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Johann Ludwig BACH (1677-1731)

Marche dich auf, werde licht [17:55]
Ja, mir hast du Arbeit genacht [19:56]
Er machete uns lebendig [12:08]
Die mit Tränen säen [17:32]
Barbara Schlick (soprano)
Mary Nichols (alto)
Wilfried Jochens (tenor)
Stephen Varcoe (bass)
Jugendkantorei Dormagen
Die Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
rec. Neanderkirche, Dusseldorf, 2-6 November 1981
CARUS 83.186 [67:33]
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Johann Ludwig, cousin of the more famous Johann Sebastian, was born in 1677 and rose inexorably to the position of Court Director in Meiningen. Naturally he produced a wide array of works, specifically a large number of cantatas, twenty-two sacred and two secular, in addition to masses and other choral pieces. The survival of these works is owed to the fact that Johann Sebastian arranged for them to be copied for his own performance use during 1726 in Leipzig.
Beyond questions of mere consanguinity however lies the deeper musical matter. This quartet of cantatas demonstrates a comprehensive control and fine distribution of arias and recitatives, a melodic surety and eloquence. There’s seldom what one can define as real memorability, nor in truth absolute melodic individuality but the writing is buoyant and imaginative and Johann Ludwig does display a real touch for obbligato string writing.
Marche dich auf, werde licht was intended for the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. It offers plenty of variety for the vocal soloists and conveys emotive subtlety through curvaceous rhythmic snap. The aria Weicht, ihr Schatten is joyfully expressive, not least in this bouncy performance where Barbara Schlick is highly impressive. The final chorus is very reminiscent of his cousin’s St Matthew Passion chorales but in rather more intimate form. Sturdy but with intriguing cross currents between the choral strands it makes for an impressive end to the cantata.
Ja, mir hast du Arbeit genacht, performed on the Sunday before Lent, has a more appropriate solemnity and authoritative gravity.  The melancholy downward leaps in the soprano aria Fliesst, ihr Lieb- und Trauertränen attest to the melismatic technical demands made on – and expected of - the soloist. Written for the third day of Easter Er machete uns lebendig is incisively shaped and sports some fine opportunities for the string players to shine. This is affirmatory writing, not bluff exactly and certainly not dull. The chorale that ends this cantata sounds emotively very much like that which ends Marche dich auf, werde licht.
Finally there is Die mit Tränen säen, which is again another Easter Sunday cantata. The variety of voice distribution is impressive and creates variety of texture and mood. And the role for cello obbligato is both athletic and pointed, whilst the final chorus has a certain Vivaldian vivacity and a rather deliciously terpsichorean vibrancy.
These aren’t new performances. They were recorded fully a quarter of a century ago. Barbara Schlick proves a splendid soprano soloist throughout, clear as a bell and athletic. Mary Nichols has slightly less to do but she deploys her warm mezzo with considerable discretion and skill. Tenor Wilfried Jochens is very slightly adenoidal, though suitably combative when required. Bass Stephen Varcoe is first class, lyrically sure and with enviable command of breath control. His aria Geerbte Schuld in Er machete uns lebendig is a real high point. With well-taken tempi and adroit instrumental and choral support Hermann Max directs very persuasively.
The notes are trilingual – German, French and English – and texts are in German and in English translation. Attractive recording quality completes a sure-footed conspectus of a gifted cousin’s seldom-performed cantatas.
Jonathan Woolf


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