SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BACH: Cantatas Vol. 16 – Soloists/ La Petite Bande/ Sigiswald Kuijken – Accent

Volume 16 is as fresh and inventive as ever, though still burdened with misapplied interpretative philosophy regarding forces.

Published on September 27, 2013

BACH: Cantatas Vol. 16 – Soloists/ La Petite Bande/ Sigiswald Kuijken – Accent

BACH: Cantatas Vol. 16 = BWV 34, “O Eternal Fire, O Wellspring of Love”; BWV 173, “Exalted Flesh and Blood”; BWV 184, “Light of joy desired”; BWV 129, “Blessed be the Lord, my God” – La Petite Bande/ Sigiswald Kuijken – Accent multichannel SACD 25316, 70:08 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

You have to give Kuijken a lot of credit—his series of the complete church cantatas of Bach, is one of the most consistent, devotional, and outstanding in terms of singing and playing. His one fatal flaw is the establishment of the Rifkin doctrine, or one to a part, something only tendentiously proposed in the academic world and embraced by true devotees and ones, whom, I suspect, see a way to save money on recording costs. Skeptical and pessimistic I know, but that’s how I see it. And by now we have gotten used to it as well, even though I cringe every time I see a new recording that features a quartet as opposed to a chorus.

Kuijken is a terrific conductor even if he is philosophically challenged on this issue, and I think that his love of the music cancels out most of the black marks given because of the shrunken size of the orchestra and singers. We are now sixteen volumes into this thing, and the latest finally arrives at the festal season of Pentecost. Bach, of course, realizing the time of year, has given us music that is equally festive in nature and enthusiastically gregarious and melodic in its honor. Of the four works here, for, respectively, Pentecost, the second and third days after, and the culmination of Trinity Sunday a week later, the first three are parody works, not of other’s music, but of previous pieces of his own. The Pentecost work is based on an earlier Wedding cantata, the first day after on a Birthday cantata, and the second day on a New Year’s Day cantata. All being festal occasions, it’s easy to see why Bach decided to use them; they fit perfectly with the spirit of the season, and even though some numbers from the originals were dropped and others reordered, and that there are different texts being set, the joyous nature transcends the medium and is equally effective in the new settings.

The only original piece is the Trinity Sunday Cantata, a 1726 work, three years after his ascension to the Leipzig position, where he embarked on complete cantata cycles for the next years. This ended in 1725 at Easter, hence leaving a gap from then until Pentecost, and this works is a ”filler”, in that it was written to try and plug that hole. It maintains the same joyful spirit as the other earlier works here.

The surround sound is very good, even though I have complained about a certain metallic quality on some of the other releases. For those liking the scaled-down forces, or some just plain excellent interpretations of Bach, this is for you. But I could not recommend it as a general or only reading. For that you need to turn to Gardiner, Suzuki, or Koopman.

—Steven Ritter

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