WORKS: Cantatas, BWV 1, 33, 38, 62, 92, 93, 96, 122 & 133
PERFORMER: Deborah York (soprano), Franziska Gottwald (contralto), Paul Agnew (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass); Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: CC 72213
Here, after months of anticipation, is the latest volume of Ton Koopman’s Bach Cantata Edition, with Challenge stepping in after Erato lost heart in the project. It contains nine cantatas from Bach’s second annual Leipzig cycle of 1724-5.
Koopman’s Bach cantata series has been a somewhat uneven affair, with several notably weak performances among the earlier volumes. The release preceding this one, however (reviewed April 2002), revealed some strengths which have given Masaaki Suzuki’s rival BIS cycle a good run for its money. Chief among them was the solo vocal line-up. Though different in all but one instance in this new release, it proves to be of a similarly high calibre, with the voice of Klaus Mertens, present in each of Koopman’s volumes so far, continuing to lend the series its greatest distinction.
Koopman, as collectors of the series will already know, favours brisk tempi, and these, as often as not, are effective and refreshing. But sometimes they strike me as misjudged, and this seems very much the case in the resplendent opening chorale fantasia of BWV 1, which envisages the future birth of Christ and the journey of the three kings. This is a profound movement, notwithstanding its lively 12/8 dance measure, whose nobility seldom emerges from Koopman’s lightweight and hurried reading. On the other hand, readers will look in vain for a finer account of the bass aria in BWV 62, though the presence of a prominent continuo lute here and elsewhere must remain contentious. An alternative version of the aria is also included.
On balance, though, the many sustained passages of excellence in these performances, among them the serenely beautiful duet for soprano and alto in BWV 93, outnumber those which disappoint. Chorus and instrumentalists are generally very good indeed, though the strings occasionally sound underpowered. It will be interesting to see how Suzuki compares when he records these works. Nicholas Anderson