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Bach: Secular Cantatas Vol 3 / Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan

Bach,J.s. / Bach Collegium Japan
Release Date: 05/28/2013 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 2041  
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Joanne LunnHiroya AokiMakoto SakuradaRoderick Williams
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A selection of Bach's secular smaller-scale choral and vocal works in the Suzuki BIS cantata cycle delights as much as the weightier ones have done.

Masaaki Suzuki is nearing the end of the excellent BIS cycle of all the Bach cantatas. Other complete current cycles of note are those by Ton Koopman on Challenge and John Eliot Gardiner on SDG. This is the only one on SACD although the disks can also be played in stereo on CD players and most computers. It's also a cycle using period instruments; Koopman's and Gardiner's do not.

The third in the much shorter segment containing Bach's secular cantatas, it has four works - or rather three and the Quodlibet fragment, BWV 524. As its name suggests, this may
Read more actually have been a collaboration between several of the wedding guests present at the event for which it was written - before 1707/1708. It follows tradition in containing allusions, extracts of folk music and/or music inspired by folk traditions, drinking songs and the like. Obviously an occasional piece, Suzuki gives it just the right amount of spontaneity and humour - the same, perhaps, as would Bach. Indeed, it begins and includes colloquial, raucous - yet duly measured - quasi-improvised, non-sung exchanges between vocalists, obviously enjoying the event. There’s even some happy glugging!

Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten was also written for a wedding; ten to fifteen years later, though. It's as graciously studied, gentle and expressive as it needs to be; and is given careful exposition by the singers. Soprano Joanne Lunn is particularly effective. In common with the other vocalists throughout the CD - and indeed the entire series - every syllable is carefully articulated. Precision, projection and communication are to the fore though without any hint of preciousness.

Suzuki neither deserts seriousness for levity, nor makes something fey or whimsical of this somewhat lighter form of Bach's writing. Indeed, Durchlauchtster Leopold is as celebratory - of the birthday of the Prince at Anhalt-Köthen - as it seems to be genuinely joyful. We know that Bach was happier there than at any other time in his career.

Schwingt freudig euch empor is just as congratulatory. It appears to be for and about a venerated teacher. The opening chorus is as full of impact as many another sacred cantata by Bach. One cold indulge in serious 'investigation' to discover the origin and circumstances of this lovely little work - and indeed the other: the front and last pages are missing from the Quodlibet, for instance. Suzuki presents what we hear as music offering great delight and substance in its own right. The work's pace and tempi move it when it needs to move - as in that opening - and they linger to savour when we need to reflect, as in the oboe d'amore part of the tenor aria [tr.20] for example.

The blend between sensitive instrumental playing and thoughtful yet never self-important singing is one of the strengths of these performances. They become memorable long after they're over because Suzuki has struck the right balance between revealing Bach as someone responding to a request and a musician in love with the art for its own sake. This is due in no small part to a completely internalised yet quite spontaneous animation which Suzuki - who also plays organ continuo - pulls effortlessly from the music at every turn. At the same time, he brings out the character and personality of Bach's writing - for strings, for example, in the filigree passages towards the end of Schwingt freudig.

The acoustic of the MS&AD Shirakawa concert Hall in Nagoya is clean and responsive. Maybe it lacks a little atmosphere for what are essentially 'occasional' pieces rather than 'eternal' like Bach's other cantatas. It allows the colour and tone of both instrumentalists and singers to predominate. They impress, rather than startle; yet are very much in the foreground. The booklet contains as much explanatory information as we might need if unfamiliar with these works. The full texts in German (also Latin for the Quodlibet) and English are also present.

If you've been delighted by the BIS cycle, you'll want to get this latest release. If you are curious about the Bach who rose to every occasion, and was apparently able to greet diversion with as much of a smile as he did momentousness, these four works are so well performed that they will surely delight as much as Bach must have intended them to do.

-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International

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It’s a sure bet that you’ve never seen a likeness of a smiling J. S. Bach—for the simple reason that none exists. There is only one verified image of our hero; it’s the official portrait that hangs in Leipzig’s Town Hall. Sitting for a portrait in those days was serious business; folks didn’t grin for posterity. And, of course, Bach’s lingering reputation has been of a dour, contentious, malcontent under the thumb of an unsympathetic, parsimonious bureaucracy. In truth, his mindset must have been, by nature, very exacting, and he was never paid to be amusing. Yet, another image (verbal, to be sure) comes from his second and most devoted son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, who remembered his father as a genial man, and whose fond reminiscence of the annual family reunions was reported by Johann Forkel, Bach’s first biographer. These gatherings typically began with appropriately pious solemnity but usually “proceeded to drolleries that made a very great contrast with it. For now they sang popular songs, the contents of which were partly comic and party naughty, all together and ex tempore.…” Keep in mind that the Bachs were, by and large, respectable church folks. But they were also musicians.…


