Bach: Cantatas BWV 169 & 2

Le Banquet Céleste, [Céline Scheen,] Damien Guillon, [Nicholas Scott, Benoît Arnould] ScTTB, Maude Gratton organ
Alpha Classics Alpha 448
+BWV 543, 662-664

Alpha have produced a number of fine recordings over the years, and this CD from Damien Guillon, the countertenor, collaborating again with Maude Gratton playing the 2007 Thomas organ in the Église Réformée du Bouclier in Strasbourg is full of wonderful sonorities. It gives us a truer picture of what Bach Cantatas can sound like when the accompaniment based on a substantial organ, and the organ in this church is in the west of a gallery that runs round three sides of the church. Plenty of room has been created for singers and instruments – including a mellow-toned harpsichord – and the effect of cello and contrabass, organ and harpsichord in recitatives is breathtaking.

I know the church, and have played its organ, which is pitched at A=415 Hz (though it has a couple of ranks at 440). The acoustics are not over-resonant, but gave enough give to ensure good blend. The detailed specification is given, but unfortunately no details of the registration for individual movements.

Guillon sings beguilingly, and, save for one awkward change of register in BWV 169.iv on the words sie schließt die Hölle zu, (though perhaps that gritty sound is intended here?) with his habitual elegance and musicianship. The one-to-a-part strings and wind are perfectly tuned, and the organ when playing obligato lines sings out nobly, but never swamps the rest of the band. It is another recording – like that of arias from the cantatas made by A Nocte Temporis with Reinoud van Mechelen with a Traverso and continuo (Alpha 252 – reviewed in the EMR in December 2016) using the 1718 André Silbermann organ in Saint Aurélie, Strasbourg – that gives us a sense of the rich sonorities you can find if you look for an appropriate organ. The other Cantata on this CD is BWV 82, Ich habe genug, in the version Bach made for an alto/mezzo voice in C minor in 1735.

The other works on this CD are played stylishly by Maude Gratton on the organ. There are three Chorale Preludes on Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr – BWV 662, 663 and 664, and the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 534.

Small clips on Youtube allow us to glimpse something of her nimble pedalling as well as her sparkly style and well-chosen registrations.

This is a CD that has given me much pleasure, and from which I have learnt a lot: but I know of no suitable organs in either 415 or 465 in England where we might be able to perform our Bach Cantatas like this, so I hope the builders will listen to this and see what they can do! I recommend this without reservation.

David Stancliffe

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