An analytical performance with unequal soloists
Peter Janssens | Washington, DC, USA | 12/16/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Gustav Leonhardt began recording Bach's secular cantatas on Philips in 1990 after completing the sacred cantatas cycle with Harnoncourt. Those Philips discs were well received but are now hard to find, either on CD or as downloads, so I was thrilled to discover that Leonhardt, now 80, just recorded another pair of Bach's secular cantatas.
The homage cantata BWV 30a--the musical basis for sacred cantata BWV 30--can be compared with Rilling's solid 2000 recording and with Koopman's agreeable 2002 performance, and, on the sacred side, with Harnoncourt's 1974 BWV 30 from the sacred cantata cycle and Gardiner's considerably more exuberant version recorded in 2000. Paradoxically, but not uncharacteristically for Leonhardt, this festive cantata is performed slowly, emphasizing the analysis of the musical "Zwietracht" (harmony) over the expression of joy.
For BWV 207, a comparison with Philippe Herreweghe's 2004 recording is imperative: the faster pace, the exuberant choruses, and the soloists (delightful Carolyn Sampson!) make Herreweghe my Nº 1 choice.
Leonhardt's soloists are a bit of a mix and, truth be told, the weak point of this recording. While Stephan MacLeod and Markus Schäfer perform well, Robin Blaze, generally adequate with Suzuki, underwhelms here, and Monika Frimmer, who did fine on Leonhardt's Philips disc of 1996, is sadly painful to listen to. Café Zimmermann does its usual expert job: the musical accompaniment is flawless throughout, as are the Chantres du Centre de Musique baroque de Versailles.
All in all, I'd recommend these slow-paced performances, which seem to emphasize the sacrality of music even within Bach's secular pieces, for the bass and choral movements and less so for the alto and soprano."