JS Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 16: BWV 34, 173, 184 & 129
With Volume 16 in his series charting ‘Cantatas for the Complete Liturgical Year’, Sigiswald Kuijken has reached the rushing wind and flaming tongues of Pentecost – potent imagery for Bach. With typical ingenuity, Bach reworked secular cantatas originally composed for Leipzig and Cöthen to create new works for the three days of the Feast. To these, Kuijken adds the entirely original BWV 129, written to mark Trinity Sunday.
Note the placing of the word ‘complete’, though. Unlike Ton Koopman, John Eliot Gardiner or Masaaki Suzuki, Kuijken isn’t bent on recording the complete cantatas; rather, by applying an elevated form of ‘pick and mix’, he has plundered all Bach’s surviving sacred cantatas in order to thread a personal path through the twists and turns of the liturgical year. Crucially, too, he parts company with his colleagues by championing one-to-a-part vocal forces alongside a minimal instrumental retinue.
The music-making is graceful and stylishly alive to the spirit of dance that invades so many of the movements. All four singers (veterans of the series) consolidate Kuijken’s supple immediacy in the solo arias and duets, but as a ‘choir’, the balance is sometimes skewed, and, as in the grandly-conceived opening to BWV 129, they risk being overwhelmed by the orchestral exuberance.
The warm, up-close SACD recording enhances the intimacy of the approach, while taming the resplendent reverberance of Leuven’s Predikherenkerk.