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Bach: Secular Cantatas, Vol 04 - Suzuki

Bach: Secular Cantatas, Vol 04 - Suzuki

BIS  BIS-2001 SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Johann Sebastian Bach:
Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft, BWV 205
Vereinigte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten, BWV 207

Glück, Pallas: Joanne Lunn (soprano)
Dankbarkeit, Pomona: Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
Fleiß, Zephyrus: Wolfram Lattke (tenor)
Ehre, Äolus: Roderick Williams (bass)
Kiyomi Suga & Kanae Kikuchi (flauto traverso)
Masamitsu San’nomiya (oboe d’amore)
Natsumi Wakamatsu (viola d’amore & violin)
Masako Hirao (viola da gamba)
Bach Collegium Japan
Masaaki Suzuki (conductor)


The two works on this disc perfectly illustrate a particular type of secular cantata, the so-called ‘dramma per musica’. In such works the libretto is constructed dramatically, and the singers embody various roles, such as gods and other characters from antiquity, and allegorical figures. The parallel with opera is apparent, although the ‘drammi per musica’ do without any scenic element.

Bach primarily used the form in works intended for princely tributes or academic festivities: educated audiences could be expected to recognize the characters and literary traditions involved. Both cantatas recorded here are ‘academic’ cantatas, composed in honour of eminent members of the faculty at the University of Leipzig.

BWV 205 celebrates the name day of Dr August Friedrich Müller (3rd August 1725), and takes us to Aeolia, where Aeolus, the King of the Winds, holds the mighty autumn storms captive until it is time to let them loose on the world. To prevent any disruption of the celebrations for Dr Müller, the goddess Pallas, among others, entreats Aeolus to keep the storms in check for a while longer.

Grudgingly he concedes to her wish, but only after singing an aria full of splendid bluster (Wie will ich lustig lachen…). One year later, Bach composed the cantata BWV 207 for the appointment of Dr Gottlieb Kortte as ‘professor extraordinarius’. The young jurist enjoyed particular popularity among the young academics, who probably were the commissioners of the cantata.

In this work it is virtues such as Diligence and Honour which take musical shape, singing the praise of the eminent academic. The cantata closes with a chorus, Kortte lebe, Kortte blühe!, wishing the new professor a long and flourishing life – unfortunately to little avail, as Dr Kortte died only five years later, at the age of 33.

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Review by John Miller - July 20, 2014

BIS's subtitle 'Academic Cantatas' is less attractive these days than it would have been in Bach's time. The word "academic" now has nearly become pejorative, implying dryness, boredom and a minimal degree of entertainment. How different it was in Baroque Leipzig, where the development and teaching of intellectual studies was rewarded so lavishly.

Although Bach's rival Görner had secured for himself the post of Leipzig University music director, the students were free to ask Bach to compose and perform music organised at their own initiative. He also had an advantage in his association with the student's Collegium Musicum, founded by Telemann. This body of musically talented students (some of his sons included) gave regular concerts, and Bach became its director in 1729, although prior to that he had agreed with his predecessor that he could use its resources. Texts were mostly supplied by the versatile poet-writer Picander.

Both the works on this disc are in the subcategory of 'dramma per musica'; this Italian style followed a distinct storyline, usually of Graeco-Roman mythological origin. Listeners in Leipzig would have been well aware of the significance of the mythical personages adopted by the solo singers, and they probably were able to appreciate subtleties in both the texts and their settings which are now lost to us. By delegating the unavoidable naked flattery of the events to fictional or literary figures made it easier for all concerned - not to take the allegory too seriously.

BWV 205 'Destroy, burst, shatter the tomb' is a highly dramatic cantata to celebrate the birthday of university professor of Law and Philosophy Dr August Friedrich Müller on 3 Aug, 1725. Its subtitle is 'Aeolus appeased'. It takes the good Doctor and the audience into the islands near Sicily, Aeoloia. Aeolus himself, King of the Winds, holds the mighty Autumn storm winds captive, promising to let them out into the world at an appropriate time, as Aeolus says, at the end of Summer, when they would create violent havoc. Aeolus is portrayed magnificently by bass Roderick Williams, who takes the role with great gusto. Supplicants of various kinds try to appease him (tenor Wolfram Lattke - Zephyrus, counter-tenor Robin Blaze - Pomona, soprano Joanne Lunn - Pallas) who are also of excellent voice and sing with sure dramatic instinct.

