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John Eliot Gardiner & Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists
Cantatas for the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany
Cantatas BWV 72, 73, 111, 156


J.S. Bach: Cantatas for the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany


Cantatas BWV 72 [15:00], BWV 73 [12:01], BWV 111 [15:01], BWV 156 [14:45]

John Eliot Gardiner

Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists

Soprano: Joanne Lunn; Contralto: Sara Mingardo; Tenor: Julian Podger; Bass: Stephen Varcoe

Archiv Produktion 463582

Jan 22-24, 2000

CD / TT: 57:18

Live recording from the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, at Chisea di San Marco, Milan, Italy.
See: Cantatas BWV 72, 73, 111, 156 - conducted by John Eliot Gardiner
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Bach's "Epiphany" Cantatas From Gardiner

Donald Satz
wrote (July 4, 2000):
The third volume in Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage series consists of four cantatas for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany - BWV 72, BWV 73, BWV 111, and BWV 156. The 3rd Sunday always comes in winter, and Bach likely tried to keep these cantatas short in consideration of the cold's effect on the congregation. The four cantatas are recorded infrequently, but that's no indication of their quality.

After a short search for comparison recordings, I could only come up with a comparison for BWV 73 (Herreweghe on Virgin). So I'll start with that one. The opening chorus is a rather unique one with the choral passages interspersed with three solo recitatives. The opening begins with an infectious orchestral ritornello and hypnotic four-note motif. The chorus needs to be strong as the music is somewhat heroic and very demonstrative. This movement is stunning in its impact and strength of spirit. Concerning that four-note motif, it was originally supported by a horn, but subsequently the organ became customary. Both versions have excellent choruses, although Gardiner's is slightly light, and the solo singing is fine. But Herreweghe scores heavily over Gardiner concerning the four-note motif and accenting. Gardiner uses the horn, and its impact is negligible. Herreweghe's organ is delightful and gets the movement started beautifully. Concerning accenting, Gardiner provides a smooth orchestral setting with accents not strong. Herreweghe's performance is much more angular with a winning swagger and reveals the movement as a masterful conception.

In the tenor aria that follows, the Spirit of Joy is asked to enter a soul which has experienced so little joy. This is a beautiful piece with great tenderness, deep joy, and a requirement for urgency from the tenor. Herreweghe's reading is over 4 minutes compared to Gardiner's whose is a little over 3 minutes. The different tempos make for very different interpretations. Herreweghe provides a serenity and satisfaction which is lovely; his tenor, Howard Crook, displays a very attractive voice with ample urgency. Gardiner's reading has a delightful bounce to it reflecting a lighter and more playful attitude than Herreweghe; Gardiner's Julian Podger relatively thin tone can not compete with Crook, but the urgency he conveys is superlative. Overall, both versions are equally satisfying.

A bass recitative leads into the bass aria which expresses the need to totally give oneself to God. In Gardiner's version, the violins are crisp, urgent, and "on the edge". Herreweghe's are much smoother, and I much prefer Gardiner's. Herreweghe's bass, Peter Kooy, is appropriately strong and lyrical. Stephen Varcoe, for Gardiner, has a relatively weak bass voice. Even so, I really love Gardiner's violin contributions and prefer his version. The short and concluding chorale is a serious tribute to God which Herreweghe does excellently. Gardiner is quicker and his chorus sounds relatively weak - not good.

Summing up, both Gardiner and Herreweghe are very rewarding. Aside from some lackluster instrumental playing in the bass recitative, Herreweghe's BWV 73 is a superb performance. Gardiner is not quite as good, having some weak choral contributions and a too-smooth reading of the outstanding first movement.

BWV 72 is one of Bach's best cantatas. The opening chorus has me feeling that danger is coming fast; that's not a feeling I often get with Bach, but it's always strong when it comes. Gardiner's chorus does well, but I would have liked more strength. Next is a recitative, arioso, and aria for alto Sara Mingardo. It's a beautiful piece, and Mingardo has a full, attractive, and appropriately touching voice.

A bass aria leads to the soprano aria which is, for me, the highlight of the cantata. The text begins with, "My Jesus will do it. He will make your burden sweet". And the music is deliciously sweet in a subtle way, uplifting, and strongly conveys a deep satisfaction and comfort. Gardiner's soprano, Joanne Lunn, doesn't have the strongest or most attractive voice around, but she conveys the meaning of the music perfectly. As outstanding as this aria is before Lunn enters, it moves up further through her contribution. The work ends with a chorale which is life-affirming and lovely. I have no idea why this cantata is not recorded more frequently; it is masterful music with gorgeous themes and subtlety throughout.

I don't find BWV 111 at the high level of BWV 72 or BWV 73. The music is very good, but I don't think that Gardiner and his performing forces lift the work at all. The aria for alto and tenor is the biggest problem; Varcoe and Mingardo sound hardly acceptable together - her full voice and his thin one don't mesh at all. In addition, Varcoe is at his worst, providing a rather unmusical reading.

BWV 156 takes us back to great music. Bach composed this work at a time when family tragedies were prevalent in his life. "I stand with a foot in the grave" is the title of the text, but neither the text nor Bach's music is morose or bleak for belief and trust in God will overcome earthly plight.

Instead of opening with the usual chorus, BWV 156 begins with a slow-paced and gorgeous sinfonia which many will instantly recognize from Bach's concerto output; Gardiner's oboe is lovely. An aria for tenor and chorale for sopranos, which is very much in the form of a duet, follows the sinfonia. Again, the music is gorgeous. After an effective bass recitative, a bouncy and vibrant alto aria puts some cheer into the work; Gardiner's violins are outstanding and Mingardo is ever reliable and effective. Another bass recitative ushers in the ending chorale which just oozes "the end" - a great way to finish the recording.

In this and the previous Gardiner Bach Pilgrimage recordings (which are not reissues), I've noticed a tendency for Gardiner to deliver relatively "light" performances. This permeates the orchestral contributions as well as the choral work. This isn't a criticism, just an observation. If rather heavy performances are your preference, this series would likely not satisfy. However, Gardiner still provides his usual great sense of pacing and incisive violins. In the recording at hand, his vocal soloists are very good excepting for Varcoe. I am particularly impressed with Joanne Lunn and Julian Podger who are wonderfully expressive in their roles.

Don's Recommendation: I think of the contents of the disc as three great and obscure Bach cantatas with the bonus of an enjoyable and equally obscure 4th cantata. Overall, the performances are very good but not outstanding. And since it's unusualto find a cantata disc of only infrequently recorded works, I give this Archiv CD (463582) a very strong recommendation, more for the specific repertoire than for the performances.

John Eliot Gardiner: Short Biography | Monteverdi Choir | English Baroque Soloists
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Newsletters
Cantatas BWV 106, 118b, 198 | Cantatas BWV 140, 147 | Cantatas BWV 11, 37, 43, 128 | Cantatas BWV 6, 66 | Cantatas BWV 72, 73, 111, 156 | Cantatas BWV 82, 83, 125, 200
Bach Cantata Pilgrimage:
BCP - Vols 1&8 | BCP - Vol. 14 | BCP - Vol. 15 | BCP - Vol. 21 | BCP - Vol. 22 | BCP - Vol. 23 | BCP - Vol. 24 | BCP - Vol. 26 | Bach Cantata Pilgrimage DVD | DVD John Eliot Gardiner in Rehearsal
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - Gardiner | BWV 244 - Gardiner | BWV 245 - Gardiner | BWV 248 - Gardiner | BWV 1127 - Gardiner
Table of recordings by BWV Number

Conductors of Vocal Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | Singers & Instrumentalists


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