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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Secular Cantatas - Volume 3
Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202 'Wedding Cantata' (circa 1718-1723) [18:35]
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c (1725) [19:53]
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a (circa ?1722) [27:35]
Quodlibet, BWV 524 (fragment) (before 1707) [10:46]
Joanne Lunn (soprano); Hiroya Aoki (counter-tenor); Makoto Sakurada (tenor); Roderick Williams (baritone)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. July, 2012, MS&AD Shirakawa Hall, Nagoya, Japan. DDD
BIS BIS-SACD-2041 [77:26]  

Masaaki Suzuki is nearing the end of the excellent BIS cycle of all the Bach cantatas. Other complete current cycles of note are those by Ton Koopman on Challenge and John Eliot Gardiner on SDG. This is the only one on SACD although the disks can also be played in stereo on CD players and most computers. It's also a cycle using period instruments; Koopman's and Gardiner's do not.
The third in the much shorter segment containing Bach's secular cantatas, it has four works - or rather three and the Quodlibet fragment, BWV 524. As its name suggests, this may actually have been a collaboration between several of the wedding guests present at the event for which it was written - before 1707/1708. It follows tradition in containing allusions, extracts of folk music and/or music inspired by folk traditions, drinking songs and the like. Obviously an occasional piece, Suzuki gives it just the right amount of spontaneity and humour - the same, perhaps, as would Bach. Indeed, it begins and includes colloquial, raucous - yet duly measured - quasi-improvised, non-sung exchanges between vocalists, obviously enjoying the event. There’s even some happy glugging!
Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten was also written for a wedding; ten to fifteen years later, though. It's as graciously studied, gentle and expressive as it needs to be; and is given careful exposition by the singers. Soprano Joanne Lunn is particularly effective. In common with the other vocalists throughout the CD - and indeed the entire series - every syllable is carefully articulated. Precision, projection and communication are to the fore though without any hint of preciousness.
Suzuki neither deserts seriousness for levity, nor makes something fey or whimsical of this somewhat lighter form of Bach's writing. Indeed, Durchlauchtster Leopold is as celebratory - of the birthday of the Prince at Anhalt-Köthen - as it seems to be genuinely joyful. We know that Bach was happier there than at any other time in his career. 
Schwingt freudig euch empor is just as congratulatory. It appears to be for and about a venerated teacher. The opening chorus is as full of impact as many another sacred cantata by Bach. One cold indulge in serious 'investigation' to discover the origin and circumstances of this lovely little work - and indeed the other: the front and last pages are missing from the Quodlibet, for instance. Suzuki presents what we hear as music offering great delight and substance in its own right. The work's pace and tempi move it when it needs to move - as in that opening - and they linger to savour when we need to reflect, as in the oboe d'amore part of the tenor aria [tr.20] for example.
The blend between sensitive instrumental playing and thoughtful yet never self-important singing is one of the strengths of these performances. They become memorable long after they're over because Suzuki has struck the right balance between revealing Bach as someone responding to a request and a musician in love with the art for its own sake. This is due in no small part to a completely internalised yet quite spontaneous animation which Suzuki - who also plays organ continuo - pulls effortlessly from the music at every turn. At the same time, he brings out the character and personality of Bach's writing - for strings, for example, in the filigree passages towards the end of Schwingt freudig.
The acoustic of the MS&AD Shirakawa concert Hall in Nagoya is clean and responsive. Maybe it lacks a little atmosphere for what are essentially 'occasional' pieces rather than 'eternal' like Bach's other cantatas. It allows the colour and tone of both instrumentalists and singers to predominate. They impress, rather than startle; yet are very much in the foreground. The booklet contains as much explanatory information as we might need if unfamiliar with these works. The full texts in German (also Latin for the Quodlibet) and English are also present.
If you've been delighted by the BIS cycle, you'll want to get this latest release. If you are curious about the Bach who rose to every occasion, and was apparently able to greet diversion with as much of a smile as he did momentousness, these four works are so well performed that they will surely delight as much as Bach must have intended them to do.  

Mark Sealey
Bach Collegium Japan reviews

Masterwork Index: Bach cantatas