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 Recording of the Week  Bach for Violin and Voice

Back at the 2008 Gramophone Awards I went and hunted down Hilary Hahn. She was there to pick up the Artist of the Year award but I wanted to tell her how much I had enjoyed her Sibelius and Schoenberg Concertos disc that had come out earlier that year, and in particular how many positive comments I had received from people reading these newsletters about the Schoenberg (which I think was new to most people who had bought the disc). It was a brave choice putting those two concertos together on one disc and I wanted to make sure that she knew that it was a good choice and that people had enjoyed coming across the Schoenberg which in all honesty they probably wouldn’t have bought had it not been coupled with the Sibelius.

Anyway, we got chatting and conversation quickly moved to what she was working on next and she enthusiastically started telling me about a project she had with singers to record an album of Bach’s arias and duets with solo violin. I remembered the disc of Bach Violin Concertos she had recorded and that was fantastic, and I’ve always had a huge love for the cantatas and passions, so I’ve been looking forward to this new album ever since.

Finally - a year and a half later - it is released today and it doesn’t disappoint. As the booklet note explains, Hilary Hahn has been entranced by the combination of violin and voice ever since hearing a Bach cantata performed by such a pairing when she was a young child. She first played some of this repertoire over a decade ago and has been working towards assembling an album of this remarkable music ever since.

Listening to this disc now I can hear why she was so keen to see this project fulfilled. The combination of violin and voice is both magical and unique and, although the instrumentation provides a common thread throughout this disc there is huge variety in both style and content. Sometimes the violin is plaintive - it maybe echoes or mimics the vocal line - other times it is alive and agile while playfully characterising the meaning of the text, while at other times it becomes one of the voices and moves along in complete counterpoint with the singers. Bach himself was a skilled violinist and it is abundantly clear that he considered the voice and the violin to be worthy partners, but his imagination in interweaving their lines is peerless and is one of those things which puts Bach’s music in a league of its own.

Hilary Hahn is joined on this disc by soprano Christine Schäfer and baritone Matthias Goerne, both of whom are renowned Bach exponents. It contains ten arias and two duets, which are drawn from the St Matthew Passion, the B minor Mass and the cantatas. It is all good, but the arias involving Matthias Goerne are simply outstanding. I was already a huge fan of his, and have been tremendously enjoying his Schubert Edition which he is currently recording on Harmonia Mundi, but this has elevated him yet further in my mind as one of the very top baritones currently performing today.

I've put on a trailer video which tells you a bit more about the album and also the whole of Matthias Goerne's aria from the St Matthew Passion 'Gebt mir meiner Jesum wieder'. Enjoy!

Bach - Violin & Voice - Arias and Duets with Violino Obligato

Hilary Hahn (violin), Christine Schäfer (soprano) & Matthias Goerne (baritone), Münchener Kammerorchester, Alexander Liebreich

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC