JS Bach: Early Cantatas, Vol. 2: BWV 12, 18, 61 & 161

LABELS: Chaconne
WORKS: Early Cantatas, Vol. 2: BWV 12, 18, 61 & 161
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Michael Chance (countertenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass); The Purcell Quartet
As a young composer searching for a personal style, Bach explored extraordinary colours and musical structures in his early Weimar cantatas. With four violas, bassoon and continuo in a captivating Sinfonia (BWV18), pizzicato strings, and recorder tolling the high-pitched funeral bell (BWV161), and a French Overture welcoming the Advent of Christ (BWV161), one imagines the congregation in the castle church must have sat transfixed by their


new Concertmeister’s inventiveness.

The Purcell Quartet – two violins, cello and continuo, augmented by two violas, recorders, oboe, bassoon, and trumpet – reflect the meagre forces available to Bach. The four solo singers combine in a one-to-a-part chorus; extended choral trills in BWV61 suggest that Bach may have used no more singers, though Weimar boasted up to six trebles.

All four singers approach their often testing lines with expressive freedom. Harvey creates a lovely sense of direction in ‘I follow after Christ’ (BWV12), wittily illustrated by Bach’s violins closely imitating each other. There’s an impressive sense of continuity in BWV18’s strangely fragmented central recitative, at one time pleading for God’s bounty, next describing the murderous violence of unbelievers, with soprano intoning the liturgy, and a recurring choral prayer.


With no designated ‘conductor’, this is chamber music, warmed by the acoustic environment of a London church. The resulting clarity is delightful, more subtle than the similarly scaled Ricercar Consort (Mirare). Only the incomparable oboe playing of Marcel Ponseele for Koopman tempts me to share out the accolades. George Pratt