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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



RECORDING OF THE MONTH

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Complete Church Cantatas, Vol. 28
Nun komm der Heiden Heiland BWV 62 [17:47]
Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott, BWV 139 [17:42]
Ach wie flüchtig, ach vie nichtig, BWV 26 [14:48]
Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 116 [17:15]
Yukari Nonoshita, (soprano)
Robin Blaze, (counter-tenor)
Nakoto Sakurada, (tenor)
Peter Kooij, (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. 16-19 March 2004, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan
BIS SACD 1451 [68:44]


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Now 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.

All 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.

Rather 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.

First, 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 be.

Suzuki 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.

To 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.

Sound quality is impeccable. Presentation and notes are first rate. A complete winner. Buy this one.

Kevin Sutton

 

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



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