This recording is a curiosity. As the name of the ensemble
suggests, this is a group of musicians who play sackbuts and cornets,
together with voices and organ, trumpets, timpani, cello and violone.
The main music, though, is played by cornets and sackbuts.
It is always difficult for such "non-mainstream"
ensembles to find a sufficiently interesting repertoire, and they naturally
choose to transcribe music to fit their forces. One need not enter the
debate about transcribing Bach - he did so for a great deal of his own
music, so the issue seems closed. But here, a group of limited variety
has attempted to present a disc of music that corresponds to their instruments.
They have not really succeeded in providing a great
deal of music - looking at the track list, you can see that many works
are presented in various versions (which represent the different uses
Bach made of the same pieces). There are chorals from the cantatas,
or for organ, in some cases sung by solo voice, in others played on
solo organ, or played by instruments alone, and in others a combination
of voice and instruments. While this gives the disc a thematic limit
- hearing the same music in different versions and for different forces
- it is also the strength of this recording. Bach’s music exists on
a variety of planes, and the same piece played on different instruments
can give a radically different result. Listen here to the basic chorale
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir sung by bass Robert MacDonald. Its
austerity and simplicity are magnificently interpreted, and the emotion
of this sacred song shines. But when it is heard for 2 cornetts, 4 sackbuts
and organ, the tone changes, providing a new facet of the music. The
same goes for the solo organ version - which represents Bach’s own "transcription"
and the other versions from cantata BWV 38.
Not all of the music works for this ensemble - the
opening sinfonia, after BWV 29/1, is unbalanced because of the contrast
between the loud brass instruments and the very soft organ. And the
performance of Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Her, after BWV 715a,
is so wooden it sounds like a student practising. The sound of the cornet
and sackbut, in this piece, are not very attractive. Yet, overall, the
music works very well. One of the most interesting pieces is the Fourteen
Canons BWV 1087. This is a series of short canons found in Bach’s personal
manuscript of the Goldberg Variations, which follow the bass notes of
the aria of this work. The arrangement here is quite interesting, and
makes one yearn for this group to record Bach’s Art of Fugue.
This disc is a unique journey through some of Bach’s
sacred music, with, as guides, an ensemble which takes an original approach
to the music and comes out a winner. While one may be skeptical of such
an experiment at first, the results are stunning. This is certainly
one of the most interesting "derivative" Bach albums I have
heard in a long time.