A mixed bag - but Paul Agnew shines
hcf | 01/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I stopped buying Koopman's Bach cantata recordings after volume 6. I have mixed feelings about these recordings, but I know people who have a strong preference for them. Some aspects of Koopman's treatment of Bach are very strong, so the series as a whole probably deserves five stars. Individually, however, quite a few of these cantatas can be found elsewhere in a better guise. This volume presents some of the secular output from Bach's years in Leipzig. The polarization of sacred and secular in Bach's output is a matter of some debate, considering that Bach freely reused a lot of his own secular material in later sacred works. For example, even those least familiar with Bach will recognize the opening chorus of BWV 214 as the opening movement of the Christmas Oratorio. As the notes explain, Koopman decided to segregate some of these "source" secular works in a separate volume in order to highlight their individual worth. The result is satisfying (although you may find that it becomes less satisfying on repeat listens). Koopman's chorus sounds limpid and watery, which may be quite appealing, but one is often left with the feeling that the material is undercharacterized. The festive movements (e.g. BWV 215 or 201) are generally more effective than the solemn ones (e.g., the regal Trouerode really deserves a more distinctive choral sound). The tempi are generally well judged, which allows for some interesting instrumental detail. The female soloists have their moments. Lisa Larsson sings an attractive "Verstummt, ihr holden Saiten" (BWV 198). Anne Grimm thrives in Coffee Cantata (BWV 211). Still, it's hard to understand why, for an endeavor of such importance, Koopman could not engage better female singers. However, Koopman's male soloists are truly outstanding. Bass Klaus Mertens offers a strong challenge to the marvelous Peter Kooy (a favorite with both Herreweghe and Suzuki). Meanwhile, tenor Paul Agnew does not challenge anybody - as an interpreter of Bach arias he is simply better than anybody else. His Die Ewigkeit saphirnes Haus from Trauerode is worth a Nobel prize in singing - if there was such a thing. firstname.lastname@example.org"
Beautiful and Sensitive
hcf | 11/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ton Koopman's Volume Four of Bach Cantatas is the first of two volumes containing secular cantatas that Bach composed during his long stay in Leipzig, Germany.The Bach cantatas encompass a wide range of themes and emotions, enough for anyone to find something of interest and something enjoyable. It is interesting to note that the sources of the extremely popular "Christmas Oratorio" are the secular, rather than the sacred, cantatas. The grand opening of the "Christmas Oratorio", for example, is taken from the music of Cantata BWV 214 "Tönet, Ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!."This cantata begins with the words, "Sound ye drums! Ring out, trumpets!" In true Baroque fashion, Bach underscores these lyrics with drums and brass. In this recording of Cantata 214, the drums and trumpets are both jubilant, yet well-balanced with the choir and the orchestra. I, personally, did not enjoy the use of a Baroque guitar and lute rather than a harpsichord in the continuo since the guitar sometimes has a distinctly metallic sound, but I do have to admit that these surprising instruments added a vibrancy and energy to the music. The oboe solo in "Fromme Musen! meine Glieder!" and the bass aria of "Kron und Preis gekronter Damen" are especially superb and very sensitively accompanied by the orchestra.The famous "Coffee Cantata" on disc two is very interesting. The tenor, Paul Agnew is humorous as he attacks his lines "growling like a bear."The part of the helpless father, sung by bass, Klaus Merten, is equally good. Soprano Anne Grimm also sings very well and in her central aria, "Heute noch," she is especially good, singing with fervor and joy. The sensitivity of the instrumental accompaniment and the vivid characterizations of the male roles, makes this the best rendition of this aria I have yet to hear.Soprano Lisa Larsson sings many of the central roles in this collection of cantatas, including the two cantatas for solo sopranos, BWVs 204 and 209. She has a wonderful voice that is both light in character but still quite strong and full and she is showcased to perfection in Cantata BWV 209 "Non sa che sia dolore (He who knows not what sorrow is)." There are also many parts for the wonderful flutist in this orchestra.Disc three contains the lovely "Contentment Cantata," and the performances on this track are superb. Larsson's voice is, here, enchanting, sustained and perfectly in keeping with the theme and mood of the cantata. She is certainly a delight.Disc three ends with Cantata BWV 201, "The Contest Between Phoebus and Pan." The "whirling wind" opening chorus is extremely well-done, but, overall, this cantata lacks the ferocity or emotion and drama found in some other recordings.Phoebus's (Merten's) competition song is well-done and well-sustained, and he is, I think, the better bass, although Pan (Bentvelsen) has the more interesting aria ("Zu Tanze, zu Sprunge, so wackelt das Hertz").The opening work of the first disc is Cantata BWV 198 "Lass Fürstin, Lass Noch Einen Strahl," the famous "Funeral Ode" written for the funeral of Queen Christiane Eberhardine of Poland, Electress of Saxony. This ode is a masterpiece of consistency and even one note should not be missed. It is beautifully-balanced and is melancholy without being overly-pessimistic. Alto Elisabeth von Magnus has an interesting recitative that depicts quivering bells and Larsson is also quite good and uses her vocal strength to full advantage.Koopman's unobtrusive and sensitive accompaniment is always in beautiful harmony with the singers. His harpsichord renditions, particularly in the recitatives, were extremely enjoyable. The Amsterdam Baroque Choir is always unified in voice, as any choir should be, and very sensitive to the dynamics of the performance.Overall, this is a very well-recorded and enjoyable set and should more than please any lover of J.S. Bach."