Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
In the autumn of 1726 Johann Sebastian Bach embarked on a series of solo and dialogue cantatas for the first time, in which the virtuoso skills of individual soloists were given pride of place rather than a choir, which was now reduced to a concluding chorale. The poet of this series of solo and dialogue cantatas has now been identified as the Leipzig theology student Christoph Birkmann (1703-1771), later a pastor in Nuremberg. He reported that he "diligently kept company with the great master, Herr Director Bach, and his choir, and also attended the Collegia Musica in the winter." Using a soloist instead of a choir allowed a more personal approach in the texts with the singer now using the first person singular, "Ich" in German. Among the "Ich" cantatas of late autumn and winter 1726/27 are the two works recorded here, which have been regarded ever since as pearls of Bach's oeuvre. 25 years after Harmonia Mundi issued the solo cantatas for bass with Peter Kooj and Collegium Vocale under Philippe Herreweghe, Matthias Goerne, together with Freiburg Baroque, presents two cantatas intimately linked to the celebration of the Lutheran Reformation in 2017, its 500th anniversary. Matthias Goerne has a fine baritone voice, warm in the lower notes and strong at the top end and certainly does not suffer in comparison with the eminent Kooj. The two cantatas are "Ich Will Den Kreuzstab Gerne Tragen", (BWV 56) and "Ich Habe Genug", (BWV 82) and translations are available in the CD booklet but, to save you the bother, they are "I Would Gladly Bear The Cross-Staff" and "I Am Content" (for The Feast Of The Purification Of The Virgin Mary). Knowledgeable listeners will have worked out that these two together take about 40 minutes so we get the bonus of the "Concerto For Oboe D'amore", adapted from "Harpsichord Concerto No. 4", (BWV 1055 in A major) played most beautifully by Katharina Arfken who also contributes the exquisite oboe lines in the cantatas. Listeners who appreciate either Bach or baritones will enjoy this release and if you like both together this is a real treat but while Bach's versatility is remarkable I would not rank these cantatas as among his very best so those new to Johann Sebastian should perhaps make their first introduction to the great man in one of his more popular collections. As to Matthias Goerne, I have no doubt we will hear more from him in the coming years.
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