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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Organ Works Vol. 2

Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541 [7:20]
Chorale prelude 'Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier', BWV 730 [2:18]
Concerto in D minor, BWV 596, after Antonio Vivaldi (RV565) [10:45]
Chorale partita on 'Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig' or 'O Jesu, du edle Gabe', BWV 768 [19:04]
Concerto in C major, BWV 594, after Antonio Vivaldi (RV208) [17:48]
Chorale prelude 'Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier', BWV 731 [2:43]
Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 547 [10:39]
Masaaki Suzuki (organ)
rec. January 2016, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan
Booklet notes in English, Japanese, German and French
Reviewed in stereo and surround
BIS BIS-2241 SACD [70:47]

Masaaki Suzuki’s first volume of Bach organ works was reviewed here in August 2015. Time will tell whether this becomes another odyssey, as with his Bach cantata cycle. For the moment, however, each of the two volumes has been arranged as a ‘balanced’ programme of diverse selections. With the current disc, the seven-work layout is decidedly symmetrical, beginning and ending with a prelude & fugue, each abutting a chorale prelude, and in turn a Vivaldi concerto transcription, with the Choral Partita BWV 768, the longest work, taking centre spot.

If Suzuki is indeed on a new journey, he’s following a fairly common path among organists by varying the instrument he chooses. For the first volume, it was the Martinikerk’s Schnitger/Hinz organ in Groningen, The Netherlands. He now comes home to the Marc Garnier organ of the Shoin Chapel in Kobe, Japan. It is home in more than one sense, being also the site of his previous Bach ventures, including the cantatas and other recordings with the Bach Collegium Japan. The organ is integral to the design of the chapel, the latter completed in 1981, and the organ commissioned in 1983. It is of a baroque style, judging by the booklet photograph, ornate but not excessively so, and has a bright baroque-modern timbre.

I confess I’ve never been a fan of the Shoin Chapel acoustic, as evidenced by Suzuki’s previous recordings in the venue. There is a wash of ambient sound that I find too lively and intrusive for home listening. I hoped this recording might change my mind, but sadly, no. Hearing what I expected to? Possibly, but my first critical note was ‘messy’ - a smearing of detail - not very far into the recital, so much so that I suspected Suzuki’s articulation as much as the venue and the instrument he was playing. I hadn’t heard his first volume of these works, but given the accolades it received, including on this site, I was quite happy to factor him out. In all other respects - registration, tempi and dynamics - his performance was exemplary. Given also the same engineer as before - Hans Kipfer – I chose to limit my gripes to the chapel alone, and accept the recording itself as ‘best effort’.

Working from the middle, the Choral Partita BWV 768 consists of a four-part chorale and eleven variations, the last a five-part chorale, and the rest sequentially following the ten-stanza hymn ‘O Jesu, du edle Gabe’ of Johannes Böttiger (1613-1672), the text of which is provided with the comprehensive and scholarly booklet notes. This hymn with its range of Biblical motifs provided Bach with a vehicle to reveal his full expressive powers, and Suzuki proves to be his immaculate servant; impressive in his attention to each variation – say, his telling registration for the anguished text accompanying Var. II, leavened by the jaunty hope of the next – and in his overall grasp of the work’s architecture. As he brings the final chorale to a close, one senses the full weight of pathos that has gone before.

The transcribed Vivaldi concertos are those for violin (RV 208) and for two violins and cello (RV 565). When it comes to these works, and it may be the halo effect, but I admit to finding Johann Sebastian’s take on them more rewarding than Antonio’s originals. There is no exception to this with Suzuki, as he bounces through the allegros as lithely as any corporate body might, and brings a real sense of gravitas and power to the slower writing. The Red Priest has donned the master’s mantle, it seems, and all is well with the world.

As soothing interludes, Suzuki provides two chorale preludes of the same name and adjacent catalogue numbers to bring us from, and to, the bookends of his programme, the preludes and fugues in G and C, BWV 541 and 547. Finely played as they are, each of the latter elicited my greatest concerns with the Shoin Chapel acoustic, with the more vigorous and contrapuntal passages becoming muddled and blurred. By the time I’d reached the second, though, I’d well and truly exonerated Suzuki and his very fine instrument from any blame. This is Bach playing of the highest order, and the silence after it’s over is a void begging for more.

Masaaki Suzuki’s second volume of Bach organ works makes a compelling case for those, like me, who don’t already have the first volume to seek it out. I do hope he continues his exploration of this ouevre but if, however, he doesn’t re-visit the Shoin Chapel, I don’t think his pilgrimage will be any the worse for it.

Des Hutchinson



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