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Masaaki Suzuki & Bach Collegium Japan
Cantatas Vol. 11
Cantatas BWV 136, BWV 138, BWV 95, BWV 46

C-11

J.S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 11 - Cantatas from Leipzig 1723 / IV - BWV 46, 95, 136, 138

 
 

Cantatas BWV 46 [17:55], BWV 95 [17:57], BWV 136 [14:50], BWV 138 16:02]

Masaaki Suzuki

Bach Collegium Japan

Soprano: Midori Suzuki; Counter-tenor: Kai Wessel; Tenor: Makoto Sakurada; Bass: Peter Kooy

BIS 991

Sep 1998

CD / TT: 67:59

Recorded at the Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan.
See: Cantatas Vol. 11 - conducted by Masaaki Suzuki
Buy this album at:
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Suzuki - Vol. 11

Samuel Frederick wrote (October 21, 1999):
The 11th volume of the Suzuki cantata series should have hit the stores by now. Has anyone seen it, or better yet, heard it? I don't think it's made it to the US quite yet (maybe I'm wrong, though, and I just haven't been looking well enough here in the Boston area) -- haven't seen it at Internet CD shops either -- but perhaps it's made it into European stores... I'd like to know who the soloists are and, well, if it's as good as its predecessors.

Samuel Frederick wrote (November 18, 1999):
I haven't seen this eleventh volume of Suzuki's cantata series in stores (maybe it sold out?), and neither does it appear on amazon's web site. It is out, isn't it? Matthew, have you heard it? Why is it not up at amazon yet?

I guess Suzuki's SMP is still planned for a Dec. 6th release. Cross your fingers on this one.

Ryan Michero wrote (November 18, 1999):
CDNow lists the US release date as November 23, so that's why you haven't seen it yet. Here's a link to the preorder page at CDNow, if you're interested: CD Now

I'll post a review of Vol.11 as soon as I can get my hands on it.

(Suzuki's SMP) It may be released on Dec. 6th--but maybe not in the US. If you can't wait you could order these kinds of discs from overseas, but they're expensive enough as it is! I'm pretty excited though. Judging from Suzuki's incredible St. John Passion recording, his St. Matthew should be great.

Donald Satz wrote (November 18, 1999):
At CDNow, Vol.11 is an "advance" order with an expected release date of November 23. Whether this information should be believed or not is another matter. I ordered Vol.10 from them and was eventually told they couldn't get it, so I picked it up in a local store.

Matthew Westphal wrote (November 19, 1999):
It is up (but not yet really catalogued) at Amazon: Amazon.com

I just got my review copy today. The US release date is November 23. It may be a "special order" item for a few weeks thereafter; then again, it may not. This has been the case with Qualiton titles for some time (though it seems to have gotten better in recent months) -- the source of the bottleneck (when it occurs) is evidently between Qualiton and Valley Entertainment in California (the fulfillment house that supplies CD's to Amazon, CD Now and others).

I don't want to put people off Qualiton Imports (a neighbor of mine), a company that provides a tremendous service -- and a none-too-lucrative one, no doubt -- to US classical music and early music lovers. As I said, the immediately-post-release-date availability of those titles has gotten better lately, but it's still a bit uncertain.

Patrik Enander wrote (November 23, 1999):
I saw it in the shop today. He employs a new alto Kai Wessel. I haven't heard him I think he is on the Koopman-team.

Patrik Enander wrote (November 25, 1999):
I'm listening to this CD as I write this. All of the cantatas are new to me, but this CD seems to be on the same high level as the previous ones I've heard.

Ryan Michero wrote (December 17, 1999):
Here is my review for Vol.11 of Suzuki's complete cantata series, and it's a big one! Enjoy!

Volume 11

Suzuki is still working his way through Bach's first cycle of Leipzig cantatas. Many of these pieces are not well-known and were written under extreme time constraints. Hence, Bach's inspiration is not uniformly high--it is merely astoundingly high! In spite of some awkwardness in these pieces here and there, Bach still managed to craft some fine, unified works with many exceptional movements. There are some great moments in the cantatas on Suzuki's Vol.11, and all four are lovely, fascinating works if not "favorites." Additionally, I think some cantata recording devotees will be surprised by some of Suzuki's revelations in this volume. It goes without saying that Suzuki's exceptionally high standards are maintained here, and for fans like me this volume is self-recommending. On to the individual cantatas:

