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Bach: Cantatas Vol 55 - Nos 30, 69, 191 / Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan

Bach / Bach Collegium Japan / Suzuki
Release Date: 11/19/2013 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 2031  
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Hana BlazikovaRobin BlazeGerd TürkPeter Kooy
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BACH Cantatas Nos. 69 1; 30 2; 191 3 Masaaki Suzuki, cond; Hana Blažiková (sop); 1,2 Robin Blaze (ct); Gerd Türk (ten); 1,2 Peter Kooij (bs); Bach Collegium Japan (period instruments) BIS 2031 (SACD: 68:40 Text and Translation) Read more />

With this release, Suzuki’s Bach sacred cantatas cycle, sadly, comes to an end. I say “sadly” because I’ve collected every volume in the series and have found them, overall, to be so consistently excellent and satisfying that I’ve eagerly looked forward to each new volume and wish there were another 100 cantatas still to come. Alas, there aren’t, and on that subject, a few words of explanation are order.

Right from the beginning it was clear that the cantatas were not going to appear in numerical order, so I created a list for myself that cross-referenced the cantata number with the BIS volume number on which it could be found. This final volume in the series does include a separate insert that provides a similar cross-referenced list.

At the same time that I created my own list, however, I put together a second one with a complete inventory of Bach’s sacred cantatas; then, as I acquired each new BIS volume, I deleted the cantatas it contained from my complete inventory list and added them to my released and accounted-for list. Thus, as one list shrank, the other grew, allowing me to keep track of which cantatas were still outstanding.

When the current Volume 55 arrived with an attached decal declaring it to be the final release in the series, I said to myself, “that can’t be right,” because there were still eight entries on my yet-to-come list:

11 Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen ( Ascension Oratorio )

193 Ihr Tore zu Zion [incomplete]

198 Laß, Fürstin, laß einen Strahl

217 Gedenke, Herr, wie es uns gehet!

218 Gott der Hoffnung erfülle euch

219 Siehe, es hat überwunden der Löwe

220 Lobt ihn mit Herz und Munden

249 Kommt, eilet und laufet ( Easter Oratorio )

I reasoned that even if you omitted 11 and 249, which are classified as oratorios, and 193, which exists only in fragmentary form, it would still leave five cantatas unaccounted for: 198, 217, 218, 219, and 220. So, my curiosity getting the better of me, I contacted Robert Bahr of BIS, who kindly forwarded my inquiry on to Leif Hasselgren, who, I presume, has served as a consultant in some capacity on this project. In very short order, I received a reply from Mr. Hasselgren, which I quote here as follows:

“BWV 11 and 249 have been recorded by BCJ and Masaaki Suzuki and are released on BIS-SACD-1561 as an ‘oratorio disc’ (I think Gardiner also doesn’t include them in his series?).

“BWV 193, as you say, is incomplete, with quite a lot of material missing, and the decision was therefore made not to include it.

“BWV 198, at least according to some sources—for instance en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%9F,_F%C3%BCrstin,_la%C3%9F_noch_einen_Strahl,_BWV_198—is, strictly speaking, not a sacred cantata but a secular one (albeit of a rather solemn kind), composed for a funeral ceremony, but not for use during a regular church service. It will therefore be included in the series of secular cantatas which BCJ and Suzuki are continuing with.

“As for BWV 217–220, they have all been ascribed to Bach, but are now generally regarded as having been composed by others (218 and 219 by Telemann, and 217 and 220 by unknown composers. See, for instance, the individual posts here, on the Bach Cantata web site: bach-cantatas.com.”

I’ll just add that Hasselgren is correct that Gardiner did not include any of the above items as part of his Bach Pilgrimage Project, but much earlier, for Arkiv in 1993, he did record BWV 11, the Ascension Oratorio separately (as has Suzuki), and in 1989, also for Arkiv, he recorded BWV 198 (which Suzuki hasn’t). To even things out, though, Suzuki has recorded BWV 249, the Easter Oratorio , separately, which, as far as I can tell, Gardiner hasn’t.

For this final volume of the series, Suzuki gives us three cantatas, No. 69, Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele , No. 30, Freue dich, erlöste Schar , and No. 191, Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Oddly, as quoted above, Hasselgren indicates that BWV 198 was rejected for inclusion in the sacred cantatas cycle because it is deemed essentially a secular work not intended for regular church service. If that criterion were applied consistently, then BWV 69 on the current disc would not be included either, for here’s the lowdown on this particular cantata.

