CD+DVD Reviews

“Bach Drama” = Cantata No. 201, “Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde”; Cantata No. 205, “Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft”; Cantata No. 213, “Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen” – soloists/Namur Ch. Choir/Les Agremens/Leonardo G. Alarcon – Ambronay (2 CDs+DVD)

A lively and joyous presentation of some of Bach’s more energetic secular cantatas.

Published on September 17, 2012

“Bach Drama” = Cantata No. 201, “Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde”; Cantata No. 205, “Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft”; Cantata No. 213, “Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen” – soloists/Namur Ch. Choir/Les Agremens/Leonardo G. Alarcon – Ambronay (2 CDs+DVD)

Bach Drama” = Cantata No. 201, “Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde”; Cantata No. 205, “Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft”; Cantata No. 213, “Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen” – Celine Scheen, sop./ Clint Van der Linde, counter tenor/ Makoto Sakurada, tenor/ Fabio Trumpy, tenor/ Christian Immler, bass/ Alejandro Meerapfel, bass/ Choeur de Chambre de Namur/ Les Agremens/ Leonardo Garcia Alarcon – Ambronay AMY031 (2 CDs + DVD), 43:45, 37:48, DVD: 42:54 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

This is an interesting set by a cadre of period instrumentalists who I have never heard of before. My loss, for the playing is excellent, the forces nice and full—no one to a part here—and these vigorous renditions of three of Bach’s so-called “music dramas”, redolent of early opera and probably presented at Zimmermann’s Coffee House in 1729, Bach’s first appearance as the head of the Collegium Musicum. Picander was the librettist at the time, and his synopsis of Ovid’s tale for BWV 201 is as follows (my thanks to bach-cantatas.com for the information): “On the mountain Tmolus (Timolus) in Lydia, Pan bof the reed-pipe that is named after him, and challenges the inventor of the kithara, Phoebus Apollo to a competition. The god of the mountain (Tmolus) is appointed to be the judge. First, Pan plays on the reed-pipe, then Apollo on the kithara. Everybody agrees with Tmolus, who awarded the victory to Apollo – except Midas, the king of Lydia, who is also present. (This is the same Midas whose foolish wish, that everything he touches turn to gold, almost caused him to starve to death.) He alone prefers Pan’s uncouth song, and, as punishment, is given the ears of a donkey.”

This is definitely Bach as his most unbuttoned, and a needed corrective to the idea of the pious Kapellmeister in the backwaters of Leipzig. This shows the composer at his most creative, highly enjoying himself and focused on entertaining us as well, though it is doubtful that any sort of staged performances were created for the presentation. It is also his single longest choral work outside of the Passions and B-minor Mass.

Music drama is what Bach called all of his secular cantatas (starting with BWV 205), evidently wanting to draw a line between what he regarded as two completely different forms with differing intents as well. He also used large orchestrations with operatic involvement in the vocal lines. The occasion for this piece is the birthday of August Friedrich Müller, professor at Leipzig, on the occasion of his name-day; he was very popular with his students. It goes like this: “Pallas Athena celebrates a feast in honor of the erudite man on the Helicon with the muses, but she fears that Aeolus, god of the winds, will release his autumn storms, which of course occurs inopportunely. Zephyr, the god of mild summer breezes, and Pomona, the goddess of fruit orchards, vainly beg Aeolus to postpone the tempest; but Athena finally obtains the god’s approval for a reprieve after she makes him aware of how beloved the guest of honor is. Athenathen invites all present to participate in the celebration in order to present a ‘long live’ toast.” Cheery stuff all around.

“Hercules at the Cross-Roads”, BWV 213, is one of those works whose music got exported almost in toto to the Christmas Cantata, so much of it will be familiar. Picander (again the librettist) “chose for his plot the myth related by Prodiclos in which Hercules encounters two women at a fork in the road. One of them promises him a pleasant opulent life if only he follows her path. The other however offers hardship, but also virtue and fame if he decides upon her path. Hercules resolves to take the path of virtue. The poet then allows the actual meaning of what has taken place to be revealed by the god Mercury: Hercules is a likeness of Crown Prince Friedrich [whose birthday this setting is in honor of, he being the Crown Prince Friedrich of Saxony]; he too decided already in earliest childhood upon the path of virtue.”

The music for this and the other two are of the highest order and delightfully entertaining as we hear Bach sitting down for a beer, with no apologies. As mentioned, these performances are excellent, though with BWV 201 and 205 offered on CD and 213 on DVD I am not entirely sold as to what went where and why; BWV 213 is offered here as a “bonus” though it seems to me as integral to the whole as the other two. Perhaps all three should have been silver-disc’d with an additional DVD of the performance included. Nevertheless, this worthy spectacle is a great concept album, enthusiastically rendered and just as enthusiastically accepted. Zimmermann’s establishment must have been one rockin’ place in the early 1700s…

—Steven Ritter




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