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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings – Volume 1
Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV1052 (c. 1730) [21:56]
Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV1056 (c. 1730) [9:12]
Concerto No. 8 in D minor, BWV1059R (reconstructed) [15:40]
Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV1053 (c. 1730) [18:58]
Masato Suzuki (harpsichord)
Bach Collegium Japan
rec. 2018, Yamaha Hall, Tokyo
BIS BIS2401 SACD [66:34]

The idea of a dynasty is present in the history of the Bach family, so it is not inappropriate to mention the same idea in connection with the father-and-son combination of Masato and Masaaki Suzuki in terms of that remarkable enterprise, Bach Collegium Japan.

Masato features here as keyboard virtuoso, directing the performances from the harpsichord. His remarkable virtuosity is beautifully projected by BIS’s excellent SACD recording. Every note is clear in a wonderfully ambient acoustic.

The provenance of Bach’s keyboard concertos remains a matter of some conjecture. The most likely scenario is that when he took over the Leipzig Collegium Musicum concerts around 1730, he reworked existing violin concertos from his C÷then period (1717-1723) for the very different solo instrument, the harpsichord. There are some compelling reasons for this solution, as the insert notes tell us. And along the way the music was often reworked into music for Bach’s annual cantata cycles.

Perhaps the finest of these concertos is the D minor, BWV1052, whose ‘original’ violin concerto is lost. There are references in the music to different cantatas, in this case BWV146 and BWV188. Each of them included an organ concerto movement as sinfonia, while the profound intimacy of the central Adagio of the concerto refers to the opening chorus of the cantata. Suzuki’s performance is exemplary at either end of the spectrum, be it inwardness of virtuoso dexterity.

The F minor Concerto, BWV1056, is another masterwork, though on a slightly smaller scale, and it contains one of Bach’s most notable slow movements. Here the combination of perfectly judged phrasing in the keyboard part is matched with some beautifully extended string lines. The E major Concerto BWV1053, also known in arrangement for solo oboe, probably began life as a violin concerto back in C÷then. Be that as it may, it provides further testimony to Bach’s endless adaptability.

Thus it is that the most unusual arrangement here is that by Suzuki himself, in what is referred to as BWV1059R, which like the other works takes music that was also used in cantatas. Only some of this work survived in manuscript form. To quote Yo Tomita’s notes: “BWV1059 is known to us in a nine-bar fragment in Bach’d original score. An earlier version of the piece – a three-movement concerto for organ – survives in the form of movements 1, 2 and 5 of the Cantata BWV35. While this cantata was first performed on 8th September 1726, the actual date of composition of the concerto movements was probably much earlier. The reconstruction included on the present disc is by Masato Suzuki, who has taken on the challenge of turning it into an effective harpsichord concerto, thereby continuing Bach’s attempt to reinvigorate the piece.”

All this is perfectly logical and worthwhile, but in one respect of scoring this particular endeavour is different, since an obbligato oboe doubles the first violin line. This creates an effect of Hauptstimme (leading voice) which takes away the subtlety of some of Bach’s miraculous counterpoint by dominating the main line in quite a heavy way. Others may enjoy this procedure more than I did.

This generously compiled combination of masterworks, with its added bonus of a new rarity, will bring great enjoyment to the listener, in terms of both the excellent sound and the sparkling performances.
 
Terry Barfoot



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