"Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt" is my favourite verse in one of my favourite cantatas, no matter how often I listen to it it tends to stay with me for hours after I've finished listening to it.
BWV4 is one of Bach's earliest cantatas. He wrote it for Easter of either 1707 or 1708 taking the words of Martin Luther's seven verse Easter song "Christ lag in Todesbanden" ("Christ lay in the bonds of death") as his text. In a subsequent posting I'll be writing about the entire cantata but for this one I want to concentrate on two performances of the duet "Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt" ("Death could capture no one") by David Pla (Soprano) and Llorenç Niclòs (Contralto) of the Escolania de Montserrat.
Bach's setting of Luther's second verse is a darkly atmospheric duet between a soprano and an alto (or contralto) based upon a variant of the chorale's "Hallelujah". Bach finds the musical matches to the imagery of Luther's text by using ascending and descending scales but the low notes predominate. Moreover he chops the stanza in half so that soprano starts the first half and the contralto the second, he takes this further so that the two voices not only stay close to another but that the soprano sometimes is singing below the alto, the voices cross in other words. I've heard it said that his intent was for the voices to be so close that it isn't possible to tell one voice from the other, but I'm not so sure of that, I think he wanted them to follow and cross but for there to be enough differentiation for the listener to follow two distinct lines.
Pla and Niclòs manage this feat admirably, their voices echo each other and then come together in a way I find deeply moving. I like their pace as well it's slow enough to convey a feeling of immensity and of awe. I've listened to these two recordings again and again and am moved each time by their beauty. Lyrics and English translation are below the playlist. Enjoy :-)
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