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  40:6 (07-08 /2017)
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Reviewer: George Chien

I’ve been fond of Bach’s Mühlhausen cantatas ever since my older brother brought an LP with two of them (the ones on this disc, in fact) into our Bach unfriendly house. The two, of course, are Nos. 106 (Actus tragicus) and 131 (Aus der Tiefen). I’ve often wondered what road Bach might have taken had he not been introduced to the music of Vivaldi. Unlike the third Mühlhausen cantata (Christ lag in Todesbanden) and most later cantatas they were through-composed, without breaks in their freely flowing continuity. For a 22-year old—even if he was a Bach—they were altogether remarkable accomplishments. Rather than completing the Mühlhausen trifecta, Lionel Meunier has substituted two other early cantatas for Christ lag in Todesbanden. Cantata No. 12 (Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen) was composed seven years later in Weimar. It has two (of its six) signature movements: a glorious opening sinfonia with oboe, and a transcendent opening chorus that Bach later transformed into the Crucifxus of his B-Minor Mass. Cantata. 150 (Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich) is somewhat of a filler. It’s much less well known and recorded than its discmates (which, perversely, makes the disc more interesting). There is no extant autograph copy of it, which led Nicholas Anderson (in the Oxford Companion) to speculate about its authenticity or, alternatively, its position in the Bach chronology, suggesting that it might have been composed years before Aus der Tiefen. Norton-Grove apparently has no such doubts.

The performances are quasi-minimalist. The Vox Luminis instrumental ensemble is strictly one-to-a-part. Cantata 106 is sung by a solo quartet, the other three by a double quartet, four of whom are identified as soloists with the others, where appropriate, serving as ripianists. The roster is not fixed, and the solo roles are shared. It’s a satisfactory arrangement. My initial reaction was cautious. The first piece, the Actus Tragicus started tentatively. I hesitate to call it lifeless, but since it is a funeral cantata, why not? Things perked up quickly enough, though, and by the latter part of the disc things were moving smoothly. Lionel Meunier, I might mention, has a triple role on the disc: as recorder soloist in BWV 106, bass soloist in BWV 150, and as music director throughout. It’s not a great disc, but it’s an OK one. And you get to hear Cantata 150.

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