Texte paru dans: / Appeared in:

Fanfare Magazine: 39:5 (05-06/2016) 
Pour s'abonner / Subscription information
Les abonnés à Fanfare Magazine ont accès aux archives du magazine sur internet.
Subscribers to Fanfare Magazine have access to the archives of the magazine on the net.


Code-barres / Barcode : 7318599921617


Outil de traduction ~ (Très approximatif)
Translator tool (Very approximate)

Reviewer: Jerry Dubins


This is Volume 5 in Masaaki Suzuki’s survey of Bach’s secular cantatas, and the title of the album is Birthday Cantatas.

In the case of No. 213, Lasst uns sorgen, lasst uns wachen (Let us take care, let us watch over), one has to wonder how much of Bach’s effort was appreciated by Crown Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony, for whose 11th birthday on September 5, 1733 the cantata was performed. Apparently, Bach thought the prepubescent, partially crippled, wheelchair-bound Elector-in-waiting needed a lesson in resisting lust and following the path of virtue, for that’s what the cantata, alternately titled Die Wahl des Herkules (The Choice of Hercules) and Hercules am Scheidewege (Hercules at the Crossroads), is about. It must have made some impression on the 11-year-old, for though he died at the age of 41 after acceding to the throne in 1763 and reigning for only 74 days, Friedrich grew up to be one of the good guys. He was musically talented, embraced the Enlightenment, took prudent steps to restore the country’s economy, and, in spite of his infirmity, married Maria Antonia of Bavaria at age 25 and fathered nine children with her.

Just three months later, on December 7, 1733, Bach produced another birthday cantata, this one, Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!, No. 214, for Maria Josepha, Queen of Poland and Electress of Saxony. Like the birthday cantata for Friedrich Christian, this one for Maria Josepha also goes by an alternate title of Glückwünschkantate zum Geburtstage der Königin (Congratulation Cantata to the Queen’s Birthday).

No doubt Bach’s Leipzig job description required him to provide such commemorative and dedicatory cantatas to honor royalty, nobility, and dignitaries on special occasions; and since Leipzig was the largest city and more or less the center of power in the federal state of Saxony, it makes sense that Bach would have composed these celebratory works. But the pragmatic Bach understood that as music intended for specific occasions these cantatas would be performed once and never again. Maria Josepha would have been quite put out, for example, if Bach had simply repeated the same cantata again on her birthday in 1734. So, since the music was going to be a throwaway, why not salvage the best parts of it and incorporate it into other works that would likely enjoy future performances?

Thus, from the cantata, BWV 213, Bach filched the aria, “Schlafe, mein Liebster,” and reworked it into Part II of the Christmas Oratorio. In the case of BWV 214, all five of the cantata’s arias found their way into the Christmas Oratorio. It’s not surprising that these two cantatas from 1733 provided Bach with much material for the oratorio because they were still fresh in his mind in 1734 as he worked on the oratorio and prepared it for performance that Christmas. While these two cantatas are classified as secular, they’re further categorized by the term “dramma per musica,” which means that the vocal soloists are assigned specific dramatic roles, such as Hercules, Mercury, Pallas, and so on, which tends to turn these works into semi-oratorios or a sort of hybrid cantata-oratorio-ode along the lines of Handel’s L’Allegro.

While BWV 214, more so than BWV 213, has its share of upbeat, festive music—choruses with blaring trumpets and timpani, and arias with rapid, running violin parts—both cantatas adopt a rather more serious tone—what the album note refers to as “solemn” festive music—than what one in encounters in Bach’s “domestic”-type secular cantatas, such as the “Coffee” Cantata. According to records, the two cantatas heard here were heard then and there at Zimmermann’s Coffee House, led by Bach himself directing the Collegium Musicum. For the performance of BWV 214, a lavish program booklet was printed, suggesting to album note author Klaus Hofmann that “it was a society occasion of the first order, accompanied not by coffee, cake, beer, and tobacco smoke, but with splendor, pomp, and ceremony, certainly attended by the cream of Leipzig society.” And, I would add, by more than one instrument and singer per part. This was a big deal, not some backyard barbecue. “Even if the Queen herself was absent,” Hofmann continues, “a representative of the court would surely have been in attendance.”

Those familiar with Suzuki’s sacred cantatas series for BIS and the previous volumes of his secular cantatas survey will know what to expect. These are period instrument performances, for the most part played and sung with smart and lively address, but on rare occasions with a burble or bit of unsteadiness from the trumpets, a slightly sour note from the oboes, and a vagrant pitch or two from the vocal soloists and chorus. These pass by hardly noticed, however, in performances that bring the music to life with vivid, characterful portrayals of the cantatas’ dramatic movements—such as in BWV 213’s tenor aria, “Auf meinen Flügeln sollst du schweben”—and sensitive shading and shaping of the lyrical, lilting movements—such as in BWV 213’s remarkable echo aria for alto, “Treues Echo dieser Orten.”

Much of a fan as I’ve been of Suzuki’s Bach sacred cantatas journey, I have to confess that when it comes to the composer’s several and varied secular cantatas, I’m also perhaps even a greater fan of Helmuth Rilling and his modern instrument Bach-Collegium, which, to my ear, is a bit more consistent in matters of intonation and trumpet and horn stability. I’m also not big on adult male altos, which Suzuki employs and Rilling doesn’t. I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste. In any case, for fans of Suzuki’s approach to Bach, you won’t be disappointed with this latest installment in his Bach secular cantatas series. Recommended.

Fermer la fenêtre/Close window


Cliquez l'un ou l'autre bouton pour découvrir bien d'autres critiques de CD
 Click either button for many other reviews