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Robert King and The King's Consort
Bach Cantatas 54, 169, 170 (for Alto)

C-1

Bach Cantatas 54, 169, 170 (for Alto)

 

Cantatas BWV 54 [12:26], BWV 169 [24:15], BWV 170, [22:04]

Robert King

The King’s Consort

Counter-tenor: James Bowman

Hyperion / Helios

Sep 5-7, 1988

CD / TT: 59:03

Recorded at Wadham College Chapell, Oxford, England.
Buy this album at:
Hyperion original: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de
Helios reissue: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de

Bowman's Bach

Jens Laurson wrote (December 31, 2008):
Vergnügte Ruh', beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170 (1726) [22:04]
Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54 (1714) [12:26]
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169 (1726) [24:15]

James Bowmann (counter tenor), The King's Consort/Robert King
rec. Wadham College Chapel, Oxford, September 5-7 1988
hyperion - helios CDH555312 [59:03]

The hyperion disc - now re-released on Helios - of Bach cantatas BWV 170 ("Vergnügte Ruh'.), BWV 54 ("Wiederstehe doch der Sünde"), and BWV 169 ("Gott soll allein mein Herze haben") with Robert King's "The King's Consort", is essentially a James Bowman show. Recordings featuring a counter tenor so prominently still had a touch of novelty to it when this was originally released in 1989, now countertenors are about as - maybe even more - common as altos in Bach, it seems. Three of the four solo alto cantatas Bach wrote are included here, only BWV 35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret is missing. (A magnificent recording of that can be found on Sigiswald Kuijken's new cantata series on Accent, volume 5 - with alto Petra Noskaiová.)

Direct competition for this disc would be Volume 37 of Masaaki Suzuki's BIS-cycle (with Robin Blaze, lacking BWV 54 but adding BWV 35 and the solo aria BWV 200), the single disc re-release of Ton Koopman's Bach bringing together the three cantatas on the hyperion disc and adding BWV 200 (Bogna Bartosz and Andreas Scholl share the singing duties), as well as Naxos's disc by Helmut Müller-Brühl with Marianne Beate Kielland in the same four works that Koopman features. Unfortunately I don't have the Naxos disc, the Suzuki not yet, am separated from my Leusink (Brilliant) box and my Koopman collection (volumes, 3, 16, and 17 of the original series contain these works). But then, comparison to versions with alto would be misleading given the distinct prominence of Bowman on this recording.

His voice, not the most tender, is beautiful in many ways, but not without a tinge of artifice and with the tonal qualities `characteristic' of counter tenor voices. It is recorded very much forward, a bit too much so for my taste. The King's Consort becomes a back-up band, albeit one that performs beautifully, particularly enchanting in the opening of Vergnügte Ruh' and in the Sinfonia of BWV 169 which sounds so familiar because Bach had recycled the material (most likely originating from a now lost oboe concerto) in the Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1053. That said - and very faint moments of piquancy notwithstanding - Bowman's singing in the aria "Wiederstehe doch der Sünde" is lovingly shaped and felt - and a pleasure to hear.

The recorded sound from Wadham College Chapel is pleasantly resonant and clear - with the resonance further accentuating the vocal part. The short concluding chorale of BWV 169 is taken one-voice-per-part, gorgeously sung by Gillian Fisher (who stands out a bit among the four), Bowman, of course, John Mark Ainsley, and Charles Pott. The organ King uses for this recording is a humble, unintrusive modern chamber instrument, the pitch is A=415Hz.

For those already disinclined to countertenors, this is not the disc to convert them. (Bernarda Fink's forthcoming release with BWV 169 & BWV 170 on Harmonia Mundi would seem an alluring alto-alternative.) For those who wish to hear these cantatas with a counter tenor, the only alternative that includes at least two of the three works combined on this disc is the above-mentioned Robin Blaze. Judging solely from the previous releases in the Suzuki cantata cycle, the King/Bowman version (durations are very similar) should be the slightly more indulgent one.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 31, 2008):
Jens Laurson wrote:
< Vergnügte Ruh', beliebte Seelenlust, BWV 170 (1726) [22:04]
Widerstehe doch der Sünde,
BWV 54 (1714) [12:26]
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben,
BWV 169 (1726) [24:15]
(...) For those who wish to hear these cantatas with a counter tenor, the only alternative that includes at least two of the three works combined on this disc is the above-mentioned Robin Blaze. (...) >
I like your review, and it makes me want to hear the Bowman and Blaze discs you mention. As for "the only alternative", though, please don't overlook at least two others that are excellent: Scholl/Herreweghe in BWV 170/BWV 54/BWV 35, and Deller/Leonhardt (from 1954!) in BWV 170/BWV 54.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 31, 2008):
Bowman's Bach BWV 169 Sinfonia

Jens Laurson wrote:
< It is recorded very much forward, a bit too much so for my taste. The King's Consort becomes a back-up band, albeit one that performs beautifully, particularly enchanting in the opening of Vergnügte Ruh' and in the Sinfonia of BWV 169 which sounds so familiar because Bach had recycled the material (most likely originating from a now lost oboe concerto) in the Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1053. >
The lost oboe concerto is based completely on a Telemann oboe or flute concerto that dates from around 1710 to 1716.

Happy New Year!

Julian Mincham wrote (December 31, 2008):
I like your review, and it makes me want to hear the Bowman and Blaze discs you mention. As for "the only alternative", though, please don't overlook at least two others that are excellent: Scholl/Herreweghe in BWV 170/BWV 54/BWV 35, and Deller/Leonhardt (from 1954!) in BWV 170/BWV 54.

As a bonus the original Vanguard LP also included a ravishing performance of deller singing the Agnus Dei from the Bm Mass.

I want it played at MY funeral!

