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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas: Volume 4 (Cantatas from Leipzig, 1724-6)
Herr Gott, dich loben wir, BWV16 (1726) [16:37]
Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind, BWV153 (1724) [13:42]
Sie werden aus Saba alte kommen, BWV65 (1724) [15:08]
Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren, BWV154 (1724) [15:12]
Elisabeth Hermand (soprano); Petra Noskaiová (alto); Jan Kobow (tenor); Jan Van der Crabben (bass)
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. January 2006, Miniemenkerk, Brussels
ACCENT SACD ACC 25304 [61:32]


Bach’s cantatas can confidently be described as music’s greatest treasure-trove, and with distinguished performances directed by the likes of Sigiswald Kuijken, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Ton Koopman, the discoveries continue. This collection from Kuijken’s ongoing project couples cantatas from the post-Christmas period, one (BWV16) from 1726, the remainder from 1724.

Herr Gott, dich loben wir, BWV16, reflects an optimism appropriate to the New Year celebrations, and this performance has a vitality in keeping with this mood. The other three cantatas are somewhat more equivocal; that is to say, their range of emotion is wider and more complex. For example, Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind, BWV153, occupies that typical ground, the search for faith through perseverance, and the resulting achievement of consolation.

Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV65, was written for the Feast of Epiphany. For the following Sunday in 1724, Bach composed Mein liebster Jesus ist verloren, BWV154. This cantata is both personal and dramatic, since it deals with the anguish of Mary and Joseph when the young Jesus became lost in the Jerusalem temple. The religious meaning of this turns the story on its head, of course, since we mortals are lost when we are not in the presence of Christ.

This collection of cantatas therefore offers a satisfyingly varied experience for any listener who is inclined to hear them all one after the other, even if Bach never intended such a procedure. And the performances and the beautifully recorded sound will certainly encourage any sensitive listener to indulge.

Sigiswald Kuijken prefers smaller forces, and his detailed and well written booklet notes are informative, thorough and full of insights. On the presentation front, however, it is a pity that the listings of tracks are not printed more clearly: darker blue on lighter blue may have inspired the designer, but it hardly helps the reader.

The instrumental ensemble numbers seven strings plus winds and continuo, but it is the vocal contributions that require the most comment. For this is ‘one voice to a part’ Bach, the approach first put forward on record by Joshua Rifkin. Since we are dealing with the most flexible and indestructible of composers, the performances work well enough, and in any case the crucial issue of numbers only affects choruses and chorales. Although the choruses are Bach’s most complex movements, it is in the harmonised choral settings that most doubts occur. All four singers are suitably talented and perform stylishly and sympathetically, but to my ears the blend of sound is not quite in focus, the bass voice of Jan Van der Crabben sometimes sounding too separated in the texture.

Kuijken’s performances are never lacking in drama, and the tempi always feel right. The tenor Jan Kobow is an excellent singer and his arias are beautifully done. He is even better than the reliable Gerd Turk, Masaaki Suzuki’s tenor, in BWV153 (BIS CD1221), in terms of characterisation. And Kobow’s aria in BWV65 has a theme so obstinately memorable that it will stay in the mind for days. In this cantata there is also an exotic combination of sounds, with the combination of recorders, oboes da caccia and corni da caccia.

For prospective purchasers the issues will surround the ‘one voice to a part’ experience. Kuijken’s approach has much to commend it, but his performances do lack the variety of texture and sound perspective that is to be found with Suzuki, Gardiner and Koopman.

Terry Barfoot


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