Cantatas, BWV 78, 96, 100, 122, 127, 130 and 180
Hannah Morrison (soprano), Marion Eckstein (alto), Georg Poplutz (tenor), Tobias Berndt, Daniel Ochoa (bass); Chorus Musicus Köln; Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering
DHM 19658710832 127:34 mins (2 discs)
As this selection from the 1724/25 cantata cycle proclaims, Christoph Spering is a conductor with firm opinions when it comes to JS Bach. Not for him the one-to-a-part premise. His choir musters 20 singers; and, detecting a Bachian preference for ‘bass-heavy textures’, he adds a contrabassoon to the instrumental forces – though he notes that the instrument didn’t become available to Bach until the late 1730s. Organ and harpsichord are prominent; and the concluding chorales flaunt a portentous pause at the end of each line. Perhaps he finds the current approach to the choral works overly light. Whatever the case, there are moments when it’s as if the clock has been turned back to the 1960s and the soundworld of Karl Richter as mediated through period instruments.
Cantata 78 doesn’t start well. Despite vivid imagery, the words are rather left to fend for themselves, Spering’s focus being on a somewhat all-consuming contrapuntal clarity. But the ensuing duet for soprano and alto is spritely and light on its feet, and across all seven cantatas the solo singing is mostly beguiling, the obligato playing utterly seductive. (BWV 100, incidentally, is an interloper since it dates from a decade later.) The opening chorus of Cantata 127 is particularly sumptuous, while the rich trumpets-and-drums jubilation of Cantata 130 is thrilling, the chorale cantus firmus ringing out with clarion resolve, the busy counterpoint buzzingly alive. For those who like their Bach ‘full fat’ yet with period instruments this cornucopia of cantata treasures might be just the ticket.