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Cantata No.185   Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe
Cantata No.186   Ärgre dich, O Seele, nicht
Cantata No.187   Es wartet alles auf dich
Arleen Augér, Maria Friesenhausen (sopranos)
Hildegard Laurich, Helen Watts (altos)
Aldo Baldin, Kurt Equiluz (tenors)
Philippe Huttenlocher, Wolfgang Schöne (basses)
Gächinger Kantorei, Frankfurter Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
Recorded 1971/76/77 respectively
HÄNSSLER EDITION VOL. 56 CD 92056 [73.59] Edition Bachakademie

The three cantatas featured here were written in 1715, 1723 and 1726 respectively during Bach's years in Weimar and Leipzig. Whilst in the former city he composed at least 22 cantatas starting with No.182, as well as many important organ works and the English suites. There is a cyclical shape to No.185, the opening motif in the continuo instruments anticipating the first line of the final chorale. By the time he moved to Leipzig, Bach's cantata format had changed from an opening chorus, four arias and a chorale by adding recitatives and by making much more innovative use of a wider variety of instruments, in particular the oboe family (the oboe itself, the oboe d'amore and the oboe da caccia). No.186 was meant for performance on the 7th Sunday after Trinity upon which day the sermon was the feeding of the five thousand, though one thousand of them seem to have been lost in translation according to the booklet notes. No.187 was composed for the same Sunday in the liturgical calendar three years later..

The highlight of this dic is a ravishing duet 'Lass, Seele, kein Leiden' for soprano and alto, exquisitely sung by the late and sorely lamented American soprano Arleen Augér with the only British soloist among the many featured, Helen Watts. It comes in cantata No.186, the central and longest of the three on this disc which is part of the huge edition begun in 1970 culminating this year by marking the 250th anniversary of Bach's death in 1750. That the recordings themselves are 25-30 years old is not only clear from the participation of Auger and Watts and also Equiluz and Schöne, but also in the rather dead sound. Having said that, the music of No.186 is decidedly superior and gets a suitably inspired response from all concerned.

For the chorus, cantatas can be of highly limited interest with participation sometimes restricted to just one final chorale as in No.185, where the singing is accordingly rather limp. In the other two, however, there are fortunately several substantial contributions, the first chorus of the latter ('Es wartet alle auf dich') is full of contrapuntal music of the highest complexity which Rilling paces admirably, the vocal lines clearly defined, the textures always translucent. The singing of Watts' alto colleague Hildegard Laurich (in Nos.185 and 187) leaves much to be desired however - her sound is foggy, the tone uneven and there is some suspect intonation in places. Maria Friesenhausen, on the other hand, fares better in her aria in No.187 though she is no patch on Auger.

 Christopher Fifield 



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