SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BACH: Cantatas Vol. 15 = “False world, I trust thee not”; “O Eternity, thou thunderous word”; “Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ”; “Awaken ye, the watchman calls us” – La Petite Bande/ Sigiswald Kuijken – Accent

One-to-a-part if that matters to you—it does to me—but performed about as well as they can be.

Published on December 18, 2012

BACH: Cantatas Vol. 15 = “False world, I trust thee not”; “O Eternity, thou thunderous word”; “Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ”; “Awaken ye, the watchman calls us” – La Petite Bande/ Sigiswald Kuijken – Accent

BACH: Cantatas Vol. 15 = BWV 52, “False world, I trust thee not”; BWV 60, “O Eternity, thou thunderous word”; BWV 116, “Thou Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ”; BVW 140, “Awaken ye, the watchman calls us” – La Petite Bande/ Sigiswald Kuijken – Accent multichannel SACD ACC 25315 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

As noted, this is Volume 15 of Sigiswald Kuijken’s complete cantatas for the liturgical year, so at this point we cannot expect a truly complete traversal of the cantatas. Also to be noted is the fact that he is a devoted follower over what has come to be known as the “Rifkin doctrine”, so-named after pianist/conductor/musicologist Joshua Rifkin, who first purposed this idea that Bach’s choral music was intended to have only one person per part, upsetting years of performance practice and overturning centuries of ideas regarding how these pieces were originally rendered. Personally I have never bought into it; even if Bach only had one person per part, there is nothing to indicate that that is what he preferred. In fact, if this is the case, he would be the very first composer in all of music history not to decry the lack of forces in the performance of his work. Every composer who has ever lived has always wanted larger instrumental complements and choruses for the performance of their music—why would Bach be different?

I also think that there is a decided economic factor in modern day Rifkin-influenced performances as well. After all, orchestras of 13 and choruses of four (as given here) are a lot cheaper to record overall than 30 people in the band and 40 or so singing. I suppose musical reductionism as a result of economic considerations is a topic for another day, but I have come across enough really questionable shrunken recordings to wonder just what was going on—concertos with string quintets accompanying them and other suchlike.

This is the fifth album by this group that I have been given to review over the years, and it maintains what are generally high standards if you can get beyond the munchkin choir. The four cantatas given here are for the last four Sundays of Advent, the 23rd through 26th Sundays after Pentecost, all on gospel themes from St. Matthew. However, a work for the 27th Sunday, which happens only every few years, has been used instead. Awaken ye, the watchman calls us, the famous “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” is included here instead, with the promise that the real cantata for the 26th Sunday will be given in a future volume. It was interesting to compare this reading with Rifkin’s own (and a stellar cast) on Oiseau-lyre; his sound is softer, closer, and more lyrical than what I detect here, even though these are fine performances. But the surround sound in this case is a little harsher than the Rifkin recording, though I only now noticed that. In general these readings are wonderfully recorded and splendidly sung, with excellent solo presentations as well. Kuijken knows his Bach and his approach is quite devotional, maybe even more than Suzuki, whose recordings are considered among the most “pious” in nature.

These could not be only recordings for me because of the forces used, but they are quite satisfying in their own way and can be recommended without reservation.

—Steven Ritter




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