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S & H Concert Review

Bach, Cantatas No 82, ‘Ich habe genug,’ No. 49 ‘Ich geh’ und suche mit Verlangen,’ No. 56, Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.’ Matthias Goerne, Ofelia Sala, Albrecht Mayer, Members of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, directed by Kenneth Sillito. Wigmore Hall, November 16th 2002. (ME)


A set of Bach cantatas is not perhaps the expected material for the Wigmore Hall, such music being more usually heard in a church or more ‘conventional’ larger concert venue, but Matthias Goerne, who chose the programme, believes it to be the perfect place to sing and hear this intimate music, and so, for the most part, it proved to be. Goerne is so often said to be the successor to Fischer-Dieskau, and although I consider him to be as significant a musical figure for our time as the latter was for his own, it seems to me that the younger baritone is so individual an artist that there is only one definite feature which links them in my mind, and it is that to hear either at his most sublime, you must hear him sing Bach. Goerne’s singing on this occasion, despite one or two uncharacteristically vague – sounding lines and a distressing mistake in the final work, was the model of what Bach singing should be, in its combination of reverent spirituality and vivid, masculine life.

‘Ich habe genug’ must be one of the most moving works in the whole canon, and Goerne and Albrecht Mayer gave it a performance of sublime authority and unbounded tenderness. Mayer’s playing of the florid, haunting solo was so fluent as to make the instrument seem a part of himself; this Principal Oboe of the Berlin Philharmonic is establishing himself as a leading soloist of that instrument, and his style was the ideal match for Goerne’s ‘cello-like tone and remarkable facility with florid passagework.

It is the recitatives, even more than the arias, which mark Goerne as a Bach singer of the highest order, and in the first one here he achieved a superb blending of exquisite tenderness at ‘Dass Jesus mein und ich sein eigen möchte sein’ and consoling strength at ‘Mit Freuden sagt ich, Welt, zu dir: Ich habe genug.’ The central aria, ‘Schlummert ein’ was phrased with warmth and serenity, especially at ‘Fallet sanft und selig zu,’ and the energetically forceful ‘Ich freue mich’ was sung with great skill, the long phrases taken in single breaths with power in reserve.

The less frequently heard ‘Ich geh’ und suche mit Verlangen’ gave the members of the Academy of St.Martin in the Fields a chance to shine in the opening ‘Sinfonia,’ as well as introducing the soprano Ofelia Sala, and what a joyful discovery she is; her singing is naturally warm in character, sensitive in phrasing and eloquent in articulation, and she blended beautifully with Goerne in the sensual duets; I would love to hear her Sophie or her Pamina. The wonderful Arioso passage here called forth from Goerne some of his most radiantly poetic singing: ‘Komm, Liebe Braut’ was irresistible, and the final Aria ‘Dich hab ich je und je geliebet’ was the high point of the evening, with the bass repetitions of ‘Ich komme bald’ weaving mesmerizingly around the soprano and continuo lines.

The second half of the concert was devoted to ‘Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen,’ a les than happy experience for all concerned at the outset. In his recording with Norrington, Goerne sings this Cantata with matchless refinement, caressing beauty of tone and depth of feeling, and it is clearly intimately familiar to him; on this occasion, however, he suffered one of those mishaps which all performers endure at least once or twice in a career, in that he turned over too many pages, got lost, the players in turn found themselves at sea and could not be re-united with him; Goerne had the grace to do the right thing, in that he brought it to a halt, apologized and they all began again. It did take a while before things settled down; Goerne was naturally distressed, and it probably didn’t help that he must have been aware of just how much the audience felt for him.

Matters finally restored themselves by the middle of the first recitative, and he went on to give performances of this and the following Aria and Arioso which can only be described as masterly. Here is a bass who really can sound like one’s idea of the voice of God in such lines as ‘Die ist das Himmelreich,’ where the consoling warmth of the timbre is used to such dramatic effect that the ensuing seconds of silence seem to last for minutes. ‘Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch’ was simply breathtaking, and the final recitative’s blending of serenity and world – weariness at ‘Wiewohl wird mir geschehn’ was perfection.

A packed house was warmly appreciative, although I could not help noticing that there were very few critics present. I cannot imagine not wanting to hear Matthias Goerne sing Bach, or Albrecht Mayer play, and would cheerfully cross a desert to hear either of them, but those who would have liked to attend and were prevented from doing so by distance or other disadvantages, may be consoled by the fact that the concert is soon to be broadcast on the Internet by iclassics.


Melanie Eskenazi

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