J.S. BACH - Cantatas - Volume
12 - Suzuki
Cantata No.147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben", BWV 147
Cantata No. 21, "Ich hatte viel Bekummernis", BWV 21
soprano Robin Blaze counter-tenor Gerd Turk tenor Peter Kooij bass Concerto
Palatino (Brass Ensemble - BWV 21). Bach Collegium Japan - Masaaki Suzuki
Recorded June 1999
at the Kobe Women's University, Japan.. BIS-CD-1125 DDD
Yet another hit for BIS. This is Volume 12 in an on-going series of the complete
Cantatas of J.S. Bach by this Japanese ensemble. It is indeed excellent.
We have here a Swedish company, employing a Japanese choir, orchestra, soprano
and conductor, English counter-tenor, German tenor and Dutch bass. It has
often been said that music is international, and this issue confirms it in
Bach, by these artists, is no longer the curiosity it was when BIS issued
Volume 1 back in 1995. It must have been the same act of faith for BIS as
it was for Chandos with the issue of Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony by the Oslo
Philharmonic with Mariss Jansons. Both series have received critical acclaim,
as they should have, given the stunning levels of performance and recording
that both series have achieved.
I am very happy to confirm that the features of the first and subsequent
issues has been maintained. These include very clear, atmospheric recordings
displaying the qualities of Masaaki Suzuki and his colleagues. Secure playing
and singing, immaculate intonation, constant attention to maintaining interest
through Bach's many changes in mood and fine solo and choral singing are
all hallmarks of the series. They are all accompanied superbly by a period
orchestra who have absorbed the features of period playing without the
disadvantages, still occasionally heard with other groups. A very comprehensive
and well presented booklet is supplied.
Cantata No. 147 - This is a very popular cantata, having as one of its chorales
the well known Werde munter, mein Gemuthe, or in English - Jesu, Joy of Man's
Desiring. Bach completed this Cantata in 1716, when he was 31. It was intended
for the Sunday before Xmas. When he moved to St. Thomas's, Leipzig in 1723,
further movements were added and the performance of this cantata moved to
2nd July, the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary. This change involved
the addition of three recitatives and the chorale.
There was no such problem with Cantata No. 21, written earlier when Bach
was 28, and performed at Weimar, Hamburg and Leipzig. There were changes
however, and what we hear on this disc is the accepted final version, written
to a text by Salomo Franck (as was also Cantata No. 147). It is a powerful
work, in two parts, with 11 movements.
Given the various nationalities and backgrounds of the various artists, this
well integrated and wonderfully performed disc is a joy from start to finish.
But Harry Downey concludes:
Bach is big in Japan, very big. On the Swedish BIS label, the Bach Collegium
Japan (hereafter BCJ) is recording a complete series of the Bach Church Cantatas,
approximately 200 in all and this is Number 12 in that series. The BCJ was
founded in 1990 with the aim of introducing period performances of the baroque
period to Japan, with a clear emphasis on J.S.Bach. The Collegium is an
integrated unit with its own chorus as well as orchestra, set up in 1990
by its founding father Masaaki Suzuki who is its current music director.
Cantata No 147, " Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" ("Heart and Mouth and
Deed and Life"), the shorter of the two on the disc, has the customary two
parts, each intended to frame a central section of the service with a musical
content to match the sermon's theme. It was written in Weimar for use on
the Sunday before Christmas, but because of different customs in different
regions, after his move to Leipzig it became a setting for the July celebration
of The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The opening chorus, with a prominent trumpet introduction, showed off the
big acoustic and the technically excellent choir. I recall from an earlier
disc a reference to slightly higher than normal pitch being used then and
I assume the practice has continued here. The blend of two very distinctive
voices in "Schame dich, o Seele, nicht" bringing together an oboe d'amore
and a counter-tenor made an unusual but pleasing conjunction. In her solo
"Bereite dir, Jesu" the long sustained note in "gläubende" soared away
splendidly, and the tenor aria that opens Part Two showed off a light, fresh
sounding voice. The commanding bass of Peter Kooij has admirably clear diction
and an evenness throughout his full range. One of the best known of all Bach
pieces "Jesu joy of man's desiring" is a chorale from this Cantata. Sung
pleasantly enough but at a somewhat sluggish tempo it had a prominent slide
trumpet (tromba da tirarsi) which made its presence felt (though not
unpleasantly, I must add ). Whatever one's views may be on period performance
and instruments, these different sounds do have an effect I often enjoy.
The longer Cantata, No 21, "Ich hatte viel Bekummernis" ("There were many
afflictions") is played and sung here in as it would have been in Leipsig
on the third Sunday after Trinity. There are other, different versions of
the Cantata that have been recorded by the BCJ on other CD's. It opens with
a Sinfonia with a splendidly played oboe, an interweaving line from a solo
violin and continuo. The forces are the same throughout both Cantatas with
earlier comments generally applicable to which I will add an honourable mention
for the clarity of the German diction of the all-Japanese Chorus.
More excellent oboe playing features in the expressively sung soprano solo,
and in the extended aria "Bache von gesalznen Zahren " the tenor voice handles
the quick gear change at "Sturm und Wellen" easily enough. Part one ends
with a contrapuntal section involving soloists and chorus that was clear
and precise but a shade mannered. The bass & Soprano duet, with cello
and organ support confirmed earlier views of the qualities of the bass voice.
A qualified recommendation then for a 'safe' if uninspiring version of these
two works. Throughout there is a feeling that parts are being played and
sung with too much care, too much inhibition - with the exception of some
fine individual instrumental playing - and a little more relaxation coming
from greater confidence would help.
Visit the Bach
Collegium Japan webpage for reviews
of other releases in this series