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American Record Guide, February 2007

Of the cantatas on this program, two are authenticated works by JS Bach, while the other two were formerly attributed to him. All are for solo voice, though Bach's 55 concludes with a four-part chorale sung here by the Cologne Bach Choir. The two Bach works were for Sundays after Trinity in 1726: 35 (Geist und Seele Wird Verwirret) for the 12th Sunday and 55 (Ich Armer Mensch, Ich Sünderknecht) for the 22nd. The only work for alto voice is 35. It is noteworthy for one of those rare instances where Bach furnishes a concertante organ part for two instrumental sinfonias and the three arias. Some of the musical material is drawn from a now lost oboe concerto of the Cöthen period.

Melchior Hoffmann (c1679-1715) is undoubtedly the least familiar of the three composers here. He was a chorister in the court chapel at Dresden, but came to Leipzig in 1702 to study law. In 1705 he succeeded Telemann as organist of the New Church in Leipzig, took charge of the Collegium Musicum, and was involved with the Leipzig Opera. In 1714 he was appointed organist of the Lady Church in Halle- JS Bach was one of the other competitors for the post-but never took up the position. He died in Leipzig in his mid-30s, some eight years before Bach's arrival there. His cantata for the Feast of the Visitation has an anonymous text that takes the Magnificat as its point of departure. It is lightly scored, with a colorful obbligato ensemble of recorder, oboe, and violin, but no orchestral strings.

According to the program notes, Bach copied out Telemann's Easter cantata for use at Leipzig. It is quite characteristic of many of the cantatas that Telemann published in collections for churches with limited resources, though that is hardly a description of the principal churches in Leipzig. It is brief-only ten minutes-and scored for solo voice, one obbligato violin, and continuo. It seems an unlikely choice for Easter Day at Leipzig, though possibly Bach used it for one of the days after Easter.

Alto Marianne Beate Kielland displays a rich vocal tone in 35 as well as all the flexibility required by Bach's intricate lines. She makes the arias sound nearly effortless-always a notable achievement in this repertory. At the start of 55, tenor Markus Schäfer sounds 'most like a countertenor in his upper range, producing what I would describe as a light but clear mezza voce. The sound is considerably different in his lower tenor range. Apart from this minor unevenness, the voice is well suited to the repertory.

The Cologne Chamber Orchestra is a modern instrument ensemble, but as the program notes indicate, they play "according to the principles of historical performance practice". The effect here is convincing. Among their other recordings is a program of cantatas for alto (84, 169, 170, and 200) sung by Kielland (Naxos 557621), and a B-minor Mass that includes both Kielland and Schafer among the soloists (Naxos 557488, July/Aug 2005). I was not impressed by that. I felt that some of the tempos were ill-chosen, but my chief complaint was about balance. The voices tended to be overbalanced by the instruments. I do not find that the case in the present recording, and I cannot say that I find anything extreme or persuasive in Müller-Brühl's readings here as I did in the B- minor Mass.

I would not hesitate to recommend this even to listeners who are in the process of collecting one or more of the complete Bach cantata sets now in progress. The Hoffmann and Telemann cantatas will be omitted from such sets, but it is well worth hearing compositions good enough to have been credibly attributed JS Bach. Texts and translations are not given, but the listener is referred to the Naxos website.

George Chien
Fanfare, December 2006

There's a hidden agenda for this release, which is revealed in the headnote. The Hoffmann and Telemann cantatas, copies of which were found among Bach's effects, were originally misattributed to him and assigned BWV numbers in the first Bach Edition. Subsequent research has definitively assigned BWV 160 to Telemann and BWV 189 most probably to Melchior Hoffmann, organist of the Neukirche when Bach arrived in Leipzig. The joint discoveries have had the effect of consigning both cantatas to virtual oblivion. Neither deserves so cruel a fate, but CD versions are hard to come by. It happened on a Philips recording by the estimable Peter Schreier that included both, also coupled with BWV 55, Bach's only extant tenor cantata, and a group of arias, but its current availability is dubious at best. Consequently, if you suffer from insatiable curiosity, this disc is your best bet. Fortunately, in Markus Schäfer the three tenor cantatas, BWV 55 included, have a worthy advocate, whose singing on the present disc can be compared without prejudice with Schreier's. Kielland's contribution, in the alto cantata BWV 35, is a mix of traditional vocal production and the sort of "white" tone preferred in some historically informed circles, which I found mildly disconcerting, but hardly disqualifying. Harald Hoeren is the able organist in Cantata 35, which contains two sinfonias that undoubtedly were derived from a missing concerto. Muller-Bruhl, who is building a substantial catalog for Naxos, continues to enhance his status as a Bach specialist. The disc comes with informative notes but no texts or translations, which are available online. Definitely worth hearing.

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