV 132, is an earlier work, writtenduring Bach's period of service in Weimar for the fourth Sunday in Advent in1715. It is scored for oboe, strings and continuo, with four voices andconsists of three arias, separated by two recitatives. The text is by SalomoFranck, employed at the Weimar court as a librarian and secretary. The livelyopening A major da capo aria, Bereitet die Wege,
is for soprano and inItalian style. A tenor recitative leads to the E major bass aria Wer bistdu,
with obbligato solo ce1lo. There is a change of mood in the followingalto recitative, which leads to a B minor alto aria, Christi Glieder, achbedenket,
with an elaborate solo violin obbligato. The final chorale,missing in the earliest source but included in the published text, is from asixteenth-century hymn by Elisabeth Creutziger.
The chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
is by Martin Luther,based on the fourth-century Advent hymn, Veni Redemptor gentium.
Thechorale itself is followed by a three-voice fugue, BWV 699, for organ, based onit and a more elaborate and extended derivative, BWV 659. The second, for organmanuals and pedals, forms part of the third part of the Clavier-Ubung,
publishedin Leipzig in 1739.
The cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,
BWV 61, written atWeimar in 1714 for the first Sunday of Advent, takes a text by ErdmannNeumeister, soon to move from Leipzig to the Jacobikirche in Hamburg as pastor.
Neumeister wrote nine cycles of cantata texts and introduced into the form theoperatic devices of recitative and da capo aria. The presence in the survivingautograph of notes by Bach on the order of service in Leipzig has led to thesupposition that the cantata was first performed in Leipzig in 1714, or, asothers maintain, at some later date, perhaps 1722. Scored for a string sectionwith two violas and continuo, with four voices, the work opens with an A minorFrench overture, the chorale heard from voice after voice over thecharacteristic dotted rhythms of the form, followed by a fugal setting of dessich wundert alle Welt.
The overture ends with a brief return to the dottedrhythms of the opening. A tenor recitative leads to the C major da capo
tenoraria Komm, Jesu, komm,
in 9/8 metre with violins and violas in unison ina two-part accompanying texture. The following bass recitative, setting wordsfrom the Book of Revelations, has a dramatic pizzicato accompaniment,reflecting the text. It is succeeded by a G major soprano aria accompanied bythe cello and organ. The final Amen,
from the chorale Wie schonleuchtet der Morgenstem,
allots the chorale melody to the soprano, with thethree lower voices doubled by the violas and cello, while the violins add theirown element of contrapuntal imitation.
The artistic choices on this recording are a reflection of the currentdebate on the performance style of the choral works of J. S. Bach. Perhaps oneof the most interesting (and informed) discussions on the subject took place onthe pages of the British magazine Early Music
The argument was not a new one - some sixteen years had elapsed sincethe American musicologist Joshua Rifkin had revolutionized attitudes byrecording Bach's B minor Mass
with single instrumentalists and a smallconsort of eight singers. However the debate became intense as the Englishconductor Andrew Parrot sided with Rifkin. On the opposing camp stood the Dutchconductor Ton Koopman, whose new recording cycle of the cantatas prompted