Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Bach for Japan
Sinfonia (from: Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV156) [2:46]
Aria and Chorale (from: Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV156) [6:14]
Sonatina (from: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV106) [3:09]
Aria (from: Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen, BWV127) [7:57]
Organ chorale (from: Herzlich tut mich verlangen, BWV727) [2:28]
Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein - Arioso and chorale (from: In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist, BWV106) [5:54]
Air (from: Orchestral Suite no.3 in D, BWV1068) [4:40]
Aria (from: Bete aber auch dabei, BWV115) [7:09]
Organ chorale (from: Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV641) [2:24]
Aria (from: Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, BWV170) [6:37]
Aria (from: Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt, BWV151) [8:30]
Organ chorale (from: Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV639) [2:23]
Aria (from: Wie zittern und wanken, BWV105) [6:06]
Aria (from: Es ist vollbracht, BWV159) [5:52]
Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV229 [8:15]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano); Hana Blažíková (soprano); Miah Persson (soprano); Susanne Rydén (soprano); Yoshikazu Mera (counter-tenor); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki (organ)
rec. Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan, November 2011 (organ chorales); 1995-2010 (others); St Crucis Church, Erfurt, Germany, August 2005 (BWV 170). DDD
Johann Sebastian Bach is very big in Japan, thanks in no small part to Masaaki Suzuki and the singers and instrumentalists of his Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ), founded in 1990. This almost miraculously lengthy CD - over 82 minutes! - is a compilation of items from the huge BIS discography of the BCJ under Suzuki, part of a project initiated by him to raise funds for victims of the natural and man-made disasters that occurred in Japan in March 2011, when an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown devastated the country's Tohoku region. Suzuki and the BCJ are donating their royalties from sales of this CD, with BIS matching their figure. The disc has been released a year to the day the earthquake struck, with a commemorative catalogue number.
The order of pieces makes for a thoroughly seamless, always engaging programme. The three organ chorales have in fact been specially recorded for this album, but otherwise most of the music comes specifically from the BCJ's ongoing cycle of the complete sacred cantatas of Bach, currently standing, after an amazing seventeen years, at volume 50 (BIS-SACD-1941).
The performances here are pretty much top-notch, as previous critical acclaim has attested, with impressive attention to Bach's scores and historical performance practice from the instrumentalists and singers of the BCJ under Suzuki's masterly guidance. German pronunciation is generally convincing; counter-tenors Robin Blaze and Yoshikazu Mera slip momentarily, the former giving the non-German 'die schwacke Brust' for 'die schwache Brust', the latter singing the illiterate 'In deine Hande' for 'In deine Hände'.
Yet for all the quality of the musicianship on display, there remains something unsettling about the extent to which this CD runs the risk of coming across almost as Christian propaganda. This is not because of Bach's music, which transcends the religious belief that inspired it, but through Suzuki himself, a Christian by upbringing, who by his own admission has been using Bach's powerful music in his BCJ concerts and recordings to try convert the Japanese to Christianity. He believes tens of thousands have already done so. Suzuki even gives Bible lessons to the BCJ! In the notes he writes that arias for this programme were selected according to the "following concepts as our guiding lights:
- The weak and the fearful human being in the face of death
- Hope for heaven
- Peace and consolation for the soul
- Prayer and meditation despite hardship
- The longing for Jesus Christ and the fulfilment of God's providence"
All aspects to be found in Bach's cantata music yet Suzuki seems convinced that only the religious - or indeed only Christians - can truly appreciate Bach's work, and that to listen to the musical incarnation of Bach's piety is to ultimately embrace his god. Atheists know that to be utter nonsense.
Nevertheless, proceeds from the sale of this CD will go to Tohoku Help, which is a local Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network. Christian missionaries undeniably do a lot of good where nature and human ignorance or mindlessness cause carnage, but they also preach Christianity, and for those not wishing to directly support Suzuki's spreading the Word, there are other ways to help Japan's needy. Christians need not hesitate!
Recording dates range from 1995 to 2011, yet sound quality is almost uniformly superb, with the same venue used in all items but one providing a strong sense of acoustic continuity. The quadrilingual CD booklet has a detailed tracklisting, and a brief note on the purpose of the recording by Suzuki with Robert von Bahr of BIS Records. Sung texts are supplied in their original German with English and Japanese parallel translations.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
A thoroughly seamless, always engaging programme.
Bach Collegium Japan review page