Johann Sebastian BACH (1785-1850)
A Choral Year

First Sunday in Advent: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV61/1 [2:44]
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 [3:18]
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, BWV244/1 [8:01]
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 [4:30]
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 [5:23]
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 [5:32]
Beyond the Church Year:
Jesus bleibet meine Freude, BWV147/10 [3:01]
Dona Nobis Pacem from Mass in B minor, BWV232/27 [3:38]
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
Compilation from recordings 1995-2009
BIS-CD-1951 [82.15]

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.

Dominy Clements

To be taken in big, healthily enjoyable draughts.