Cantatas for Bass
Matthias Goerne bar, Freiburger Barockorchester/Gottfried von der Goltz
Harmonia Mundi HMM902323

Ich Habe Genug (BWV82) is probably one of Bach’s best loved cantatas. Written for the Feast of the Purification of Mary, it is a moving meditation on having one’s hopes and dreams fulfilled, just as the hopes of the aged Simeon are fulfilled by holding the infant Jesus in his arms. The original version was written for bass, but Bach later arranged it for soprano. Anna Magdalena also copied parts of the work into her famous Notebook.

This year, as Matthias Goerne enters his second half-century, he has chosen to revisit this cantata and another (Ich Will Den Kreuzstab Gerne Tragen, BWV56), which he recorded with Sir Roger Norrington and Camerata Academica for their Grammy-nominated disc back in 1999. This time he has partnered with Freiburg’s baroque orchestra and its talented director, Gottfried von der Goltz.

The playing of the Freiburg players immediately entices, with their supple, lively string tone and ebullient approach to rhythm and forward drive. Of particular interest is the fine playing of Katharina Arfken, who is oboe d’amore soloist in a reconstruction of Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No 4 (BWV1055). The lilting, central Larghetto will doubtless have many swooning.

Like any singer’s voice, Goerne’s has changed over time. It is unsurprising that it has darkened and broadened over the last two decades. Heard to best advantage in Ich Habe Genug, his voice still communicates a fitting sense of wearied contentment in the opening, title aria, even if the recitatives are not quite so keenly coloured as those in the earlier recording. In the central aria, Schlummert ein, Goerne  projects a lush tone, sensitively softened in the da capo. Here, as elsewhere on the disc, I get the uneasy sense the engineers have balanced the voice too far forward, giving it an unnatural sonic ‘halo’ that detracts from the interaction between singer and orchestra.

The sombre opening of Ich Will Den Kreuzstab Gerne Tragen (I will gladly bear the cross-staff) suits the older Goerne, who easily negotiates the long, chromatic arches of melody. Less successful are the almost endless, frenetic phrases of the central aria, Endlich, endlich will mein Joch where a lighter, more connected approach, such as that used by Goerne’s mentor, Fischer-Dieskau, might have produced a more appealing result. That said, do lend Goerne your ears – he still has much to say.