The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner; Soloists: Joanne Lunn soprano, William Towers alto, Jan Kobow tenor, Dietrich Henschel bass, Geller soprano, Michael Chance alto, Jan Kobow tenor, Dietrich Henschel bass
J.S. Bach: Cantatas for the for the First Sunday in Advent (Köln )
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland I BWV 61 / Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland II BWV 62 / Schwingt freudig euch empor BWV 36
Cantatas for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (Lüneburg) Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! BWV 70 / Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! BWV 132 / Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben BWV 147
We join John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists on their Bach Cantata pilgrimage for a concert of Bach’s Advent cantatas, performed in the largest of the Romanesque churches in Cologne, St. Maria im Kapitol (St. Mary in the Capital).
Besides the festive allure they have in common, all three of Bach’s surviving cantatas for Advent (BWV 61, 62 and 36) display a sense of excitement at the onsent of the Advent season. This is a time of anticipation and waiting, and an opportunity for congregations to turn away from all those self-absorbed feelings of guilt, fear, damnation and hellfire that dominated the final Sunday of the Trinity season. This sense of having at last turned a corner is summed up in the radiantly benign accompagnato for soprano and alto ‘Wir ehren diese Herrlickkeit’, the penultimate movement of BWV 62 Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland (Come now, Saviour of the Gentiles). The successive stages of Advent and the different perspectives these give on Jesus’ incarnation are perhaps most clearly marked in Bach’s early version of BWV 61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. The programme ends with BWV 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor (Soar joyfully aloft), a large-scale work divided into two parts, the first of which would have been performed before the sermon, the second afterwards. The opening chorus, as befits the season, is joyous, and is described by Gardiner as a spiritual madrigal – “capricious, light-textured and depply satisfying”.
The final European leg of the year-long pilgrimage takes us to the atmospheric Michaeliskirche in Lüneburg where we join John Eliot and his musical forces in a concert of three of Bach’s most gripping church cantatas.
The programme begins with BWV 70 Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! (Watch! pray! pray! watch!) in the musical form in which this cantatas has survived – the expansion that Bach made for performance in Leipzig on 21 November 1723 of the shorter, six-movement Advent piece composed seven years earlier in Weimar (BWV70a), of which only three upper parts survive. We then hear one of Bach’s earliest cantatas, BWV 132 Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! (Prepare the way, prepare the path), an intimate work scored for four voices, oboe, bassoon, strings and continuo consisting of two recitatives, three arias and a final chorale. The concert ends with BWV 147 Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth, Deeds and Life), the best known of Bach’s reworkings of an earlier Weimar cantata. The pre-Christmas excitement is captured in the glorious opening chorus by the fanfare-like opening section for orchestra.