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
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,
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.
A selection of Bach's secular smaller-scale choral and vocal works in
the Suzuki BIS cantata cycle delights as much as the weightier ones
Collegium Japan reviews
Masterwork Index: Bach