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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas for the complete liturgical year Vol.V
11th Sunday after Trinity
Cantata BWV 179 "Siehe zu, dass deien Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei sei" (1723) [16:17]
12th Sunday after Trinity
Cantata BWV 35 "Geist und Selle wird verwirret" (1726) [26:17]
13th Sunday after Trinity
Cantata BWV 164 "Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet" (1725) [16:08]
14th Sunday after Trinity
Cantata BWV 17 "Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich" (1726) [15:11]
Gerlinde Sämann (soprano)
Petra Noskaiová (alto)
Jan Kobow (tenor)
Dominik Wörner (baritone)
Ewald Demeyere (organ solo) (BWV35)
La petite bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. Schloss Seehaus, Markt Nordheim, Germany, August 2006
ACCENT ACC 25305 [73:55]

CD collectors who are about to embark on adding a set of the cantatas of J.S. Bach to their shelves will soon need to hire their own desert island on which to ponder the variables. There is the John Eliot Gardiner ‘Cantata Pilgrimage’, Helmut Rilling’s set on Hanssler, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ton Koopman’s Amsterdam forces on Challenge Classics, and then there’s the Masaaki Suzuki recordings on BIS which seems to have reviewers on a permanent hunt for new superlatives. Sigiswald Kuijken has already released Bach cantatas on the Virgin and Harmonia Mundi labels, and received much acclaim for his earlier recordings of BWV 82, 49 and 58 on the Accent label – one still very high up on my desert island shortlist. Looking at the lineup of soloists and players in La petite bande, Kuijken has, in the words of P.D.Q. Bach, ‘a different bunch of friends now’, and it is intriguing to hear some of the subtle differences which have crept in over the years.

I do not have the resources to do much in the way of comparisons of the most recent Bach Cantata sets, complete or currently in production. Collectors will read the reviews, and hopefully have the chance to sample new releases for themselves before embarking on the major investment of a new complete set from any one conductor, or director. Sigiswald Kuijken’s approach follows the Joshua Rifkin theory of single voices for the choral sections, so here is at least one controversial dividing line on which choices can be made. His project is to record a 20 CD edition of Bach cantatas, one for each Sunday and high feast of the liturgical year – not a complete set then, more a survey which can if desired even serve a practical purpose. The CD recordings are closely connected to concert performances and made as far as possible during the time of year the cantatas were composed. The CD booklets are filled with learned and interesting detail about the cantatas in general and each work specifically, spending a great deal of time on the texts chosen for each piece and Bach’s treatment of them. I do have one small moan here. While the presentation is very nice and the texts printed in full, the sections of text are not given their CD track number, just their number within that particular cantata. You have to flip to the back of the gatefold CD case to find the relevant access point, and I found I became quite quickly irritated by unnecessary back-and-forth wrestling with pages and the clever flip-flop box design.

Sigiswald Kuijken has a deservedly high reputation for his interpretations of this music, but while his authentic performance credentials are impeccable I’ve always enjoyed the natural way in which he allows his singers and players the full range of expression in terms of vibrato – another issue still being hotly debated in some quarters. Accent’s recordings are equally clean and beautifully balanced, with a gorgeous sense of ambience. There was one moment on this new recording where I did have some small doubts. BWV 35 is admittedly the equivalent of an organ concerto, and the portativo has clearly been rolled closer to the microphones in this work: you can even hear the thud of the keys being pressed in the runs during the first aria, "Geist un Seele wird verwirret" of BWV 35, which is after all the ‘title track’ for this disc, but I do wonder if this isn’t just a tad overgenerous.

The instrumental playing is warm and affectionate throughout, full and benevolent, while at the same time giving the intimate feel of chamber music. The soloists are strong as well, without being overpowering. Baritone Ewald Demeyere and tenor Jan Kobow have clearly been well coached on projecting the emotional weight of the texts, and the latter does this very well in BWV 179. The same goes for alto Petra Noskaiová, whose range is less at an advantage within the texture of the ensemble, but still has all of the range and clarity for which you could wish. Beautifully lyrical though she is, Gerlinde Sämann has a lighter voice which many won’t find a bad thing, but there were a few moments where the boy soprano sound of Harnoncourt’s earlier recordings were called to my mind – it’s not a weakness, just a slightly vulnerable quality at the ends of some phrases and in the lower register. She does make a beautiful job of "Herr, deine Güte reicht soweit" in BWV 17 however – it’s one of those voices which might not impress immediately, but it certainly grew on me – singing for the music’s sake, rather than for the voice’s. The ‘choral’ sections where the voices need to blend as much as possible work very well indeed, and even though the single voice to a part principle is strictly maintained and will contrast greatly with versions which have full choral forces, I never had the feeling of being short changed.

Taste and a personal voyage of discovery will have to be your guide when looking into preferences between recordings of these works, but I have to say I admire Kuijken’s approach to the programming of the cantatas, and, having heard this volume, would say that these pure recordings and intimately scaled performances will be hard ones to beat. At least, I now have fairly clear idea of what I shall be looking for the next time someone buys me some record tokens.

Dominy Clements


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