JS Bach: Cantatas Vol. 22: BWV 30, 30a, 80 & 233-36

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Challenge
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Cantatas Vol. 22: BWV 30, 30a, 80 & 233-36
PERFORMER: Sandrine Piau, Johannette Zomer, Bogna Bartosz, Nathalie Stutzmann; Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: CC72222
This volume completes Koopman’s 11-year project to record all Bach’s cantatas. It sweeps up two, provides alternative versions of them, and leaves room for four ‘short’ Masses. The task has been challenging not simply for its huge scale but also for the scholarly controversies on the way. Koopman sticks resolutely to using fairly full forces while others, notably Rifkin and Parrott, have been advocating alternative textures in one-to-a-part performance. Both sides, some years back, engaged in a passionate paper-war, sometimes (in Early Music) quite acrimonious. Yet perhaps each has listened to, and learnt from, the other. Certainly Koopman’s light choral touch (BWV233 Kyrie) and lively tempos (ending BWV236) reflect the minimalists’ influence. There have been problems: choosing arguably authentic high pitch in the early cantatas tested voices beyond comfort. But throughout Koopman’s performances have been refreshingly distinctive, characterised above all by his irrepressible enthusiasm and often impish wit. The evidence is not only in his direction but also his contribution as continuo-player not least in the second movement of BWV80, ‘Ein feste Burg’, positively bubbles with imagination.

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The opening chorus of BWV80 is a series of fugal expositions ending with the melody chasing own tail in canon, highlighted trumpets and timpani in WF Latin arrangement – uninhibitedly thrilling here. The four Masses are mostly borrowed from earlier cantatas – one happens unexpectedly upon old friends here.

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The performance is excellent throughout, (Mertens outstandingly fluent) while the recording does full justice to this breathtakingly beautiful music, performed the total commitment which has dignified the whole of this magnificent undertaking. George Pratt