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Masaaki Suzuki & Bach Collegium Japan
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Dusted Suzuki

Piotr Jaworski wrote (October 23, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] I see that you're seriously back to "life"! ;-) Boxes unpacked? Stereo on?!

So what about promised review of Brandenburg Concertos performed by Bach Collegium Japan?!!! We will soon enjoy the next – 15th volume of cantatas, and still none even mentioned this - "BBs" - recording. Is it considered here that bad, even not worth of few words? This is quite surprising .... If we will ever decide to choose our favourite Bach recordings of 2001 - for me - this one, in the "orchestral" category - will be definitely the best. Well .. if the recent Akademie fue Alte Musik HMF CD will not proove to be that good as some parts of it idicate! ;-)

Peter Bright wrote (October 23, 2001):
[To Piotr Jaworski] Yes, a few words about the Brandenburgs by Suzuki then (while my work colleagues are turned the way). Certainly a recording to savour, however the bottom line is that I could not suggest it as a first purchase of these works. I do love the excitement that Tafelmusik bring (Sony Vivarte), particularly to Concertos 3 and 6 (possibly my favourites) - others may think such an approach is misplaced. Suzuki takes a more refined, placid approach to all the works - it works beautifully in the slower, dreamy sequences, such as mv 2 of Concerto 2. While we're on the subject of the 2nd Concerto, I am also most impressed with the extremely demanding trumpet work in mvts 1 and 3 (from memory, this is played by Toshio Shemada) – I understand that a newly fashioned baroque (if that makes sense) instrument was produced to enable the attainment of clean "highs". The splits and shrieks I have heard on other recordings (including Tafelmusik) have convinced me that this was a sensible decision.

The BCJ play with supreme warmth and confidence throughout the 6 concertos - for all of us Bach enthusiasts I strongly recommend the recording - I can hardly imagine a more pleasant musical experience after a tiring day than dimming the lights and lying back to this music. For the relative newcomer to Bach, though, I would suggest the more thrilling and flexible approach of Tafelmusik. As to my preference, I really can't decide between these two - both are at the head of my list of 5 or 6 recordings of these works.

If I was pushed to give marks I would venture:

Recording: 9
Performance: 9
Bliss factor: 10
Excitement: 6

Piotr Jaworski wrote (October 23, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Well said! "Bliss factor - 10" ;-)
Since it's my time to prepare dinner tonight, I'm in rush to home, but I mostly agree with your comments - also on the Tafelmusik still safe supremacy ... Rest - tomorrow.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 23, 2001):
Peter Bright wrote:
< For the relative newcomer to Bach, though, I would suggest the more thrilling and flexible approach of Tafelmusik. >
Interesting, I found Tafelmusik's recording to be very boring...

Peter Bright wrote (October 24, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Gosh!
(I'm not prone to one word messages but I'm very surprised - I can't think of a more vibrant and involving recording than this one! - Hogwood, Pinnock and Harnoncourt are all impressive but they just don't have the verve of the Tafelmusik when it comes to this work - for me, at least. I guess it just goes to show that taste is a marvellously diverse thing...)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (Octobe 24, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] It sure is. I found, from the very first notes, that the tempi were boring and flat.

Here's my complete review: Review of Brandenburg Concertos by Tafelmusik

Peter Bright wrote (October 24, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I am going to listen to the recording with fresh ears in the light of your review - I think I originally bought it because of the fantastic reviews it received both at the time and even now (winner of best classical recording of 1995 in the Juno awards, nominated for record of the year by Gramophone (it remains one of their chosen recordings in their most recent CD guide))...

I'd be quite interested in your favoured recording of the Brandenburgs so I can compare and contrast for myself.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 24, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Actually, I don't have one. I have yet to find the Brandenburgs that really sound to me like they are balanced. Although, the set included in the Brilliant Classics complete set, by the Consort of London, comes close. I have yet to listen to it enough.

 

Suzuki cantatas (no. of vols)

Thomas Boyce wrote (October 26, 2001):
Does anyone know how many volumes will be in Suzuki's complete cantatas cycle?

Piotr Jaworski wrote (October 29, 2001):
[To Thomas Boyce] Good question ... the simple calculation: about 200 by 4 makes around 50 volumes.... adding some more vols for 'alternative' versions, discoveries etc. - probably about 60 volumes altogether. This is exactly the task for our ... children(!!!), I've read somewhere that it will take Suzuki about 20 years from the very beginning to the completion of this project. Long, long perspective .....

Suzuki vol. 15 of cantatas.

