About Cantata BWV 12 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 30 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 35 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 54 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 60 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 74 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 99 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 117 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 197 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 232 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 243 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
About Cantata BWV 244 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter first reached an international audience as part of the cast of Georg Solti's recordings of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and B minor Mass in the early '90s. Since then, however, von Otter has stayed away from Bach, preferring to explore a wide range of more recent repertoire from Mozart through Brahms to Weill and beyond. Thus, when she did return to Bach with this 2009 Deutsche Grammophon disc of arias and duets, it was inevitable that someone would say she was going back to Bach.
But von Otter is less about going back to Bach as it is about getting down to Bach. In the nearly 20 years since her previous Bach recordings, her voice has darkened and deepened. But, it must be added, it has also grown lovelier. Mixing selections drawn from cantatas as well as the B minor Mass, the Magnificat, and the Matthew Passion, von Otter's choices show off her voice to best effect. With her technique still in fabulous shape, she negotiates the music's procedural and expressive difficulties with ease, phrasing her lines with graceful effortlessness and making Bach's music sound timeless in the best sense of the word. With the expert accompaniment of the Concerto Copenhagen under the direction of conductor and organist Lars Ulrik Mortensen, von Otter turns in a disc that will please her many fans along with anyone else who enjoys Bach's vocal music.
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Anne Sofie von Otter sings Bach
It was with Bach that Anne Sofie von Otter made her very first solo appearances when she performed the alto arias in the St. John Passion in Stockholm. But by then, as she has explained, the experience gained as a chorister in the Stockholm Bach Choir had already had a fundamental and enduring influence on her approach to the composer. "The conductor of the Bach Choir at that time was very dynamic: he was on fire for this music, and I became on fire for it as well. Then Nikolaus Harnoncourt came up to conduct the Bach motets, and that was also a marvellous experience. Harnoncourt was revolutionizing the performance of Baroque and Viennese Classical works - spring-cleaning tempos and phrasing and using original instruments to shed the old woolly sounds of a Romantic orchestra and make the music vibrant again. It was an exciting time for young people like me who gathered around the gramophone and listened eagerly to his new recordings of Monteverdi, Bach and Mozart. Harnoncourt really was my main influence in Bach."
"In the first ten years of my career I sang a lot of Bach," the singer adds, "but after that I purposely put his music and oratorio aside, because there was so much else to explore, especially opera. So this disc is like coming back full circle." Her concept for the recording and the repertoire she has chosen for it date back to the autumn of 2007. "I borrowed discs of every single Bach cantata, listened to them all, and made notes. It was wonderful to discover new arias, but rather than have a solo vocal recital I decided to break it up with purely instrumental movements. I'd known Lars Ulrik Mortensen for a long time, though we hadn't seen a lot of each other recently, and suddenly this name 'Concerto Copenhagen' appeared on the horizon; I heard them on the radio, and I thought: 'What a wonderful ensemble!' Sure enough, Lars Ulrik was the leader of this great ensemble, so when the idea of the Bach recording came up I thought: 'Why don't I ask Concerto Copenhagen?' I cut down the original list, Lars Ulrik added new ideas, and we had a fantastic time making this recording." As for instrumentation: "Bach often puts the alto voice together with the oboe, so that choice was given, and the sound of the Baroque oboe is one I love."
There is a strong showing in the programme of works from the latter part of the young Bach's years in Weimar, from 1714, when he composed Widerstehe doch der Sunde BWV 54, for alto, strings and continuo, and the more elaborately scored Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen Zagen BWV 12, with its plangent Sinfonia. After his subsequent spell at the court of the music-loving prince of Anhalt-Cothen, where most of his secular orchestral works were written, Bach returned to composing cantatas when he was appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in 1723. At the end of May he began the production of what would, in a relatively short time, turn out to be a staggering quantity of work for the Lutheran liturgical year - some 300 sacred cantatas for Leipzig in five annual cycles, not to mention the great Passions and oratorios. For Christmas that year he wrote the first version of his Magnificat, originally in E flat major and with four insertions specific to Christmas Day; the pastoral siciliano of the lilting alto and tenor duet "Et miseri-cordia", with its two flutes, is heard here in the more familiar D major version, made toward the end of the decade.
The two sacred works that tower over that period, however, are the St. Matthew Passion and the B minor Mass, both represented here. From the Matthew Passion, first performed on Good Friday 1729, Anne Sofie von Otter sings the profoundly moving aria "Erbarme dich", which occurs at the point in the Easter narrative when Peter has fulfilled Christ's prediction that he will deny him three times before the cock crows, and follows the words "And he went out, and wept bitterly." The B minor Mass was initiated in 1733 with the Kyrie and Gloria and expanded with music composed both previously and later before reaching its final form at the end of the 1740s. The great alto aria "Agnus Dei" was written in 1735.
Historical considerations aside, for von Otter the music remains the starting point, and then the way it relates to the text. Bach poses specific problems for any singer: "Bach is tricky as far as breathing is concerned. There are these wonderful lines, and you want not to breathe so as not to break them up. But more and more the text has increased in meaning for me.
Bach really does something with the words, and I enjoy using the text, getting it across. It's not by chance that Bach will really squeeze everything he can out of certain vowels or consonants - this symbolism is something I learned about in the Bach Choir. One has to paint the picture in Bach's mind with one's voice. 'Erbarme dich', for instance, has great sadness, in the pleading of the minor sixths, while in 'Widerstehe doch der Sunde' we decided on a particular approach to convey the image of the poison in the text."
"I dived into this project with great excitement. Lars Ulrik really has what I always like in a conductor, particularly in a Baroque conductor: very clear ideas and a lot of energy. He leads from the organ, so he's part of the music-making himself in a very active way. It was a creative collaboration, and the time was spent with great love."
- Kenneth Chalmers