THE LAST HURRAH!
SDG 174, vol. 18, the much awaited last volume of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, is an anthology of the Christmas period, combining cantatas for Christmas Day and the Epiphany.
The Cantatas for Christmas Day BWV 63 and 191 were recorded 'live' in Weimar Dec.25,1999, with featured soloists: Claron McFadden, Bernarda Fink, Christoph Genz and Dietrich Henschel. BWV63 "Christen, atzet diesen,Tag" (Christians engrave this day) is one of Bach's best known cantatas. It is an enigmatic work containing none of the usual Nativity themes, though it is festive n nature featuring two imposing outer choruses and opulent instrumentation. BWV 191 "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" (Glory to God in the highest), the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus, is best known as the 'Gloria' in the B minor mass.
The Cantatas for the Feast of Epiphany BWV 65 and 123 were recorded 'live' in Leipzig Jan.6,2000, with featured soloists Magdalena Kozena, Sally Bruce-Payne, James Gilchrist and Peter Harvey. BWV 65 "Sie Werden aus Saba alle kommen" (All they from Sheba have come), describes the procession of the magi. Bach conveys the majesty of the scene by using high horns and the recorders and oboes da caccia to create an Eastern-like atmosphere. BWV 123 "Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen" (Dearest Immanuel, Lord of the righteous) opens with a graceful chorus, somewhat reminiscent of a dance from the court of Elizabeth I. The chorus's interjections form a proto-Romantic love song that tends to remain with the listener for some time.
The Cantatas for the Feast of Epiphany BWV 154, 124 and 32, recorded 'live' in Hamburg January 9, 2000, feature soloists Claron McFadden, Michael Chance, James Gilchrist and Peter Harvey. BWV 154 "Mein Liebster Jesus est verloren" (My dearest Jesus is lost); this cantata exhibits close connections with the Gospel reading(Luke 2: 41-52) that centers on the search for the twelve year old Jesus, eventually found in the temple in Jerusalem. The opening words of the title aria reveals the direction this cantata is taking as expressed in St.Luke, and who better than James Gilchrist to sing this exquisite tenor aria! Michael Chance in his splendidly rendered aria "Jesu, lass dich finden" (Jesus, let Thyself be found) takes us further into the story and Peter Harvey with his resonant engaging tone quality sings Jesus' famous response: "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" A stirring duet follows 'Happy am I, Jesus is found', which is magnificently rendered by Gilchrist and Chance. This cantata moved me greatly not only because of the words, but because of the excellence of the soloists' contributions.
BWV 124 "Meinem Jesum lass ich nicht" (I shall not forsake my Jesus), is also clearly associated with the previous Gospel of Luke, and begins with a chorale fantasia in which Bach opts for a gentle, almost simplistic tone in the voice to reflect the submissive character of the text: "I shall not forsake my Jesus since he gave his life for me". Only in the the middle movement, an aria for tenor and oboe d'amore and strings, does Bach unleash a torrent of dramatic effect to portray 'fear and terror' that accompanies death. Again we hear the expressive voice of tenor Gilchrist. Then follows a striking duet for soprano and alto and continuo constructed as a gigue with a joyful sense of abandon celebrating a release from all things worldly, the message of which is expertly communicated by McFadden and Chance.
BWV 32 "Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangan" (Beloved Jesus, my desire) is cast as a 'Concerto an Dialogo': a dialogue between the Christian soul (soprano) and Jesus (bass), well performed by McFadden and Harvey. The cantata ends with a brief Chorale.
SUNDAY TIMES, 10th of October, 2010: "The variety of this work for Christmas and Epiphany is astonishing, and the singing from the Monteverdi Choir and soloists including Magdalena Kozena, fully matches it."
THE OBSERVER: "This ongoing recording project ranks as one of the musical events of all time."
GRAMOPHONE: "One of the most ambitious musical projects of all time."