J S Bach: Weihnachtskantaten, BWV 64, 121 & 133

LABELS: Ricercar
WORKS: Weihnachtskantaten, BWV 64, 121 & 133
PERFORMER: Aurore Bucher, Cécile Côte, Caroline Weynants (soprano), Petra Noskaïova (mezzo-soprano), Paulin Bündgen (countertenor), Henning Kaiser (tenor), Etienne Debaisieux, Benoît Giaux (bass); Namur Chamber Choir; Les Agrémens/Jean Tubéry
CATALOGUE NO: Ricercar RIC 257
Beware of judging a disc by its cover! The sleeve of Jean Tubéry’s new cantata release assigns two of Bach’s Christmas cantatas to 1723 and one to 1724. In fact it’s the other way around, and all three do not ‘make use of the cornet and trombone’ since BWV 133 is a joyous, light-on-its-feet trombone-free zone. At least the carelessness doesn’t extend to Tubéry’s direction – which has stiff competition from the likes of Suzuki, Koopman and Gardiner. Inevitably he’s rarely as urgent or airborne as Suzuki (BWV 121 & 133) or Koopman (BWV 64) but his wind players are more pungently characterful than their colleagues in Tokyo or Amsterdam. And if his tempos are a mite broader, alert rhythms ensure they never drag. The Namur Choir (16-strong to balance the orchestral forces) sings with conviction, though the lively, ‘present’ recorded sound slightly favours instrumentalists. Sad to say, many of the soloists lack the vocal personality to hold the ear (exceptions are Petra Noskaiová and Henning Kaiser), but Tubéry compensates by generating a visceral engagement less generally evident in Suzuki or Koopman. The trombone-rich opening of BWV 121 sounds murky, struggling to realise the clarity an unusually mellow John Eliot Gardiner achieves (a clarity matched by Suzuki and given a bit of ‘edge’), but it’s the only glaring miscalculation in a disc that never sounds as if it has come off the production belt.