JS Bach: Cantatas for the complete liturgical year, Vol. 4: BWV 16, 65, 153 & 154Cantatas for the complete liturgical year, Vol. 5: BWV 17, 35, 164 & 179

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Accent
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Cantatas for the complete liturgical year, Vol. 4: BWV 16, 65, 153 & 154Cantatas for the complete liturgical year, Vol. 5: BWV 17, 35, 164 & 179
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Hermans (soprano), Petra Noskaiová (alto), Jan Kobow (tenor), Jan Van der Crabben (baritone); La petite bande/Sigiswalde KuijkenGerlinde Sämann (soprano), Dominik Wörner (baritone)
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 25304 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Where others, such as Gardiner, Suzuki and Koopman, have adopted the ultimate challenge of recording every Bach cantata, Kuijken is confining himself to Sundays and feast days of one liturgical year. He makes interesting choices: Cantatas 153 and 154 are for Sundays early in 1724, when Bach planned a couple of easy weeks for his choir after their heavy festive work-load – chorales only, no large-scale choruses. Sung by soloists (Kuijken subscribes to the minimalist school), they are beautifully clean despite the huge resonance of Brussels’s Miniemenkerk. In surround-sound, the effect is breath-taking. And the balance-engineering is impressive too in BWV153/3, a bass aria with voice, cello and organ continuo precisely positioned within the space. It’s effective even in CD, albeit in two dimensions. Balance is less good in BWV65, with flutes hidden away in the far distance even in SACD.

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Volume 5 moves to Sundays after Trinity – and to a more restrainedly resonant German castle. Kuijken’s selection is no less arresting: BWV179 opens with some of Bach’s most cunningly-wrought counterpoint; BWV35 reveals a lost concerto, its outer movements seemingly in their original form apart from organ replacing violin (possibly oboe) soloist, while the middle movement neatly adds alto solo to the instrumental texture. Ewald Demeyere gives an altogether lively account on a sparkling (here unidentified) organ.

Balance, though, suffers particularly where the organ provides an overweight left-hand continuo, such as in the delightful trio of alto, organ right-hand and bass ending Part 1. Elsewhere on this recording, too, the additional dimension of SACD surround-sound doesn’t wholly clarify a rather gluey texture, continuo masking the lilting strings and tenor opening BWV164 for instance. But where the balance is better managed, Kuijken is unmatched, such as in the opening

of BWV17 where the strings and oboes enliven a fugal vocal chorus and later, in the earthy gavotte.

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Kuijken’s notes reveal careful thought about the relationship of words to musical setting though some of his interpretative decisions are strange: in BWV154 unequal note-values on already lively semiquavers slow down the final duet; in BWV16/5, viola replaces the unique colour of oboe da caccia, a later option, not in Bach’s own hand. But there’s much to enjoy, particularly in surround-sound mode. George Pratt