Johann Sebastian BACH
Cantatas - Vol. 46

Herr, Deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben, BWV 102 (1726) [20:45]
Es ist dir gesagt, Mensch, was gut ist, BWV 45 (1726) [17:32]
Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich, BWV 17 (1726) [15:09]
Es erhub sich ein Streit, BWV 19 (1726) [17:57]
Erschrecke doch (alternative version of tenor aria from BWV 102) [4:37]
Hana Blažíková (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan / Masaaki Suzuki
rec. September/October 2009, Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan
BIS BIS-SACD-1851 [76:24]

These four cantatas, originally performed in August and September 1726, bear a structural and thematic similarity. All are essentially two-part works, reflecting Old Testament (Part 1) and New Testament (Part 2) sections, although this separation of the text is not made explicit in BWV 19. Each also shares a fiercely dramatic large-scale introductory chorus of quite amazing complexity, which must have severely tested the musicians available to Bach. Despite some personnel changes over the years, Suzuki’s forces are steeped in Bach’s music to the extent that they rise effortlessly to the considerable challenges that this music places on them. At times, however, the acoustics of the Kobe Shoin Chapel – perfect for smaller scale movements – are not sufficiently spacious to capture the thunderous drama of these opening movements.

The first work (BWV 102) was first performed on the 10th Sunday after Trinity (25th August), and is concerned with the perceived stagnation of Jerusalem. In the opening chorus Suzuki’s forces weave a rich texture, with careful regard to the staccato rhythms of the second section and fugal structure of the third. The only element lacking is a touch of the abrasiveness and drama surely required to underscore the message. A bass recitative is followed by a gentle and perfectly paced alto aria (Blaze) underpinned by solo oboe and continuo. This movement was reworked for subsequent use in the F major missa (BWV 233) but I feel it leaves the deepest impression in its original setting here. Peter Kooij, always dependable, presents a dramatic arioso (movement 4) supported by full string orchestra, rounding off the first Part. Part 2 consists of just three movements: a tenor aria supported by supple and playful strings, recitative and a beautiful chorale setting.

BWV 45 has had a chequered history in the literature, with some writers bemoaning a “coldness” and lack of quality. However, I challenge any listener to agree with such comments after listening to this performance. In Suzuki’s hands the music glows and is never less than highly involving – to the extent that I rate it as one of Bach’s finest cantatas. The opening choral fugue has a dense compositional texture, but comes across with a pleasing lightness of touch. The musicianship here is superb, with momentum sustained and a perfect balance between control and expressive freedom. Following a tenor recitative there is a run of three outstanding arias. In the first (mv. 3) Türk’s voice is strongly projected against a richly satisfying strings and continuo accompaniment. Part 2 (mv. 4) begins with Kooij in one of his finest performances - termed ‘arioso’ but closer to aria than recitative. While nearly always impressive, I have rarely heard him as thoroughly engaged with the music – and the musicians respond to his sense of purpose with a delightful, buoyant performance. The final aria is surely one of Bach’s most charming creations. Against Blaze’s plaintive vocal lines, a solo flute weaves a light and thoroughly enchanting dance. A straightforward recitative and chorale round off the work.

Listeners might be familiar with the first movement of BWV 17, which Bach later reshaped for the Gloria section of his G major Missa. The opening choral fugue is less engaging than the other introductory movements on this disc, but the cantata includes two exceptional arias. Czech soloist Hana Blažíková’s emerging command of this repertoire is showcased in movement 3, a delightful performance accompanied by two solo violin parts. The tenor aria (movement 5) is equally involving, with Gerd Türk’s compelling message of thanks underpinned by a lovely string section. Indeed, the strings deserve special mention for their virtually flawless work throughout this disc. Following a bass recitative a simple but warmly presented chorale setting brings proceedings to a close.

Among the most dramatic of all Bach’s works, the opening chorus of BWV 19 is inspired by the battle between St Michael and Satan, and the triumph of good over evil. It is a major task to conjure up the necessary sense of drama and attack to ears more accustomed to modern instruments than period ones, but Suzuki’s forces are fantastic. However, I do feel that the overall impact is restricted somewhat by the intimate acoustics of the Kobe Shoin Chapel. Blažíková is in fine form in the third aria, although the piece itself is perhaps relatively lacking in interest. Türk turns in another fine performance in the tenor aria, a technically demanding movement where the voice is exposed by a skeletal strings and solo trumpet accompaniment. The full orchestra returns for an assured final chorale. Overall, this is a superb rendition of an outstanding cantata.

Suzuki is now on the home straight in his traversal of Bach’s cantatas, but is still improving. Of the 46 discs released so far, this is perhaps the most impressive of them all.

Peter Bright

Now on the home straight this is perhaps the finest of all Suzuki’s recordings of Bach’s cantatas released so far.

Bach Collegium Japan themed review page

Masterwork Index: Bach cantatas