Bach: Cantatas, BWV 56, 82, 99, 106, 131 & 158

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Decca L’Oiseau-Lyre
WORKS: Cantatas, BWV 56, 82, 99, 106, 131 & 158
PERFORMER: Bach Ensemble/Joshua Rifkin
CATALOGUE NO: 458 087-2 Reissue (1987-91)
This seventh disc in Masaaki Suzuki’s acclaimed cycle of Bach cantatas is arguably the best yet. The four cantatas here, all dating from 1714-15, are particularly attractive. The young Bach’s melodic freshness and rhythmic vigour are evident throughout, from the celebratory choruses that open BWV 63 and BWV 172 to the introspective beauty of the soprano aria, ‘Öffne dich’. Suzuki’s performers seem to improve with each release – countertenor Yoshikazu Mera, previously prone to blandness, sounds superb here – but more telling is Suzuki’s ability to impart a rare degree of intensity to the music: Ton Koopman’s performances of these cantatas (on Vols 2 and 3 of his rival cycle), though extremely elegant, simply don’t convey the sense of spiritual drama that makes Suzuki’s versions so compelling.

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Philippe Herreweghe’s latest set of Bach cantatas is also highly commendable. The three works here explore different attitudes to death, a topic that inspired some of Bach’s loveliest music – such as BWV 8’s opening movement, sumptuously done by Collegium Vocale, and the alto aria ‘Ich will auch’, movingly sung by Ingeborg Danz. Herreweghe, like Suzuki, remains sensitive both to the music’s beauty and to its deeper, spiritual intent.

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Death haunts Joshua Rifkin’s reissue too, stalking the three cantatas that feature solo bass. These are pleasing performances, though Rifkin’s minimalist one-to-a-part approach can leave Bach sounding rather diminished.