There was name for such a singfest: “quodlibet,” and one, or at least a fragment of one, exists in a shadowy corner of Bach’s enormous output. It’s been recorded at least once before, by Gustav Leonhardt on a 1964 Telefuken LP. Now Masaaki Suzuki has resurrected it. I ought not to engage in ethnic stereotyping, but there is something strangely delicious about the prospect of a Japanese party trying to replicate three-centuries-old German humor. But Suzuki has done it! Leonhardt’s Quodlibet was not at all stodgy, but it was straightforwardly sung, like a motet without the angst. Suzuki, however, goes all out; his Quodlibet is like Comedy Central on the Ginza. The Bachs laughed a lot at such shenanigans; you may, too.


Not everything on the disc is fun and games. The bulk of the program is devoted to two birthday cantatas and a wedding cantata. The birthday cantatas, No. 173a for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen and No. 36c for an unidentified Leipzig professor, were eventually reworked into church cantatas, evidence that Bach took his secular assignments as seriously as his sacred ones. (Bach crafted five versions of No. 36.) Suzuki, too, has given these secular cantatas the same dedication and insight that made his church cantata series, now complete, such a magnificent accomplishment. Cantata 202 is the most popular of Bach’s several wedding cantatas and as such has been recorded by many outstanding sopranos. Lunn’s performance is good, one that I’ll gladly listen to in the context of this disc, but probably not the one that on its own would inspire me to play the disc. My favorite Cantata 202 is still Elly Ameling’s on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.


Overall, this disc merits a solid recommendation. With or without the Quodlibet, it’s a welcome addition to Suzuki’s burgeoning legacy.


FANFARE: George Chien
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Works on This Recording

1.
Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202 "Wedding Cantata" by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Hiroya Aoki (Countertenor), Makoto Sakurada (Tenor),
Roderick Williams (Baritone)
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1718-1723; Cöthen, Germany 
2.
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Hiroya Aoki (Countertenor), Makoto Sakurada (Tenor),
Roderick Williams (Baritone)
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Leipzig, Germany 
3.
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Hiroya Aoki (Countertenor), Makoto Sakurada (Tenor),
Roderick Williams (Baritone)
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa ?1722; Germany 
4.
Quodlibet, BWV 524 [fragment] by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Hiroya Aoki (Countertenor), Makoto Sakurada (Tenor),
Roderick Williams (Baritone)
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1707; Cöthen, Germany 

Sound Samples

Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Recitative: Durchlauchtster Leopold (Soprano)
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Aria: Guldner Sonnen frohe Stunden (Soprano)
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Leopolds Vortrefflichkeiten (Bass)
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Aria: Unter seinem Purpursaum (Soprano, Bass)
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Recitative: Durchlauchtigster, den Anhalt Vater nennt (Soprano, Bass)
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Aria: So schau dies holden Tages Licht (Soprano)
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Aria: Dein Name gleich der Sonnen geh (Bass)
Durchlauchtster Leopold, BWV 173a: Chorus: Nimm auch, grosser Furst, uns auf (Soprano, Bass)
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Aria: Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Recitative: Die Welt wird wieder neu
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Aria: Phoebus eilt mit schnellen Pferden
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Recitative: Drum sucht auch Amor sein Vergnugen
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Aria: Wenn die Fruhlingslufte streichen
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Recitative: Und dieses ist das Glucke
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Aria: Sich uben im Lieben
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Recitative: So sei das Band der keuschen Liebe
Weichet nur, betrubte Schatten, BWV 202, "Wedding Cantata": Aria (Gavotte): Sehet in Zufriedenheit
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Schwingt freudig euch empor (Chorus)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Recitative: Ein Herz, in zartlichem Empfinden (Tenor)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Aria: Die Liebe fuhrt mit sanften Schritten (Tenor)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Recitative: Du bist es ja, o hochverdienter Mann (Bass)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Aria: Der Tag, der dich vordem gebar (Bass)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Recitative: Nur dieses Einzge sorgen wir (Soprano)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Aria: Auch mit gedampften, schwachen Stimmen (Soprano)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Recitative: Bei solchen freudenvollen Stunden (Tenor)
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36c: Chorus and Recitative: Wie die Jahre sich verneuen (Tenor, Bass, Soprano)
Quodlibet, BWV 524

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