Johann Sebastian Bach
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Classical - Released January 7, 2013 | Alia Vox
Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Choc de Classica - Hi-Res Audio
Classical - Released March 7, 2007 | Challenge Classics
With this set of 12 cantatas, a few of them quite short, Dutch historical-instrument conductor Ton Koopman approaches the end of his monumental traversal of the complete Bach cantata corpus. The cantatas here mostly date from the last two decades of Bach's life. By this time Bach had cantatas from earlier cycles ready for most occasions pertaining to the liturgical year. Several of the works here were written for special occasions -- weddings in at least two cases. The orchestration for the most part is large and varied, with several pieces including trumpets and tympani; the Cantata No. 195, "Dem Gerechten muß das Licht," BWV 195, features a dazzling array of strings, oboe, oboe d'amore, transverse flutes, horns, trumpets, bassoon, timpani, and continuo. The result is that these pieces play to the strengths of Koopman's interpretations: the warm, flawless blend of the Amsterdam Baroque Choir and the sharp differentiation of the instruments within what remains a big, festive sound overall. The famous cantata in this group is the Cantata No. 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," BWV 140, with its "Sleepers Awake" chorale and its lovely variations on a pastoral theme. Sample the opening chorus (CD 2, track 1) for an idea of what you can expect in the various large choruses in the lesser-known cantatas in the set: each has its nice textural touches, and not a one gets lost in Koopman's expert interpretation. Hear the "Welt, ade, ich bin dein müde" (World, goodbye, I am tired of you) movement of the Cantata No. 158, "Der Friede sei mit dir," BWV 158, for an example of Koopman at his best: this odd combination of a bass aria with mantra-like interjections of the chorale from the choir's sopranos would throw a lesser conductor. The soloists in this set are also unusually effective. Soprano Sandrine Piau's voice is unhampered by the high pitch Koopman employs, and her soaring lyricism makes an effective foil for the unusual, rather English horn-like timbre of the alto of Bogna Bartosz. There is something a bit cool in Koopman's readings; for deep humanistic insights into Bach's music, the evolving cantata set by John Eliot Gardiner may be preferable. But in the public, festive music heard here, this lion of the historical-performance movement is hard to beat.
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