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Bach: Psalm 51, Cantata No. 82 - Les Violons du Roy/Labadie

Bach: Psalm 51, Cantata No. 82 - Les Violons du Roy/Labadie

ATMA Classique  SACD22342

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Bach: Psalm 51 (on the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi), Cantata No. 82

Karina Gauvin (soprano)
Daniel Taylor (alto)
Les Violons du Roy
Bernard Labadie (director)

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Review by John Miller - December 9, 2008

In 1746/47 JS Bach acquired a copy of what was, for him, a very modern piece - Pergolesi's 'Stabat Mater', which had become a popular hit after its first performance shortly before the premature death of its composer. He set about making a parody of it, transferring the music to a new text, a paraphrase of the Lutheran Miserere of Psalm 51, possibly written by himself. As usual when Bach made such arrangements, he was careful to preserve the spirit of the music, in this case enriching and incorporating Pergolesi's near-'galant' style into his own high Baroque contrapuntal scheme. The continuo was made richer, and the viola part, which in the original merely doubled the cello and bass, was liberated to play an independant and often prominent soloistic part. This reminds us that Bach, like Mozart after him, loved to play the viola in chamber music, because it put him at the heart of the music.

Atma have paired the little-known Psalm 51 (it was only fairly relatively recently discovered in several parts and reconstructed) with one of Bach's most popular works, the Cantata 'Ich habe genug'. It is an apt pairing, because both of these works deal in depth with human suffering and joy at the prospect of redemption. Conductor Bernard Labadie, soprano Katerina Gauvin and countertenor Daniel Taylor, as well as being Baroque specialists, all have considerable operatic experience and artistry, which is put to very good use in their superb performances. Together, these musicians draw emotions of utmost suffering and radiant joy from the often tearful text.

In Psalm 51, Labadie thankfully takes a briskly moving pace. No moribund dragging as in so many renditions of the Stabat Mater. Fortified by his own fine recording of the Pergolesi original for Dorian, the performance has an inevitable sweep and flow which emphases the human drama most movingly. The soloist's voices match very well, the soprano part often lying in the mezzo range when duetting with the countertenor. Members of Les Violons du Roy, a small string band who play on modern instruments but with baroque bows, play with exceptionally vibrant tone and perfect articulation, complementing the light and shade of the soloists' lines. The warm, resinous tone of the viola gives particular Italianate pleasure in this work, beautifully played as are the violin solos.

'Ich habe genug' was one of Bach's own favourites amongst his cantatas, and he made no less than four versions of it for various solo and instrumental combinations. Labadie has opted to fuse two of the options, producing the present one for soprano and transverse flute. Karina Gauvin is in exceptional form here, producing one of the most moving and sensitive recordings available. She floats her lines seemingly without breath, inflecting them with nuances and word-painting which are breathaking. In the famous aria 'Schlummert ein', she uses ravishing half-tone in her lilting lullaby, and varies the repeating refrain with great subtlety. Certainly the flautist, Marie-Andrée Benny, should have been billed on the front cover - her solo work with Gauvin is unforgettable.

Atma provide a vibrantly warm and detailed recording in a hall rather than a resonant church, with a most effective balance which places the singers amongst the band rather than being spotlighted. The insert notes in French, English and German are helpful and clear, well-laid out and illustrated.

I have no doubt that this is an exceptionally fine disc, probably surpassing existing recordings of both works. Bach-lovers simply must hear it.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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