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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas, Vol. 40

Lobe den Herren, den Machtigen Konig der Ehren, BWV137 (1725) [12:36]
Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort, BWV168 (1725) [12:51]
Gott der Herr ist Son und Schild BWV79 (1725) [14:10]
Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet, BWV164 [16:25]
Yukari Nonoshita (soprano); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor); Makoto Sakurada (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. June 2007, Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan
BIS BIS-SACD-1671 [57:22]
Experience Classicsonline

For this latest instalment of Suzuki’s Bach cantata series Suzuki regulars Yukari Nonoshita (soprano) and Makoto Sakurada (tenor) have replaced Carolyn Sampson and Gerd Türk. Sampson, in particular, performed superbly on vol. 39 so I was rather disappointed that she is not featured here. Nevertheless, all forces acquit themselves admirably on this new recording, and it stands as another highly enjoyable addition to this consistently rewarding series.
The CD opens with BWV 137, probably first performed on 19 August 1735. The lively first movement, in which trumpets and timpani underscore words of thanks and praise (“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!”) seem somewhat out of kilter with the passage of the day (the healing of a deaf and dumb man). It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that some have traced it back to the more festive Midsummer account of the birth of John the Baptist (24 June). In any case, the primarily fugato introductory movement is deeply impressive and beautifully captured. The second movement, later transcribed for organ as a Schubler chorale, is an elegant aria in which Robin Blaze’s plaintive voice is underscored by a beautiful violin part, perfectly judged by Natsumi Wakamatsu. The melody is taken up by soprano and bass voices in the following delightful duet, accompanied by agile interplay of two oboes and continuo. After a short tenor aria a splendid chorale - later incorporated in the wedding cantata, BWV 120a - rounds off an exceptional performance of an under-appreciated cantata.
BWV 168 (first performed on 29 July 1725) is based around the parable of the unjust steward. It kick-starts with an urgent bass aria, convincingly performed by Peter Kooij. One cannot imagine a more involving account of this movement, characterised by razor-sharp accompaniment on strings. The tenor aria (movement 3) has a far more restrained character than the first movement, but shares a similar ritornello structure. The aria for soprano and alto (movement 5) is particularly unusual, taking the form of a gigue, and marked by repeated descending scales in the bass. This is a relatively minor work overall, but under Suzuki’s direction it emerges as a highly engaging cantata to which I am sure I will return.
BWV 79, written for the Reformation Festival and first performed on 31 October 1725, is remarkable primarily for its opening chorus. It is marked by an orchestral introduction of some 44 bars, in which horns and timpani jubilantly announce themselves in march-like fashion. Against this rich orchestral texture, the vocalists present words from Psalm 44 “The Lord God is a sun and shield …” later breaking into a complex four-part fugue. This is staggeringly brilliant and inventive music, and subsequent movements unsurprisingly fall short. Nevertheless, the alto aria is very pretty - Bach originally employed an oboe part, but later replaced this with a flute, which Suzuki also adopts here. For the subsequent chorale, the horn parts from the first movement are reinstated as accompaniment – to wonderful effect. The remaining movements seem relatively inconsequential, but are well performed.
The primary backdrop for the final cantata is the parable of the good Samaritan (first performed on 26 August 1725). The opening alto aria, while rhythmically pastoral, has a dark undercurrent carried by the strings, in which Christians are chastised for not coming to the help of an injured man. The gentle alto aria (movement 3) is particularly affecting, with two obbligato flutes weaving a sad song around Blaze’s leisurely lines. The duet for soprano and bass (movement 5) has a much fuller texture and presents a more uplifting atmosphere. The work ends with a straightforward chorale.
This is an excellent addition to Suzuki’s ongoing series, and despite the absence of Sampson and Türk, all four works are very impressively performed and recorded. Although at least one of the works on the disc is relatively undistinguished among the scores of outstanding of extant cantatas, Suzuki taps the astonishing beauty and inventiveness of Bach’s music with great flair and attention to detail.
Peter Bright

Bach cantatas on BIS review page



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