Koopman is getting to the end of his complete reading of surviving Bach cantatas. I own most of the series, and often go back to it for reference purposes. It's usually reliable (apart from a few soloists who are not yet ready for prime time, or who confuse French baroque singing with Bach's idiom). But rarely do I find myself pulling out these CDs if I look for the passion, commitment, drama, and intensity that lie just under the surface in all of Bach's cantatas. (For all of these, Gardiner, Herreweghe and Suzuki are a lot more satisfying). As Koopman approaches the end goal--and maybe as a result of the unrelenting and quick pace of the releases--the impression is increasingly that of a decent reading of the works, but with little apparent interest to scratch the musical surface.
In this release in particular, the group sounds tired. Singers lack energy. Tempos are unsteady. Ensemble suffers. Unimaginative interpretation reigns. Add to that a positive organ whose traction system is very clearly audible in chamber settings (is the really the only positive organ available in the whole city of Amsterdam??) and Koopman's increasing difficulty to put himself at the service of the music (omnipresents trills in recitatives), and you will find it hard not to be distracted from the glorious music.
Finally, an editing mistake should give pause to those who are thinking of shelling out more than $50 on this volume. In the opening chorus of Cantata 102, the first two notes of the first fugue theme (alto part, 2'19'') have been mistakenly left out during the editing process. No, they're not sung very softly--they're simply not there. In a fugue, where the first part to enter is completely exposed, that's a problem. Hard to believe that nobody paid attention to this before the recording was committed to thousands of CD supports. Another indication that the enterprise is running out of steam?
6 stars for the music, -3 stars for the interpretation and production.