in its twenty-eighth volume, Masaaki Suzuki continues his complete
cycle of Bach’s church cantatas. I must confess that heretofore
I had not listened to any of this cycle, favoring for some reason
Koopmann’s equally well received venture. Now that I have experienced
this recording, I realize that I have some serious catching
up to do.
four of the works presented here fall under the “Chorale Cantata”
category; that is, cantatas that are based on hymns, with their
outer stanzas left intact and the inner verses reworked to fit
as arias and recitatives. All of the cantatas from the so-called
“chorale year” follow the same basic formula: opening verse
is lined out over a concertato orchestra accompaniment, inner
verses alternate between recitatives and solo endeavors (including
the occasional duet or trio), final verse is usually a straight
ahead hymnbook chorale harmonization, presumably sung by choir
and congregation alike.
than give a blow by blow description of each cantata (the program
notes are beyond superb), I would like to go through some of
the highlights of the performances, pointing out what was truly
outstanding and nit-picking at a couple of minor imperfections.
the orchestra is above reproach. And Suzuki has managed to find
tempi that fit the texts like gloves. Intonation and rhythmic
precision are consistently perfect. There are some balance issues
however, particularly in the choral movements. I felt that the
choir was either not large enough, placed too far away from
the microphones or simply needed to sing louder. More often
than not they were not the center of attention as they should
has also assembled a fine cast of soloists. I was particularly
impressed with the impeccable diction, the utterly unaccented
German, and the lovely expression of each soloist. I do take
issue with both the tenor and bass for the manner in which they
sing melismatic passages. There is just too much of the starter
motor going on here, and not enough connection in the line.
It is possible to be clean and clear when singing roulades without
having to “bump” every note. It was a mannerism that I found
annoying after a while. Having said that, there is some spectacular
singing, particularly from tenor Makoto Sakurada. Specifically
his aria performance in BWV 139 (Gott ist mein Freund) was
simply breath-taking. Bass Peter Kooij is no stranger to Bach
singing, but I did find him to be a little ‘woofy’ from time
to time, and although Robin Blaze is very artistic in his singing,
and there is a certain beauty to his tone, I would just rather
hear a good mezzo or contralto sing these arias. The more I
hear of the male sopranist fach the more I agree with a distinguished
colleague of mine who quips: “It’s a choice, not a voice.” Soprano
Yukari Nonoshita is superb.
sum it all up though, the complaints are minor, and I must admit
are the squabbles of a long-time Bach singer and conductor who
has definite and rare to change ideas about how this music should
sound. (That would be me, if you didn’t already guess.) These
are consistently outstanding performances, musical beyond belief,
and worthy of any collection. Drat. Now there is another raft
of CDs requiring more of my money.
quality is impeccable. Presentation and notes are first rate.
A complete winner. Buy this one.