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Bach: The Sacred Cantatas - Masaaki Suzuki

Bach: The Sacred Cantatas - Masaaki Suzuki

BIS  BIS-9055 (55 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Bach: The Sacred Cantatas (complete)

Soloists include:
Hana Blažiková, Monika Frimmer, Yoshie Hida, Yumiko Kurisu, Joanne Lunn, Dorothee Mields, Rachel Nicholls, Yukari Nonoshita, Miah Persson, Susanne Rydén, Carolyn Sampson, Ingrid Schmithüsen, Midori Suzuki and Aki Yanagisawa (sopranos)
Mutsumi Hatano, Kirsten Sollek-Avella and Akira Tachikawa (altos)
Pascal Bertin, Robin Blaze, Damien Guillon, Timothy Kenworthy-Brown, Yoshikazu Mera, Daniel Taylor, Kai Wessel and Matthew White (counter-tenors)
Christoph Genz, James Gilchrist, Koki Katano, Jan Kobow, Satoshi Mizukoshi, Makoto Sakurada, Gerd Türk and Andreas Weller (tenors)
Jochen Kupfer (baritone)
Peter Kooij, Stephan MacLeod, Stephan Schreckenberger, Chiyuki Urano and Dominik Wörner (basses)

Bach Collegium Japan
Masaaki Suzuki (director)


Throughout most of his professional life, Johann Sebastian Bach composed cantatas for use at church services: it is thought that he probably wrote at least 300 such works. Some 200 of these are still extant, of which the earliest hail from Bach’s time as organist in Arnstadt (1703–07) and the last were composed only a year or two before his death in 1750. In 1995, when Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan began the monumental journey of recording the cantatas, they decided to follow in Bach’s footsteps. Consequently the first volume of their series – Disc 1 in the present boxed set – featured three of Bach’s very first cantatas (BWV 4, 150 and 196) while the series (and the set) ends with the last one: Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele BWV 69. Recorded and released over a period of 19 years, the BCJ cantata cycle has met with international acclaim, Masaaki Suzuki and his team earning the respect of reviewers and experts through the excellence of their performances, but also through their approach to the music, described by one reviewer as ‘seeking devotional depth rather than brilliance for its own sake.’

The remarkable consistency displayed throughout this long-term project is largely due to Masaaki Suzuki, who, when he introduced the series in 1995, expressed his conviction that Bach’s music contains ‘a message which can touch the human heart, regardless of nationality or cultural tradition’. Many of his musicians – soloists, choristers and instrumentalists – have remained remarkably loyal to the undertaking from the very beginning, as has the Shoin Women’s University in Kobe, by providing its chapel as the recording venue throughout the entire series.

This boxed set includes 55 Hybrid SACDs in individual slip cases. The recordings on discs 1-27, originally released on CDs, have been upsampled and surround sound has been added, making this the only available complete set of the cantatas in SACD format.

Also included:
-a 208-page booklet with track listings, an essay on the sacred cantatas by Dr Klaus Hofmann (in English, German and French) and indices.
-a 376-page booklet with the sung texts of the cantatas in German, with English translations.

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Comment by Dominique MAGNIER - February 12, 2016 (1 of 12)

Hello - Somebody knows exactly how is made the packaging of this box and discs ?

Comment by PaulSARenaud - February 15, 2016 (2 of 12)

Does anybody have an idea what the original recording specs were. The early recordings were released as 44/16 and then some 44/20 and later 48/24 and 96/24. I own various versions of some of them (physica; Cd's, SACD's and downloads mainly from eClassical. I want to know whether this box contains the best masterings available and that they are not just upsampled 44/16's.

Comment by Wartybliggens - February 15, 2016 (3 of 12)

I don't care whether 44/16 or whatever. These have always been great recordings. I'm more interested to know if they used the original un-mixed data to create the new surround mixes for the older discs, or some other process to do it artificially. If the former, it seems possible that they could improve on the original stereo releases. In any case I'm buying this box.

Comment by William Hecht - February 16, 2016 (4 of 12)

This is such an unbelievable bargain that I'll buy it even though it means duplicating 28 or so existing sacds. Donating the existing discs to the local library serves a good purpose as well.

Comment by William Hecht - May 20, 2016 (5 of 12)

I've had this set for about a month and have been slowly making my way through volumes 1-27 (those not previously available on sacd). What processes were used in remastering and creating surround mixes I don't know, but the results are very satisfying, a worthwhile upgrade from the rbcds. Those who have followed the series know the quality of the performances and no one need hesitate to acquire the set at a true bargain price, less than $5 US per disc. The one compromise is in the level of documentation which, while very good, is not the equal of the individual discs. Since this is the realization of a wish that several of us expressed repeatedly on the old site a special thank you to bissie is certainly in order.

Comment by Jan Arell - May 31, 2016 (6 of 12)

This is what BIS founder Robert von Bahr recently wrote in the weekly newsletter from download site classical.com:
"- Vol 1-15, 18-19, 21, 23-24 upsampled from 16/44,1 to 24/44,1. No sound quality change, except for the added surround.

