Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata BWV69 ‘Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele’ (1748) [19:00]
Cantata BWV30 ‘Freue dich, erloste Schar’ (1738) [33:57]
Cantata BWV191 ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ (ca 1743-46) [14:17]
Sacred cantatas Volume 55
Hana Blažíková (soprano) Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
Gerd Türk (tenor) Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. February 2013, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan

So this is it. All good, or in this case, great things must come to an end. Eighteen years have passed since the first volume of this monumental undertaking was released. At the time, a Japanese conductor and ensemble and a Swedish recording company taking on the greatest legacy of German Baroque church music must have seemed a rather unlikely prospect. Any doubts were quickly dispelled by the quality and consistency achieved. The project has spread its wings to incorporate the secular cantatas, masses, passions and even the orchestral concertos and suites - see the end of this review for a link to all our reviews of the series.

At times, I wondered whether the commitment from all parties would hold to the end; I worried about Maestro Suzuki being run over by a bus before reaching the finish line. Fortunately for those of us who have followed this series from the very start, the support from Robert von Bahr and BIS has been unwavering, and no transport-related accidents befell our hero.

It isn’t necessary to spend too much time analysing the performances or the music: if you have got this far, you will obviously be buying it. All the qualities that have made this one of the most important series of the past two decades are here, as they have been in the previous 54 volumes. If your preference is for one of the other complete cycles, such as the Gardiner, your opinion will not be changed by anything I say here. Nevertheless, I feel duty bound to provide at least some commentary.

There’s no other way of saying it – BWV69, Bach’s final council inauguration cantata – is not one of the great cantatas. I worried as I listened that the grand finale of the project might be an anti-climax because the remaining works happened to be lesser ones. Adding to this was a concern that series stalwart counter-tenor Robin Blaze seemed to be off form in the opening work.

I need not have worried because the second work, BWV30, a major two-part cantata celebrating the Feast day of John the Baptist is glorious, and gloriously performed by all concerned, including Blaze. It is full of everything that makes the Bach cantatas the most extraordinary choral music collection ever written.

The final work here is not really a cantata in the usual Bach sense, in that it is only three movements, and the text is taken from the Latin mass. The music for the first movement is recycled from the Gloria of the B minor mass. It was performed on a Christmas Day in the 1740s, possibly to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Dresden, which would place it in 1745. Its positioning as the final work on the final disc is apposite: the concluding chorus is a splendidly grand one to celebrate the culmination of this endeavour.

David Barker

One of the most important recording projects of the last few decades has reached its triumphant conclusion.

Review index: Bach Collegium Japan on BIS

Masterwork Index: Bach cantatas

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