Marvelous Soloists and Performance
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Discovering Suzuki's Bach Cantatas has been a revelation. For twenty years I've avoided buying a complete Cantata series because I found the performances from disc to disc too uneven. I've just heard volume 11 (listed on Amazon) and it is stunning. Volume 2 has the incomparable Japanese counter tenor Yoshikazu Mera. Both soprano soloists (Midori Suzuki and A. Yanagisawa)along with tenor Gerd Tuerk and bass Peter Kooy do marvelous work. Especially moving to me is Cantata 131, (Out of the depths I cry to you, Oh Lord). Cantata 71 is simply jubilent (God is my King). I think Suzuki equals or surpasses Ton Koopman and P. Herreweghe in technical excellence. But what makes his recordings especially great is the way he captures the spirituality of the texts and their music. He seems to understand the music more profoundly than do his European rivals from Koopman to Gardiner."
The TRUTH of Bach
J. Anderson | Monterey, CA USA | 01/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Being an 'Actus tragicus' man deep to my bones, I covetously own ten professional versions (and three college recordings), and along comes this reading by Bach Collegium Japan ensemble under Masaaki Suzuki and blows my entire cache AND me off the map! It's no hyperbole to say: THIS is the truth of Bach. Rarely has any recording humbled me so completely as this amazing ensemble's rendering of Bach's little funeral cantata of humble mein. I listened last night - for three hours - to this astonishing recording, lost for words, but went to bed a grateful man. The soul-cleansing accomplished by this ensemble of musicians is overwhelming; fidelity to composer and score bathed in musicianship so pure every iota of Bach's genius, subsumed in profound spirituality, becomes the gritty, everlasting peace of life and death. No other reading I've encountered has comparably revealed Bach the man of God in language so plain, and profound. From musicianship of this depth arises spiritual experience. Using the old-fashioned instrumental framework - two recorders, two viola da gamba and continuo - the opening Sonatina instantly cedes to the spiritual everything that will come. The singing of countertenor Yoshikazu Mera is so beautiful you have to grow a new heart to hold it. This young master (b. 1971) delivers 'In deine Hande' like a witness of the ages - burning with simplicity. Soprano Midori Suzuki sings section II's concluding cry for deliverance - 'Komm, Herr Jesu' - with unearthly sympathy. All the soloists entwine perfectly with one another and with Bach. Cantata 71 (God is My King) is superbly realised, the trumpets brilliantly recorded and the singing unified beyond belief. Finally, the acoustic of the Shoin Women's University Chapel recording location is a revelation. This remarkable recording surely points the way for every musician looking to find Bach - in the heart of musicianship able to speak the spiritual. I immediately ordered three more Cantata recordings by Bach Collegium Japan. Acquire this Bach with joy."
Among the Best
Stephen McLeod | New York, NY USA | 09/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is almost certain that Bach, at least for his early cantatas, composed them with the expectation that each entire work be performed by four soloists - no choir or "ripienists," just 4 "concertists." Joshua Rifkin was the most notable and earliest proponents of this theory, and Rifkin's Bach Ensemble recorded them as such., For that and many other reasons, the Rifkin recordings are the gold standard, both for their formal clarity and beauty of performance. (See my review of that recording.)
Nevertheless, these recordings have all the depth and spiritual truth (as noted by an earlier reviewer) that one could ask for from a performance of these works. And the musicianship of the conductor, chorus (just a few extra singers, not a great wall of sound as is encountered, for instance, in John Eliot Gardiner's work) and soloists here is so breathtaking that even die-hard partisans of the OVPP performance practice (such as this writer) will find this record indispensible.
The album here features 3 cantatas, among Bach's earliest, composed while he was the organist at the Blasiuskirche in the imperial free city of Mullhausen (umlaut over the "u"), 1707-08 - where Bach was employed as organist in his early twenties. Cantatas 131 and 106 are among Bach's most popular cantatas, and deservedly so. Cantata 106, called the "Actus Tragicus" (so-named named after that title appeared on the heading of an early edition), is, according to Alfred Durr (umlaut over the "u"), "a work of genius such as even great masters seldom acheive", which "belongs to the great musical literature of the world." Cantata 131, whose title/first line, "Aus der Tiefen," ("Out of the depths") is based nearly entirely on the text of Psalm 130, and might have been written as a memorial service, but which, in any case, has a funereal character, and is up there with the Actus Tragicus in popularity.
As on this album, 106 and 131 are very frequently played/recorded together, composed perhaps weeks apart (131 could be Bach's first church cantata, 106 on its heels). Cantata 71 - written for the Council Elections at Mullhausen during the same brief period is lesser known but is an amazing acheivment in its own right. Interestingly, for 71, Bach actually distinguished the music sung by the soloists and that sung by the soloists (optionally) augmented by one or two singers in each part called "ripienists," that is, "fillers."
Which brings us to this recording. The Bach Collegium Japan uses more than one voice per part, but not many more, and the conductor, Masaaki Suzuki, employs an acumen for period instrumentation and performance practice that seems a response to nothing less than divine vocation.
The bulk of the music in these three cantatas is carried by the soloists, each of whom has a voice and vocal technique that is so fluent and pure as to render one speechless before its unmatched elegance and beauty. The highlight of this group is undoubtedly the amazing countertenor, Yoshikazu Mera who, in 106 bestows the aria "In deine haende" as though a donation from the spheres themselves. As an earlier reviewer noted, Mera announces his parts in this music with a level of virtuosity seldom encountered anywhere, an unassailable demonstration that Beauty, along with Unity, Goodness, and Truth, is a transcendental attribute. Almost equally compelling is the spectacular soprano Aki Yanagisawa, who sings on 106. The other soloists are also very fine.
As much as I love the Rifkin recordings, I return again and again to these "to refresh the spirit" as Bach once wrote of his musical purpose. If you don't know the OVPP sound, you should really listen to Rifkin. But this music is so great that if you're like me, you'll need several recordings. I hope that you will share my enthusiasm for this great album."