BWV 136 - "Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz"
This is a fine cantata overall, given a convincing performance by Suzuki and the BCJ. The opening chorus, which Bach parodied in the A-major Missa, comes over well, with a lively tempo, fresh and virtuosic choral singing, and a ravishing orchestral sound. I must make special mention of the excellent horn playing of Toshio Shimada (whose contributions are a highlight of this volume) and the joyous harpsichord continuo playing of Masaaki Suzuki himself. In a note on performance, Suzuki explains why he employs harpsichord in three of the cantatas on this disc, based on evidence in the surviving parts. I think it works very well, never too obtrusive, and adding to the immediacy of the expression (it helps that Suzuki is a first rate continuo player). After a dramatically sung tenor recitative by Makoto Sakurada, there is an aria for alto with oboe d'amore obbligato played by excellent Koopman regular Marcel Ponseele. Suzuki's Counter-tenor on this volume, Kai Wessel, has also contributed to Koopman's cantata recordings. Personally, I find his singing of this aria a bit disappointing, with tension and expression uncharacteristically low for Suzuki's series (Harnoncourt's version with Esswood is better here--see below). After a bass recitative excellently sung by Peter Kooy, whose singing is a source of constant pleasure, there comes a duet for tenor and bass with string accompaniment. The string ritornello of the duet sounds wonderful, sharply articulated, with the rhythm irresistibly swung by Suzuki--very Bachian. The voices of Sakurada and Kooy, singing in canon, blend beautifully here. This is one of those times where it is hard for me imagining a movement being better performed. The final chorale, in five-part harmony with a violin line soaring through the voices, sounds gorgeous.

BWV 138 - "Warum betruebst du dich, mein Herz"
This is an interesting work about renouncing material riches for the glory of heaven, strangely juxtaposing earthbound worries with heavenly peace. The two opening movements are experimental, mixing serene chorales and impassioned recitative. Suzuki makes sense of thejuxtapositions, making the unusual structures seem dramatically natural. Kai Wessel makes a stronger impression in the recitative passages of the first movement than in the previous work, singing with much expression and drama. In the second movement, bass, soprano, and alto all have their moments in the spotlight with recitative alternating with choral passages. This movement marks soprano Midori Suzuki's return to the role of soloist (welcome back) and she sounds great. Wessel and Kooy impress as well, and the pacing again makes dramatic sense of Bach's musical juxtapositions. After a sweet tenor recitative in which fear and trepidation give way to peace, the fourth movement, a virtuoso aria for bass, appears and steals the show. This incredible minuet-like aria in D-major has a joyous string ritornello and impressive coloratura passages for the singer. Suzuki, the BCJ strings, and Kooy all surpass themselves, and the result is pure Bach bliss. A WOW moment! After a short alto recitative renouncing material things, there is a richly accompanied chorale, apparently illustrating the riches of heaven. It sweeps by beautifully, a rich tapestry of sound.

BWV 95 - "Christus der ist mein Leben"
This cantata is a complicated, conflicted piece dealing with the troubles of the world and longing for death. The writer of the liner notes seems to think it represents a questioning or criticism of Lutheran dogma by Bach. I'm not sure if I agree, but it does seem to me that Bach is playing up the contrast between the almost flippant Lutheran dogma of acceptance of death with the anguish of loss. Whether you agree with the writer's thesis or not, though, Suzuki takes the music at face value, emphasizing points of contrast without pedantic "point-making," allowing us to figure the work out for ourselves. The first movement of this piece incorporates two chorale settings with a recitative in between. Suzuki handles the whole movement well, opening with a nice, "galant" swing, gently building to a small climax on the dissonant setting of the word "Sterben", segueing into an ambivalent recitative, and closing with "stile antico" sobriety. Sakurada sings wonderfully, and Shimada's corno da tirarsi sounds great. After uncertain-feeling recitative, the solo soprano sings a chorale, deliciously accompanied by Ponseele's oboe d'amore. After a tenor recitative, there is a very unusual tenor aria. The strings play "pizzicato," imitating the funeral bells mentioned in the text, in music punctuated with uncertain silences. The atmosphere is strange, innocent and childlike yet also a bit macabre, with the tenor exclaiming his wish to feel death "in his limbs" ("in meinen Gliedern"). The aria is beguiling in the hands of the BCJ, making this strange vision of death quite seductive! Kooy follows with a fine recitative--listen to him nail that low note at the end! The final chorale brings another WOW! Moment, with a gorgeous violin line representing the resurrection soaring above the choir. And try to hold back your sobs at the chorale's final line, "For now I depart with joy" ("Drum fahr ich hin mit Freuden").

