WORKS: Cantatas: BWV 4, 21, 31, 71, 106, 131, 150, 185 & 196
PERFORMER: Barbara Schlick (soprano), Kai Wessel (alto), Guy de Mey (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass)Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-98536-2 DDD
This is the first instalment in Ton Koopman’s complete cycle of the Bach cantatas – a project that will occupy him well into the next century. The works here all predate Bach’s appointment as cantor in Leipzig. He was still in his twenties when he composed some of them, yet they betray no trace of immaturity – indeed, several of the very earliest have remained among the most famous: the Actus tragicus (No. 106), with its haunting sonority of recorders and violas da gamba; the austerely chromatic No. 150, ‘Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich’, whose concluding chaconne inspired the finale of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony; and the penitential No. 131, ‘Aus der Tiefe’.
Koopman is in his element in the contemplative side of Bach, and he draws some beautiful playing from his orchestra – notably the oboist, Marcel Ponseele; but in more festive pieces, such as the fanfare-like opening Sonata of the Easter cantata, No. 31, ‘Der Himmel lacht’, or the exuberant initial chorus of No. 71, ‘Gott ist mein König’, Koopman’s fussy dynamic shadings sound rather pretentious. The chorus (using male altos) is admirable throughout; but, with the exception of Klaus Mertens, the soloists are somewhat insipid, with Barbara Schlick occasionally strained at the top of her range. All the same, anyone wanting to explore this wonderful and sadly neglected repertoire need not hesitate. Misha Donat