According to the very web site Hasselgren cites above (bach-cantatas.com), BWV 69 is believed to date from 1748, but it shares the same title with a much earlier cantata, BWV 69a, dated 1723. The problem is that the later cantata, BWV 69—the one on this disc—is a reworking of BWV 69a for a secular occasion, namely, a town council inauguration. It’s the earlier BWV 69a which is the actual sacred cantata, having been composed for the 12th Sunday after Trinity, and it appeared on Volume 13 of Suzuki’s cycle, raising the question of why BWV 69, essentially a secular cantata, “albeit of a rather solemn kind,” to use Hasselgren’s words, was included, while BWV 198 wasn’t.

Oh well, moving on. BWV 30, Freue dich, erlöste Schar , is provisionally dated 1738, and was composed for the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, celebrated on June 24th. In two parts, it’s one of Bach’s longer cantatas, and it’s also one of his more popular ones, featuring a sequence of memorably tuneful choruses and solo arias. It’s a bit surprising that Suzuki waited so long to get around to it, but then I guess you can say he was saving one of the best for last.

Somewhat the opposite situation exists regarding BWV 30 from that involving BWV 69 and 69a. There exists also a BWV 30a, Angenehmes Wiederau, freue dich in deinen Auen! , which is a reworking of material from BWV 30 into a secular “homage” cantata for Johann Christian von Hennicke. In this case, however, it’s the sacred cantata, BWV 30, that preceded its secularization as BWV 30a. I mention this only because, as a secular cantata, BWV 30a did not make it into Suzuki’s sacred cantata cycle, but Ton Koopman included it on Volume 22 of his Bach cantata cycle.

Lastly, we come to BWV 191, Gloria in excelsis Deo, the oddball, if you will, among the entire canon of cantatas, not just those on this disc. It’s said to be the only one in Bach’s over 200 sacred cantatas that is set in Latin. Depending on what source you read, it was composed either in 1733 or sometime between 1743 and 1746. That’s quite a range, but a more careful reading of the work’s origin explains the discrepancy. Bach cannibalized the cantata’s three movements from the Gloria of an earlier Missa breve , hence the date, 1733. He would then subsequently re-cannibalize the same source for the Gloria of the B-Minor Mass.

More settled is that BWV 191 was written for and performed on Christmas Day, 1743, 1744, 1745, or 1746—perhaps in each of those four years, since there was no law against the same cantata being performed more than once or in more than one venue. Bach apparently thought highly enough of the music to reuse it in at least three different works.

If Suzuki’s sacred cantata cycle had to come to end, as all things must, it goes out in a blaze of glory. Every chorister, solo vocalist, and instrumentalist must have sensed the momentousness of the occasion and given an extra measure of their all to this effort. It’s really not fair to single out individuals for special recognition, since every last participant performs magnificently, but fairness aside, I must compliment Jean-François Madeuf for his brilliant trumpeting in the opening chorus to BWV 69. I was critical of Madeuf for some imperfect playing in BWV 14 on Volume 54, but he has here redeemed himself splendiferously.

Next, countertenor Robin Blaze sings the lengthy, florid aria “Meine Seele” from BWV 69 with such ease of voice and sweetness of tone that you wouldn’t know you were listening to a male alto, which, I suppose, is like saying a performance on period instruments is so good it sounds like a performance on modern instruments. I mean that as high praise, though it may not come across that way.

“Gelobet sei Gott,” from BWV 30, has to be one of Bach’s most joyful bass arias, and Peter Kooij communicates its essence with infectious delight. Later, in the same cantata, soprano Hana Blažiková distinguishes herself in a beautifully sung “Eilt, ihr Stunden.”

If I’ve failed so far to mention Gerd Türk, it’s only because in the first two cantatas, BWV 69 and BWV 30, Bach assigns the tenor only two short recitatives, but finally, in BWV 191, he gets a duet with the soprano, and he’s worth waiting for.

Gloria in excelsis Deo indeed—a glorious end to a most prodigious project! Congratulations to all. It only remains now for BIS to box up these 55 discs into an integral set, which sooner or later is bound to happen. But don’t wait. Buy this now.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele; und vergiss nicht, was er dir Gutes getan, BWV 69 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Hana Blazikova (Soprano), Robin Blaze (Countertenor), Gerd Türk (Tenor),
Peter Kooy (Bass)
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1743; Leipzig, Germany 
Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Hana Blazikova (Soprano), Robin Blaze (Countertenor), Gerd Türk (Tenor),
Peter Kooy (Bass)
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Written: after 1740 
Freue dich, erlöste Schar, BWV 30 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Hana Blazikova (Soprano), Robin Blaze (Countertenor), Gerd Türk (Tenor),
Peter Kooy (Bass)
Conductor:  Masaaki Suzuki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bach Collegium Japan
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1738; Leipzig, Germany 

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