- Vol 16-17, 20, 22, 25-27 upsampled from 20-bit 44,1 and Vol 24 in its original 24-bit, all of these 27 volumes with very skilfully added surround sound.

From Vol 28 onwards the original SACD:s in 24-bit incl. original surround."

Comment by Jan Arell - May 31, 2016 (7 of 12)

correction: download site is of course eclassical.com
I suspect an auto correction there.

Comment by Dominique MAGNIER - September 18, 2016 (8 of 12)

Yes I got it yesterday! The update from CD to SACD (5.0) vol. 1 to 27 is just perfect !

A message to Robert von Bahr if he reads me, first : a great bravo then if you could release the first volume of "secular cantatas" from CD to SACD, it would be complete !

Thanks a lot

Comment by Luketsu - May 15, 2017 (9 of 12)

I have listened to these albums few times up to this point and especially those Volumes 1-27 that were upsampled from CD quality were really interesting. I don't know what equipment the BIS engineers have utilized during the mixing/remastering process but the results were impressive, in all truth. If they wouldn't have announced this on the booklet one would have never believed that those were just 2-channel CD recordings.

Converting from 44,1/16 PCM to 1-bit DSD have always divided opinions among the audiophiles. Some people think that this process doesn't change the original sound quality at all. It's a lie, I say. Compared to the individual CD albums Mendelssohn: Complete Concertos, Mendelssohn: Complete String Symphonies - Lev Markiz or Bach: Complete Organ Music - Hans Fagius sounds much better on stereo single SACD. Ok, there isn't an alternative surround sound option whereas these were remastered from stereo origins but even in this case the spatial impression is much more convincing. Moreover you'll hear a great amount of small details that were inaudible on CD.

After these facts it's very odd why BIS hasn't released more SACDs like these. For example their eighties' and nineties' Sibelius and Aho recordings have been an international success story. During 1980s Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra recorded dozens of Sibelius recordings under Neeme Järvi that were famous for their beautifully prepared approaches and BIS's wide "original" dynamic recordings. Swanwhite Suite (BIS-359) received awards like Penguin Guide 3 stars and Hi-Fi News outstanding whilst Six Humoresques (BIS-472) was reviewed as an outstanding achievement at Gramophone Magazine at that time. It's interesting to know that Robert von Bahr himself produced the first albums. As soon as the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä were taken in to this project the quality raised to the next level, thanks to the spacious acoustics of Ristinkirkko (Church of the Cross) and more modern recording equipment (DAC processors, more accurate microphones and possibility to downsample hi-res materials).

But even those 2000s albums that arrived in the middle of SACD enthusiasm were recorded in 44,1/24 stereo only. For instance, Aho's Symphony No. 14 (BIS-1686) would have made greater impression through surround sound as well as the composer's extremely colorful Symphonic Dances (BIS-1336). Why they decided to stay in stereo and in CD remains a mystery. Perhaps the economical situation wasn't auspicious or the preferences of the consumers forced they to record on this way. It's a pity because in the situation like this all the efforts of the musicians will never reach their full effect as they should. Sound quality is a major factor in order to release a successful and realistic recording. It isn't skillfully designed album cover or high-octane approach of the score which keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Ok, I know some of these are available to download in hi-res quality at eClassical.com. But none of them are there in DSD. 96/24 FLAC is the highest audio quality there and unfortunately it applies just to most recent SACD albums that were originally recorded in that form. And what about those people who still prefer a physical disc instead of digital download? They don't have a possibility for high-resolution listening pleasure.

Putting this all together makes a strong reason to release a SACD album of these warmly received releases. Since BIS released The Sound of Sibelius - Osmo Vänskä there has been this hidden hope to hear all the symphonies of Sibelius - and probably Aho - on Super Audio CD. I have wanted to hear it, at least. What they will lose if they decide to do this? Money, of course, but it is worth it in my opinion.

Comment by William Hecht - May 15, 2017 (10 of 12)

As I've commented previously the remastering of volumes 1-27 provides a significant improvement, at least for multichannel listeners, whatever the means used to create the mc layer. But Luukas, with two complete Sibelius sets already on sacd, Lahti/ Kamu and Minnesota/ Vanska, I don't see any likelihood that BIS would provide the same treatment for the Lahti/ Vanska set no matter it's artistic merit. As you quite rightly point out it would be nothing but a money loser. I'm with you on the Aho though. Like the Bach cantatas I'd buy them again.

Comment by ubertrout - May 18, 2017 (11 of 12)

On the old site bissie indicated the following plan: "We will release a full Box with 55 SACD:s Hybrid (the first 27 with fake but very good surround and higher than 44,1 sf where possible)." I assume that was the case. I suspect that BIS has multitrack DATs for all sessions, but going back and creating a multichannel layer for 27 discs is cost-prohibitive.
Regardless, the important question is whether it sounds good, not how it was made.

Comment by William Hecht - May 19, 2017 (12 of 12)

For those who have followed the series I highly recommend BIS' new blu ray video "Gloria In Excelsis Deo", a commemoration of the final recording in the series. In addition to the performances the disc includes brief interviews with the principal musicians, including the soloists, an academic or two, as well as Robert Von Bahr whose words get right to the heart of what makes this set so special.