Masaaki Suzuki & Bach Collegium JapanCantatas Vol. 5
Cantatas BWV 18, BWV 152, BWV 155, BWV 161, BWV 143
BCJ Cantata 18
Ryan Michero wrote (August 11, 1998):
Right now my favorite [Bach Collegium Japan Cantatas] volume is No. 5, featuring BWV 18, BWV 143, BWV 152, BWV 155, and BWV 161.
Todd Michael Billeci wrote (August 21, 1998):
Ryan Michero wrote:
< Right now my favorite [Bach Collegium Japan Cantatas] volume is No. 5, featuring BWV 18, BWV 143, BWV 152, BWV 155, and BWV 161 >
I acquired this disc and it left me extremely upset. In the sinfonia of BWV 18, the textures are muddied by perpetual legato phrasing in the violas and an overabundance of middle voices that completely obscures the imitation. There is also so much reverb that you can count a full three seconds of echo after the final chord of track 1. In the Chorale and Recitative, they crank up the tempo during passages where the meaning of the text is plaintive and anguished, and which JSB scored for a single voice (soprano) to portray the longing human spirit in prayer. The soprano aria, on the other hand, is sung woefully, to an affirmative text!
Please don't take offense, Ryan, because actually you are completely right in that it is played very beautifully, and I really respect your views. I don't think I've ever heard the Recitatives sung as well, and I've now very high regard for Kooij, who did a stellar job. BTW, I determined that the tuning is back down to a'=415 in this issue by rapping on my piano.
For those interested in hearing a reading where the interpretation matches the text, check out Harnoncourt w/ Concentus Musicus Wien. It may not be as polished (it has a boys' choir) but it makes a bit more sense.
Todd Michael Billeci wrote (August 21, 1998):
< Todd, you can save yourself rapping time by reading the liner notes, unless volume five is not as detailed as 3, 6, and 7 are. >
Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed contribution about this cantata recording, Andrea. It was kind of neat.
Tunings are reported intermittently in Vol.5 & not at all in Vol.1. From the Vol.5 notes one might guess that 18 is at a'=465. This is not clear, hence the rapping. More important is that the liner notes appear to be in error! Suzuki writes that BWV 18 is in A minor. In fact, it is in G minor (I have the score). At a'=415, that would put the opening chord root somewhere near f-f#, where it sounds.
< I speculate that the sombre interpretation of an apparently uplifting text is implying a more complex meaning to the text. This text spends alot of time on the negative side of the topic so a more sombre interpretation does not surprise me. I look forward to hearing it. >
What an compelling insight! You used the word 'poetry' in your post. I think if this was simply a poem, that would be an absolutely valid analysis. But I think what's going on in the musical composition sheds an altogether different light. Here's what I see:
In outline the text is simple, the stanza structured so:
My soul's treasure is the word of God!
There are these earthly temptations: a, b
But away with it all, only away!
My soul's treasure is the word of God!
An affirmation of faith opens the stanza with a rising melodic line in a sharply contrasting key, the brightest key in the cantata: a sixth (!) higher than the preceeding minor, and remote from keys JSB reserved for introspection. After the affimative first sentence, the list of earthly temptations follows, but written with joyful rising 16th-32nd-32nd figures that only occur elsewhere on the word 'God': this person doesn't care about those temptations. Why? Because "away with it all!" comes the answer, in 12 rising semiquavers, followed again by the positive: "My soul's treasure is the word of God!" The setting of the affirmative material occupies the bulk of the score and is repeated numerous times. The number of bars treating the earthly temptations is minimal, despite the number of text syllables. This piece of music is less about satan's nets and more about the author's triumph over them too me!
Strangely, Suzuki writes in the notes that the soprano sings "lightheartedly," and that this movement is a step away from the earlier drama. I agree with him. To me, he didn't capture this.
< Which soprano is singing on volume 5 and does she ornament the da Capo nicely? ;-) >
Ha! Both Midori Suzuki & Ingrid Schmithuesen. MS sings BWV 18. Sorry, I didn't make any notes on ornamentation. At a certain point I was trying to hoist my lower jaw up from the floor. I still have to mull over the rest of the disc, too. It'll have to wait until I recover from anaphylactic shock.
Try comparing some other versions of this stuff! IMHO, Harnoncourt's little boy did a righteous job back in 1971, during the pioneering days of period practice, but ya have to overlook the down side of that approach.
Ryan Michero wrote (August 22, 1998):
<< Right now my favourite [Bach Collegium Japan Cantatas] volume is No. 5, featuring BWV 18, BWV 143, BWV 152, BWV 155, and BWV 161 >>
< I acquired this disc and it left me extremely upset. In the Sinfonia of BWV 18, the textures are muddied by perpetual legato phrasing in the violas and an overabundance of middle voices that completely obscures the imitation. There is also so much reverb that you can count a full three seconds of echo after the final chord of track 1. In the Chorale and Recitative, they crank up the tempo during passages where the meaning of the text is plaintive and anguished, and which JSB scored for a single voice (soprano) to portray the longing human spirit in prayer. The soprano aria, on the other hand, is sung woefully, to an affirmative text!
Please don't take offence, Ryan, because actually you are completely right in that it is played very beautifully, and I really respect your views. I don't think I've ever heard the Recitatives sung as well, and I've now very high rfor Kooy, who did a stellar job.
For those interested in hearing a reading where the interpretation matches the text, check out Harnoncourt w/ Concentus Musicus Wien. It may not be as polished (it has a boys' choir) but it makes a bit more sense. >
Todd, you are an intelligent listener and a witty and eloquent writer. But you sure are picky! ;)
I disagree with your critique on almost every count. First of all, the opening Sinfonia sounds great to my ears--very taut and dramatic. Perhaps the imitation between voices is obscured a bit (although I can still hear it), but the legato phrasing makes sense to me. The recurring opening phrase certainly isn't played legato--it is a sharp and angular line, sounding almost random near its end. Suzuki brings out the contrast between this unisono phrase and the step-wise contrapuntal phrases of the connecting segments by contrasting sharp staccato with legato phrasing. And this could relate to the opening words of the text: "For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and return not..." The more random staccato of the first phrase is the rain, the legato of the middle passages is the gently falling snow.
Regarding the Chorale/Recitative movement, I think the upbeat, even tread of the chorus works, contrasting the drama and irregularity of the recitative with the static, calm lines of Luther's litany. Perhaps it doesn't portray the emotion in the text, but I don't think Bach intended to do that. As in Bach's other choral works, the music and ritual of the Lutheran liturgy is reassuring and constant, a tonic for the conflict and worry expressed in the rest of the text. You mention the wonderful performance of Kooy here, but I think Sakurada matches him in intensity and fluency.
Regarding the ensuing aria, I disagree that it is performed "woefully." I really don't know how these melodies could sound woeful in anyone's hands. True, it isn't exactly a burst of sunshine. There is darkness to this movement, but I think that has a lot to do with the orchestra of four violas (does Harnoncourt use the Leipzig-era recorders here?). The orchestra sounds more serene and confident to my ears. I do agree that the singer doesn't sound "light-hearted", but she does sound naive and innocent. Perhaps Harnoncourt's treble is preferable to a woman here, though.
I haven't heard Harnoncourt's version, which I do not doubt is great. I've been meaning to get at least the first box in the H&L series, so I'll let you know what I think when I finally hear it. But Suzuki is no slouch and is certainly not one to ignore a cantata's text. In fact, I think one of his great strengths is his attention to the symbolism and imagery in the texts, often resulting in startling and thought-provoking interpretations.
If you don't agree with me at all, Todd, that's fine. But before you give up on the BCJ please listen to BWV 161, "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" (sorry, I can't do German characters on my keyboard) and tell me what you think.
Andrea--I'm glad I've helped convert you to the Suzuki camp! Your comments were interesting and I enjoyed reading them. Regarding your question on the aria, Midori Suzuki sings it (beautifully), but I don't think the aria is in da capo form. I don't have the score, but I suspect some ornamentation was tastefully added to the original lines. What is your opinion on Vol. 6?
BTW, everyone: I was under the impression that Suzuki wrote ALL of the liner notes to this and other volumes. I realized last night that he only writes a couple of paragraphs in each volume, addressing specific aspects of his performances (regarding pitch, instrumentation, etc.). Someone else writes all comments pertaining to the structure and meaning of the cantatas themselves (someone named Tadashi Isoyama on Vol.5). Hence the strangeness of some parts of the liner notes (the "light-hearted" nature of the aria, the a-minor for g-minor mix-up) cannot be attributed to any ignorance on Suzuki's part but, as usual, to mistakes in writing, editing, and translating the English liner notes. I find this happens more often than not when the label operates in a non-English based country. Auvidis Astrée is a notorious example. On the whole, though, I think the liner notes to this series are very thorough and perceptive.
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