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

Cantata BWV 78, "Jesu, der du meine Seele"
Cantata BWV 99, "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan"
Cantata BWV 114, "Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost"
Yukari Nonoshita, soprano
Daniel Taylor, counter-tenor
Makoto Sakurada, tenor
Peter Kooij, bass
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
Recorded Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan, February 2003
BIS CD-1361 [62:57]

Volume 25 of Masaaki Suzuki's Bach Cantata Series represents the mid-point of this huge endeavor. Previous volumes have garnered much praise, and the new release generally continues the exceptional qualities that have informed the series up to this point: excellent solo vocal and choral contributions, splendid pacing, rich textures, fine poignancy, and compelling reverence to the texts. Overall, Suzuki's cycle might well be the best ever on record.

The three Cantatas on Volume 25 come from Bach's second year of service in Leipzig during September/October 1724. Each is based on hymns and presents exceptional music. The Cantata BWV 78 is the most popular of the three, largely because of the wonderful duet for soprano and alto "Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten" that is one of Bach's most inspired and glowing arias.

The most impressive aspect of Volume 25 is the superb vocal singing, each soloist delivering excellent tonal qualities and expressiveness. Particularly noteworthy are the counter-tenor Daniel Taylor and bass Peter Kooij. Taylor is a rising star in baroque repertoire, and his duets with Nonoshita in BWV 78 and 99 reveal fine teamwork in addition to exceptional timbre. Kooij has been a mainstay of baroque singing for many years, and his heroic tone and conveyance of the themes of the texts never disappoints.

Unfortunately, all is not perfect. I have nagging reservations about the quick tempos Suzuki employs in the duet and ending choral of BWV 78. Both pieces possess a warm glow of spiritual magnitude, and Suzuki's relatively fast pacing does not allow for sufficient breathing room in this glorious music. For comparison, I listened to the versions from Philippe Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi and Joshua Rifkin on Decca. Both are slower than Suzuki and convey the full measure of the music's spirituality. I have tried my best to acclimate to Suzuki's rushed traversal but continue to feel that he takes the pieces too fast. Actually, this is unusual for Suzuki who tends to prefer moderate to slow tempos in order to enhance richness and warmth. Readers might reasonably question my preoccupation with one aria that lasts under five minutes, but the duet is the gem of the seven arias on the disc. Therefore, I have to give it greater weight than I would otherwise. The soundstage is certainly not problematic, being crisp as well as rich with perfect reverberation. Further, each musical line is well detailed, a critical aspect for Bach's contrapuntal creations.

Even with my griping about the duet and choral from BWV 78, I have no hesitation in heartily recommending this mid-point volume of Suzuki's Bach Cantata series highlighted by magnificent solo singing and breathtaking choral contributions. When the series is complete, it should be a stunning tribute to the supreme artistry and architecture of the greatest composer of Western Civilization.

Don Satz

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

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