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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas Vol. 41: Solo Cantatas
Ich will den Kreuztab gerne tragen
, BWV56 (1726) [17.52]
Ich habe genug, BWV82 (soprano version in E minor) (1727) [21.16]
Der Friede sei mit dir, BWV158 [9.40]
Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke, BWV84 (1727) [13.58]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano) (BWV82, 84); Peter Kooij (bass) (BWV56, 158)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan, September 2007 (BWV 56, 82, 84) and July 2008 (BWV 158)
BIS BISSACD1691 [64.04]



Experience Classicsonline

This is the first of Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach series I have reviewed for MusicWeb International, but not the first to find its way onto my shelves. Each volume I have heard has brought great pleasure, and this, a superb disc in every way, even more than most.

When the authentic performance movement began to go beyond what one might call a kind of awareness and the use of period instruments became widespread, I was amongst those who remained unconvinced. The standard of playing has since improved enormously and the feeling that Bach would surely have preferred the sound of today’s trumpets, say, occurs to me much more rarely now. But what bothered me most, and particularly in Bach, was the near-total abandonment of legato playing and singing. Without doing the necessary research myself, I held the view that if, in Bach’s time, crispness of attack and rhythmic rigour were practised at the expense of legato, it was something we should do well not to emulate. Thankfully, this too has gradually been reviewed, and the present disc is evidence of that. Even in rapid passages the musicians here produce a beautiful, singing line, whether it be vocal or instrumental, which, I feel sure, comes nearer to the immense humanity of Bach’s music than did previous practice.

This volume groups together four solo cantatas, three of which were composed during 1726 and 1727, Bach’s fourth year working as Cantor at Leipzig, and the fourth, BWV158, of uncertain date. They are works of extraordinary richness and each receives an outstanding performance here.

Though the libretto makes no direct reference to it, BWV56 deals with the incident in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Christ heals a man “sick of the palsy”. The cantata is thus an affirmation of faith after a life of “torments”. In the long opening aria, Bach seizes on this word, underlining the idea of suffering with music at once noble and humble. Peter Kooij is magnificent: rich of voice and with an exemplary control of line, he manages to invest the text with all its meaning. In the second aria, a lighter affair, he is in duet with Masamitsu San’nomiya, whose solo oboe sings with a voice no less human and no less moving.

The provenance of Cantata BWV158 is problematical; it may in fact be a collection of cantata movements assembled into one work by someone other than Bach. New to me, it is a real find, in particular the bass aria which is the heart of the work. In this remarkable piece the bass sings in duet with a highly intricate solo for violin. These two voices weave in and out of each other without sharing much in the way of musical material, and there is yet more, as a solo soprano – beautifully sung here by Hana Blažíková – doubled by the oboe, intones, line by line, a chorale. The opening recitative is a prayer for peace at the end of which Bach has the soloist repeat several times the final “Peace be with you” to most touching effect. Peter Kooij is just as persuasive here as he is in the first cantata. 

BWV82 takes as its starting point a story from St. Luke, concerning Simeon, who has been told that death will only take him once he has encountered the Messiah. This duly takes place in the temple where the infant Christ has been brought, whereupon Simeon sings his “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”, which we now refer to as the Nunc dimittis. Bach’s cantata based on this story is a miracle of tranquil contentment, and Carolyn Sampson’s singing is fully worthy of it. Listen to the captivating piano singing in the final paragraph of the second aria, Schlummert ein, for example. She is equally at home in the rapid coloratura of the final aria, in which Simeon, still radiant, explains that he is now actively looking forward to death. And how sensitively managed is the first aria duet with flute player Kiyomi Suga, a wonderful player who does not in the least make us long for a modern instrument. Readers may well know this cantata in its original form for bass, but it is equally affecting here in the transposed version for soprano.

The parable on which Cantata 84 is based, that of the workers in the vineyard who are all paid the same regardless of how many hours they have worked – the last shall be first, and the first last – is not the only one whose message is difficult to swallow nowadays. But Bach and his librettist make of it a wonderful pastoral idyll, with, in particular, the second aria a folk dance (complete with fiddle) transmuted into sacred cantata. No praise can be too high for Carolyn Sampson’s singing here, assuming the simplicity of the protagonists whilst not losing sight of the work’s sacred purpose. The solo playing is once again of exceptional quality, from the orchestra’s leader Natsumi Wakamatsu as well as the oboist previously mentioned.

To these names should be added those of Hiroya Aoki, alto, Robin Blaze, alto, Yusuke Fujii, tenor and Gerd Türk, tenor, who join the soloists in the closing chorales of three of these cantatas. The disc is blessed with excellent insert notes by Klaus Hofmann. He is particularly strong on the biblical context of these cantatas, and I indebted to him for much of the foregoing descriptive information. Mention should also be made of the exemplary English translation by Andrew Barnett: in fact one has no feeling of reading a translation at all. The recording is of the usual BIS quality, rich, and close enough to be immediate and vivid without sacrificing the beautiful ambience of the chapel acoustic. I listened to this SACD in normal stereo, but so beautiful does it sound it made me impatient to hear it in a surround sound setup. However you listen, the high quality presentation and the outstanding quality of the music making come together to create over an hour’s worth of sheer bliss.

William Hedley




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