Johann Kuhnau Cycle Now Complete

This release completes a 10-year project by Gregor Meyre, Opella Musica, and the camera lipsiensis. Over the course of a decade, these musicians recorded the complete sacred works of Johann Kuhnau. 

Johann Sebastian Bach succeeded Kuhnau as Kantor at St. Thoamskirche, Leipzig. Like Bach, Kuhnau enjoyed a long tenure — from 1701 until his death in 1722. 

Kuhnau, like Bach, wrote not for the ages, but for next Sunday. He composed cantatas and oratorios for all major feast days in the church year. And he also produced occasional music as needed by the Leipzig town council. 

Over the course of 21 years, Kuhnau produced a large amount of music. Unfortunately, most of his sacred music was lost. What survives is now available in these eight volumes on CPO. 

They reveal that Kuhnau was as much an innovator as his successor. Kuhnau’s cantatas have a supple flow, unlike the staid four-square cantatas of his contemporaries. 

Volume 8 focuses on the non-church works Kuhnau wrote over the course of his career. They include music written for school plays. (The church ran a boarding school for their boy’s choir.) Also featured are three stand-alone arias and a couple of chamber cantatas.

The assembled musicians perform to their usual high standards. The Opella Musica has a translucent ensemble sound. It’s easy to follow individual voices through the counterpoint. And when all sing together, the voices blend to create a pleasing unity. 

Gregor Meyer’s direction serves the music well. Slow passages are slow, not ponderous. Big gestures are grand, not bombastic. 

The entire collection is worth acquiring — especially if you’re interested in the high Baroque. At the very least, this volume is worthwhile because of the variety of materials. I’d also recommend volume 3,  with Kuhnau’s surviving Christmas cantatas. They are spectacular.   

Johann Kuhnau: Complete Sacred Works, Vol. 8
Opella Musica; camerata lipsiensis; Gregor Meyer, conductor

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