Peter Bright wrote
Thanks so much for the review of Suzuki & BCJ's performance of the B minor mass - it must have been wonderful. Today I listened to Vol. 14 of the Suzuki cantatas series - SO beautiful. While we are on the subject, does anyone know of a release date for vol. 15 in the UK? – I believe it was released in some regions (Sweden, Japan?) in September... At least I think that was the release date provided on the BIS internet site.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 5, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Why don't you ask BIS directly? (www.bis.se) (Mr. von Bahr is extremely helpful!)

It's really odd with all those 'release dates' all around the world - vol. 15th is already available in Poland - otherwise I'd not be able to write about it couple of days ago. And if you so much enjoy the vol. 14th, I wonder how you'd evaluate the very next one. It's that GREAT! Directly from the source - Mr. von Bahr - I also learned that BIS will start to distribute vol. 16th .. within few forthcoming days....

Hart Dowling wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Piotr Jaworski] Pity that the Suzuki Bach Collegium of Japan website is nowhere near "up to date" as the record stores in Poland.

Last time I looked, there was no specific data on Vols. 14 or 15.

 

Suzuki

Francine Ren Hall wrote (November 5, 2001):
Dear Bach lovers-- The only Suzuki I have is Buxtehude's "Membra Jesu Nostri", and got it free because it was inside the 2000 BIS catalogue. My reaction was that the players were cold and impersonal, lacking in any strong human, emotional element. And, in fact, Gramophone knocked Suzuki's rendition of Bach's Brandenburgs because they were too 'impersonal'. So am I really missing something here in regards to his cantats?

Donald Satz wrote (November 5, 2001):
[To Francine Ren Hall] I find Suzuki's Bach cantata series excellent. The performances are very fluid, warm, and elegant. My sole reservations concerns his soprano soloists where I prefer those that Koopman employs.

Peter Bright wrote (November 6, 2001):
[To Francine Ren Hall] I have not heard the Buxtehude but have all the Bach sets that Suzuki and BCJ have recorded that are currently available here. My feeling is that it is an immensely important series - perhaps in time it will become as revered as Richter's great survey from the 1950’s to 1970’s is by most non-purists.

Please give it a chance. I have just listened to Volume 14 again - if you are able to, put on the opening movement from BWV 109 ("Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben!") - while this arrangement might be controversial from a historical point of view (scored for chorus rather than solo voice), it is one of the most sublime pieces I have heard.

My own feeling is that, while the series started off strong, it really hit its stride at volume 5 - since then Suzuki et al. have never looked back...

FRen Hall wrote (November 5, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Thanks for the Suzuki recommendation. I'll try to find Volume 14 next month. Don also gave high marks for Suzuki's cantatas! So how can I go wrong?!

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 5, 2001):
[To Francine Ren Hall & Peter Bright] I'd never judge Bach Collegium Japan series of cantatas on the basis of any of their 'instrumental' recordings - BBs, Concertos, etc. Well, and as it comes to the Early Music, I'd not trust to Gramophone reviewers that much ... ;-)

I have almost all the CDs they've made for BIS - all volumes of cantatas (including the 15th), Passions, Christmas Oratorio, but also terrific recording of Magnificat (coupled with works of Zelenka and Kuhnau), and also Buxtehude's "Membra Jesu Nostri". (Kind of BCJ freak.) They are among my all-time favourite recordings I frequently return to and always find very enjoyable. Buxtehude 'impersonal'??? On the contrary - IMO. BBs "impersonal"?? Well, I only wonder what is the meaning of this? How much "personal" should be Brandenburg Concertos...(?) I find BCJ cantatas personal to that extent that they beat almost any competition on that field, and I don't mind slight weaknesses – like pronunciation of German - for instance. They are the milestones already, and Peter is very much right comparin their importance to the Richter's.

And I love them because they are so much "personal" (!), because the way Suzuki interprets music and word strike me that much - me - agnostic to the very bone. But I'd rather change Peter's recommendation - Francine, order 14th volume as the next one - the latest one - the 15th (I was raving so much about few days ago) is even better. Let this music speak for itself. And you will love it, believe me.

Johan van Veen wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Francine Ren Hall] Well, it is almost inevitable that different people react differently to some interpretations. It depends on what you want to hear. Until recently I had heard only some of the cantatas as recorded by the Bach Collegium Japan, and I found them uneven: some were good, others disappointing.

Over the last couple of weeks I have heard some more, and I am just listening to the Brandenburg Concertos, and right now I am pretty disappointed by what I have heard. I don't know if the word "impersonal" is the best description of the performances. But it is often said that Japanese musicians are technically very good - and the BCJ is technically very good - but a little "bland" and that they lack emotion and expression. I have indeed heard a number of performances by Japanese interpreters which were indeed lacking emotion, and I'm afraid that's what my impression of BCJ is as well. It sounds all very beautiful, but it is too "smooth" for my taste. I miss the sharp edges.

