JS BACH The Solo Cantatas for Bass (Christian Senn)
The inherited gravitas of Bach’s bass cantatas in post-war recorded history began with the iconic reflections of Hans Hotter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, leading in the 1990s to the sophisticated psychology of Matthias Goerne, one whose fervent characterisation finds an additional dimension in Roger Norrington’s suave ‘period’ accompaniment. The Chilean baritone Christian Senn takes us on yet another journey, under the carefully watchful support of Ruben Jais and laBarocca, drawing on the historical ideals of contemporary 18th-century poetics, namely how rhetorical delivery governs musical decisions, especially phraseology.
To a certain extent, this is what musicians tend to do anyway, but Senn’s urgent and throbbing reading of Ich will den Kreuzstab turns out to be rather more than an authenticist’s gimmick. His controlled and rich baritone enacts this wonderful cantata’s opening ‘scena’ with all the intensity of Barry McDaniel’s exquisite reading for Fritz Werner (Erato, 1/05), the emerging triplets carrying the weight of the Cross to Calvary with unusually effective imagery. Likewise, the release of the burden in the subsequent aria is accentuated by a deft dialogue between the delightfully throaty and immediate oboe obbligato of Nicola Barbagli and the elevating effect of Senn’s balletic coloratura alongside crisp articulation.
But the lifeblood of these performances is, thankfully, promulgated by concerns beyond historical rectitude. Senn’s natural fluency finds a willing partner in Ruben Jais’s wonderfully arching and logical phrases in which each ‘tableau’ seems to project the kernel of the verse’s meaning; the valedictory ‘Aria con Choral’ of Der Friede sei mit dir is a case in point where the chorale and the crystalline solo violin circumnavigate the vocal line in one of those archetypical Bachian conceits of world-weariness and the joyful prospect of eternal rest.
Ich habe genug is mellifluous, deeply thoughtful and devoid of the generic mannerisms which inevitably creep into this ubiquitous work. There are more pristinely curated versions (and there is a tendency for a lumpy and somewhat prosaic bass here) but Senn’s unwavering line and summoning of atmosphere in each seam of ‘Schlummert ein’ is truly memorable. The deftly expanding instrumental dynamic before the return of the opening is like watching a chrysalis open. Convincing and original, this recital sits in the upper echelons of a significant list of eminent accounts of these favourite Bach cantatas.