Longing For Sweet Death: St. Gallen’s Bach, Vol. 22

Review by: Jens F. Laurson


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

There is something to the St. Gallen Bach Cantata project’s recordings that speaks with an earnestness and directness that other recordings of these works do not. And the more I have been listening to, the more I am hooked. The performances contain the spontaneity of the best of Gardiner’s Bach Pilgrimage (Soli Deo Gloria), the text-first directness of the superb Sigiswald Kuijken/La Petite Bande one-year cycle (Accent), and something of the generous spirit and warmth that can be found in Ton Koopman’s recordings (Challenge).

Rudolf Lutz and his Bach Stiftung chorus and orchestra from northern Switzerland score especially high on something that’s not easy to describe: a communal feel, something engaging, something that makes us a part of the music, not just observers–something that makes us regret not having been there and participated.

This release is not their latest but it contains some particularly splendid and popular cantatas: Christus, der ist mein Leben BWV 95 (written in 1723 for the 16th Sunday after Trinity); Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen BWV 56 (written in 1726 for the 19th Sunday after Trinity); and Komm, du süße Todesstunde BWV 161 (written in Weimar in 1716 for the Feast of Purification). From different periods of Bach’s life, these are united by the sweet longing for death, Jesus, and delivery. That doesn’t make them sad music: death-as-deliverance was rather an uplifting thought at the time. But it is urgent music: just think of the concluding chorale of BWV 56, “Komm, O Tod, Du Schlafes Bruder”, or the tenor arias either from BWV 161 (“Mein Verlangen”) or BWV 95 (“Ach, schlage doch bald”).

Incidentally, if any minor flaw could be found on this uplifting release, it might be this latter aria. Tenor Charles Daniels sings touchingly throughout BWV 95, but here he seems a bit rushed and indistinct on the 16th notes, and “Ach schlage doch bald” (Oh, strike soon, blessed hour…) comes out as “Ach, Schlagggadochbald”, which at first had me scramble to the text (included, along with the usual superb bilingual notes) to see who or what exactly was “flapping” about. But the pizzicato accompaniment is superb and the pair of oboe d’amores above it (Katharina Arfken, Dominik Melicharek) divine, so who cares!

The soloists of the three cantatas, whether veterans Klaus Mertens and Charles Daniels or the next generation of expert Bach singers Julia Sophie Wagner, Matthias Helm, Alex Potter, and Daniel Johannsen (by now a Bach veteran) are all entirely on board with the involving performances. This release is a gem in a string of jewels, and any Bach-lover should dip her or his ears.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: BWV 56: Kuijken (Accent); Suzuki (BIS); This one, BWV 95: Koopman (Challenge); Gardiner (Soli Deo Gloria), BWV 161: Purcell Quartet (Chandos); Koopman (Challenge); This one

  • BACH, J.S.:

    Cantatas: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen BWV 56; Christus, der ist mein Leben BWV 95; Komm, du süße Todesstunde BWV 161

  • Klaus Mertens (bass); Julia Sophie Wagner (soprano); Charles Daniels, Alex Potter (countertenor); Matthias Helm (baritone); Daniel Johannsen (tenor)
  • Chorus & Orchestra of the J.S. Bach Stiftung St. Gallen, Rudolf Lutz

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