Wednesday, 24 March 2010

CPE and JS Bach - Hahn/Erdmann/Goerne/Munich CO/Liebreich, 23 March 2010

CPE Bach – Symphony in G major, Wq.173
JS Bach – Wer mich liebet, der Wird mein Wort halten, BWV 59: ‘Die Welt mit allen Königreichen’
Ich bin in mir vergnügt, BWV 204: ‘Die Schätzbarkeit der weitern Enden’
Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn, BWV 157: ‘Ja, ja, ich halte meinen Jesum feste’
CPE Bach – Symphony in A major, Wq.182/4: ‘Allegro assai’
JS Bach – Der zufriedene Aeolus, BWV 205: ‘Angenehmer Zephyrus’
Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen, BWV 32: ‘Hier meines Vaters Stätte’
JS Bach (arr. Mendelssohn) – St Matthew Passion, BWV 244: ‘Erbarme dich’

JS Bach – Orchestral Suite no.2 in B minor, BWV 1067: Overture
Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut, BWV 117: ‘Wenn Trost und Hülf ermangeln muss’
Mass in B minor, BWV 232: ‘Laudamus te’
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140: ‘Wann kommst du, mein Heil?’
Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, : ‘Ich bin vergnügt in meinen Leiden’
St Matthew Passion, BWV 244: ‘Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder’
Orchestral Suite no.3 in D major, BWV 1068: Air
Der Friede sei mit dir, BWV 158: ‘Welt ade! Ich bin dein müde’

Mojca Erdmann (soprano)
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Hilary Hahn (violin)
Munich Chamber Orchestra
Alexander Liebreich (conductor)

A strange programme, this, with the appearance of little true rationale, beyond boosting sales of a recently released CD, featuring Hilary Hahn playing violin obbligato parts in Bach vocal movements, joined by Matthias Goerne, Christine Schäfer, the Munich Chamber Orchestra, and Alexander Liebreich. Schäfer having fallen ill, Mojca Erdmann came to the rescue. But the true problem lay with a programme that remained very much less than the sum of its parts, made odder by the seemingly random inclusion of a symphony and a bit from CPE Bach. A golden opportunity to present some of the latter’s largely ignored vocal music was shunned, the early symphonic music sounding merely out of place by itself, even on the debatable terms of the programme as it otherwise stood.

As for the Emanuel Bach performances, the first symphony came off reasonably well: more than a little abrasive, but alas, one more or less has to expect that nowadays. The Sturm und Drang seemed overdone to me, feeling that I wanted to tell the conductor to calm down a bit, but the hyperactivity had a certain place as a curtain raiser. Likewise, the movement from the A major symphony had a sense of the theatre to it, akin to an operatic interlude. The problem was that this was hardly appropriate to the excerpts from Bach père. Admittedly, this was a movement from a secular cantata, itself seeming somewhat out of place amongst the sacred music, but even so, the change of register was odd. And whilst Bach have employed formerly secular music for sacred purposes, the words changed – which was not the case here.

The lack of coherence was underlined by the abrupt change of performance style following the orchestral introduction. As soon as Hilary Hahn came to the stage, the violin tone we heard was unambiguously ‘modern’, as opposed to period. For the most part, she played alone with continuo or occasional other obbligato appearances (flute and, very briefly, oboe), so the contrast was underlined further. Indeed, the lack of something to do for the orchestra for much of the time itself contributed further to the problematical nature of the programme. But Hahn’s performances – much more Academy of St Martin in the Fields than present-day Munich CO, though listen to old recordings to hear how the orchestra used to sound… – were impeccably presented, clean of tone but never clinical. In this, she had much in common with Erdmann’s bell-like soprano; the two worked well together. From their first joint appearance, in the aria from BWV 204, there was a sense of objectivity that was not chilly, but which rather permitted Bach’s doctrine, theological and musical, to speak for itself.

Matthias Goerne’s contributions, fine in themselves, seemed less connected to what the other soloists were doing, or vice versa. In the closing duet – one of only two – there was little interplay between the two singers, though that between baritone and violinist on the one hand, and soprano and oboist for the chorale, was noteworthy. Some of the most distinguished playing, though arising from quite a different school of Bach interpretation, came from the continuo performers, especially Rosario Conte’s theorbo and Kristin von der Goltz’s plangent, almost gamba-like cello. Tempi, in the first half pleasantly unsurprising, tended to the more eccentric in the second half. The ‘Laudamus te’, shorn from the B minor Mass, was absurdly fast, likewise Goerne’s ‘Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder,’ which sounded merely petulant. Liebreich should listen to his Klemperer and Richter. What sounded as though it might be an interesting curiosity, Mendelssohn’s arrangement for soprano of ‘Erbarme dich,’ presented nothing that was characteristic of its arranger. There is no harm in hearing the aria for soprano, I suppose, and Erdmann sang it with expressive restraint, but one is so used to hearing a lower voice – Christa Ludwig an ideal here – that it is probably more an opportunity for sopranos than audiences.

Doubtless fans of the artists concerned – though presumably not those of Christine Schäfer – went away happy. The programme, however, failed to satisfy: not quite a collection of encores, but with about as much integrity. To have heard a selection of, rather than from, Bach cantatas performed by these musicians would have constituted a far richer experience. Even to have been permitted to hear the recitatives that would have prefaced the arias would have afforded a measure of context. That the programme notes acknowledged Deutsche Grammophon for texts and translations told us what we needed to know concerning priorities.

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