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Briefly Noted: Swiss Bach Cantata Cycle

available at Amazon
J.S. Bach, Cantatas, Vol. 1 (BWV 182, 81, 129), Choir and Orchestra of J.S. Bach-Stiftung, St. Gallen, R. Lutz

(released on January 13, 2015)
BSSG-A909 | 62'41"

available at Amazon
Vol. 2 (BWV 22, 60, 34)

BSSG-A910 | 48'33"
The J.S. Bach-Stiftung in St. Gall has plans to record all of the vocal works of J.S. Bach. Conductor Rudolf Lutz began with the cantatas in 2006, performing one each month in the Protestant church of Trogen (Appenzell) in Switzerland. With private funding, the project draws on a range of singers and historical instrument specialists. Each cantata is performed twice, with a mini-seminar in between the two performances to explain the religious, textual, and musical background. After a few years of the group's private distribution of CDs and even DVDs (including the lectures), all recorded live, one can now buy the CDs, with three cantatas on each disc, through Naxos. The CD arrangement will likely be of more interest to most collectors, excluding those who want to receive only one cantata with each disc, plus an hour's worth of lectures in German. (You can get a sampling of the quality of the performances on the Stiftung's YouTube channel.) Twelve discs are available in the new label so far, officially released later this month, but the series of concerts (and thus recordings) will continue for another eighteen years or so.

The Bach completist, of course, has just finished rounding out the recently concluded sets by John Eliot Gardiner and Masaaki Suzuki with Bach Collegium Japan, both of which we have been avidly following. If historical authenticity is the most important criterion, the pioneering cycle by Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Das Alte Werk, Teldec) will be hard to beat, as the only one still that uses boys voices on the soprano parts, and if historical authenticity grates on you, Helmuth Rilling's set has much to recommend it.

Along comes this new Bach cantata cycle to fill that need to have a Bach cantata cycle to follow, and the results from Lutz and his colleagues are so far quite alluring, especially in the sounds of the chorus (mixed voices). Soloists are at a high level, too, with the possible exception of countertenors. Lutz has a great tenor, Bernhard Berchtold, and the rich, molten mezzo-soprano Roswitha Müller is outstanding in the opening aria of Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen? (BWV 81, for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany). The instrumental contributions are equally beautiful, charming me right from the opening track of the Palm Sunday cantata Himmelskönig, sei willkommen, in that little sonata for violin, recorder, cello, and clipped organ chords. As with singers, bigger instrumental names sometimes join on the series, like violinist John Holloway, who is featured on the first violin part in BWV 22. Count me in for the journey.

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