Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1759)
Secular Cantatas Vol. 2
Sinfonia in F major, BWV 1046a/1 [4:00]
Was mir behagt, ist nur die Muntre Jagd, BWV 208 [34:52]
Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre Macht, BWV 134a [34:56]
Joanne Lunn (soprano); Sophie Junker (soprano); Damien Guillon (alto); Makoto Sakurada (tenor); Roderick Williams (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. July 2011, MS&AD Shirakawa Hall, Nagoya, Japan.
BIS BIS-SACD-1971 [74:40] 

The goddess Diana spurns the ravishingly handsome Endymion in favour of praising the great hunter, Duke Christian, whose birthday it is. It could be the basis for the next Hollywood block buster, but is in fact the plot of Bach’s Was mir behagt, ist nur die Muntre Jagd (known as the Hunt Cantata)“The cheerful hunt is all that gives me pleasure.” The piece was written in 1713 for Duke Christian of Saxe-Weisenfels and was first performed on the Duke’s birthday. The subsequent plot of the cantata, which was semi-staged with props, is given over to unashamed praise of the Duke and all his qualities. The most well-known movement, Sheep may safely graze (track 10), is used to praise the Duke’s gentle and fatherly characteristics. The scoring of the work is dramatic and imaginative - Diana’s entry is heralded by hunting horns; Pales is accompanied by recorders which are associated with shepherds; and Pan’s first aria is introduced by a trio of oboes. This disc has been eagerly anticipated after the success of volume 1 and does not disappoint. The soloists are perfectly balanced by the orchestra at all times. Particular highlights are the duet between Joanne Lunn and Makoto Sakurada in (track 13) where the vocal quality of the pair are well matched and the subtlety of the phrasing of the instrumental parts compliment the larger gestures from the singers. The soloists are joined by further singers for the chorus Lebe, Sonne Diesen Erden (Live, sun of this earth) which is fugal in structure and contains the most enjoyable instrumental writing. The hunting horns blend perfectly with the other more usual instruments and the overall effective is of drive and excitement. There are so many recordings of the Hunt Cantata and it is difficult to compare the sublime soprano sounds of Emma Kirkby (The Parley of instruments/Roy Goodman, Peter Holman, Hyperion CDA66169) to the much richer tones of Joanne Lunn but this recording is a worthy addition to anyone’s CD rack. 

The other cantata on the disc, Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre Macht (Time, Maker of days and years), was written during Bach’s time in the service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen for New Year’s Day. The allegorical characters Time and Divine Providence compete to present the past and future of the Prince’s reign in the most flattering light. Once again, Bach’s instrumentation complements the text he is using, for example the scoring in Aria 4, a duet between the soloists. The text refers to the “strings of the heart” and the accompaniment is provided solely by the string section. Once again the performance is flawless. The purity of tone of alto soloist Damien Guillon is matched in richness and expression by the full-toned voice of Roderick Williams. Particularly in the duet mentioned above, the pair makes use of the rivalry between their characters to compete for the most virtuosic singing which truly brings the music to life. The final chorus is elegantly paced and showcases the delicate but assured playing of the orchestra. The chorus almost match the subtlety of phrasing that the soloists achieve, and this movement provides a lusty and accomplished ending to this rather special CD.
The recording opens with the Sinfonia from the early version of the first Brandenburg Concerto. Suzuki explains in the liner notes, that the scoring of this movement is the same as the Hunt Cantata and may well have been performed at the same time. The performance of this movement is equally as good as the playing in the cantatas, except that occasionally the horns don’t blend in the overall texture as well as they could do.
Overall, this is a pleasing sequel to the first volume of Bach’s secular cantatas, with extremely able soloists and instrumentalists who are capable of great delicacy of phrasing and who are a joy to listen to.  

Hannah Parry-Ridout 

Sophisticated playing from very able performers. 

Reviews of Bach Collegium Japan recordings on BIS