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For the eighth volume in his survey of Bach’s secular cantatas, Masaaki Suzuki has brought together two works that shamelessly flatter August III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland – and someone from whom Bach was hoping to receive a court appointment. In October 1734, August made a surprise visit to Leipzig and Bach hastily put together a cantata – Preise dein Glücke, BWV 215 – reusing music from earlier works for the opening double chorus as well as for the tenor and bass arias. Apart from this magnificent double chorus (which he later revised again for the Osanna in excelsis of the B minor Mass), a newly composed soprano aria is the cantata’s highlight. Its strange, ethereal sound- world – unison flutes over a bass line played by violins and violas with no continuo – illustrates the lofty disregard for earthly glories ascribed to August in Johann Christoph Clauder’s libretto, which laces sycophantic tosh with the baroque equivalent of fake news.

The unknown librettist of Schleicht, spielende Wellen, BWV 206, first performed on August’s birthday in 1736, is no less servile, though also bizarrely imaginative: the soloists personify four European rivers, which vie to praise August in the most effusive terms. Bach makes good use of the river motif in the opening chorus, with its sudden surges; the soprano aria floats on an alluring ‘choir of flutes’ (actually, just a trio); and the closing chorus is a catchy gigue that sweeps you along in its irresistible flow.

Of the soloists, soprano Hana Blažíková and tenor Charles Daniels are especially fine, although it’s Bach Collegium Japan who impress the most, infusing those fawning choruses with a spirit of joyful celebration.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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