Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Wonderful, wonderful music presented by performers at the top of their game.
Cantatas, Vol. 47: Nos. 36, 47, 27
Masaaki Suzuki (cond); Hana Blažíková (sop); Robin Blaze (ct); Satoshi Mizukoshi (ten); Peter Kooij (bs); Bach Collegium (period instruments)
BIS CD-1861 (68:27
Text and Translation)
I’ve been off the Suzuki beat for a while, so it’s gratifying to discover that the franchise has not suffered from my absence. Suzuki and company are as accomplished and as inspiring as I remembered them to be. The disc cover states that Volume 47’s three cantatas are “from Leipzig 1726,” but that is not quite accurate. Cantata 36 was adapted in 1726 for church use from a birthday tribute composed in 1725. It was obviously one of Bach’s own favorites; he made at least three other versions—two secular and the final one, revised and slightly expanded, in 1731, which Suzuki has recorded here. Nos. 47 and 27, first performed in October of 1726, belong to the third Leipzig cycle. The three cantatas appear on the disc in the reverse order of their actual use.
The opening movement of Cantata 27, based of the Gospel story of the awakening from the dead of the young man from Nain, is an elegiac chorale setting in 3/4 time with superimposed commentary from three soloists. The young man comes back to life in a jaunty aria for alto oboe da caccia with keyboard accompaniment. A harpsichord was indicated in the score, but the extant part is for the organ. Suzuki plays the harpsichord version in the cantata but the organ version is given in an appendix. Trivia alert: The solo passages in the opening movement are, according to Durr, “the only example of recitative in 3/4 time in the whole of Bach.” And the final chorale setting calls for five voices, not the usual four. What is going on here?
The subject of Cantata 47 is the danger of hubris. Bach opens with one of his most magnificent fugal choruses. The ensuing soprano aria was originally accompanied by an obbligato organ, presumably played by Bach himself. A later version with the obbligato assigned to the violin is played here.
The newly revised Cantata 36, with its joyous opening chorus, announced the Advent season to the Leipzig congregation. For his final version in 1731, Bach eliminated all recitatives and added three varied settings of the Advent chorale
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
. An enchanting aria for soprano and violin precedes the concluding chorale.
Suzuki has added two splendid new soloists to his stable since my last encounter: tenor Satoshi Mizukoshi and soprano Hana Blažíková. Robin Blaze and Peter Kooij, of course, are treasured Suzuki regulars. The chorus and orchestra have not lost any of their enthusiasm over this recording marathon. Suzuki’s insightful leadership has seen to that. Make this another glowing recommendation for yet another superb installment in this marvelous series.
FANFARE: George Chien
As he approaches the home straight, Mazaaki Suzuki could be forgiven for resting on his laurels. But no, this 47
th volume of his Bach Cantata Cycle is as good as any of its predecessors. There are plenty of surprises here too; in fact Suzuki and Bach make a good team. They are both endlessly inventive musicians, but each has a real sensitivity to the necessary balance between continuity and innovation in liturgical music.
'Schwingt freudig euch empor' BWV 36 is a large two-part Cantata for the first Sunday of advent; curious that BIS should choose to release the disc on 29 November, the day after the celebration in question. It is a great piece and contains perhaps the finest of Bach's many settings of the Luther choral 'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland', this one a duet for soprano and alto (counter-tenor). The Cantata is an ambitious work on many levels, and poses a number of tricky musical problems. The obbligato instruments are a pair of oboe d'amore, instruments not known for their soloistic potential. The principled stand by BIS against post-production jiggery-pokery means that Suzuki has to find his own solutions to the balance issues in the opening chorus, where his two alto woodwind instruments are up against the full weight of the choir. Fortunately, the players, Masamitsu San'nomiya and Yukari Maehashi, both have a rich but focused tone that carries across almost any ensemble. And anyway, Suzuki is clearly just as concerned to project the sound of the continuo here. In general, the recording quality on this disc is excellent, but no individual line is ever exaggerated. The textures can sound a little flat when listening to at mid or low volume. But turn it up a notch or two and the whole thing comes to life.