I just heard the 3rd Brandenburg Concerto: the third movement is played pretty fast, almost as fast as Musica antiqua Köln does, but somehow it doesn't "work" in this case. I think it is because there is no contrast in dynamics, there are too few accents. It sounds like a a sewing machine. I also heard Schütz' Geistliche Chormusik with the BCJ - very beautifully sung, but it never touched me. I have also a recording by the Knabenchor Hannover, which moves me a lot more. And I'm afraid that's the problem of most recordings of the BCJ.

Marten Breuer wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] Although I do not quite agree with what you wrote, I think I can figure out what you mean.

1. When I read Francine's comment the other day, the first thing that came to my mind was: the typical prejudice against Japanese performers. What you wrote sounds similar to me. I have to admit that before I got to know Suzuki's recordings, I was similarly prejudiced. But I found entirely convincing what Suzuki wrote in vol. 1: Why should a choir of agnostic Europeans be more able to perform Bach's music than Suzuki who is of deep Christian belief? I know from a newspaper article that before rehearsing a cantata, they first of all translate the German text into Japanese and explain the religious background of the text. One member of the BCJ has even converted to Christian belief. So I think, some of the judgments like 'cold' and 'impersonal' may in the end result from our expectations that Japanese performances 'must' be cold and impersonal.

2. But there is yet another point: Particularly when I listened to vol. 15 for the first time, I was also to some extent 'disappointed' because what I heard did not match with what I had expected. When you compare Suzuki's opening chorus of BWV 70 'Wachet! betet' to Koopman's or Gardiner's, you will find it far less dramatic. But this is exactly the point: I think that 'European' conducters like Koopman and Gardiner tend to be more extrovert and hence - IMO - superficial than Suzuki. Maybe he has a more 'Asian', 'meditative' (also a terrible stereotype, I know, but I didn't find a better word) approach than Koopman and Gardiner have.

3. And thirdly: I think that Suzuki's tempi are much more suitable to the singers. Take the opening chorus of BWV 70 again: On Koopman's recording it takes 3'33'', on Suzuki's 4'01. As a result, the A-part of the piece (which is constructed A-B-A') is less dramatic as stated above. But when I listen to the B-part, I find that Koopman's version sounds like giggling chickens whereas Suzuki's is absolutely logical.

The same is true with the opening aria of BWV 60 ('O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort'): On Koopman's recording, it takes 3'24'', on Suzuki's 4'15''. Koopman's recording has the advantage of illustrating the 'shivering' tremolo of the violins. But when the Tenor begins to sing, Koopman's version sounds very hasty (which might have to do with the singing qualities of Jörg Dürmüller), Suzuki's in contrast sounds very natural and calm.

Johan van Veen wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Marten Breuer] Thanks for your reply. My comments are inserted below.

< 1. When I read Francine's comment the other day, the first thing that came to my mind was: the typical prejudice against Japanese performers. What you wrote sounds similar to me. I have to admit that before I got to know Suzuki's recordings, I was similarly prejudiced. But I found entirely convincing what Suzuki wrote in vol. 1: Why should a choir of agnostic Europeans be more able to perform Bach's music than Suzuki who is of deep Christian belief? I know from a newspaper article that before rehearsing a cantata, they first of all translate the German text into Japanese and explain the religious background of the text. One member of the BCJ has even converted to Christian belief. So I think, some of the judgments like 'cold' and 'impersonal' may in the end result from our expectations that Japanese performances 'must' be cold and impersonal. >
I am aware of the prejudice. In fact, I never shared it. But it is on the basis of my own experience that I have come to believe that this prejudice is sometimes right. I give you another example. Some years ago I attended a concert by a piano trio, in which the fortepiano was played by a Japanese woman. In an ensemble like this the impulses should come from the keyboard, which is the heart of the piano trio. But in this case they didn't. The Japanese was playing quite beautifully, but she didn't set the ensemble on fire. That's what the French violinist did. Therefore the performance was a little uneven and out of balance. The Japanese didn't seem to have the right mental skills to explore the emotional depth of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven trios. I am aware that Suzuki is a devout Christian. That gives him an easier access to German sacred baroque music than other Asians who don't have that conviction. It may even give him a advantage over non-Christian Europeans in understanding what Bach's sacred music is all about. But that doesn't mean he is better able to put that knowledge and understanding into practice. And I also think it is wrong to simply say that European performers are agnostic. We don't know about all the musicians involved in those cantata pr. For example, both Christoph Prégardien and Klaus Mertens have indicated that the content of Bach's sacred music means something to them.

