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SilentcropThe texts of Bach’s cantatas are problematic for many listeners in that they can be unintentionally humorous in their dramatic imagery, anachronistic in their theology or uncomfortable in their admission of guilt. In his “Bach: The Silent Cantata,” Burak Özdemir, born in Istanbul and now living in Berlin, drops the texts from the vocal lines of selected arias, whether they were originally intended for a soprano, alto, tenor or bass, and plays them on his bassoon. Without the text, the cause for the carefully contrived musical figuration falls away, and Özdemir creates an effect that is instructive. Since the music has been freed from the conceptual framework of the Protestant late Baroque, the text no longer dictates what must be thought. Now the listener can spontaneously investigate the music and delve more deeply into its meaning.

Özdemir has chosen relatively obscure sections of Bach cantatas, not the hits, making it unlikely that any listeners will try to sing along and thereby reinforcing the desired effect. But yet, with dialectical sophistication, he has carefully selected the pieces exactly because of their texts. The underlying, secretive affects of the music result in a dramatic progression of despair, loneliness and an eventual envelopment by love itself.

But not all listeners will understand the CD in this way. The quiet, melancholic and complicated pieces are accompanied by strings alone in arrangements that are deliberately less colorful than the Bach originals with winds. These reductions, performed by Musica Sequenza, deserve concentrated listening, and it is worth it, because Özdemir is a great musician with virtuosity far beyond sheer dexterity. With his variety of colors, articulation and vocal expression, his bassoon playing comes close to resembling patterns of speech, and even in the slowest arias, such as Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen from Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott (BWV 127) or Bete aber auch dabei from Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit (BWV 115), Özdemir and his ensemble have a rhythmic pulse and a swing that is rarely heard among other instrumentalists who adhere to the principles of historical performance practice.

KulturradioRundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg

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