Just how to arrange Johann Sebastian Bach's cantatas for purposes of recording is always a daunting question -- to organize a complete cantata project by BWV number works the least well of all possible options. If J.S. Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 17, gives any indication of what Ton Koopman has in mind, it appears to be historical context rather than that of liturgy. This volume includes ten cantatas belonging to Bach's early years in Leipzig, namely 1724-1727. Immediately apparent is Koopman's organ continuo; bright, peppy and all-pervasive, brilliantly played and placed up front to such an extent in BWV 169 that it seems to defeat the purpose of a continuo. This is not always a distraction, however -- witness the sheer joy Koopman's playing brings to the second "Sinfonia" in BWV 35. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra plays throughout at a relaxed, though not lazy, clip.
Alto Bogna Bartosz is a little underpowered in BWV 169, as though some of the range is a little low for her. The sopranos are fine, in particular Johannette Zomer, although Sandrine Piau is certainly no slouch, her singing being greatly compelling in a rhythmic sense in BWV 58. Bass Klaus Mertens is quite outstanding through the whole set, and gets a chance to shine in BWV 56, mainly for the bass alone. Zomer engages in a bit of playfulness with Mertens during the aria "Nun verschwinden alle Plagen" in BWV 32. The performance here of BWV 19 is very good, with the exception of a few slightly flat phrases sung by tenor Jörg Dürmüller in the long and difficult aria "Bleibt, ihr Engle, bleibt bei mir."
That J.S. Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 17, is a generally very good to outstanding set should not come as a big surprise to anyone, given Koopman's established expertise in Bach and the quality of the soloists featured. Right now, however, the market is very crowded with Bach cantata cycles, including those by Masaaki Suzuki and John Eliot Gardiner still underway in addition to those already completed by Harnoncourt/ Leonhardt and the two by Rilling. It is up to the listener to determine if one's preference in Bach's cantatas goes in this direction or elsewhere.