For his first album devoted entirely to works sung in German, French star countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has chosen four religious cantatas by two old friends in JS Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann.
For many listeners, the revelation of this disc will be the two Telemann works, but in fact he wrote more than 30 sacred cantatas, as well as a St John Passion, oratorios, psalms and motets. Although they have been recorded they have necessarily been overshadowed by the Bach cantatas.
Jaroussky adopts a jaunty air for the charming Kommet her, ihr Menschenkinder from the otherwise dramatic Mount of Olives cantata Der am Ölberg Zagende Jesus, while the beautiful opening movement of Jesus Liegt in Letzten Zügen is in every way a worthy companion to Bach’s Vergnügte Ruh, Beliebte Seelenlust and Ich Habe Genug.
The Freiburger Barockorchester under their excellent violinist-director Petra Müllejans are clearly from the top shelf. Listen out for the nuanced weaving lines of oboist Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann in the much-loved Ich Habe Genug, for example.
Interestingly Jaroussky was initially reluctant to record it as it has been done so many times by so many bass baritones, but fortunately for us he changed his mind. He brings to it a fresh and rich palette of timbral colours.
The tempos of all four works are finely judged and the acoustic of the Ensemblehaus Freiburg and balance from the Erato production team are superb. Jaroussky had performed these works with the ensemble to rave reviews at Berlin’s Konzerthaus in 2015 as part of the singer’s season as artist-in-residence there.
The album shows that there is much more to Jaroussky than a dazzling soprano legato and miraculous breath control. The cantatas enable him to exploit his deeper dramatic side and control of line and dynamic. If some critics, comparing him to the likes of Andreas Scholl or James Bowman, doubted that he would have the vocal muscles for Bach and Telemann this disc should put their fears to rest.
At 39, Jaroussky has the world at his feet. “To be a countertenor, it’s not to imitate a woman – it’s more to stay a child in a way,” he says. Whether it’s the castrato showcase arias of Vivaldi, Handel and Porpora or French art songs and chansons – or the recent moving and delicate tribute to David Bowie with I’m Always Crashing in the Same Car – the singer brings to his art a miraculous sensitivity and sense of adventure.