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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
O ewiges Reuer, o Ursprung der Liebe, Cantata BWV34 (c.1746) [17:58]
Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut, Cantata BWV173 (1724) [13:39]
Erwüschtes Freudenlicht, Cantata BWV184 (1724) [20:33]
Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott, Cantata BWV129 (1726) [19:12]
Gerlinde Sämann (soprano), Petra Nostaiova (alto), Christoph Genz (tenor), Jan Van der Crabben (bass)
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. 1-3 June 2012, Predikherenkerk, Leuven, Belgium
ACCENT ACC 25316 [70:07] 

Recordings of the Bach cantatas come in all shapes and sizes, and Sigiswald Kuijken has established his position as a leading artist in this repertoire. He has preferred to group the works by reference to the church’s year, and to perform them with a smaller instrumental ensemble and a strict ‘one voice to a part’ allocation.
 
This issue is Volume 16 in Kuijken’s series, and the chosen liturgical reference is Pentecost. In the ensemble movements there is drama in abundance, which with this approach is delivered with clear textures and plenty of attack and dancing rhythms. Not everyone will care for the lack of ensemble voices beyond the chosen four-part texture, but these artists believe in what they are doing and their performances reflect that. For example, the opening chorus of BWV34 is particularly lively, the only caveat being whether the balancing of voices and instruments somewhat favours the latter.
 
In the well-produced accompanying booklet Kuijken justifies his approach with scholarship which inevitably includes a degree of interpretation; but it is carefully thought through and eloquently articulated. If the number of voices is made so important, what then of the types of voice? Surely we should have boys rather than women. That point made, there are few problems with these performers, and the singers acquit themselves with distinction. In terms of which approaches work best, Bach remains the most indestructible of composers, and in that sense each new or revisited performance is to be welcomed.
 
In arias too Kuijken’s chosen tempi always feel right, while the relationship between solo voices and obbligato instruments is articulated to maximum effect.
 
Three of these Leipzig cantatas are re-workings of secular cantatas from the Köthen years, an approach that was not at all unusual. The newly composed BWV129 is the exception, though the style remains similar.
 
The acoustic of the Predikherenkerk at Leuven brings a warmly atmospheric sound to the excellent recordings, which are relatively close but never overbearing.
 
The issue, then, surrounds the number of singers used in the ripieno movements. Not all artists and scholars agree with Kuijken about this, and it is true that a wider variety of vocal music can enrich the listener’s experience. If a smaller ensemble is the option you prefer, these performances would be hard to better.  

Terry Barfoot

Masterwork Index: Bach cantatas