Helmuth Rilling

Bach: Congratulatory & Hommage Cantatas

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A persistent myth about Johann Sebastian Bach is that he recycled his music so often as a time saving measure. If one strikes a comparison to his contemporary Georg Philipp Telemann, however, it is clear that recycling music was not necessarily an easier way to go for a composer of the German Baroque, as Telemann seldom recycled much of anything, yet produced a veritable mountain of cantatas. Telemann, not Bach, was considered the major force in the German music of his day, and it was he who enjoyed most important commissions -- cantatas and oratorios for the opening of grand new churches, the installation of priests, large civic functions, and other auspicious events. As the "second-greatest" German composer of his era, Johann Sebastian Bach often found himself in the unenviable position of composing workaday cantatas to honor the achievements of relatively minor local dignitaries, to celebrate their wives' birthdays, or for some other thoroughly forgettable occasion. In most instances, the musical scores written for such one-time-only usage was presented to the honoree, who would then promptly discard it -- indeed, what would they need it for? The only person who would remember such pieces seemed to be Bach himself, who would save the orchestral parts and simply write new vocal parts to go with them for another work, with changes made and even replacing whole sections if needed.

Helmuth Rilling and the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart's Hänssler Classic release Congratulatory and Homage Cantatas is the 139th volume in its Edition Bachakademie series of Bach's cantatas, and is devoted to five survivors among Bach's vast, and now mostly lost, output in this genre. Of the five works included on Congratulatory and Homage Cantatas, Angenehmes Wiederau and Schwingt freudig euch empor have never been recorded before, and the other three haven't been recorded with any great frequency. The texts, mostly by Picander, are terrible, while Bach's music is terrific in equal measure. The solo singers on Congratulatory and Homage Cantatas are generally quite good, with soprano Christiane Oelze and tenor Marcus Ullmann being exceptionally so. Bass Andreas Schmidt is the weakest soloist, as he has a lot of trouble negotiating the vocally thankless welcome aria in Angenehmes Wiederau. But overall it doesn't make a lot of sense to single out the singers, as in Bach the music sounds most right when all of its elements are working together, and this is felt most strongly in Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht. Rilling keeps the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart moving and the music never drags. The Gächinger Kantorei sounds great; pristine and pure, throughout, but admittedly there isn't a lot for it to do in these cantatas, which are primarily written with the vocal soloists in mind.

Johann Sebastian Bach is like God when it comes to Western music, and those things that are an embarrassment to God we like to file in the bottom drawer. Bottom drawer Bach is still a good deal better than bottom drawer, and some middle drawer, Telemann. That is as good a reason as any to revive these otherwise marginal Bach cantatas.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Cantata No. 30a, "Angenehmes Wiederau, freue dich in deinen Auen," BWV 30a (BC G31)
1 03:30
2 00:56
3 04:43
4 00:41
5 05:19
6 00:40
7 05:31
8 00:50
9 04:23
10 00:40
11 02:33
12 01:06
13 03:33
Cantata No. 36c, "Schwingt freudig euch empor," BWV36c (BC G35)
14 03:31
15 00:56
16 05:08
17 00:51
18 02:51
19 00:38
20 06:47
21 00:21
22 03:37
Cantata No. 36b, "Die Freude reget sich," BWV 36b (BC G38)
23 01:00
24 01:29
25 01:06
26 03:35

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht, serenata (secular cantata) for 4 voices, chorus & orchestra, BWV 134a (BC G5)
1 00:36
2 05:29
3 02:26
4 08:43
5 03:16
6 06:45
7 01:59
8 07:03
Durchlauchtster Leopold, serenata for 2 voices, flute, bassoon, strings & continuo, BWV 173a (BC G9)
9 00:35
10 03:36
11 01:37
12 03:33
13 01:06
14 03:52
15 02:22
16 02:29
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