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GRAMOPHONE (December / 2017)
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Reviewer:  Lindsay Kemp

Another gift of relatively unfamiliar Bach cantatas from Philippe Herreweghe allows us to drop in on the composer’s second Leipzig cycle, of 1724-25. Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott is a penitential piece acclaiming God’s forgiveness in the light of the wretchedness of our sin. Predominantly in the minor key, its core tension between the fear of God’s wrath and the more comfortable feeling that it won’t occur is set out in the way nagging slurred-note pairs undermine the certainty of the chorale melody. Two fine arias and an intense soprano-alto duet reminding us of the bitterness of Christ’s sacrifice are further highlights of this affecting work.  

Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit explores another opposition, this time between complacency and the danger of Satan’s blandishments. The first chorus appears carefree, but an alto aria – a kind of interrupted slumber song – soon establishes the need to be wary, and a superbly crafted aria for soprano, flute and piccolo cello is a fervently tender entreaty to contrition. Only a few months after the St John Passion, and with the St Matthew not far in the future, these are superb examples of their composer’s expressive powers. Ihr werdet weinen and heulen makes less of an impression, though its message of sorrow returning to joy in God is articulated in fine style in the opening chorus, with its drooping vocal lines and perky piccolo part.  

There is not much to be said about the performances that has not been remarked already about these artists, all of whom are rightly lauded for their Bach. Herreweghe blends and balance his forces with customary finesse, and paces his readings with faultless taste and skill, while the soloist team seems to be his first choice these days, understandably in the light of their precision and expressive focus. If you want dramatic punch in this music look elsewhere, but for sheer beauty of thought and execution, Herreweghe is still a main man.

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