J.S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 5/Bach Collegium Japan

Review by: John Greene

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

In Vol. 5 of the Bach Collegium Japan’s ongoing cycle of J.S. Bach’s complete cantatas we hear the composer experimenting with widely diverse orchestration, vocal settings, and stylistic tendencies. For example, in the opening of BWV 18 Bach uses the unorthodox scoring of four violas and basso continuo (and includes some extraordinarily lovely bassoon writing), structuring the movement as a kind of hybrid Italian ritornello/French gavotte. Recitatives as well are gradually evolving into borderline arias as Bach increasingly scores additional continuo instrumentation to heighten their dramatic effect.

With the exception of BWV 143 (whose librettist remains anonymous) the librettos of the remaining three cantatas–BWV 152, 155, & 161–were provided by renowned Weimar court poet Salomo Franck, whose collaboration with Bach began in 1714. By now Franck’s highly emotive style was fueling Bach’s creative genius like never before, affording conductor Masaaki Suzuki and his colleagues numerous expressive opportunities that they gladly and fully exploit.

In the enchanting final duet of BWV 152–between Jesus (bass Peter Kooy) and the Soul (soprano Midori Suzuki)–both singers rise to the occasion, delivering characterization that couldn’t be rendered with more humility. Likewise in countertenor Yoshikazu Mera’s reticent though impassioned opening aria of BWV 161 (with recorder obbligato representing the sound of funeral bells) he expertly portrays the nature of the subject. These are but two of innumerable instances where Suzuki complements his soloists’ superb renderings with unfaltering focus and attention to instrumental detail–which happily proves to be the norm for this remarkable cycle. Recommended without reservation.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: this one

J.S. BACH - Cantatas Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee BWV 18; Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele II BWV 143; Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn BWV 152; Mein Gott, wie lang, ach Lang BWV 155; & Komm, du süsse Todesstunde BWV 161

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