Stephen Benson wrote (December 31, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] Ahhh! The apocryphal 1954 Deller recording. Will that EVER become available again?

Julian Mincham wrote (December 31, 2008):
[To Stephen Benson] Steve? you might try CD Universe at: osbb@cduniverse.com.

They just tracked down recordings of the Deller catches and glees which I have been looking for for years and didn't even know had been transcribed to CD. Took them some weeks but they did it! They were also good at getting back personally to answer questions.

Fortunately I have a good condition of the original LP which gets regular airings.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 1, 2009):
Bowmans Bach (BWV 170)

Brad wrote in response to Jens Laurson:
>I like your review, and it makes me want to hear the Bowman and Blaze discs you mention. As for "the only alternative", though, please don't overlook at least two others that are excellent: Scholl/Herreweghe in BWV 170/BWV 54/BWV 35, and Deller/Leonhardt (from 1954!) in BWV 170/BWV 54<
I second support for the review (more below), especially since with Brads (and Julians) reminder, I took the opportunity to listen to both Deller and Bowman. Behind dinner, with my spouse acknowledging (not even grudgingly) that it is nice to have the CDs for enjoyment and comparison! Lose many, but win a few when it matters most? Wait until she hears the Suzuki/Blaze, on order.

Deller is in a class by himself, a unique artist. Beyond that, I think Bowman sufffers in the comparison from some of the details Jens mentioned.

JL
>His voice, not the most tender, is beautiful in many ways, but not without a tinge of artifice and with the tonal qualities `characteristic' of counter tenor voices. It is recorded very much forward, a bit too much so for my taste.<
EM
<Edgy> is a word I use in my mind for that combination, I am never certain how much is due to the voice and how much to the miking, but I agree with the conclusion.

JL
>The King's Consort becomes a back-up band, albeit one that performs beautifully,<
Thanks for pointing that out (the beautiful part). I bought this CD as a Hyperion cut-out a couple years ago, for comparison as part of the weekly discussion. I have not returned to it until now; in truth, I mentally wrote it off as <edgy>. Worth a listen, just for the band. Perhaps Hyperion has <rebalanced> for the Helios reissue>

JL
>The recorded sound from Wadham College Chapel is pleasantly resonant and clear – with the resonance further accentuating the vocal part.<
Kim wrote (elsewhere, but it seems appropriate here):
> An endlessly fascinating disc that is also a wonderful example of the art of the balance engineer. A very welcome female interloper in a predominantly male profession, engineer Aline Blondiau achieves the impossible and produces a demonstration quality balance between the organ and violin recorded in l'église Saint-Pierre de Guignicourt, France.<
EM
A subject of frequent puzzlement for me is: how much of recorded <resonance> is ambient, and how much engineering? In any case, it is a pleasure to see the engineering get a rare comment, especially one that is postitive. I always find the recording notes that address the issue (engineering details) enlightening, a pity they infrequent. Likely to become less so, I suppose, as MP3 downloads displace the physical CD.

Thanks for detailed comments on recordings. It seems like only yesterday I was buying my first music on a fragile 78 RPM <shellac> (Ghost Riders in the Sky, Vaughn Monroe), soon followed by the miracle of the compact, durable 45 (RPM, not caliber).

With the advent of the 33 1/3 LP came liner notes, reaching a peak in the 1970s with the H&L Brown Boxes, including score, documentation of historic instruments, and notes on interpretation. One of my few regrets in life: I did not buy the entire set because I thought I could not afford it. MP3 with download score? Why not. Intelligent commentary, as well? A bit more of a challenge.

Almost 2009, on my block. Geez, tempus fugit. Cheer up, they said, things could be worse. So I cheered up, and things got worse. That was my Dads favorite joke, remembering the depression (1930s one), but he survived OK. Still laughing, anyway, by the time I got to know him.

Another year. Peaceful, happy, full of goodwill? Up to us. Continuing discussion of Bachs music cannot hurt, might help!

Aloha, Ed Myskowski (Ghost Rider, still)

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 1, 2009):
Brad wrote:
>please don't overlook at least two others that are excellent: Scholl/Herreweghe in BWV 170/BWV 54/BWV 35, and Deller/Leonhardt (from 1954!) in BWV 170/BWV 54<
Always thorough! Thanks for the reminder of the Scholle/Herreweghe, which I did not take the trouble to play until just now. I always find Herreweghe sublime, from the soul, if not to everyones taste (gestural, or swelling, tone?)

Jens Laurson wrote (January 1, 2009):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Brad wrote:
>>please don't overlook at least two others that are excellent: Scholl/Herreweghe in
BWV 170/BWV 54/BWV 35, and Deller/Leonhardt (from 1954!) in BWV 170/BWV 54<< >
----------------
Thanks much for the kind words and pointing out the other counter-tenor versions. On the Deller/Leonhardt I might be able to wiggle myself out of my omission on account of its unavailability. :)

No such luck with the Scholl/Herreweghe disc. Which, since it's one of the Herreweghe cantata recordings I don't yet yave, I will have to get. For one I should think that early Scholl might offer in the singing what I found lacking with Bowman. And Herreweghe is - to me - among the most consistently enjoyable in the Cantatas, anyway. I'm still reeling from the beauty of his third-to-last Bach release, "Weinen, Klagen..."

John Pike wrote (January 4, 2009):
[To Ed Myskowski] Another of my favourite recordings of this cantata is that of Janet Baker with ASMF, Neville Marriner and Philip Ledger on Decca.
 

Robert King: Short Biography | The King’s Consort | Recordings of Vocal Works
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Bach Cantatas 54, 169, 170 (for Alto) - R. King | BWV 232 - R. King

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Last update: ýJanuary 1, 2009 ý20:04:23