Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl, BWV 198 [33:24]
Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde, aria, BWV 53 [7:00]
Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden (Psalm 51), BWV 1083 [37:39]
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
Joanne Lunn (soprano) (BWV 198); Carolyn Sampson (soprano) (BWV 1083); Robin Blaze (alto) (BWV 53; 1083); Gerd Türk (tenor) (BWV 198); Dominik Wörner (bass) (BWV 198)
rec. February 2015, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan.
BIS BIS-2181 SACD [78:55]

Masaaki Suzuki’s fine recordings of Bach’s cantatas and other works, both choral and instrumental, have been well documented on this site (see collected reviews here). This release is volume 6 of the secular cantatas, works written as commissions for a variety of purposes rather than for church services.

Cantata BWV 198, the Trauerode or funeral ode was composed for an elaborate ceremony in the Paulinerkirche in Leipzig in 1727. This marked the death of Christiane Eberhardine, wife of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Bach recycled some of the movements from this work for his lost St Mark Passion, and the remarkable quality of the music here reflects the status of an event that had political implications and involved the higher echelons of society. There is also reason to think that he would have introduced elements of this cantata into the Köthener Trauermusik recently reconstructed in another superbly produced recording on Harmonia Mundi (see review). Enriched with flutes, oboes d’amore and lutes, this cantata has a richness of orchestration which allows for plenty of special moments, such as the wind player’s ticking in Der Glecken bebendes Getön … The singing is excellent, with Robin Blaze beautifully controlled and focused in those exceptionally long notes in Wie starb die Heldin so vergnügt!

Compared to BWV 198 there is much less known about the origins of Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083. The booklet notes pose the question as to why Bach, at a late stage in his life in around 1746, made an arrangement of Pergolesi’s Stabat mater. The text is a German version of Psalm 51, used as a replacement for the medieval sequence adopted by Pergolesi exploring the theme of Mary’s mourning of Christ at the cross. Despite the religious sources this work seems not to have served any liturgical purpose. Speculation aside, for those of us who know and love Pergolesi’s original, Bach’s version provides an excuse to connect with wonderful music filtered through the lens of northern Protestantism. It also possesses a Mediterranean melodic grace which acts as a softener for the German language. With Bach’s expert touch the material is adapted to his own, less operatic ends.

These two sublime and superbly performed works are divided by the aria Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde, BWV 53, now believed not to be by Bach, but due to a publishing mix-up to probably be by Melchior Hoffmann (c. 1679-1715). It would be a shame for the reputation of this funeral aria to come crashing down just because it turns out not to be by Bach. It is a charming piece, and with its subtly chiming bells proves to be more than just an orphaned oddity.

There are quite a few alternative recordings around for these works, and looking at BWV 198 you might be attracted to the measured opening and heightened drama of Ton Koopman on Challenge Classics. Then there’s the sprightly and up-tempo John Eliot Gardiner on Deutsche Grammophon/Archiv. These are all excellent performances and recordings, but if you are already an admirer of Masaaki Suzuki, his team of musicians and the BIS label’s superlatively transparent engineering, then this will already be on your shopping list, and rightly so – it’s a hard act to beat.

Dominy Clements

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