Benjamin Appl’s baritone is suitably light for this selection of arias from works which, even though performed publicly in church were, nevertheless, intended to aid private devotion rather than constitute extrovert music-drama for its own sake. He sings from the head – in both physical and metaphorical terms – to bring out the meditative nature of the texts which J. S. Bach set.Although Appl erratically emphasises some words in the phrases over others, and despite the quasi-operatic forms which Bach skilfully adapted for his purposes, these are not theatrical performances of the music, mellow, lyrical, steady and controlled. Quieter arias could do with more colour, perhaps, and in contrast Judas’s aria of remorse in the Matthew Passion, ‘Gebt mir meine Jesum wieder’, might have benefited from more violence and discomfort. But Appl makes a consistent case for drawing the listener into the reflective world of each number. The vision of the Day of Judgement is arrestingly invoked in the dissonant opening of the accompanied recitative from Cantata 70 but the aria which follows is undoubtedly consoling.
If the tone of joyfulness for Cantata 194’s ‘Was das Höchsten Glanz erfüllt’ is a touch forced at times, Appl could take more of a risk for the unbounded ebullience of ‘Zu Tanze, zu Sprunge’ (from 201, the Contest between Phoebus and Pan) though ‘Kron und Preisgekrönter Damen’ (from another secular work, the celebratory 214) maintains the same dignity which would be accorded to it in its rather better-known guise as ‘Grosser Herr’ in the Christmas Oratorio.
Another instance of musical recycling appears in the Sinfonia from Cantata 156, more familiar as the slow movement of the F-minor Keyboard Concerto, BWV1056. Concerto Köln’s performance here plods a little, and the oboist declines to make any of the embellishments where expected. The other Sinfonias are sensitive and demure.
Appl concludes with two curiosities. First, the relatively well-known Sacred Song ‘Bist du beimir’ (BWV508) – not from a Cantata, but found in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, and now known to have been composed by Gottfried Stölzel – it gives an insight into the domestic music-making of the devout Lutheran Bach family. Usually sung by a soprano, here the baritone voice provides a mood of consolation and rest. Lastly, in a solo version of ‘Jesu bleibet meine Freude’ (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring to English-speaking audiences) from Cantata 147, Appl sonorously intones the chorale melody without the assistance of a choir.
Overall this release offers a more rarefied way into such repertoire than Michael Volle’s recent disc of Cantatas, but it reveals the variety of the composer’s writing for a single voice with quiet eloquence and authority. Texts and translations are included in the booklet.