Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Cantatas for the Complete Liturgical Year Vol.11:-
"Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen" BWV 12 [13:05]
"Halt in Gedächtnis Jesum Christ" BWV 67 [16:59]
"Ich bin ein guter Hirt" BWV 85 [25:26]
Gerinde Sämann (soprano); Petra Noskaiová (alto); Christoph Genz
(tenor); Jan Van Crabben (baritone); La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. 27–28 April 2008, Rosario, Bever, Belgium. Stereo/Surround.
ACCENT ACC 25311 [55:30]
Oh dear. Sigiswald Kuijken appears to have taken a wrong turn
on the latest leg of his Bach cantata pilgrimage. Listeners,
like myself, who warm to Kuijken's relaxed, period performance
approach, are going to get a shock when they put this disc on.
The opening chorus of "Halt im Gedächnis" BWV 67 is
a car crash of epic proportions. The main culprits, I think,
are the strings, whose tuning is at about junior school orchestra
standard. The winds aren't as bad, but they are close.
Somehow, the vocal soloists manage to hold it together over
all this, but later on in the cantata they too come to grief.
Things settle down a bit in the middle movements, but then the
strings come to the fore again, in the penultimate movement,
the aria "Friede sei mit euch", and we are right back
to square one.
So what's going on here? This is only the second instalment
of the cycle I have heard, but the ensemble managed to keep
it together in volume 10. In fact, in that previous release,
Kuijken was able to turn the ensemble problems to his advantage,
creating a sense of informality, which to my ears is the ideal
counter to the almost clinical precision of the Suzuki cycle,
which we should probably consider the main competition. But
in volume 11 things go from bad to worse. The string section
is slightly larger, which may be part of the problem. The majority
of the orchestral players have been replaced between the two
volumes, suggesting that La Petite Band has become something
of scratch orchestra. That sort of approach is all right if
you can maintain the standards, but you have to question the
wisdom of it when it leads to such a variance between consecutive
releases in a single cycle.
To be fair, the second and third cantatas on the disc BWV 85
and 12 escape the worst of these problems, although they never
completely disappear. It is an unfortunate consequence of the
liturgical calendar approach that Kuijken is obliged to place
BWV 67 first; in any other context there would be the option
of salting it away at the end, or even omitting it altogether.
There are a few highlights in the second and third cantatas
that are worthy of mention. The second aria of BWV 85 "Jesus
ist ein guter Hirt" features Kuijken on cello da spalla
as the obbligato. He is a big advocate of the shoulder cello,
so it is interesting to hear him perform on it. Sadly, again,
there are tuning problems throughout, which could be attributed
to the physical problems of playing a cello under your chin,
were it not for Dmitry Badiarov's note perfect performances
on the instrument in the Suzuki cycle. Some nice baroque trumpet
from Jean-François Madeuf (whose name has acquired a hyphen
since vol.10) in BWV 12. His nasal reedy tone is ideal for Kuijken's
intimate, chamber music approach, although he too is dogged
by intonation problems.
I remain a fan of Kuijken's Bach, and of his laid back leadership,
but this disc demonstrates the dangers of the approach. Once
was the time that the use of period instruments excused problems
of intonation and even of ensemble, but not anymore. In fairness,
every Bach cantata cycle has its less successful moments; the
sheer quantity of music tests the rehearsal capacity of even
the hardest working ensembles. I'm still looking forward to
the last ten volumes of this edition. Kuijken and his ever-changing
forces have had a bad couple of days in front of the microphones,
but they are certainly capable of far better things than this.
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