Bach Leipzig Cantatas
Bach’s creativity and imagination was astonishingly fervent during his first year at Leipzig. These Cantatas from 1723-24 include chorale verses wrapped in strings and oboes d’amore, (BWV 138); a chorus with three trombones in its accompaniment and an aria with three recorders alternating with strings (BWV 25); a wild ‘storm’ aria with slide trumpet (BWV 46) and a tenor aria with hauntingly bizarre phrase-lengths (BWV 105).
Philippe Herreweghe selects 12 voices, three-to-a-part, from his large, flexible reservoir of Collegium singers and players: the choral sound is lean and alert, helped by lively tempos. Its near-solo tone, though, mingles rather than contrasts with the similar-scaled orchestra. The first chorus of BWV 25, opening with gently sighing strings and oboes, builds up to a dense undifferentiated sound when voices, recorders and brass meet at the climaxes. I compared it with Sir John Eliot Gardiner (Soli Deo Gloria SDG124) who balances and characterises each group more distinctively. When more restrained, the choral sound is magical and admirably athletic, for example in the allegro section of the opening of BWV 105.
Of the soloists, tenor Thomas Hobbs is outstandingly expressive and vocally at ease, while bass Peter Kooij too is magnificent. His breath-control and fluency (including nine bars of continuous semiquavers in BWV 46) is staggering. The French countertenor Damien Guillon, less familiar on disc than the rest, has an alluringly warm, creamy sound, notably with two recorders and oboes da caccia (another highly original scoring), again in BWV 46. Soprano Hana Bla‑íková is not at her best, with a hard edge to her top register.
Still, this is Bach at his most inventive, in a sensitive and polished performance.