The scale of 'Schwingt freudig' is demonstrated by the fact that it involves all four of the soloists. They are a diverse group, and none the worse for that. The 'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland' succeeds partly because of the contrast between soprano Hana Blažíková and counter-tenor Robin Blaze. Blažíková has a fairly operatic tone, with lots of colour and projection, although thankfully only the bare minimum of vibrato. Blaze has a more collegiate sound, surprisingly grounded for a counter-tenor, but with plenty of energy and no problems at all with the top notes.
Satoshi Mizukoshi is one of the very few Japanese vocal soloists to have appeared on Suzuki's Bach Cantata cycle. Why so few? Who knows, but I dearly hope it is not because the label thinks Mark Padmore and co. move more units. Mizukoshi is great. He has a very heady voice, but it is clear, precise and has an even tone right across the range. Some may find his performances here a little anonymous, but not me, I think this is exactly the amount of personality a tenor needs for the baroque repertoire. Mind, I understand he also specialises in the Evangelist roles in Bach's Passions, so I hope he has a bit more charisma saved up for those appearances.
Bass Peter Kooij has just one aria in the first Cantata, but has more to do in the second 'Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden' BWV 47. I'll confess to having mixed feelings about Kooij's recent contributions to this cycle; he's not a young man, and by comparison with his earlier Bach Cantata appearances under Herreweghe he can seem a little underpowered these days. But then, he was always a soft-toned singer, so perhaps the change is minimal. In fact his singing here is very good, and his soft, round tone adds another dimension of contrast to the line-up of soloists. There are just one or two points though, where the support he gives to longer, lower notes highlights a lack of similar stability in the higher passage work.
The Cantata BWV 47 is for the 17
th Sunday after Trinity, so (unusually for this cycle) we are jumping around the liturgical calendar on this album. However, all the Cantatas are from the same year, 1726, and there is a certain continuity of style. However, both the second and third Cantatas on the disc are of a more modest, or at least standard, scale in comparison with 'Swingt freudig'. So the contribution of the choir gradually reduces as the disc goes on, which is a shame because they are great, precise as ever and producing a real range of timbres and textures.
'Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende' BWV 27 takes us back a week, to the 16
th Sunday after Trinity. It is the shortest Cantata here and also the most sombre. The orchestration includes an oboe, an oboe da caccia and a horn, though we don't hear much from him. The textures are quite compacted around the middle register, but as before, just turning the dial up a notch or two brings all the clarity the music needs. The third movement of the Cantata is a counter-tenor aria 'Willkommen! will ich sagen' and it's a real tough sing. The voice is above the obbligato da caccia almost throughout and most of his phrases are long, loud and high. Once or twice you can hear Robin Blaze struggling at the ends of phrases, but on the whole it is a heroic effort.
But just when he thought it was all over, what’s this? There is a bonus track on the end of the disc which is the same movement but with organ rather than harpsichord continuo. Suzuki explains in his (as ever) comprehensive performance notes that there is some ambiguity in the sources about which instrument to use, so he has decided to record it twice. As it happens, the results bear out the decision; the continuo part is in fast quavers throughout, so playing it on a sustaining rather than a percussive instrument creates a completely different atmosphere. But poor old Robin Blaze! Actually, his second performance of the aria is better, partly due, I suspect, to the reduced competition from the instrumental ensemble.
So, another fine instalment from Suzuki and his team. I'd say this disc is a must for Bach fans, and for anybody interested in what high end audio can do for the baroque repertoire. And just one last mention for that 'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland' setting – wonderful, wonderful music presented by performers at the top of their game and recorded in the best audio that modern technology has to offer. If you're in two minds about this disc, that one track should be the decider.
-- Gavin Dixon, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Robin Blaze (Countertenor),
Hana Blazikova (Soprano),
Peter Kooy (Bass),
Satoshi Mizukoshi (Tenor)
Bach Collegium Japan
Written: 1731; Leipzig, Germany
Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende, BWV 27 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Hana Blazikova (Soprano),
Peter Kooy (Bass),
Satoshi Mizukoshi (Tenor)
Bach Collegium Japan
Written: 1726; Leipzig, Germany
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