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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]

My colleague Roy Westbrook really enjoyed this release, and so did I. Having completed their series of Bach’s sacred cantatas so triumphantly, Suzuki and the BCJ are now deep into their series of secular cantatas. Both of these are unashamedly celebratory, written in Leipzig to celebrate King August III of Saxony.

Schleicht, spielende Wellen focuses on river imagery to celebrate the King. The four soloists represent four rivers, each of which represents a different territory: the bass represents the Vistula (Poland), the tenor is the Elbe (for Saxony), the alto is the Danube (Austria), while the soprano takes on the Pleiße (representing the city of Leipzig). They all have a claim on the ruler but, in the end, the Vistula and Elbe agree to share him, representing Augustus’ election to the throne of Poland.

Bach meets this watery drama with music that is full of undulations to speak of the waves, and it’s a typical masterstroke to begin the first movement with a quiet murmur which then explodes all the more strikingly into the tutti with trumpets and drums.

Preise Dein Glücke, on the other hand, was written in great haste to commemorate the royal family’s surprise visit to Leipzig for the annual Michaelmas Fair of 1734. In this case the overtly celebratory tone is evident from the outset and many listeners will recognise the Hosanna from the B minor mass in the opening chorus, here brought to life with thrilling immediacy.

Suzuki and his team are world-leading experts in the world of Bach’s cantatas. Their sacred series brought studio perfection that John Eliot Gardiner’s set lacked (for better and for worse), and not even Gardiner has paid so much attention to the secular cantatas like this. No one, therefore, will be surprised to learn that these are very good.

The soloists are all stars. Hana Blažiková plays the mediator in BWV 206, so she is apportioned music of melting beauty which she sings with a most alluring gleam, and she is helped in her aria with a series of flutes that carol delightfully alongside her. Hiroya Aoki has a beautifully ethereal voice which brings an almost ghostly splendour to his aria in BWV 206. Charles Daniels makes a wonderfully mellifluous sound as the river Elbe, and his vocal acrobatics are very impressive in BWV 215. Roderick Williams executes the tricky coloratura in both cantatas with impressive aplomb, and sings with as much presence and character as we have come to expect from him. The chorus don't have a huge amount to do, but they sound great in the choruses which bookend each cantata.

Throughout there is a forward presence to the sound, capturing the space of the acoustic very well, and the ensemble’s much-lauded precision and cleanliness of attack helps give the whole thing great bounce and drive. Suzuki himself directs the whole thing with great grace and even the odd touch of humour. In short, a great success.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Roy Westbrook

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