“Widerstehe doch der Sünde warns and encourages the Christian to refrain from sin and strive to live a pure and godly life”
It’s been about a year since we last caught up with you. Tell us what you’ve been up to?
It’s been a wonderful year. I’ve had the privilege of touring the US and Germany with Christ Church Cathedral Choir and am looking forward to a third tour to China in August. We’ve also recorded a new major work by Howard Goodall on The Sixteen’s record label, Coro, and by the end of July will have done three radio broadcasts (BBC3, Classic FM and NDR).
Personal highlights include appearing as a soloist in Bach’s Actus Tragicus with the stunning early music ensemble, In Echo, and singing in the finale concert of the Göttingen International Handel Festival under the inimitable Laurence Cummings.
On the piano front, it’s been wonderful returning to sonata and chamber repertoire with a series of recitals with Oxford violinist, Elizabeth Nurse, and new vocal consort Untune the Sky. I also recorded a work I commissioned from my good friend Chris Perren for two pianos and video projection. The piece received its first international performance in New York in April.
Sam at Christ Church Cathedral
At our next concert, you will be performing Bach’s first extant solo cantata “Widerstehe doch der Sünde” BWV 54. What is this cantata about?
‘Widerstehe doch der Sünde’ warns and encourages the Christian to refrain from sin and strive to live a pure and godly life. The text by Georg Christian Lehms is based on the Epistle of James and quotes 1 John in the final aria. It is a matter of dispute as to whether the cantata was intended for Oculi, the third Sunday in Lent, or for the seventh Sunday after Trinity. In either case, the text relates the Epistle readings of both days.
What are the challenges when learning this particular cantata?
On a technical level, the cantata occupies an unusually low range especially compared to his other two solo alto cantatas. Much like the Charpentier I sang with OBS last year, the greatest technical challenge lies in seamlessly connecting the ‘chest’ and ‘head’ registers without disrupting the phrase. The interpretation is also quite challenging. The singer must be able to synthesise the gentle encouragement to stay on the straight and narrow and the stern warnings against sinning. Bach’s ingenious setting does point you in the right direction.
What is your favourite moment in the cantata?
My favourite moment has to be the opening chord. It is one of the most shocking dissonances in Bach’s output and it never fails to be a surprise. This is how Bach combines the themes of encouragement and warning. The first movement displays some of his most lavish and warm string writing, but it is dotted with some outrageous harmonic shifts that act as warnings to the listener, stirring them to ‘stand firm against all sinning’.