These performances of Bach cantatas for the seventh and ninth Sundays after Trinity, the third day of Easter, and perhaps the third Sunday in Lent are part of a series by La Petite Bande and its leader Sigiswald Kuijken, performing Bach cantatas covering the entire liturgical year. They are in the fashionable one-voice-per-part style, perfect for groups aiming to avoid strenuous fundraising rigors. Others may find it unsatisfactory, and certainly the fact that cantatas were performed this way in churches in the 18th century, whose economic realities were nothing like our own, says little about how they were intended. Be that as it may, there are worse ways to try out Kuijken's series or the one-voice-per-part approach in general. The chorus, if there had been one, doesn't have too much to do in these cantatas (except in the big finale of the Cantata No. 134, "Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß," BWV 134, where you really do miss it). Instead the action happens in the solo arias, and the singers, especially the dense without being weighty alto Petra Noskaiová, are quite good. Three of the cantatas include duets that are fairly neglected and give the entire group a chance to show off its precise tonal grasp and ensemble work. The sound couldn't be called warm, and when Kuijken argues, in the general booklet included with each volume, that this kind of performance gains in "collective devotional power," one must pause and say that for more devotional power, check out the choral versions by John Eliot Gardiner instead. Another questionable innovation is the use of a so-called violoncello da spalla (shoulder cello), a medium-sized instrument held on the shoulder, in the continuo in place of the usual cello or viola da gamba; the evidence for this is thin, but at least the sound makes sense in this performance. The recording venue changed with each work here, for the recordings were made over several years in Belgian churches where the cantatas were also performed in live concerts; this is a bit surprising, but it adds to the immediacy of the music-making, which is defnitely there even if listeners don't buy what's being done with it. Worth checking out to stretch the ears and mind.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Ärgre dich, o Seele, nicht, BWV 186|
|Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort, BWV 168|
|Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß, BWV 134|
|Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54|