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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas from Leipzig 1724 - Volume 26

Cantata BWV 180, "Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele" (Adorn thyself, beloved soul) [21:18]
Cantata BWV 122, "Das neugeborne Kindelein" (The new-born little child) [13:19]
Cantata BWV 96, "Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn" (Lord Christ, the only Son of God) [17:14]
Yukari Nonoshita, soprano
Timothy Kenworthy-Brown, counter-tenor
Makoto Sakurada, tenor
Peter Kooij, bass
Bach Collegium Japan, Chorus and Orchestra/Masaaki Suzuki (direction and harpsichord)
Recorded: Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan, 7-10 June 2003 DDD
BIS CD-1401 [52:57]

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J.S. Bach wrote almost two hundred church cantatas that are universally acknowledged as being without equal in the history of liturgical music. The great master’s inventiveness in the genre is so varied with abundant technical resources, subtle expression and penetrating insight.

The towering cycle by Masaaki Suzuki with his acclaimed Bach Collegium Japan on BIS has reached mid-point in a series that continues to go from strength to strength. Volume 26 comprises three more of the cantatas Bach composed for performances during the last three months of 1742. At this time Bach was in his very early period as Cantor at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. In his so-called ‘Chorale Cantata Year’ every cantata was based on a familiar chorale rather than the traditional gospel reading. The intention of this great liturgical plan was that for a whole year in the main church service on every Sunday and feast day, an original cantata should be played that was based not on the traditional gospel reading for the day in question but on a well known hymn. Bach never did complete this extremely ambitious and reverential project for the Lutheran church.

For those who are not familiar with the Bach Collegium Japan, they are an orchestra and choir founded by their director and keyboard player Masaaki Suzuki in 1990. The orchestra are renowned as Japan’s foremost period instrument performers and strive for authentic interpretations of baroque sacred music specialising in the work of J.S. Bach. For this recording Maestro Suzuki has selected instruments authentic to the period or period-copies.

Of the three works here the opening cantata ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ (Adorn thyself, beloved soul) BWV 180 is certainly the most famous. The celebrated cantata was composed for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity essentially to a communion hymn by Johann Franck that still remains popular today. The large-scale opening chorus, which also opens this release, has been acknowledged as one of the most beautiful cantata movements that Bach ever wrote. The principal source of this work is Bach’s own handwritten score from the Bachakademie in Stuttgart. The scoring is for soloists; soprano, alto, tenor, bass; four-part chorus; orchestra: two recorders, two transverse flutes, oboe, oboe da caccia, violoncello piccolo, two violins, viola and continuo. The score requires the use of a violoncello piccolo which is a small-sized cello with either four or five strings. However the individual parts have not survived and Masaaki Suzuki has decided to use a double bass instead.

The cantata ‘Das neugeborne Kindelein’ (The new-born little child) BWV 122 was written for the Sunday after Christmas, which in 1724 fell on New Year’s Eve and as such could be described as a meditation for the future. The scoring is for soloists; soprano, alto, tenor, bass; four-part chorus; orchestra: three flauto dolce, oboe da caccia, two oboes, bassoon, two violins, viola and continuo with organ. The hymn text Bach used was mainly by Cyriakus Schneegaß, a Thuringian minister. As in the previous cantata Bach’s original handwritten score and the original parts have been handed down and used for this recording. Note the scoring of three flauto dolce for which Suzuki has directed the use of three recorders .

The final work here is the cantata "Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn" (Lord Christ, the only Son of God) BWV 96 that was composed for the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity. The libretto is provided largely by the notable Protestant poetess Elisabeth Cruciger. The scoring is for soloists: soprano, alto, tenor, bass; four-part chorus, orchestra: transverse flute, piccolo flute, piccolo violin, two oboes, two violins, horn and trombone in the continuo. This score again comes to us in the form of Bach’s own handwritten full score together with the original parts. For this recording Masaaki Suzuki has decided to include the soprano recorder, recorder, slide horn and for the basso continuo part a harpsichord rather than the organ.

Throughout this ongoing series I have come to consider the magnificent direction of Masaaki Suzuki to be one of the greatest recording achievements of my lifetime. The interpretations of three of the Leipzig cantatas from 1724 on this volume 26 have given me no reason to alter my view and several more reasons in which to find reinforcement for my stance. Maestro Suzuki’s undoubted affection for these scores is incredibly infectious. There are few conductors who direct with such refinement, reverence and colour; in such a way that one senses that Bach’s intentions are being appropriately fulfilled. In these three, predominantly woodwind-weighted, scores the Bach Collegium Chorus and Orchestra under the controlled direction of Maestro Suzuki faithfully convey the liturgical narrative with considerable reverence and lyrical expression. Particularly impressive is the carefully selected and imaginatively realised basso continuo.

The four vocal soloists perform well up to expectations with remarkably clear enunciation, accurate phrasing and the appropriate combination of style and veneration. In these performances I should single out for special praise the Japanese-born soloists: the soprano Yukari Nonoshita for her clear upper range and refinement of detail in remarkably well-focused singing and also the expressive tenor Makoto Sakurada for his keen intensity and dramatic tone.

A natural and appealing acoustic together with a superbly annotated booklet add to the desirability of this recording. The only significant drawback is the rather short timing of just over fifty minutes; the disc could easily have accommodated another cantata. A further wonderful release in this Bach cantata series. Highly recommended.
Michael Cookson


Visit the Bach Collegium Japan webpage for reviews of other releases in this series

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