Bach Cantatas from Mühlhausen, Weimar & Leipzig: Teresa Radomski, soprano, Lee Morgan, contralto, Richard Heard, tenor, Doug Crawley, bass-baritone, John Pruett and Greg Pannell, baroque violins, Marian Wilson, baroque viola, Anne Sellitti, baroque cello, Dale Higbee, recorders and Music Director, Susan Bates, harpsichord/organ, and James Bates, conductor. CB-128: four whole cantatas with excerpts from three others, 74 minutes, recorded in concert October 10, 2008, in the Chapel, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Salisbury, NC. Carolina Baroque, 412 South Ellis Street, Salisbury, NC 28144-4820

Early Music still lives in Salisbury, under the aegis of Carolina Baroque, a small, dedicated, and enthusiastic group of professional musicians under the direction of Dale Higbee, a recorder player of no mean skill. The ensemble not only presents a series of free concerts, funded by donations, in St. John’s Lutheran Church, but also issues modestly priced CDs of these concerts. My colleagues and I have reviewed a number of their now-28 recordings. My main caveat has always been the programs have been excerpts from Bach cantatas or from Handel operas, etc. At last, with this CD, Carolina Baroque gives four cantatas in their entirety, performed by fine vocalists and a solid chamber ensemble.

“Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir” (“Out of the depths, Lord, I call to you”), S.131, was composed in Mühlhausen in 1707. It is one of Bach’s earliest surviving cantatas, and it draws upon both Psalm 130 and a strophe from the chorale “Herr Jesu, du höchstes Gut.” It features solos for bass and tenor. “Jesu nahm zu sich die Zwölfe” (“Jesus took unto him the twelve”), S.22, was composed in Leipzig in 1723. Along with S.23, it was part of Bach’s audition for the coveted position of Thomaskantor. It is reminiscent of the Passions because the text is divided among the Evangelist (tenor), Jesus (bass), and the disciples (chorus). “Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem” (“See! We go up to Jerusalem”), S.159, was composed in Leipzig and is believed to be the last of his cantatas given before the performance of the St. Matthew Passion on Good Friday 1729. The first movement is a dialog between Jesus (bass) and the soul (alto), based upon the Gospel for the day (Luke 18:31). Most striking is the bass aria with an oboe obbligato, a moving meditation upon Jesus’ last worlds from the Cross, “Es ist vollbracht” (“It is finished”). Carolina Baroque substitutes a recorder for the oboe in this and other cantatas. “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (“Now come, Savior of the Gentiles”), S.61, was composed in Weimar in 1714. One of the best known of all Bach’s cantatas, this is one of the earliest examples of the composer’s use of the new cantata form, which incorporates simple recitative and da capo arias characteristic of Italian opera. The disc is filled out by two organ chorales — “Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist” (“Come, God Creator, Holy Spirit”), S.667, and “Nunn komm der Heiden Heiland” (Now come the heathens’ Saviour), S.659, and the soprano aria from the cantata “Bereitet, die Wege, bereitet die Bahn” (“Prepare the ways, prepare the path”), S.132.

The vocal team functions as the chorus rather like musicologist Joshua Rifkin’s pioneering “one singer to one voice part” approach to Bach’s major choral works, first proposed in 1981. Higbee’s vocalists make a solid ensemble and are more than satisfactory as soloists. Soprano Teresa Radomski, a Salisbury regular and Wake Forest University faculty member, makes a strong impression in the fragment from Cantata 132, Cantata 61, and in the contrasting duet with dark-toned contralto Lee Morgan in Cantata 159. Tenor Richard Heard has a very flexible and evenly supported voice with a pleasing, warm tone. He is heard in all four complete cantatas, as is bass-baritone Doug Crawley. Crawley possesses a firm low range and an even and mellow timbre across its extended range. The robust organ solos and lively harpsichord continuo are played by Susan Bates. Buffs of the history of the Early Music performance movement will be interested to learn that Dale Higbee studied the flute with Marcel Moyse and the recorder with the legendary Carl Dolmetsch. The sound quality of the recording is very good. The selections on this CD constitute an excellent sampler of the development of Bach across his career as a composer. Detailed program notes will be shipped with ordered CDs.