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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Secular Cantatas VIII: Celebratory Cantatas
Cantata BWV 206 “Schleicht, spielende Wellen und murmelt gelinden” [37:49]
Cantata BWV215 “Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen” [32:27]
Hana Blažíková (soprano), Hiroya Aoki (alto), Charles Daniels (tenor) & Roderick Williams (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. 2016, Saitama Arts Theatre Concert Hall, Japan
BIS BIS2231 SACD [70:23]

Masaki Suzuki’s marathon Bach cantatas series is now deep into the secular works, and with this eighth disc has reached these two splendid ‘celebratory’ cantatas. As that term implies, they are festive and fully scored, including three trumpets and timpani, as well as four vocal soloists in BWV206, and three in BWV 215. Each is termed a ‘dramma per musica’, runs for over half an hour, and the level of both music and execution (if not texts) is consistently high.

Cantata BWV 206 Schleicht, spielende Wellen und murmelt gelinden, (“Glide playful waves and murmur softly”) plays with the conceit of four rivers with contending claims on their relationship to the Elector Augustus III, in honour of whose birthday it was first performed in Leipzig in 1736. The opening chorus makes great play with the river metaphor, so we hear murmuring ripples and raging waves in the music, which the Bach Collegium Japan deliver with all their accustomed firmness of tone, precise tuning and agility. In the third number, the bass aria ‘Schleuß des Janustempels Türen’ (‘Close the doors of Janus’s temple’), Roderick Williams sounds engaged with the text, even though he is impersonating the River Vistula, and sings with noble command, while the tenor Charles Daniels makes the most of his turn in ‘Jede Woge meiner Wellen’ (‘Each surge of my waves’).

The sequence of contending rivers continues up the registers with alto Hiroya Aoki as the Danube, delightfully pure sounding with little vibrato. With soprano Hana Blažíková we reach the peak, and not only in pitch. Her number ‘Hört doch der sanften Flöten Chor’ (‘Listen the choir of gentle flutes’) is duly accompanied by three flutes, murmuring away delightfully beneath Blažíková’s exquisite singing. A joyful chorus hymns ‘Die himmlische Vorsicht der ewigen Güte’ (‘The heavenly prudence of eternal goodness’) in a conclusion which one hopes left the Elector delighted and proud with this riverine tribute to his many noble qualities.

The following cantata on the disc interrupted the composition of BWV 206. Cantata BWV 215 Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen, (‘Praise your fortune, blessed Saxony’) is another tribute to Augustus III, and the need to write this cantata arose from a suddenly announced imminent visit of the Elector, which meant that BWV 206 had to be put aside. So the similarities of these two pieces in scale, scoring and style are not surprising. Although the alto sits this one out, there is ample compensation in the wonderfully mellifluous delivery of the florid tenor aria ‘Freilich trotzt Augustus’ Name’ (‘For sure, the name of Augustus’). Roderick Williams this time has a rage aria that plays to several of his strengths, not least, coloratura fluency, vocal attack and a snarl – a very musical snarl of course – when the text invites one. The soprano again has some flutes to colour her lovely recitative and ensuing aria in raise of Augustus’s charity ‘Durch die von Eifer entflammeten Waffen’ (‘The use of weapons kindled with fervour’). The penultimate number involves all three soloists, and the framing choruses are again well up to the standards of JSB in this genre.

The SACD sound is near ideal for such music, needing as it does to balance the intimate with a sense of public rejoicing. It catches the colours of the distinctive solo voices on display, and has plenty of impact when all the forces are rejoicing away at the opening and close of each cantata. The booklet explains very clearly the slightly complicated genesis of each piece, and as always has full texts and translations. This is a superb issue in a superb series.

Roy Westbrook



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