Vienna, Konzerthaus; February 25, 2022—The Bachstiftung has been churning out highly satisfying Bach cantata recordings one after another for a decade, but it has taken me until now to hear them in action. Finally, Rudolf Lutz’s profoundly informed, theologically earnest, and musically liberal-lively, take-no-prisoners approach surely would be something to behold. Especially in the convivial atmosphere of the Vienna Konzerthaus’ Mozart Hall, which even Lutz, who would probably rather perform in the coldest church than the coziest concert hall, will have agreed to be a pretty decent place to concertize in.
The cantatas presented were not a selection of greatest musical hits but were arranged around the same text and liturgical occasion, the Fourth Sunday after Trinity. Thematically, this means “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.” And “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Lutz, ever the communicator, opened with his own choral arrangement of the organ chorale “Ich ruf’ zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 639 (Busoni famously had a go at it, too). Then the Leipzig cantata by the same title, BWV 177, followed by “Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe” BWV 185 and “Ein ungefärbt Gemüte” BWV 24, each with a little pertinent introduction.
Operating at One Voice Per Part (which keeps the authenticity-freaks happy and travel costs down), the four soloists were also the chorus. They consisted of the perfectly christened soprano Miriam Feuersinger, alto Margot Oitzinger all silver-and-chalk, tenor Daniel Johannsen, and bass-baritone Manuel Walser. A fine line-up, certainly, with two refined, discreet ventral voices in Oitzinger and Johannsen, bracketed by Gunther and Gutrune: two strong instruments that are stout and hearty like a rich chicken broth (Feuersinger, with the fervor of a true Bach-believer) and brawny with a slightly forced side-of-the-mouth quality (Walser). Not that Johannsen hasn’t Wagnerian ambitions of his own. But he won’t let you know about them when singing Bach, with his effortless way and true high voice free of any baritonal timbre.
The recordings of Lutz and the Bachstiftung aren’t so wonderful because they are the most perfect or precise: Suzuki has more to offer on that count. They are wonderful because they seem alive and musical and risk-taking. In concert, the dividends of this approach (which includes Lutz letting out his inner continuo-demon) are accompanied by the price of fallibility, demonstrated primarily by the trumpet but really the winds in general. No matter, the sparkle came through; the delight was gentle and bright in nature at once.