Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas 140, 61 & 29

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Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt was one of the original promoters of the practice of playing Baroque music on historical instruments, and he had an idiosyncratic style, to boot; well-considered and carefully worked out, but still idiosyncratic. It wasn't uncommon to hear Bach lovers get into arguments at parties over his first cycle of Bach cantata recordings, made in the 1970s and 1980s. He's mellowed out a bit in his old age, with some widely acclaimed recordings of Classical-era repertory that anyone can enjoy for their combination of gravity and transparent detail. This release featuring three familiar Bach cantatas, with an assortment of uniformly good Austrian soloists, will give those who may not have been around the first time a taste of the old bad-boy Harnoncourt. Try especially the most famous Bach cantata of all, the Cantata No. 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," BWV 140 (Sleepers awake, a voice is calling), for an example of the clipped notes that are among Harnoncourt's trademarks. The lovely chorale setting "Zion hört die Wächter singen" (track 4) has an almost jittery feeling; maybe those shepherds, instead of needing to be awakened, were insomniacs. The entire cantata has very little of the pastoral affect that was surely in Bach's mind. But Harnoncourt by now enjoys an almost symbiotic relationship with his Concentus Musicus Wien ensemble and Arnold Schoenberg Choir, a youthful mixed-gender choir in contrast to the boychoirs he previously employed. (Harnoncourt has claimed that this is because the voices of young musicians change earlier than they did at the beginning of his career.) These recordings were made over three occasions at Vienna's Musikverein, whose dull but spacious sound suits Harnoncourt's style. There are now plenty of other recordings of these cantatas on historical instruments, with the cycle by Japan's Masaaki Suzuki available for those who favor a dry, investigative approach. Harnoncourt, however, has not lost his power to intrigue, and those who liked him from the start will find a great deal of interest here. The recording is also available in an A-B set, paired with earlier all-male recordings on the Teldec label.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140
1 6:55
2 0:58
3 5:52
4 3:57
5 1:29
6 6:33
7 1:56
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61
8 3:23
9 1:25
10 3:45
11 1:00
12 3:48
13 0:54
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29
14 3:37
15 2:20
16 5:36
17 0:48
18 5:14
19 0:25
20 1:41
21 2:02

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140
1 7:09
2 0:57
3 6:32
4 3:59
5 1:37
6 6:22
7 1:55
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61
8 3:40
9 1:33
10 3:58
11 1:04
12 3:23
13 1:03
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29
14 3:37
15 3:03
16 6:30
17 0:49
18 5:48
19 0:25
20 1:53
21 1:24
blue highlight denotes track pick