Bach's orchestra for this cantata is quite a large one, challenging the resources of the Leipzig Collegium. There are 3 trumpets, 2 horns, timpani, 2 traverse flutes, oboe d'amore, 2 oboes, violins I and II, viola, viola d'amore, viola de gamba and continuo, which Suzuki equips with a harpsichord, cello, gamba, violone, and bassoon. The Bach Collegium Japan begins the opening chorus instrumentally with a dazzling imitation of swirling winds commanded to "Tear asunder, smash, lay waste to the vault".

This is one of Bach's most vivid and thrilling musical visions, with both orchestra and chorus fully immersed in a colossal portrayal of the cage-rattling winds. The tympani in particular have tremendous presence, played with hard sticks. Some listeners might detect a degree of tuning differences between brass and woodwinds on certain notes. In his footnote about the production, Masaaki Suzuki tells us that recently the practise of using brass instruments with the modern so-called tone or venting holes has changed, and now all the brass instruments used are constructed entirely according to original Baroque practice. This enables the player to play with more legato and a singing character. Certainly the addition of some out-of-tune overtones give the chaos of this chorus an extra sonic tingle which must have been familiar in Bach's time.

Roderick Williams really relishes his role as a ruffian king of the winds, determined in his recitative to allow the winds to make havoc, exemplified by the strings whirling around. By the fourth movement, he begins to be placated by wheedling by the other soloist characters, his bluster finally abating. In the tenth movement, Aeolus has a dialogue with Pallas, and at last Dr Müller's name is sung, and given a lovely halo by the flutes. In the Eleventh movement, the winds themselves are finally tamed, to a beautifully scored group of continuo, trumpets, tympani and horns. At the joyful conclusion, when presumably the students hoisted the beaming doctor onto their shoulders and marched off to the drinking party with him, Bach accompanies them with a stirring rondo-march to the choral shouts of "Vivat! Vivat!

The dramatically uplifting cantata BWV 205 is followed by BWV 207, another Leipzig academic's acclamation - but with a different, contrasting story text, probably by one of the students. In December of 1726, jurist Dr Gottlieb Kortte gave his inaugural speech for his promotion to professor extraordinarius (he was only 28 at the time, as young as some of his students!). The story text features each soloist assuming an allegorical character: Happiness (soprano Joanne Lunn), Gratitude (counter-tenor Robin Blaze), Diligence (tenor Wolfram Lattke - a former choir-boy of St Thomas' in Leipzig) and Honour (bass Roderick Williams). The duty of these characters is to canvas for Kortte in their respective virtues, in which, according to Baroque 'over the top' sensibilities, he is perfect. Their recitatives and arias are elegantly and ardently set out by a highly imaginative Bach, often exquisitely orchestrated, with lovely solo contributions from the oboe d'amore and viola d'amore. A short foot-tapping orchestral march leads into the final chorus, joyfully exclaiming "Long live Kortte, may Kortte flourish". Once more the performances are unashamedly happy, stylish and, in this case, gracious.

I'm sure that many elevated academics in Universities today around the world secretly wish that the Germanic penchant for musical approbation was still alive. Perhaps the nearest kind of ceremonial is the full symphony orchestra which attends the Nobel Prize. That only a few of Bach's academic cantatas have survived is a great pity, but we are fortunate that we have these records to relish in such superb performances such as this.

First class recording, a little closer than some of the earlier volumes of the BIS set, brings out the luminosity of Shirakawa Hall with pinpoint positioning of instruments and voices. It is entirely in service of the splendid musicianship. Not to be missed!

Copyright © 2014 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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Also released as KKC-5798 by King International