Jeanne Lamon & Tafelmusik
Coffee Cantata / Peasant Cantata
Bach’s Coffee & Peasant Cantatas from Tafelmusik
Donald Satz wrote (April 15, 2001):
Bach's Coffee Cantata BWV 211 & Peasant Cantata BWV 212 are secular and very light. The librettos are innocuous and sometimes silly; however, there's a playfulness and joy of life which redeem them. Bach's music is often glorious and well brings out the play and joy.
In the Coffee Cantata, we have a father very upset that his daughter craves coffee for its caffeine. He's determined to rid her of the habit. Dad, knowing what he controls, lists off a series of deprivations his daughter will be subjected to if she doesn't stop drinking. To each she responds that she will gladly accept the deprivations in order to keep drinking her beloved coffee. But when he mentions the withdrawl of a marriage offer, she tells him she would rather have a husband than coffee. Picander's libretto ends at this point, but Bach adds a recitative and trio where the daughter tells us that her marriage contract will include her right to drink coffee at any time she likes. It's all done in fun, and a good performance reflects it. Even the story-line has a universal appeal in that the confict is between parents who see their offspring going off in undesired directions and the offspring who have no intention of giving in to authority.
The Peasant Cantata is all about good times. Two young adults are very hot for one another but find plenty of time to honor and spoof their masters; they also love to drink alcoholic beverages. This is definitely a stress-free and fun-loving cantata.
Given the similarities of the two cantatas, they are often found together on record. That's the programming that Jeanne Lamon and Tafelmusic use on their recent disc for Analekta. The vocal soloists are soprano Suzie LeBlanc, tenor Nils Brown, and baritone Brett Polegato. The catalong number is FL 2 3136.
For comparison, I used Christopher Hogwood's recording of both works on a Decca CD. Hogwood has the excellent fortune to team with Emma Kirby and tenor Rogers Covey-Crump; both are exceptional. Kirby's white voice is tailor-made for the music. She brings youthfulness and lightness to the point of perfection. The bass David Thomas is not as enticing, but he is certainly enjoyable. Hogwood directs excellently with crisp and idiomatic performances from the Academy Of Ancient Music.
Reviews I have read of the Tafelmusik recording have been rather unkind, noting that neither Tafelmusik nor the vocal soloists display sufficient charm and joy for the high-spirited moods of the music. I can't deny that Hogwood's vocalists are better than Tafelmusik's. Suzie LeBlanc can't match Emma Kirby for youth or high-spirits, and tenor Nils Brown pales next to Rogers Covey-Crump. However, Brett Polegato is very good in the baritone role. Tafelmusik does present a darker atmosphere than Hogwood, and I'm sure that the reviews have considered that a negative.
Still, there is one area where Tafelmusik is even better than Hogwood; there's a rhythmic bounce and vitality in the Tafelmusik performances which is irresistable. Just listen to the ending duet of the Peasant Cantata to hear that rhythmic vitality which propels the Tafelmusik reading past Hogwood's. Also, the strings are outstanding and quite prominent. Overall, I have to prefer the Hogwood disc, but Tafelmusik brings some special qualities to the works which make their recording easy to recommend. As for the darker readings, my musical preferences don't recognize that aspect as a major detriment.
Don's Conclusions: Although not an essential acquisition, Tafelmusik is very enjoyable; in my view, any deficit in joy from the performers is well compensated by the infectious pacing and rhythm provided by Jeanne Lamon. Additional listenings only serve to enhance my admiration for Lamon's direction and decision-making. The final verdict is a strong recommendation tempered with a little caution concerning the vocalists Suzie LeBlanc and Nils Brown. I'll be keeping this Tafelmusik CD in my 'frequent play' stacks since it offers highly pleasureable elements not found in other recordings I have heard. The cover art is attractive and liner notes acceptable. If my tastes tend to mesh with yours, you can safely purchase the disc and expect many hours of enjoyment.
Indranil Poddar wrote (April 25, 2001):
I live in Calcutta, India and just got hold of the identical coupling of the Bach cantatas on Naxos at a local music store. How do these compare with Hogwood, Tefelmusik, et all?
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 27, 2001):
[To Indranil Poddar] About a month ago there was a discussion about Cantata BWV 211 (Coffee Cantata) in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List. The discussion included reviews of the various recordings of this cantata, including the one on Naxos. You can read the various postings of that discussion in the Bach Cantatas Website (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/), in the following address:
BTW, If you like the Bach Cantatas, you are invited to join the Bach Cantatas Mailing List!
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