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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas: Volume 20
Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge, BWV120a  (1729) [29:18]
Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV156  (1729) [13:40]
Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn, BWV1127  (1713) [16:52]
Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg, BWV149  (1728) [17:50]
Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit, BWV14  (1735) [15:18]
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV29  (1726) [20:40]
Nun danket alle Gott, BWV192  (1730) [10:57]
Gott, mein lobet dich in der Stille, BWV120  (1731) [19:32]
Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV11  (1735) [26:16]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, BWV9  (1732) [17:56]
Der Herr ist mein getrener Hirt, BWV112  (1731) [11:21]
Sandrine Piau, Johannette Zomer (BWV14), Lisa Larsson (BWV1127) (soprano)
Bogna Bartosz, Nathalie Stutzman (BWV120a) (alto)
James Gilchrist, Christoph Prégardien (BWV112, 149) (tenor)
Klaus Mertens (bass)
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir/Ton Koopman
rec. June 2001 – September 2005, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam
ANTOINE MARCHAND CC72220 [3 CDs: 60:02 + 65:00 + 75:20]
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Ton Koopman began his Bach cantatas survey with Erato, but when they pulled out of the project part-way through, his initiative and commitment were such that he found alternative means to continue. Thus the creation of Antoine Marchand, the banner under which this splendid collection is released. With excellent presentation standards and top quality recorded sound, these are Bach performances to be reckoned with.
In his perceptive booklet essay Christoph Wolff describes this collection as ‘the Cantatas of the Picander cycle and of the early 1730s’. Since this is volume 20, no less, it is hardly a surprise that the three discs contain a wide variety of source material. A special feature is the inclusion of a new discovery, ‘a hitherto unknown sacred work from Bach’s Weimar period, discovered as recently as May 2005 by Michael Mead in the Herzogin Anna Amalia Library, Weimar’.
The extended ‘aria of praise’ Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn has been allocated the BWV number 1127. It was written in 1713 for Duke Ernst of Weimar, and is reckoned to be the first discovery of a Bach vocal composition for 70 years: that is, since the cantata fragment Beckenen will ich seinen Namen, BWV200. It has also been recorded recently for BIS by Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki (BIS SACD1471). In their performance all 12 verses are featured, whereas Koopman and his soprano Lisa Larsson wisely make a selection. Even so, the repetitive verse form makes the piece seem a long 17 minutes; but compare this with the 50-plus minutes taken by Suzuki and his soprano Carolyn Sampson. Clearly the question is: ‘does more mean better’?
As ever, this collection of Bach cantatas includes a wealth of interesting musicological material. Take the two cantatas with the number 120: BWV120 and BWV120a. To begin with, it is not a simple matter that one is an arrangement of the other. Herr Gott, Beherrscher alter Dinge, BWV120a, is wedding cantata, featuring much but not all of the music of BWV120, the town council election cantata of 1729. Whatever the circumstances, and the unknown bridal couple must have been wealthy enough to have families who were able able to pay for a large orchestra that includes three trumpets. Be that as it may, the music is quite splendid. There is a new opening chorus, which in due course Bach reworked into his B minor Mass, as well as an extended organ concerto movement that must have been designed with the composer himself in mind in the role of virtuoso soloist. This is a magnificent composition, and Koopman’s performance does it proud. Tempi seem absolutely right and the recorded balance is faultless, with impact as and when required.
Gott, man lubet dich in der Stille, BWV 120, is no less fine. This shares some material with the wedding cantata, of course, but it stands strongly with its own personality, as it surely did when it was performed as the yearly cantata associated with the town council election, on 29th August 1729. According to Christoph Wolff in the accompanying notes, Bach reworked this piece again in 1742, and he claims that the original pair of movements from 1729 have not survived. The instrumental fourth movement may in turn be an arrangement of part of a lost violin concerto, presumably from Bach’s years at Cöthen, 1717-23. Again the results are magnificent, and there is a wide expressive range too.
The other majestic council election cantata included here is a later piece, Wir danken dir, Gott, BWV29, probably dating from 1731. This, along with BWV120, has received a magnificent recorded performance under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. (Harmonia Mindi HMC 901690), both of them more splendid still than Koopman’s admittedly splendid versions. But where Koopman scores consistently in his unerring sense of what is right in matters of balance and tempo. His chosen forces always seem appropriate to the scale of the music too, and as such his approach to Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, BWV9, works rather better than the one-voice-to-a-part recording of Sigiswald Kuijken (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77528 2), which sounds austere in comparison.
Throughout these performances Koopman is sensitive to the relationship between words and music, in which regard his splendid team of soloists serves him unswervingly well. Continuo parts are always effective and generally imaginative too. Just occasionally one might question the choice of edition, as in the penultimate movement of the Ascension Oratorio, BWV11, when Koopman eschews the option of unison strings for an instrumental combination of winds with a discreet continuo part. Of course such matters are of choice rather than something more clearcut; and that is one of the many compelling rewards to be found in this repertory. For Bach’s cantatas are full of wonderful discoveries, particularly in the hands of a musician as sensitive and knowledgeable as Ton Koopman.
Terry Barfoot


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