< 2. But there is yet another point: Particularly when I listened to vol. 15 for the first time, I was also to some extent 'disappointed' because what I heard did not match with what I had expected. When you compare Suzuki's opening chorus of BWV 70 'Wachet! betet' to Koopman's or Gardiner's, you will find it far less dramatic. But this is exactly the point: I think that 'European' conducters like Koopman and Gardiner tend to be more extrovert and hence - IMO - superficial than Suzuki. Maybe he has a more 'Asian', 'meditative' (also a terrible stereotype, I know, but I didn't find a
better word) approach than Koopman and Gardiner have. >
I agree that the performance is in a way a reflection of the performer's character and personality. So it's not so much off the mark to suggest that a 'meditative' approach reflects the Asian personality structure. But I don't think that a less dramatic approach is the problem. Nobody would "accuse" Gustav Leonhardt of being a very extroverted personality. And his rather introverted character is reflected in his performances. For example, there is a clear difference between Leonhardt and Harnoncourt in the Teldec cantata series. But still I find Leonhardt's performances utterly convincing and emotionally gripping. I think it has to do with his understanding of the rhetorical character of Bach's music, the relationship between text and music and all that. I don't think Leonhardt is more extraverted than Suzuki, but in a way he is more "dramatic" nevertheless.

As far as the "dramatic" character of Bach's music is concerned, there is a difference between Italian and German music, of course. And some people don't understand that, which makes some of them to say that basically Bach is the only German baroque composer of any interest - which I think is complete rubbish. But nevertheless there is a difference between Bach and his predecessors, in that he introduced elements of the Italian opera into his sacred music, something he was sharply criticised for. So a more dramatic, "Italianate" approach if you like, is not unsuitable for Bach's (sacred) music. And, as as wrote in my previous message, I not only have problems with BCJ's cantata performances, but also with the Brandenburg Concertos, which I find not very exciting.

< 3. And thirdly: I think that Suzuki's tempi are much more suitable to the singers. Take the opening chorus of BWV 70 again: On Koopman's recording it takes 3'33'', on Suzuki's 4'01. As a result, the A-part of the piece (which is constructed A-B-A') is less dramatic as stated above. But when I listen to the B-part, I find that Koopman's version sounds like giggling chickens whereas Suzuki's is absolutely logical. The same is true with the opening aria of BWV 60 ('O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort'): On Koopman's recording, it takes 3'24'', on Suzuki's 4'15''. Koopman's recording has the advantage of illustrating the 'shivering' tremolo of the violins. But when the Tenor begins to sing, Koopman's version sounds very hasty (which might have to do with the singing qualities of Jörg Dürmüller), Suzuki's in contrast sounds very natural and calm. >
I don't doubt the fact that Suzuki has the better singers – generally speaking. Koopman has Mertens, of course, whom I very much like, although I also like Peter Kooy. And Koopman has Prégardien, who is great, but he has too many singers who seem not to be up to the task, or are just ugly. But that's only a start. In the end it is what a singer does that matters, and Suzuki's singers not always do enough with the text and its meaning. I never liked the voice of Kurt Equiluz very much, but he was a singer who explored every text to its full extent. I think there has never been – and there still is - no better recitative singer than Equiluz. (BTW, I think Koopman's series is generally speaking a mishap. He should better concentrate on other kinds of music.)

Peter Bright wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen] While I also found the Suzuki Brandenburgs somewhat lacking leadership (a great conducter sometimes needs to take the bull by the horns and "own" the music in order to get the impact across to the listener), I concur completely with Marten on the cantata series. While to some, the approach can seem perhaps tentative or overly reverential, I find the Suzuki series magnificent, easily eclipsing Gardiner or Koopman in the overall impact - Suzuki's attention to the words is the clincher - no other conducter places as much importance on the message as he does. Whether we believe the message doesn't really matter, but the impact of the music relies to a considerable degree on the words having meaning - Suzuki really brings this out and injects life into the pieces.

Actually I do find a fair degree of drama and excitement in the Suzuki approach - outside of the cantatas this is particularly the case in their St John Passion (BWV 245), for example. However, if I really want bravura, raw emotion and excitement but perhaps less beauty and attention to detail, I readily turn to the Karl Richter series - also a magnificent survey (helped of course by the fact that it features several of the 20th century's greatest singers and performers).

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Johan van Veen & Marten Breuer] Please keep this subject on-going and alive! (at least for couple of days...) I'll join soon – promise (!!), but have to spend 120% of my time thanks to the forthcoming Shareholders Meeting of my Company :-( This is fantastic discussion, with lots of great arguments - lots of very controversial arguments as well. Hope it won't vanish soon.

