The Ensemble Pygmalion directed by Raphaël Pichon commences its collaboration with Harmonia Mundi with this new recording of J.S. Bach’s lost music to the Köthener Trauermusik (Cöthen funeral music), BWV 244a. Founded in 2006 at the European Bach Festival, Ensemble Pygmalion is a combination of choir and orchestra - all young performers with experience of authentic instruments and period-informed performance. Its repertoire concentrates primarily on Johann Sebastian Bach and Jean-Philippe Rameau.
"It is…a fine pairing of two of Bach’s more extroverted works, in which Herreweghe delves beneath the masculine surface of the Magnificat to find its more tender interior and boldly explores Bach’s expansion of Luther’s great Reformation hymn, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. For whatever reason, Cantata 80 seems to have lost a degree of popularity lately, and it’s good to hear it again, complete with W. F. Bach’s interpolated trumpets."– George Chien
Although Bach's sacred cantatas span a huge expressive range and display a striking stylistic diversity, they were all composed for performance during a church service. In the case of the secular cantatas, on the other hand, their respective purpose is as varied as their subject matter and emotional content. They were usually commissions intended for occasions such as weddings, funerals and birthdays. As such they were sometimes performed in churches, and some of them have religious texts, but as the works gathered here exemplify, they were not related to the particular theme of the church service on a certain day.
Continuing their exploration of Bach’s vocal music, Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki have now reached the fifth volume of secular cantatas, with the previous instalment being ‘urgently recommended’ by the reviewer in Fanfare, and its contents described as ‘unusually colourful and vivid performances, even by the standards so far set by Suzuki’s Collegium Japan’ (International Record Review). Both cantatas on the present disc were first performed in 1733 by Bach and his Collegium Musicum at public concerts in Leipzig.
The two works on this disc perfectly illustrate a particular type of secular cantata, the so-called ‘dramma per musica’. In such works the libretto is constructed dramatically, and the singers embody various roles, such as gods and other characters from antiquity, and allegorical figures. The parallel with opera is apparent, although the ‘drammi per musica’ do without any scenic element. Bach primarily used the form in works intended for princely tributes or academic festivities: educated audiences could be expected to recognize the characters and literary traditions involved. Both cantatas recorded here are ‘academic’ cantatas, composed in honour of eminent members of the faculty at the University of Leipzig.
Just over twenty secular cantatas by JS Bach have survived, and we know of almost thirty other cantatas that are now lost. The secular cantatas were almost all composed for some important, festive event in a family or in public, academic or political life. The present disc includes one of the most regularly performed of these works, the Coffee Cantata. This was written around 1734, probably for a performance at the Zimmermann Coffee House in Leipzig.
The disc opens with O holder Tag, a wedding cantata for solo soprano dated, in the version here performed, to 1741. (The piece was actually used in more or less modified form by Bach on at least five different occasions, from as early on as 1729.) The solo soprano, in her first BIS recording, is Carolyn Sampson who is one of the most exciting performers in her field today. A stunning introduction to the world of Bach's cantatas and to the incomparable Bach Collegium Japan directed by Masaaki Suzuki.
Blandine Verlet, the noted French harpsichordist, studied with Ruggiero Gerlin and Ralph Kirkpatrick. She began recording in the late 1970s for Philips, switching to the Astree label in the 1990s. Her recordings range from J.S. Bach's keyboard works to Froberger to lesser known composers such as Louis Couperin and Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre. This, her second recording of the Goldbergs, has been called "one of the finest harpsichord versions in the catalogue.
According to German theological tradition, which Bach knew very well, the alto voice was the very symbol of the Holy Ghost. Bach's three solo cantatas for alto demand enormous vocal virtuosity. Their extraordinary musical variety embraces sublime consolatory lullabies, a faithful echo of an organ concerto and the dramatic qualities of an oratorio. Andreas Scholl is the featured soloist in this reissue, backed by Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale Gent.