Bach: Cantatas and Arias (CD review)

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante. Virgin Veritas 7243-5-45420-2-2.

In the booklet insert Michel Roubinet emphasizes Bach's theme of death in the cantatas, which is a natural subject for religious and liturgical works, stressing as they do Man's continual struggle with mortal existence and his possible ultimate salvation in the afterlife. But Bach's music is anything but morbid or depressing.

The ten cantatas, excerpts, and arias sung on this disc by tenor Ian Bostridge are filled with hope and reassurance, and Ian Bostridge communicates them to us with a special joy. He is ably accompanied by the Italian group Europa Galante, led by Fabio Biondi. Although some people have criticized Biondi for his occasionally excessive zeal and breakneck tempos, here he provides the kind of Bach we're all familiar with, set to a mostly relaxed pace yet still done with much enthusiasm. Mainly, Biondi keeps his instrumental forces well out of the way of the solo singer, and Mr. Bostridge carries on admirably, with a firm, steady tenor voice of unflagging character and charm.

Ian Bostridge
The program includes the cantata "Ich habe genug" ("It is enough"), BWV 82a; the orchestral Sinfonia for orchestra, "Christ lag in Todesbanden," BWV 4; the Recitativo "Gott fahret auf mit Jauchzen," BWV 43; the cantata "Ich armer Mensch, ich Sundenknecht" ("Wretched that I am, a slave to sin"), BWV 55; the Sinfonia "Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fallt," BWV 18; and several other miscellaneous cantata movements, arias, and sinfonias.

Virgin Classics recorded the disc in a chapel in Parma, Italy in March of 2000. The audio has the distinction of sounding big, open, and reverberant in a wholly natural way, with no swamping of the voice or coloration of the instrumental textures in any way. One cannot say much of the front-to-back imaging, but there is a nice sense of surround ambiance in it, even without back speakers. The vocal parts are prominently forward of the orchestra yet not at the expense of losing the orchestral input altogether.

Drawbacks? Hardly. While I sensed a growing sameness about the music as the album wore on, that was no doubt just me, as I am not big on vocal music of any kind. Certainly, there was nothing routine about the performances, which are ideal in practically every way, or the sonics, which kept me attentive and entertained throughout. It's a fine album, all the way around.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa