Masaaki Suzuki & Bach Collegium JapanCantatas Vol. 19
Cantatas BWV 86, BWV 37, BWV 104, BWV 166
Masaaki Suzuki and BCJ Cantatas - vol. 19
Piotr Jawrski wrote (September 27, 2002):
It took some more - certainly more than I expected - time to carefully listen to and to write about the other recent BIS production:
Bach - Cantatas Vol. 19 ( BIS-CD-1261)
Cantata No.86, 'Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch', BWV 86;
Cantata No.37, 'Wer da gläubet und getauft wird', BWV 37;
Cantata No.104, 'Du Hirte Israel, höre', BWV 104;
Cantata No.166, 'Wo gehest du hin?', BWV 166
Bach Collegium Japan directed by Masaaki Suzuki; Yukari Nonoshita - soprano; Robin Blaze - counter-tenor; Makoto Sakurada - tenor; Stephan MacLeod - bass;
First - Masaaki Suzuki introduces new bass here - Stephan MacLeod replaces Peter Kooij. This is first time when they co-operate on Bach Cantatas Project - however some of us might know their first joint effort Monteverdi's "Vespro" - recording that I like very much! Let's see what comes with that change ...
What we have here are four cantatas composed in the Spring of 1724. At let's start from quoting Simon Crouch rates again:
Simon Crouch Rating
BWV 86 - "2+"
BWV 37 - "2+"
BWV 104 -"1*"
BWV 166 - "2+"
Looks like a 'mixed bag' ? To some extend ... Even if three cantatas have rather low ranks, having in mind the excellent reputation of the ranking source, we can try to challenge them, while there are quite many pretty moments here.
Beginning from BWV 86.... with the very interesting - non-choral with roots in polyphonic motets of earlier ages - 'Arioso' introduction so nicely sung by MacLeod. In his short description below, Simon accurately points all the strong points of this cantata. There is a nice and intriguing link between both first parts - violin accompaniment to the "melody to hum" in the 'Wahrlich, wahrlich...' leads to the splendid playing of solo violin in the Alto aria 'Ich will doch wohl Rosen brechen...'. Solo to follow with listener's stamping feet! Again - like on volume 18 - the principal violinist of the BCJ - Natsumi Wakamatsu - shines on this recording. This joint effort of violin, cello and organ is very impressive. Those who like to analyse Bach musical language - will find here an ideal setting to demonstrate their skills: how and to what extend the music illustrates the words. Nice exercise.
And one more remark - this aria immediately reminded me another splendid JSB bass aria - the one I could not properly 'locate' in my memory. I was humming that melody for the whole afternoon, and this morning put another glorious recording of Masaaki Suzuki - that aria was of course 'Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder!' ... from SMP!!! What a couple! (Needless to say that the violinist in question is still the same!)
I also like the following Chorale - 'Und was der ewig gutig Gott...' - especially the way the Soprano choir is supported by two oboes d'amore. Beautiful.
The Tenor aria 'Gott hilft gewiss...' bears also first of all marks of excellent accompaniment - listening to recent Bach Collegium Japan recordings I can't stop recalling some better known (or simply: better) ensembles - especially famous of their string sections - La Chapelle Royale or Freiburger Baroque Orchestra - BCJ has already join them. Right time for recognizing that simple fact.
This is excellent cantata - IMO Simon's '2+'is not enough - '1' is much more suitable. Maybe it had to wait for such performance...? Great start.
Contrary to the previous cantata - BWV 86 - here we start 'normally' - with splendid, joyful but quite delicate 'Chorus'. Nothing special to add to Simon Crouch remarks (Simon, I hope that you don't mind those endless references, but what more one can do ...?)
The next part - Tenor aria 'Der glaube ist das Pfand der Liebe...' - however requires special treatment. Here Masaaki Suzuki introduces his son, Masato, as the ... composer! Since the 'violino obbligato' is missing - that's the key supposition here - and no sources of reference are available, both Suzukis simply had to invent it! (You must read his detailed and fascinating description on that process in the booklet.)
And this way we can enjoy another excellent aria with stunning solo violin contribution (looks that I'm positively biased). And I will add that this contribution once again gives the noble cut to 'ordinary diamond'. The recording is clear and spatial, violin's sound sharp and distinct, but the continuo group - cello and organ - can be perfectly separated and followed. Kind of achievement.
With the following Chorale we once again return to times of Bach predecessors - 'concerto' for two voices (Soprano and Alto) and basso continuo (cello, organ). If the careful listener will pay some attention to the continuo playing - that sometimes flies away in his own direction - will have to love this piece. Catches the heart.
The cantata ends with Bass aria and Chorale - were oboes once again take the lion's share. This melodic, that oboe delicately spins in 'Der Glaube schaft...' aria, stays in memory and calls for immediate and numerous repeats of this part. What, frankly, happened to me for quite many times ... :-)
'2+' for cantata then? Let's leave it that way, but not for the performance - '1' for that!
I must confess that for me this is the most challenging cantata from all those reviewed yet. The reason is quite simple - this is not my favourite. I'd never rank it among BWV 21, BWV 78, BWV 80 or BWV 66 - as also given '1*' ...
The problem is exactly the character of this cantata - what the others find as lovely and charming here, I find as ... a bit boring. The 'pastoral' atmosphere of this cantata is somehow unconvincing, if not artificial. For me - Bach incomparable while expressing dramatic feeling (Passions), wonderful while showing almost unearthly joy (parts od B minor Mass - for instance), but here ... I almost don't get the 'message' at all.
I can't find anything special in the opening Chorus 'Du Hirte Israel...', however- and after many listenings - I must admit that it's quite nice. I appreciate the perfect performance - choir and orchestra of BCJ are excellent
I have similar problem with the Bass aria 'Begluckte Herde, Jesu Schafe''. MacLeod is acting really well here, with warm and 'delicate' voice. But it doesn't help...
And some self-explanation. As a person of rather strong atheistic convictions - I'm not 'open' to the meaning of most texts of the cantatas. Contrary to Passions and Masses that - for me - represent much more universal values. Universal for every religion, and different cultures. Human suffering, pain, despair, joy or love are quite similar everywhere. Needs related to God or Gods - not necesserily... When the context is more theological is almost authomatically less universal. Bach follows the text and context, illustrates them ... and this is why I'm lost here.
Nevertheless, I like the Tenor aria - 'Verbirgt mein Hirte...' - a bit. Mainly thanks to the nice oboes accompanying the soloist.Justice should be made on MacLeod - I can only hope that he will appear more on that series.
A quote from Schweitzer says that BWV 104 "is one of the most suitable cantatas for overcoming the common fear of Bach," and it is "useful for winning over a public that is musically cultured, but not yet intimate with Bach." I'm not affraid of Bach, won't comment on my 'musical culture' ... but for me it didn't work.
Another - like BWV 86 - cantata that starts not from Choir but from Aria - designed for the Bass and very short - 'Wo gehest du hin?' But this one doesn't capture the listener's attention that much. However it's construction - repetition of the same question - by voice and instruments (oboe plus strings) is intriguing. In the following Tenor aria I could find a distant echo of 'Ich will doch wohl Rosen brechen...', or other arias from the previous cantatas from this CD.
Again - oboe, solo violin and very discreet continuo (contrabasso and organ). Are those similarities only due to the same period - few weeks! few days! - the ere composed. Some scholars ask the question "what happened with the choir in Leipzig that time?" ... Exactly... All the difficulties related to restoration of the second movement, and it's links with Trio Sonata BWV 584, are in detail presented by Suzuki in the booklet.
And I must say that this is beautiful piece of music. I must mention oboist Masamitsu San'nomiya - because his contributions are so precious in all the cantatas here, and again (and again...) - excellent Wakamatsu.And ''Ich bitte dich, Herr Jesu Christ...' Chorale - scored for Soprano choir, violins, viola and bc (fagotto, contrabasso and organo). In my opinion -mesmerizing! - not 'very fine', excellent!!
This Chorale makes such a great and solemn impression, that the Alto aria 'Man nehme sich in acht..' looks like from completely another story. This suits much more to Handel! I can imagine - reading the text - that Bach plays a bit with listener: "beware! what starts from laughter in the morning (extensive coloraturas!) may end in tears in the evening". But in my opinion - those means he used here are rather partly misplaced. But ... Bach was a man of his time, do you remember poetry, paintings or architecture of this age? 'Contrasts!', 'exaggerations!' - from every angle and side! Well, we have to remind ourselves that we are not living in the XVIII century ..... having that in mind one has to grant that this aria is very nice, without reservations! Blaze is fantastic performer.
Solemn closing Chorale takes as back to the 'first story' - we are properly reminded of passing time, fragility of life and approaching end of it....
Great replacement - Stephan MacLeod causes that we don't miss Peter Kooij that much - frankly he showed some symptoms of fatigue ... so many recording sessions, so many live performances ...
Excellent orchestra, excellent choir, soloist - volume 19 is a strong competitor for its predecessor Ė 18th. Some - especially those who find BWV 104 bigger marvel than I do, might certainly prefer that one.
My on rating?
BWV 86 - "1"
BWV 37 - "1"
BWV 104 - hmmm.... a bit less than "1" but more than "2" (certainly requires more time and active listening)
BWV 166 - something like "1-" ;-)
I'm sure that you will enjoy this recording, this was - those two great CDs in one week! - a fantastic sort of experience. You can all be very jelous!!!
PS. My special regards and thanks for Peter Bright who is to face the same experience beginning on Monday! Happy listening to all of you.
And full descriptions of those cantatas as can be found on great Simon Crouch website: http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas.html
Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch
(Truly, truly, I say unto you)
Cantata BWV 86
* Fifth Sunday after Easter (Rogation Sunday)
* Epistle: Jas. i. 22-27 (Be doers of the Word)
* Gospel: John xvi. 23-30 (What you ask in My name, the Father will give)
* Rating: 2+
Off to a good start with a triple fugue to introduce the bass aria. This is a fine movement with tuneful, earnest declamation from the vocalist woven as one strand amongst the instrumentalists. I'm quite sure that the main (vocal) theme will leave you humming for the next few hours! The other movements in the cantata are possibly most notable for their respective accompaniments. In both the remaining arias, for example, the voice part is more declamatory than tuneful. The first aria benefits from a florid virtuoso violin accompaniment, the following recitative from a bubbling duet from the oboes d'amore, and the final tenor aria an fine orchestral accompaniment. The cantata closes with a straightforward chorale setting.
Wer da glaubet
(He who believeth)
Cantata BWV 37
* Ascension Day
* Epistle: Acts i. 1-11 (Christ prepares His disciples for the Ascension)
* Gospel: Mark xvi. 14-20 (Christ ascends into heaven)
* Rating: 2+
Even if the extent of Bach's cantata oeuvre is too much to take, it is hard for one to deny the outstanding nature of many individual movements, especially the opening choruses. Hence it is frequently worth making a detour into these works just to hear these. Here is a case in point: Cantata BWV 37 is probably not an outstanding work. The libretto is standard for the cantatas, the music good but not consistently good, but the opening chorus is a masterpiece. The fine oboe d'amore line, immediately after the opening chord, establishes a genial atmosphere in which one may sit back and marvel at the musical development. The following tenor aria is missing the violin accompaniment but this can apparently be easily reconstructed (in style if nothing else) to give a pleasant enough movement. The third movement is a fine chorale duet between soprano and alto on Philipp Nicolai's wonderful hymn Wie schön leuchet der Morgenstern (see BWV 1 <http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas/001.html> , for example). The final aria for bass follows a recitative and benefits from a catchy orchestral accompaniment. Perhaps the vocal line doesn't quite come up to the standard of the orchestral line. The cantata ends with a straightforward chorale setting.
Du Hirte Israel, höre
(Hear, thou Shepherd of Israel)
Cantata BWV 104
* Second Sunday after Easter
* Epistle: 1 Peter ii 21-25 (You were as sheep, gone astray)
* Gospel: John x. 11-16 (I am the Good Shepherd)
* Rating 1*
As Robertson points out that the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd seems to have appealed to Bach, as he respondedwith some of his loveliest writing (see also cantatas 112 <http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas/112.html> and 85 <http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas/085.html> ). In this case, both the opening chorus (Hear us, thou Shepherd of Israel ) and the bass aria (Ye happy flocks) are right out of the top drawer. The former, a beautiful tune and a delicate fugue, what more could a humble member of the choir wish for? The latter, a gigue that lilts along wonderfully. Do you remember the opening of the St. Matthew Passion, where the orchestral bass holds a long pedal point until the tension is broken with the most astonishing upward scale? Well, Bach does it again here on a smaller scale, but just as effectively. The tenor aria is perhaps a little less distinguished but with its attractive oboe d'amore accompaniment it is still a pleasant experience.
Try, if you can, to hear Dietrich Fischer-Diskau sing this in Richter's recording. I'm not an unreserved fan of DF-D in this sort of music (he has a tendency to overemphasise), but here he is outstanding.
Wo gehest du hin?
(Whither goest Thou?)
Cantata BWV 166
* Fourth Sunday after Easter
* Epistle: Jas. i. 17-21 (Every good gift is from above)
* Gospel: John xvi. 5-15 (It is expedient that I go away)
* Rating: 2+
The opening bass aria simply has the words Where are you going? (reflected later in the cantata in Jesus' words Man, ah Man! Where are you going"). In the Gospel it is Jesus putting words into the mouths of the disciples, Where are you going, Lord?. Here, the words are reversed to give a wistful contemplation of the fate of Man. The libretto of this cantata, by an unknown poet, is very effective. The following tenor aria may very well be familiar to you from the g-minor organ trio BWV 584 which was at one time thought to be a transcription by Bach of this piece. It is now thought that the transcription was by a later hand. In this context, there is a very attractive and effective accompaniment to the tenor voice from oboe and violin (the latter part having to be reconstructed). Between the two arias is a chorale notable for the orchestral accompaniment, it is very fine indeed. The alto aria also benefits from an excellent orchestral prelude and accompaniment and the cantata closes with a straightforward chorale setting.
Copyright © Simon Crouch
<http://www.classical.net/music/contacts.html#crouch> , 1996, 1998
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: Bachís Clavier-Ubung III from Masaaki Suzuki | Bach Harpsichord Discs from Hill and Suzuki | Bachís French Suites from Suzuki | Review: Partitas by Suzuki [McElhearn] | Suzukiís Partitas [Henderson] | Suzukiís Goldberg Variations
Discussions of Instrumental Recordings: Partitas BWV 825-830 - played by M. Suzuki
Table of recordings by BWV Number