on 2 November 2013
You lean back after an excellent lunch, and then - how could you have forgotten ? - a waiter appears with your bill, a bill indeed for the lunches of a lifetime, bigger than you could ever pay, even had you not maxed out your divine credit card years ago.
"Your bill, Sir" - it hits you like a thunderbolt.
So begins the text of Bach's Cantata 168, "Tue Rechnung - Donnerwort". It sounds ludicrous to us, and more so as the details of moral capital and interest are described, but it spoke volumes to consciences of the merchants and bankers of Leipzig in the Thomankirche in July 1725. They took it seriously, and so did Bach, setting it to dramatic and powerful music, but music which only makes sense to us now if we are prepared to suspend our cynicism and attend to its text.
This is the point Sigiswald Kuijken has sought to make throughout this cantata series. Bach's church music is rhetorical, it expresses the text, and to perform it in a way that deflects attention from the text - as very often happens - is to betray it. Kuijken therefore avoids exaggerated speeds or aggressive phrasing, and always aims at clarity of expression.
We can hear this tendency clearly in Cantata 54 "Widerstehe doch der Sünde". It's the most familiar work here because it often figures in solo Bach albums by altos who perform its fine first aria lyrically, with rich full tone. Petra Noskaiova by contrast, though she sings musically, makes no attempt at a beautiful sound, indeed she resembles an angry schoolteacher; but that is entirely appropriate to the text: "Stand up against sin!".
This is the third volume of the series to appear since January, after a two-year pause. I expected each set to be the last - Kuijken's government funding was withdrawn last year - and have been wrong each time, but as this disc collects up stray recordings from the last seven years, I suppose it may indeed be the last we shall see. These are not reject performances, but rather works that could not be fitted into previous volumes, and though they cover a spread of the church year, they have in common that they are Weimar or Cothen cantatas later adapted for Leipzig. No further explanations are offered, but the performances (from 2005, 2009 and 2012) are consistently good.
Those familiar with the series need not hesitate.
Those intrigued by the above but new to the series may care to follow the link to my reviews of the previous two volumes, which discuss at greater length Kuijken's performance decisions and approach to the music.