Bach: Brandenburg Concertos, Orchestral Suites - Suzuki

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos, Orchestral Suites - Suzuki

BIS  BIS-SACD-1721/22 (3 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid


Bach: Brandenburg Concertos, Orchestral Suites

Bach Collegium Japan
Masaaki Suzuki (conductor)

Bach Collegium Japan was first noticed internationally for undertaking the huge project of recording the complete church cantatas of J. S. Bach. Although the ensemble’s discography consists of predominately vocal works, the participating instrumentalists have attracted acclaim ever since the outset.

On the present offering, it is Bach’s two great sets of orchestral works that form the programme and the choir of the BCJ is silent. Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki first recorded the Brandenburg Concertos in 2000, but now return to these great works. The new recording took place in the recently completed MUZA Kawasaki Hall, a venue that is highly suitable to an approach focussing on the chamber music qualities of this music.

In four of the concertos Masaaki Suzuki has chosen to replace the traditional cello with the violoncello da spalla – a smaller instrument played horizontally on the shoulder or held against the breast. The instrument has already featured in the BCJ Cantata series, and opens for new possibilities in timbre, for instance in Concerto No. 6, where the violoncello da spalla blends particularly well with the two solo violas and the viola da gambas.

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - April 24, 2017

Having gained much experience from playing period instruments in the course of their recording the complete church cantatas of JS Bach with Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ), their founder Masaaki Suzuki also has recorded Bach's main orchestral works for BIS. A double CD of the Brandenburg Concertos BWV1046-1051 was issued in 2000 to general acclaim, except for one of the trumpet players who was thought not up to scratch. The Four Orchestral Suites followed in 2003 (BIS-SACD-1431) priced at 2 for 1 discs, and later a new set of Brandenburg Concertos was recorded in 2008 at 24 bit/96 kHz. In 2009 the Suites and the newest Brandenburgs were issued in 3 discs in a neat box with an extensive 3-language booklet. This box is priced at 2 for 3.

Existing single CDs of Bach's Brandenburgs and Suites both required less disc-space because they mostly omitted many (or all) of the multitude of repeat sections in Bach's scores. In contrast, BCJ played all the repeats, thus restoring the composer's structural balance. BCJ also vary the repeated sections with different dynamics, spontaneous ornamentation and expression, sometimes subtle, which adds a great deal to a listener's enjoyment.

BIS and Masaaki have also tackled the problem of the third of the Brandenburg Concertos, where its second movement was nearly all left out in Bach's beautifully calligraphed score. The movement was assigned for three strings but the rest is missing except a final bar, which was in B major, a rather unusual key. Usually, improvised material at such points, often a cadenza, is added by players. As composer, Bach himself would have done this, should he have played the Concertos for the Margrave Ludwig of Brandensberg, but modern improvisations disrupt the flow of the other movements. Masaaki made an arrangement of the 2nd movement of Bach's own piece, Concerto for Three Harpsichords (BWV 1064), which itself was previously a triple string concerto. The result was to provide a delightful movement which is appealed seems to be to be well in context.

Another unusual aspect of the BCJ-introduced buy: Suzuki is not just using just standard period instruments, but employing some Baroque versions of chamber instruments, mostly in the Brandenbergs. For example, violine piccolo concertante, violone 16", violone 8", and violincello (spalla) - the latter a shoulder-supported cello (in Bach's time, the Violincello was in the midst of evolving the modern cellos and double basses, one of which was a viola-like creature in the cello range played like a violin). Suzuki viewed it as an experiment in carefully adding tonal and textural instrumentation to already high colourful orchestral statements of the Brandenburgs and Suites. The result is fascinating, compared with the standard orchestration, and adds much to a joyful, lyrical, transparent sound which is the foundation of these marvellous Bach performances.

An essential portion of that sound mentioned above comes from the venues in recording, and these have carefully been chosen to support the digital processes. The Brandenburgs and Suites were allocated to different venues. The Orchestral Suites were recorded at the Kobe Shoino Women's University, Japan, a venue used for the BJC and Choir in the Bach Cantata collection. The ambience of the hall is an ideal recording, full of French refinement and stateliness, clarity and elegance, just as required. The Brandenbergs were recorded in MUZA Kawasaki Symphony Hall. Despite the larger venue, it was possible to arrange microphones and use a place for chamber orchestras, as shown in the book, a number of B/W pictures of recording/rehearsing. The ambience is reduced from that of Kobe Shoino but the sound is nevertheless luminous, with each player pinpointed in Multi-mode, so there is a sense of intimacy which is perfect for The Brandenburg Concertos.

For my detailed comments on quality of performances on The Orchestral Suites and their recording, please read my review ( Most of the comments there apply to the Brandenburgs as well. Both sets of golden Bach on three discs are highly attractive, and the box's contents has given me unalloyed pleasure, and that at a discount!

Copyright © 2017 John Miller and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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