This generously filled disc amounts to a choral sampler from
the highly regarded BIS cycle of the entire cantatas of J.S.
Bach from the Bach Collegium Japan led by Masaaki Suzuki. Potential
purchasers should note that this compilation is also included
in the boxed set ‘Bach and Beyond’ on BIS-CD-9036/39.
Masaaki Suzuki has created a programme of some of his personal
favourites among the choral movements from Bach’s cantatas.
Founded in 1990, the Bach Collegium Japan celebrates its 20th
anniversary in 2010 and the 15th anniversary of the start of
the cantata cycle in 1995. The concept of the programme is to
follow the Lutheran liturgical calendar, beginning with Advent
and ending with the Feast of the Reformation. In this way the
CD covers the entire range of highlights of a church year. The
range includes a joyous celebration of Christmas in Unser
Mund sei voll Lachens, which begins with a rather stately
chunk of the Orchestral Suite No.4 but launches into
some marvellously crisp and well articulated choral singing.
Emotional depths are plunged in the gorgeous Kommt, ihr Töchter
from the St Matthew Passion, which is suitably heavy
in its tread, though others have created as much sense of suffering
with more forward momentum.
Masaaki Suzuki gives his reasons for choosing these particular
movements in the booklet notes, including one or two enigmatic
comments which leave us panting for more. For instance, Christ
lag in Todesbanden, the first recoding of the series causes
him to “recall an altercation I had at that time with the producer,
Robert von Bahr!” Without further elaboration we’re left wanting
to phone someone for answers – what was it all about?!
This is a well considered collection and filled with contrast
despite being entirely choral. There are plenty of interesting
orchestral moments and nice contrasts of texture and content,
and you are sure to find your own favourites among the tracks:
I was for instance glad to see the lovely Jesu, der du meine
Seele with its wonderful chromatic lines and harmonies.
The Liturgical year finishes with Bach’s elegant and inspiring
setting of Martin Luther’s hymn Ein feste Burg ist unser
Gott, and Suzuki pushes the content of the CD to its limits
with two pieces ‘Beyond the Church Year’, the very famous Jesus
bleibet meine Freude, and rounding off the entire
programme with the superb music and heartfelt message of the
Donna Nobis Pacem from the Mass in B Minor.
This is a very nice CD to have around, and while collectors
of the Cantata series and other releases from Suzuki’s recordings
for BIS may not feel the need to double up on repertoire highlights
this is the kind of disc which does very well as a pocket companion
for car journeys or riotous bouts of festive cooking at home.
This is not a SACD disc as with most of the other releases in
the full series, but still has no caveats in terms of sound.
The main warning to listeners yet to embark on a collection
of Bach’s Cantatas is that, after hearing this, they are likely
to be inspired to seek further – a major investment, as the
finished project is likely to run to 55 volumes. The vocal qualities
of the Collegium Japan are always very fine, and while the non-vibrato
string sound can seem a little thin the orchestral accompaniments
are always clean and well balanced. Suzuki may not always go
in for the swiftest of tempi, but neither is he stodgy or mannered,
and there are no weak tracks on this feast of Bach. Drink it
all in, and be spiritually cleansed and glad to be alive.
First Sunday in Advent: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland,
Christmas Day: Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV110/1 [6:17]
New Year’s Day: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV190/1 [4:40]
Epiphany: Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV65/1 [4:25]
Third Sunday after Epiphany: Alles nur nach Gottes Willen, BWV72/1
Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mit Fried und Freud
ich fahr dahin, BWV125/1 [5:55]
Passion of Our Lord: Kommt, ihr Töchter from St Matthew Passion,
Easter Sunday: Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV4/2 [4:02]
Pentecost: Erschallet, ihr Lieder, BWV172/1 [3:50]
First Sunday after Trinity: Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV75/1
Eighth Sunday after Trinity: Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre
mein Herz, BWV136/1 [3:44]
Tenth Sunday after Trinity: Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem
Glauben, BWV102/1 [5:36]
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity: Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV78/1
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity: Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich
sterben, BWV8/1 [5:35]
Feast of the Reformation: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV80/1
Beyond the Church Year:
Jesus bleibet meine Freude, BWV147/10 [3:01]
Dona Nobis Pacem from Mass in B minor, BWV232/27 [3:38]