Francine Ren Hall wrote (November 7, 2001):
My remarks about Suzuki come about with listening to only one Buxtehude CD and a critical comment by Gramophone that they are quote "impersonal". So my judgment was too hasty. However, my opinions had nothing to do with a prejudice against Japanese performers. Why such an assumption? Anyway, I feel one should be careful with some of the new HIP recordings that try for smooth, bland perfection over getting inside the music with some real feeling. One example that stands out for me is Monteverdi's Pianto della Madonna sung by Maria Cristina Kiehr on the HM label. She's a wonderful singer overall and has sung beautifully with the best musicians. However, in the recording I mentioned she merely glosses over the notes with not one ounce of commitment. And this has nothing to do with her nationality. To say I'm prejudiced hurts me very much because I have never thought of music as 'belonging' to any one particular country. Music is universal. And, yes, I also prefer performances with some 'rough' edges so-to-speak. That's why when I want to hear Buxtehude sung with passion and soul, I skip the Suzuki and head for the Ricercar Consort. And I am still willing to try another Suzuki finances permitting. -- warmest wishes, Francine

Peter Bright wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Francine Ren Hall] I am sure that your comments were NOT informed by prejudice - it's certainly true that you won't find much aggressive playing or singing on the Suzuki discs. If the group happened to be home grown in the Scottish Highlands, I expect your comments would be the same.

Still, can't help thinking you'd be missing out if you don't spend some time with Suzuki and BCJ's discs…

Francine Ren Hall wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Thank you! All misunderstandings have been cleared up! I'm not upset anymore! I AM upset that I have to wait a few more weeks to load up on some more Bach! LOL! And, yes, I will pick up another Suzuki next month! Thanks again! with warm wishes-- Francine (in good company with fellow Bach fanatics!!)

Peter Bright wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Francine Ren Hall] Incidentally, it was Gramophone Magazine that first drew my attention to the Suzuki series. In general they are extremely positive about the cantatas (particularly Nicholas Anderson, who penned the notes to my copy of Richter's 1958 SMP). Similarly, the SJP (BWV 245) (or was it the Christmas Oratorio?) was seen by the Gramophone reviewer as the best on disc bar none. The notable exception was the SMP review, of which I tend to agree.

Donald Satz wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] I agree about Suzuki's SJP (BWV 245) - the best I've heard.

Francine Ren Hall wrote (November 7, 2001):
[To Donald Satz & Peter Bright] Thanks for the SJP (BWV 245) Suzuki recommendation. It will be interesting to compare it with the Gardiner I own! Also, thanks, Don, for telling me about the GG Handel harpsichord CD. It seems I won't go for it then, saving money for other Bach CDs instead! I was just curious to know how GG is at the harpsichord, and finding that he plays as if he were at the piano doesn't surprise me.

Marten Breuer wrote (November 7, 2001):
Having cleared up some misunderstandings, I may come back to what Johan wrote this morning: I have inserted my comments below, as well.

Johan van Veen wrote:
< ad 1. I am aware of the prejudice. In fact, I never shared it. But it is on the basis of my own experience that I have come to believe that this prejudice is sometimes right. I give you another example. Some years ago I attended a concert by a piano trio, in which the fortepiano was played by a Japanese woman. In an ensemble like this the impulses should come from the keyboard, which is the heart of the piano trio. But in this case they didn't. The Japanese was playing quite beautifully, but she didn't set the ensemble on fire. That's what the French violinist did. Therefore the performance was
a little uneven and out of balance. The Japanese didn't seem to have the right mental skills to explore the emotional depth of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven trios. I am aware that Suzuki is a devout Christian. That gives him an easier access to German sacred baroque music than other Asians who don't have that conviction. It may even give him a advantage over non-Christian Europeans in understanding what Bach's sacred music is all about. But that doesn't mean he is better able to put that knowledge and understanding into practice. And I also think it is wrong to simply say that European performers are agnostic. We don't know about all the musicians involved in those cantata projects. For example, both Christoph Prégardien and Klaus Mertens have indicated that the content of Bach's sacred music means something to them. >
Let me just add that, of course, it was not my intention to say that all Europeans were agnostic! Here's what Suzuki wrote in vol. 1: 'Who can be said to approach more nearly the spirit of Bach: a European who does not attend church and carries his Christian cultural heritage mostly on the subconscious level, or an Asion who is active in his faith although the influence of Christianity on his national culture is small?'

