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Bernarda Fink had a good 2008, with her Schubert recital disc garnering widespread praise. Her new recording for 2009, of Bach Solo Cantatas, deserves just as many accolades for both her own and the Freiburger Barockorchester's performances.
These cantatas were written in 1726 and marked a new stylistic period for Bach's works in the genre. Between May 1723 and the Christmas of 1725/6, he had composed, rehearsed and performed a new cantata every week. It's hard to imagine how such a workload didn't send him over the edge. Duracel bunny or not, he was surely a man in need of a sabbatical by Christmas 1725. He did indeed give himself a break of around six months, and the works which appeared from June onwards are awash with creative renewal. Gone are the large-scale choral movements, replaced by solo arias. The instrumental accompaniment and the voice are in greater dialogue with each other, the organ shines as a soloist rather than being consigned to simple accompaniment, textures are intricately crafted, and some sections are recycled from secular works. Bach's Leipzig congregation must have had quite a surprise that first June Sunday.
Fink, with her versatile mezzo tone, meets the cantatas' challenges at all levels. The diction in clear, but her performance really stands out for it's control: vocal control, but also emotional. The feelings expressed are often passionate in the extreme, but her dramatically pared-down approach shuns any melodramatic temptations whilst still digging deep into the heart of the text. Meanwhile, Petra Mullejans and the Freiburger Barockorchester provide perfectly-judged accompaniments, and instrumental sections that hum with vitality. They capture the music's often semi-secular, pastoral mood, whilst retaining just the right amount of religious propriety. Beautiful.