This is Philippe Pierlot's sixth disc of J.S. Bach's church music. As before Pierlot uses what we now know to be Bach's own performance practice, that is, he employs single voices (no "chorus" in our modern sense) and a fairly small band (4/4/2/1/1 + winds). His previous recordings were an excellent advertisement for such a purist approach, and so is this new CD.
Pierlot's initial recording in 2005 presented three of Bach's early cantatas, where one-voice-per-part performance is generally accepted. This new disc now gives us three mature works from the start of Bach's time at Leipzig, one (BWV 22) being the "masterpiece" he offered when being interviewed for the job there. OVPP performance of such larger-scale works (written for a comparatively big establishment and a very spacious church) is still sometimes disputed, but Pierlot makes it work well. He has a strong team of voices, all mature, confident singers with clear tone (no built-in wobble, vibrato purely for expression) and good German, matched with a small expert band; and (vital requirement) he has a grasp of rhetoric – listen to the very first phrase of BWV 75 and you hear how he has his instrumentalists thinking like singers. And so good are his singers that a non-specialist ear might not even notice that absent chorus.
All three cantatas are noble works. To sample them you might listen to track 15, the first number of Bach's Leipzig interview-piece, which starts with a tenor evangelist (like the Passions), follows with a bass "vox Christi", and mutates into a group of uncomprehending disciples in four parts – Bach labelled the whole thing "Concerto". Then go to track 18, a tenor aria obviously meant to get Leipzig toes tapping. Finally try track 5, a soprano aria from BWV 75, a big drums-and-trumpets work that Bach wrote for his first Sunday in the new job. It's full of gentle joy finely expressed by Hannah Morrison (Dutch, despite the name) who throws off Bach's ferocious coloratura word-painting with calm insouciance.
Morrison impressed as a voice new to me, but everyone involved in these performances exhibits a high level of musical skill and experience - so high indeed that one runs the risk of taking it for granted. Take it from me, this whole recording itself could be a masterpiece – if anyone were offering jobs for a Bach-performance team. I include the engineers: they use a church acoustic to put appropriate resonance around the voices and instruments but still allow us to hear the detail in a realistic way – we can hear the harpsichord, for instance, but only just, as would be the case in reality.
The publicity department at Mirare must have realised that they had a package worth selling. They did their best with an arty cover and a fancy Latin title but unfortunately the CD is listed by that (meaningless) title on this (and other) platforms and so is hard to find. It took me some minutes, and I knew what I was looking for. But if you do come across it, be sure to listen to it. You'll find few finer introductions to Bach's church work. It'd also be worth your while to go to the Bach Cantata Website where you'll get better translations of the texts: these are works of musical rhetoric and you gain much if (unlike Jesus' disciples) you comprehend the words.