< ad 2. I agree that the performance is in a way a reflection of the performer's character and personality. So it's not so much off the mark to suggest that a 'meditative' approach reflects the Asian personality structure. But I don't think that a less dramatic approach is the problem. Nobody would "accuse" Gustav Leonhardt of being a very extroverted personality. And his rather introverted character is reflected in his performances. For example, there is a clear difference between Leonhardt and Harnoncourt in the Teldec cantata series. But still I find Leonhardt's performances utterly convincing and emotionally gripping. I think it has to do with his understanding of the rhetorical character of Bach's music, the relationship between text and music and all that. I don't think Leonhardt is more extraverted than Suzuki, but in a way he is more "dramatic" nevertheless.
As far as the "dramatic" character of Bach's music is concerned, there is a difference between Italian and German music, of course. And some people don't understand that, which makes some of them to say that basically Bach is the only German baroque composer of any interest - which I think is complete rubbish. But nevertheless there is a difference between Bach and his predecessors, in that he introduced elements of the Italian opera into his sacred music, something he was sharply criticised for. So a more dramatic, "Italianate" approach if you like, is not unsuitable for Bach's (sacred) music. And, as as wrote in my previous message, I not only have problems with BCJ's cantata performances, but also with the Brandenburg Concertos, which I
find not very exciting. >
A very good argument. Indeed, Bach was very interested in and influenced by Italian composers - one only has to think of 'Tilge, Hoechster, meine Suenden' BWV 1083 which is an arrangment of Pergolesi's 'Stabat mater'.

< ad 3. I don't doubt the fact that Suzuki has the better singers – generally speaking. Koopman has Mertens, of course, whom I very much like, although I also like Peter Kooy. And Koopman has Prégardien, who is great, but he has too many singers who seem not to be up to the task, or are just ugly. But that's only a start. In the end it is what a singer does that matters, and Suzuki's singers not always do enough with the text and its meaning. I never liked the voice of Kurt Equiluz very much, but he was a singer who explored every text to its full extent. I think there has never been – and there still is - no better recitative singer than Equiluz. (BTW, I think Koopman's series is generally speaking a mishap. He should better concentrate on other kinds of music.) >
Here too, I think we're not that far from each other. Speaking of Mertens and Kooj, I admit that I also prefer Mertens (slightly). Koopman has Prégardien, true, but Suzuki has Türk whom I would judge at least equal to Prégardien. It's interesting to compare arias sung by Prégardien and Türk as their timbre is completely different. (To my ears, Prégardien's timbre is rather that of a very high baritone, whereas Türk has a very bright voice.)

As the exploring of the text is concerned, I agree with you when talking about Urano and Sakurada. I think, however, that especially the choir does very much with the text. So, it might also be a question of whether your preferences lie with the solo or the choral parts. For my person – singing in a choir myself - I have to admit that my preferences definitely lie with the choral parts, and here I find Suzuki almost always superior. And don't forget the chorales! Suzuki's chorales are really little gems whereas Koopman's often sound to massive to me.

Peter Petzling wrote (November 8, 2001):
To add some depth to the discussion of Masaaki Suzuki and Japanese musicianship Bach listers might want to take in an essay by Uwe Siemon-Netto entitled : "J.S.Bach in Japan"

The piece was published in the June/July 2000 issue of FIRST THINGS [ pp 15-17 ] and can be found under this web address: www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft006/opinion/siemon-netto.html

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 8, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< I agree about Suzuki's SJP - the best I've heard. >
For info, Herreweghe just released a second recording of the SJP on HM. I listened to some snippets in a store last week, but it didn't catch my interest right away. I must say, however, that I listened to the SJP just after listening to Verlet's partitas, which are amazing.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 8, 2001):
[To Peter Petzling] Many thanks for finding and submitting this article to us. Very interesting! I was thinking hard on any kind of response to Johan and Marten (not forgetting Francine!) arguments, here Suzuki spoke for himself. Nothing to add. Well, at least from the point of philosophy, psychology, personal feelings etc. Leave the purely musical (technical) aspects apart, for a while.

Problem with Bach and Japanese performers is almost exactly the same like another one - the "Chopin and the Japanese, Chinese, Korean & Vietnamese coalition of pianists" case. For years Poles (and Europeans) could not understand, believe and imagine that thoseall those young terrific pianist are often better than European ones. They still don't make impressive careers, but are winning hearts of the public during all latest Chopin competitions in Warsaw. The purists oppose - "well, but they still can't perform ... 'Mazurkas' at least!!!" This national, folk dance, extremely well rooted in the soil and soul Poland and Poles, and very, very unique. They say, that if pianists was not growing up surrounded with nice tunes of Polish folk music (???!!!), is not able to understand their nature - read: is not able to reach master level in the interpretation. Any sense? Nonsense! Even if the best two recordings of 'Mazurkas' are from two pianists with obviuosly good Polish roots - Andrzej Wasowski and Artur Rubinstein.

And here we have sacred works of Bach and the case of Suzuki. Couple of times I've declared here, that I am pure agnostic. Sometimes I'm far from Christianity than any from other religion. But this is Suzuki that moves me. That can reach the deepest corners of my soul. Sometimes that much, that I ask myself "WHY?". Why I'm not the one of THEM? Why this is Suzuki who I trust and believe in his "message"? Because, this is the most "personal" interpretation of sacred music I ever encountered.
Mystical and spiritual, well-thought-out and honest, profound and strong, as his beliefs.

