Ryland Angel: "Freud und Lust"
Arias and Hymns by J. C. Bach, J. S. Bach and Buxtehude; Holy Trinity Bach Players, Erickson. Texts and translations. Deux Elles 1147
British countertenor Ryland Angel is joined by New York's Holy Trinity Bach Players under long-time director Rick Erickson for a novel program of music generated by Germanic Lutheran composers for use in churches in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As women and castratos generally did not figure in liturgical music in the German-speaking lands, countertenors were regularly employed in the alto parts.
For most listeners, Danish-born Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1638–1707) boasts a name more familiar than his remaining works, which show great skill and enjoyable string writing. (Many of his pieces are now lost, including the apparently influential oratorios.) The disc presents three chorale settings. The CD title (Joy and Desire) comes from the celebratory aria "Jesu, meine Freud and Lust"; by comparison, the strophic aria "Wenn ich, Herr Jesu, habe dich" is contemplative and sorrowful. A third Buxtehude setting employing the Latin Vulgate for Psalm 97:4-6, "Jubilate Domino," yields Angel's vocal line alternating with Carlene Stober's excellent viola da gamba. Johann Christoph Bach, not "our" Johann Sebastian's elder brother and probable keyboard instructor nor his prolific composer son Johann Christoph Friedrich, but his father's first cousin of the same name, an organist and church composer at Eisenach. This J. C. Bach lived from 1642 to 1703 and enjoyed considerable renown, if little financial stability. His lamenting "Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte" worthily keeps company with two short, sleepy vocal pieces at least attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach.
Angel is a sensitive musician, but the timbre of his instrument is rather churchy and plain, particularly at the bottom of his compass. Diction makes evident the singer's textual comprehension but doesn't always increase that of his listeners. Vowels, in particular, can get distorted by Angel's vibrato-avoiding vocal production. Countertenor timbre seems to be very much a matter of individual taste, so perhaps other listeners will be drawn to Angel's undoubtedly informed and earnest singing; I grew to appreciate it somewhat more in multiple listens. I regularly complain about time devoted to instrumental tracks on issues billed as vocal in nature. but the nineteen minutes on this fifty-eight minute CD devoted to two radiant, engagingly played Buxtehude sonatas for strings and Erickson's organ actually provided the greatest enjoyment the well-engineered Freud und Lust offers.
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