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Fanfare Magazine: 33:1 (09-10/2009)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 3149020201619


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Reviewer: George Chien

Off the top of my head, I can think of five discs, all released within the last two years or so, of Bach’s alto cantatas: Bogna Bartosz (Challenge, culled from the Koopman edition), Marianne Beate Heilland (Naxos), Robin Blaze (BIS, in the Suzuki series), James Bowman (Helios, a reissue of an earlier Hyperion disc), and the current disc. There are four alto cantatas—one too many to fit on a single disc, and, curiously, no two of these five discs have identical contents, though Blaze and Fink come close, with the same three cantatas; Blaze also includes the isolated aria, BWV 200. Fink’s program is identical to Monica Groop’s on her 1998 recording for Finlandia, the only matched pair I know.

After completing his second annual cycle of cantatas in May of 1725, Bach mysteriously reduced his productivity, presenting music from other sources, most notably a cousin, Johann Ludwig, and extending the composition of a third cycle over two years. He also experimented with solo cantatas, including these three in 1726, dispensing with the usual choral openings. The chorus appears only once on the disc, and only to sing the concluding chorale in Cantata 169. Perhaps to compensate, Bach included elaborate obbligato parts for the organ in all three cantatas, including movements derived from existing concertos, probably originally for oboe, in Nos. 35 and 169. Presumably, Bach played the organ parts himself, undoubtedly a treat for Leipzig’s parishioners.

Bernarda Fink, born and raised in Argentina by Slovenian parents, has an impressive résumé that reveals a broad range of interests, from Monteverdi to the present. I’ve searched my personal database and found only two instances of her prior participation in Bach cantata recordings, both with Gardiner in his Archiv supplement to the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series. Even so, she brings to these cantatas a keen sensitivity and a seemingly effortless technique. Fink’s voice is not as sumptuous as Groop’s, but it is no less alluring. Fink’s singing is, in a word, superb. The Freiburgers, led from the first desk by Petra Müllejans, are equally persuasive. This is not a minimalist production, by the way, with its little-used 12-voice choir and orchestral strings numbering 4-3-2-2-1. Special recognition is owed to Wolfgang Zerer, unmentioned on the disc’s cover, who plays the organ obbligatos. This is a fine disc all around and goes near—if not at—the top of my list, along with Groop (mezzo) and Bartosz (alto) and countertenors Blaze and Andreas Scholl (Harmonia Mundi France).

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