And this is why I respect him and his interpretations so much.

Michael Grover wrote (November 8, 2001):
Note to those trying to access this article: I was not able to get it to come up and found that the address is slightly wrong below. Here is the correct address: http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0006/opinion/siemon-netto.html (Note the extra '0' in the ft0006 part.)

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 9, 2001):
Following the recent exchange of arguments on Bach Performed by Japanese Performers, I've read again two very interesting articles written by Bernard D. Sherman. Needless to say - another member of the Suzuki Alliance ;-)

Here, for those yet unfamiliar with them, I attach both links:

"Coming to Fresh Terms with the Sacred in Bach" from New York Times:
http://www.efast.com/~sherman/SuzukTimes.htm

and "Performing Bach's St. Matthew Passion" from Early Music America:
http://www.efast.com/~sherman/StMatthew.htm

try guess which SMP author considers as his Desert Island Disc...?

Francine Ren Hall wrote (November 10, 2001):
[To Peter Petzling & Piotr Jaworski] Oh, your sincerity shines through! Since I'll be low on funds next month (Christmas, etc), can you give me an example of ONE CD by Suzuki that is especially beautiful? I'm willing to give him another try! Thanks!

Riccardo Nughes wrote (November 10, 2001):
Until today my favourite volume of the Suzuki cycle is vol.10. I have too his Buxtehude recording and I agree with you, it is a very bad one. But, be sure, cantatas are another world. Today, if someone should ask me a name fo Bach cantatas I'd say surely Suzuki. Riccardo (I'm not Piotr or Peter, but I hope to be useful to you, however)

Francine Ren Hall wrote (November 10, 2001):
[To Riccardo Nughes] You sure have been useful! Thanks! I'll look into Suzuki's cantatas, which is good anyway because I need to expand my cantata collection for sure!

Marshall Abrams wrote (November 10, 2001):
[To Piotr Jaworski] Even if being from a particular country necessarily gave one certain capabilities and limitations for musical interpretation (which is ludicrous--humans are just too ... human for a universal generalization of this kind to hold), it seems odd and slightly disturbing how much emphasis music writers seem to place on national origin. It seems like it's not uncommon that some well-known classical musician was born in one country, but was trained in another country, and later in some other country, and now lives somewhere else, and maybe spends half of their time on the road anyway. But people still describe them by their birthplace. Argerich comes to mind. I think she only lived much in Argentina until she was twelve, when she went to study in Vienna. And now she lives in northern Europe--was it Belgium--I don't recall. Yet Argerich is still always referred to as "Argentinian". It seems just as reasonable to think of her as an Austrian or Belgian at this point.

Why do people feel that national origin is so important? I think it's because subtly or unsubtly, they want to view a musician's work as colored by some "national character" of their birthplace. I do it too, sometimes, without thinking about it, but I really feel that such ways of thinking are a bad idea. (I grant that there can be statistical patterns concerning values etc. among people in one country vs. another, but these are just patterns, not ironclad rules, and painting people with their birthplace starts looking especially strange when someone has lived elsewhere for much of their life.)

This is just something that I've thought about relatively recently. This thread about Suzuki brought it to mind.

Johan van Veen (November 13, 2001):
[To Marshall Abrams] Interesting subject, and also important, I believe.

You suggest that nationality isn't important as interpretation of music is concerned. I agree, but nationality - in the strict sense of the word - isn't the point here. It is more the culture someone has grown up with. And some people are better in adapting to other cultures than others. As far as vocal music is concerned, the language plays a crucial role. And some have less problems in learning how to speak another languange – and pronunciate it correctly - than others. It always strikes me that some Americans, who have immigrated before WW II, are still audibly from another part of the world. They never lose their accent.

And that is the case with musicians as well. I have seldom heard singers whose native language is English, pronunciating German correctly. A recording I very much like is one by the late Belgian countertenor Henri Ledroit. He was French speaking, and he sings German cantatas with a pretty strong French accent.

I feel that the language is a very strong reflection of the culture. And very often a relatively poor pronunciation of a language goes along with a poor understanding of the culture as a whole and its music. Therefore I seldom hear a really satisfying Bach recording by English musicians. Of course we tend to generalise in these matters. There are always exceptions to the rule. For example, Roland Wilson, director of Musica Fiata, lives in Germany and is doing a lot of German music, and does it much better than most other artists of Anglo-American origin. Another example is William Christie, who is very idiomatic in French music. But for example London Consort's recording of Spanish ensaladas is pretty unconvincing, if you compare it with the recordings of Hesperion XX or even the Ensemble Clément Janequin or the Huelgas Ensemble. And these examples are interesting, in that they are not Spanish: the Huelgas Ensemble's director, Paul Van Nevel, is Belgian, and the Clément Janequin is French of course. But in mentality, in the approach to music, and even culturally, they are closer to the Spanish culture than the British. In many ways they are "southerners".

