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classical cd review

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Bach Cantata BWV 170

BACH Cantata BWV 170

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano. Greenleaf Chamber Players

(Winsor Music)

It’s a rare singer whose artistry is so distinctive that, without any sense of willfulness or distortion, the music seems to bend in her image. Of the many fine singers who have taken on Bach’s solo cantatas in recent years, no one makes this music resonate quite like Lorraine Hunt Lieberson did.

For a few years after her death in 2006, we saw a steady stream of archival releases, each one greeted with a sense of expectation from a musical public that knew it had lost one of the era’s greatest singers in her prime. More recently the stream has slowed to a trickle, so it’s a particular pleasure to discover this new album featuring Lorraine Hunt (not yet married to composer Peter Lieberson) performing Bach’s Cantata BWV 170, “Vernügte Ruh,’ beliebte Seelenlust.” The recording comes from a 1996 performance with an excellent ensemble of New York and Boston musicians called the Greenleaf Chamber Players, founded in the 1980s by oboist Peggy Pearson, whose Winsor Music produced this disc.


Bach was repertoire in which Lieberson’s artistry found its most luminous and consolatory glow. In this case, over a span of 25 minutes, she traces the cantata’s vast arc from weighted worldly cares to the exuberant religious communion of a soul in release. Her mezzo is steeped in deep merlot colorings and a rare empathy for this music’s disclosures, a kind of inner participation in its spiritual quest. Vocal lines in the central aria ring out with an instrumental quality, while Pearson’s oboe d’amore speaks with an eloquence all its own.

At this stage of her career, Lieberson had many great concerts in her future, including those unforgettable Bach performances staged by Peter Sellars. But the intensity and generosity of her gift is already on full view. JEREMY EICHLER

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com