> Johann Sebastian Bach - Complete Cantatas Vol.12 [TB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Complete Cantatas, Volume 12

Cantata BWV8: Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben'
Cantata BWV78: 'Jesu der du meine Seele'
Cantata BWV91, 'Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ'
Cantata BWV99, 'Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan'
Cantata BWV107, 'Was willst du dich betrben'
Cantata BWV111, 'Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit'
Cantata BWV114, 'Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost'
Cantata BWV116, 'Du Friedefrst, Herr Jesus Christ'
Cantata BWV121, 'Christum wir sollen loben schon'
Cantata BWV124, 'Meniem Jesum lass ich nicht'
Cantata BWV135, 'Ach Herr, mich armen Snder'
Lisa Larsson, Sibylla Rubens (sopranos), Annette Markert (contralto), Christoph Pr‚gardien (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass)
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir
Ton Koopman
Rec March 2000, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam
ERATO 8573 85842-2 [3CDs: 65.51, 62.12, 73.10]


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Bach's cantatas are music's greatest treasure-trove, but for the discerning music lover discovering their riches becomes more and more possible. The recorded performances of this repertoire are many and varied, and hearing this wonderful treasury of great music in fresh and scholarly interpretations such as those directed by Ton Koopman is to undertake a real voyage of discovery. And with more than two hundred surviving cantatas, there is always more to discover.

This set of three CDs is Volume 12 of Koopman's survey, and the eleven works gathered here lie right at the heart of Bach's achievement in this field. They are taken from the composer's second cycle of Leipzig cantatas, dating from 1724 and 1725, when his preference was to develop the compositions from the reference source of the chosen chorale theme. In the hands of a master such as Bach, this seemingly restricting policy served only to concentrate his genius. Therefore the variety and ingenuity and insight are nothing less than extraordinary.

What of the performances? They are good; good enough, in fact, to make the listener feel that the music could not possibly sound otherwise. With Bach of all composers, of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but no matter. Anyone investing in these discs will gain great pleasure from them.

Koopman is a particularly good judge of tempo, maintaining momentum and vitality at the same time as allowing the music to breathe, which is sensible when singing is involved (there is none of John Eliot Gardiner's rushing here). Perhaps the best example of this successful balance comes with the opening chorus of Cantata 99, 'Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan ('What God does is with reason done'). The bouncing rhythms are just right, so that the details of strings, woodwinds and voices can simultaneously be heard, and the attractive melodic contour is effortlessly projected.

Koopman's soloists and chorus are very good too, though sometimes the expressive possibilities of the music might be more indulged. Philippe Herreweghe (Virgin VBD5 61721-2), for example, is a more committed guide to the emotional world of Cantata 107. But that is not to deny Koopman's success in this piece, simply his view is different, and he is aided by some particularly good singing from his tenor, Christoph Prégardien, who in fact is excellent throughout the set.

The balancing of instrumental lines with vocal lines is another of Koopman's strengths. Sometimes, indeed the results are outstanding, as for example in the playing of the oboe d'amore obbligati in Cantata 124. If Prégardien is the best of the solo voices, the others are never less than satisfactory. Klaus Mertens gets the opportunity to indulge the quality of his rich bass voice in Cantatas 8 and 78 in particular, in which he is perhaps the central focus in articulating the musical tone. Yet these obvious highlights apart, the solo singing does not really capture the attention. For Koopman's casting of solo voices does not have the stamp of authority that we find, for example, in the performances of Helmuth Rilling (Hänssler), though of course this is because his priorities are different. The music does offer these opportunities, but since Bach's concertists (solo voices) were simply members of his chorus, star singers were not his priority.

The recorded sound is entirely natural, the ambience just right for this repertoire. The booklet is substantial and informative, with full texts and translations, and there is no question that all-round this issue is a quality product. Koopman's performances are eminently sane and beautifully judged. If there are moments when he misses the opportunity to project greater intensity and drama, that is because his judgement took him elsewhere. For the listener, the best performance of Bach must always be 'the next one'; which is not to deny the rewards of returning to these beautifully judged performances again and again.

Terry Barfoot

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