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Bach: Cantatas, Vol 40 - Suzuki

Bach: Cantatas, Vol 40 - Suzuki

BIS  BIS-SACD-1671

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Johann Sebastian Bach:
"Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren" BWV137
"Tue Rechnung! Donnerwort" BWV168
"Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild" BWV79
"Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet" BWV164

Yukari Nonoshita (soprano)
Robin Blaze (counter tenor)
Makoto Sakurada (tenor)
Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan
Masaaki Suzuki (conductor)


The four cantatas on this recording are dated 1725, a year during which Bach appears to have devoted himself less regularly than previously to the writing of cantatas. Whatever the reason might have been for this, the cantatas that he did compose are far from being routine affairs. Lobe den Herren (Praise to the Lord), BWV 137, is a case in point: in it Bach includes the original text of the famous hymn, and also uses the familiar melody in all five movements to a greater or lesser degree.

To impose such limitations must have been a challenge to himself as a composer, and the imagination and technical skill with which he fulfilled his task are striking. Another impressive moment is the opening movement of Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild, BWV79. This was written for the Feast of the Reformation, and with its horns and timpani it conveys a festive magnificence suitable to the occasion. The remaining two cantatas are both associated with a biblical allegory.

In the case of BWV 168, the parable of the Dishonest Steward gives Bach the opportunity of composing a thunderous demand for a reckoning of accounts in the opening bass aria Tue Rechnung!, as well as letting the tenor sing about interest and capital in the most beguiling manner in the aria Kapital und Interessen. BWV164 on the other hand deals with the parable of the Good Samaritan, with the expressive alto aria Nur durch Lieb und durch Erbarmen… (‘Only through love and through pity’) providing an emotional centre, with its accompaniment of two flutes.

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Review by John Miller - November 28, 2008

Volume 40 of the BIS Bach Cantatas brings us a quartet of works from 1725, Bach's third year at Leipzig. For this year, far fewer Cantatas survive, either because Bach was changing the focus of his composing duties, or possibly because the works have mostly been lost for some unknown reason.

Two of the cantatas are celebratory (BWV 137 and 79), the others more contemplative (BWV 164 and 168). Opening the disc, the Chorus of Lobe der Herren (Praise to the Lord) is ushered in by trumpets and drums, with scurrying oboe and string figurations. Curiously the acoustic seems much more resonant than elsewhere in this series, although the venue (Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel in Japan) has not changed, and the oboes on the right seem rather distant. In the other numbers of the Cantata, however, the balances are more intimate. Resplendent as this chorus might sound at first, the choir themselves are not articulating very clearly, and Suzuki's rhythm is rather metrical, with a persistent strong accent on the first beat. One has only to turn to the similar opening chorus of "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland of Vol 28 at the beginning of the SACD cycle to find overflowing joy in its sheer rhythmic drive and pointed articulation.

Much the best music-making on this volume comes from the soloists, in their various arias. For example, BWV 158 has an excellent bass aria from Peter Kooij as the 'rocks split asunder', although the accompanying busy bass continuo strings are rather too smoothly played to my ears. Later in the same cantata, there is a touch of irony for these economically-challenged times, for the tenor lectures us about 'Capital and Interest'. Bach's congregations themselves would have been well aware of their importance, for Leipzig was a key centre for the exchange of goods between East and West Europe at the time.

Counter-tenor Robin Blaze was in especially good voice on this disc, particularly in his slower, contemplative arias. In BWV 164, his entreaty that 'only thorough love and pity shall we become like God' is poetically and magically set to a duetting pair of Baroque flutes with organ and lower string continuo.

BWV 79, 'God is a sun and shield' is one of my favourite cantatas. It is a setting of a hymn to celebrate the Reformation, and Bach uses a pair of horns, which he reserves for very special occasions, rather than the usual trumpet and drums. The opening chorus is prefaced by a substantial sinfonia in which the horns are given a bold, swinging tune. This movement has an alla breve time signature, and Suzuki gives it a clear 2 in a bar treatment, and knocks about half a minute off the timings of many of his rivals. Good though the tempo may be, however, the horns are timid in volume, rhythmic drive and tone colour, often being submerged in the running descant of the strings and chorus. Listen to Leonhardt's natural horns from his Teldec cycle; they take risks and sound magnificent, blazing through the busy textures in truly celebratory manner. This horn tune recurs several times in the Cantata, and together with the heady choral descants, amkes it a very memorable work. Sad then, that Suzuki doesn't match the earthiness and rhythmic drive of Leonhardt (and Rotzsch with his Thomanerchor boys), although the Bach Collegium Japan Chorus does sing radiantly for him.

Reservations, then, for this disc, but collectors of the BIS cycle will certainly want to have it - partly for its exemplary sonics and thorough documentation. There is now competition from other Cantata cycles on SACD, and this can only be a good thing. Bach's invention in this enormous body of work rarely flags, and one always discovers new marvels.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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