Philippe Jaroussky: "Sacred Cantatas"
Freiburger Barockorchester. Texts and translations. Erato 0190295925338
IF BACH HAD SPENT his career in different professional circumstances, might he ever have written an opera? He certainly would have been capable of it, which is nowhere clearer than in the lesser-known cantata “Vergnügte Ruh,” which opens this new recording by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. In the second aria, the narrator’s sadness and confusion that his fellow mortals “rejoice in revenge and hate,” and thus offend God, are portrayed in a unique musical texture. Unison violins and violas, trying in vain to be dogged and stern, are here the bass line to an organ solo with the feel of a two-part invention. This is preceded by a recitative with continuo accompaniment alone and succeeded by a fully accompanied recitative, in which the narrator makes preparation for a new world, as if standing on the edge of a cliff. The final aria is then full of harmonic twists, with a chromatic leading tone on the very first barline, as if the earthbound singer were asking to be taken away, while a virtuoso organ solo whirls all around. Jaroussky and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra give a model performance.
The other Bach cantata on the disc, the far more familiar “Ich habe genug,” is likewise about a readiness to leave the world. But the programming goes deeper than that. “Ich habe genug” is bookended by two Telemann cantatas that form something of a parallel progression. In “Die stille Nacht,” the soloist portrays both a narrator, as in the Bach piece, and Christ. The text concerns the moments after the Last Supper. In the second aria, on the speech corresponding to “Let this cup now pass from me,” Jaroussky projects the expression without tearing it to tatters. The third aria, with Christ now on the cross, finds Jaroussky a bit less poised vocally, no doubt in response to the text. The instrumentalists throughout are brilliant, with violinist Petra Müllejans finding expression in long held tones as well as figuration.
On balance, this is the finest recording that Jaroussky has given us. The other Telemann cantata, “Jesus liegt in letzten Zügen,” concludes with yet another aria about readiness for death as a prelude to everlasting life. It’s very virtuoso, and with Jaroussky not a note is out of place in music that is much more instrumental than gratifying for a voice to sing. But best of all is the preceding aria, “Mein liebster Heiland.” With countertenors, listeners are perhaps less likely than with any other vocal category simply to forget which type of voice is singing and be carried
away by the expression, but here Jaroussky offers such direct emotional expression that everything else in the world falls away. He is becoming one of our finest singers. —William R. Braun