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Fanfare Magazine: 36:4 (03-04/2013)
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Code-barres / Barcode: 5400439000063 (ID280)
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Reviewer: George Chien

In the Bach cantata wars Philippe Herreweghe is the stealth fighter. He hasn’t announced a complete series or even a themed partial set, but he has now recorded about a quarter of the cantatas and quietly continues to enlarge his discography. His individual releases have their own themes, some more obvious than others. This disc, for example, is named “Ach süßer Trost!” (Ah, sweet comfort), which, if you must know, is the first phrase of the fourth movement (a recitative for the tenor) of Cantata 138. The four cantatas were composed over a seven-week span—but not consecutively—in 1723, for Bach’s first annual cycle in Leipzig. (At least three other cantatas were written over the same span.) Herreweghe chose them for their subtle diversity and to demonstrate the remarkable diligence and seriousness with which Bach addressed his new duties after seven years during which no church music was required of him. None of the librettists’ names are known. Three of the cantatas are cast in the familiar chorus-solos-chorale format, but BWV 138 is more experimental, setting the chorale three times and combining the first two with recitatives. Each of the cantatas has its own sound set: No. 138 is scored with a pair of oboes, No. 105 with oboes and a horn; No. 46 with recorders and oboes da caccia, and No. 25, grandly, with three recorders, two oboes, a cornett, and three trombones.

Herreweghe, like the composer, takes this music seriously, as evidenced by the quality of his performances. The ensemble is, as always, splendid. Herreweghe employs three singers per part, including the soloists. The soloists, too, are excellent. Veteran bass Peter Kooij ought to be able to sing this music in his sleep by now, but he assuredly does not. Damien Guillon and Thomas Hobbs also impress, and Hana Blažiková’s aria in BWV 105 is one of the highlights of the disc. Might I also mention that Herreweghe and his choir have more experience with this repertory than their 50-plus discography would indicate? They participated in the ground-breaking Teldec edition, singing in most of the cantatas led by Gustav Leonhardt. For listeners who prefer to take their Bach a little at a time, Herreweghe should be a perfect fit.

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