There are other examples of music, which are difficult to perform idiomatically by "strangers", like the Vienna waltzes or the 18th century repertoire from Naples.

 

Bach Collegium Japan – is USA Tour

Philly RBH wrote (April 8, 2003):
As many might know the Bach Collegium Japan is on their first US tour. Berkely, Ann Arbor, Carnegie Hall (tomorrow night) and finally Boston Saturday with the SMP. I wonder if any list members will be attending concerts and can provide reviews. I will be at the Boston performance.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 8, 2003):
[To Philly RGH] Not me, I live in the DC/Northern Virginia area. List members please feel free to pass on upcoming concert information to me if you want to. I'm going to hear Moroney play the FrenSuites in a couple of weeks at the Library of Congress.

Ah yes, Boston, what a town. I've only visited it a few times but loved it. Damn step-sister recently moved away from it, so I can't use her anymore. ;-) I had a great time, in fact, with my lady friend in the Orpheus Record Shop. Can't remember what I picked up there? Something I know because the man at the store had to search a few minutes for it back in his storeroom. What a crammed shop! I liked it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 8, 20903):
[To Philly RGH] Beginning this Thursday April 10th there is a conference "Bach the Preacher" at Calvin College, Grand Rapids Michigan. On Friday it will include a performance of the St Matthew Passion by Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan, as part of their current tour.

Details of this conference are at: http://www.calvin.edu/scs/2003/bach/index.htm

Mitsuo Fukuda wrote (April 9, 2003):
A friend of mine sent e-mail about BCJ's US tour. I would like to quote the e-mail as I do not write English well.

Mitsuo Fukuda, Japan
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A review just came in from the LA Times on the performances of the Bach Collegium Japan on Friday and Saturday, April 5 & 6 at UCLA. Both performances were met with immediate standing ovations. The headline reads: "Bach Collegium Japan triumphs at UCLA in exceptional rendering of two sublime works."

The reviewer wrote: "...UCLA did what great universities are expected to do in time of war, explore what it means to live and die...but when music-making comes as beautiful, as searching, as enthralling as this...nothing is a coincidence." "The small, precise, dramatically alert chorus breathed fire but also revealed a heartbreaking tenderness."
see: http://www.calendarlive.com/music/classical/cl-et-swed7apr07.story for the full review.

The St. Matthew Passion by the Bach Collegium Japan
7:30 p.m., Friday, April 11, Calvin Fine Arts Center
Call the Box Office - 957-6282
We hope you will attend this unforgettable lenten offering of "the most profound pcied of msuic ever written."

There will be a free pre-concert lecture about the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in the FAC Auditorium on Thursday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. It is part of the Bach Symposium but is open to the public.

 

Continue to Part 3

Masaaki Suzuki: Short Biography | Bach Collegoim Japan
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Recordings of Instrumental Works
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Cantatas:
Suzuki - Vol. 2 | Suzuki - Vol. 5 | Suzuki - Vol. 8 | Suzuki - Vol. 9 | Suzuki - Vol. 10 | Suzuki - Vol. 11 | Suzuki - Vol. 12 | Suzuki - Vol. 13 | Suzuki - Vol. 14 | Suzuki - Vol. 15 | Suzuki - Vol. 16 | Suzuki - Vol. 17 | Suzuki - Vol. 18 | Suzuki - Vol. 19 | Suzuki - Vol. 20 | Suzuki - Vol. 21 | Suzuki - Vol. 22 | Suzuki - Vol. 23 | Suzuki - Vol. 24 | Suzuki - Vol. 25 | Suzuki - Vol. 26 | Suzuki - Vol.. 27 | Suzuki - Vol. 28 | Suzuki - Vol. 29 | Suzuki - Vol. 30 | Suzuki - Vol. 31 | Suzuki - Vol. 38 | Suzuki Secular - Vol. 1
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - M. Suzuki | BWV 243 - M. Suzuki | BWV 244 - M. Suzuki | BWV 245 - M. Suzuki | BWV 248 - M. Suzuki
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Bach’s Clavier-Ubung III from Masaaki Suzuki | Bach Harpsichord Discs from Hill and Suzuki | Bach’s French Suites from Suzuki | Review: Partitas by Suzuki [McElhearn] | Suzuki’s Partitas [Henderson] | Suzuki’s Goldberg Variations
Discussions of Instrumental Recordings:
Partitas BWV 825-830 - played by M. Suzuki
Table of recordings by BWV Number

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Last update: ýOctober 26, 2008 ý10:59:53