This Bach cantata disc adheres to the one-singer-to-a-part principle rather than to the deployment of a body of voices constituting a 'choir' in today's understanding of the term. The arguments for and against this approach have been well rehearsed and need not be entered into here. How frequently Bach himself performed the music in this way, or indeed if he ever did, we shall perhaps never know for sure, but it can certainly be illuminating, musically, and it works well in recording. The three pieces which Kuijken has chosen are fine examples of Bach's wonderfully varied craft in this medium. Es ist das Heil (BWV 9) is a late work dating from the early to mid-1730s, while the remaining two belong to the great cycles of the early to mid-1720s. I am enchanted by the airy instrumental playing and by Kuijken's almost unfailing ability to settle upon a just rhythm. The flute and oboe d'amore contributions, of which there are many, are warmly textured, eloquently phrased and, in a word, alluring. Soprano Midori Suzuki - a regular with BIS's Bach Collegium Japan cantata series - and Magdalena Koená, are evenly matched, tonally lucid and intimate; but I cannot muster much enthusiasm for Knut Schoch, the colour of whose voice is monotonous and whose inflections lack charm. Jan Van der Crabben is efficient, but unremarkable. What a pity, when so much else is outstanding. If you are wedded to one-to-a-part then this disc is obligatory, for there is no other. Otherwise Harnoncourt (BWV 94) and Leonhardt (BWV 9 and 187) offer the strongest all-round versions, with Kurt Equiluz, one of the finest of all Bach tenors.
© BBC Music Magazine 2001