BWV 46 - "Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei"
This is a somewhat grim but satisfying cantata, illustrating the wrath of God at man's sin as well as the mercy of God through Jesus. This cantata parallels BWV 105, which was performed a week before this one, in mood and style. The opening chorus, a prelude and fugue form, is well-handled by Suzuki. The slow prelude, familiar as the "Qui tollis" from the B-minor Mass, is enhanced by a pair of recorders whose limpid phrases portray the weeping of Jesus at the fall of Jerusalem. After much harmonic twisting and turning, an intense chromatic fugue begins, representing the anger of God. Suzuki again proves he is a masterful conductor of choral fugues, and the BCJ choir is great. After an intense tenor recitative, there is a powerful "storm" aria for bass, trumpet, and strings, complete with rumbling harpsichord in the continuo. Kooy, of course, is fantastic, as is trumpeter Shimada (in spite of an insecure moment or two), both of them thrillingly executing their virtuosic parts. Wessel is again fine in the following recitative and aria. The aria has a strange but quite effective texture, with two cooing recorders, representing "chicks" ("Kuchlein") shielded by mother hen Jesus, supported by a bass line of two unison oboes da caccia. The instrumental playing here is lovely. The final chorale is gorgeous, with recorders playing gently falling arpeggios between the phrases of the text. As at the end of BWV 105, uncertainty and tension fade into peaceful rest in the final bars. The transition is gentle and quite moving.

Comparisons

BWV 136--Harnoncourt, Koopman
Harnoncourt's version is very satisfying. There is some scrappy horn playing in his opening chorus, which is overall less taut and polished than competing versions. However, the teaming of Paul Esswood and oboist Jurg Schaeftlein in the alto aria is more effective and dramatic than in Suzuki's version. The tenor/bass duet is fine, even if the soloists don't blend as well as Suzuki's, and the final chorale is lovely. It's a good alternative to Suzuki's recording.

Koopman's opening chorus is marginally clearer and more exciting than Suzuki's. The duet between Gerd Türk and Klaus Mertens is also fine, but Suzuki's version has the edge overall.

BWV 138--Harnoncourt, Herreweghe
I give Harnoncourt's version credit for a nice opening chorus. However, the bass aria, so wonderful in Suzuki's recording, is downright painful here. Robert Holl sings with too much vibrato, and Harnoncourt prolongs the agony with a slow, ponderous tempo. Ugh.

On the other hand, I really like Herreweghe's version, which is altogether more somber than Suzuki's. The sound is darker and softer grained, and the singing of soloists and orchestra, while more operatic in style, is wonderful and suits the interpretation very well. The bass aria, again sung by Kooy, is less joyous, more bittersweet than Suzuki's, but equally beautiful. I give a slight edge to Suzuki because of his bass aria, but Herreweghe's version is equally inspired. Buy both!

BWV 95--Harnoncourt, Koopman
The recording by Harnoncourt, for me, epitomizes bad Harnoncourt: fast, inflexible tempi, over-stressed accents, and a seeming ignorance of the meaning of the text. I had high hopes for the "bell" aria with Kurt Equiluz, but any insight he brings is lost in the shuffle due to Harnoncourt's breathless tempo. I was very surprised and disappointed.

Koopman's reading is very comparable to Suzuki's. Koopman handles the shifts in mood just right, and his choir and orchestra are wonderful. I also slightly prefer Gerd Türk to Makoto Sakurada in the haunting "bell" aria. Koopman doesn't use the corno da tirarsi specified in Bach's score, but who can complain when Bruce Dickey plays the part on cornett? I call a draw between Koopman and Suzuki here.

BWV 46--Leonhardt, Koopman
Leonhardt's version is great, perfectly capturing the mood of the piece even though the singing and playing is not as polished as in competing versions. Rene Jacobs and the Leonhardt's recorder players (Bruggen? my notes aren't specific) are great in the "Kuchlein" aria. The partnership of bass Hanns-Friedrich Kunz and unpolished but spirited slide trumpeter Ralph Bryant is also very effective. Leonhardt takes the final chorale very fast, making it seem more of a happy ending. This is an interesting and affecting recording.

Koopman's version is fine, but not quite up to Suzuki's level. The bass aria, especially, drags, as if Koopman slowed down his tempo to make the difficult trumpet part easier to handle. However, his opening chorus is clearer than Suzuki's, making the difficult counterpoint easier to follow. Altogether, though, Koopman seems a bit more detached than his competitors.

Whew!

PioJaworski wrote (December 17, 1999):
(To Ryan Michero) Ryan! You'll go straight to Heaven! Terrific job done! I'll have to suffer probably two more days before I get my copy of this volume. Many thanks.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 18, 1999):
(To Ryan Michero) Hi Ryan, Like you I am also a member of Bach Recordings Mailing List. I like very much your writing. It throw new lights and show insights which cause me to hear in Suzuki's performances special things I would not take notice otherwise.

Some remarks:

1. Our Era is even more exciting to Bach Cantatas lovers. Because there is another cycle in progress. This is Peter Jan Leusink and Holland Boys Choir/Netherlands Bach Collegium on Brilliant Classics (Kruidvat). 2 Volumes (10 CD's) have appeared so far. These performances are not so polished as Suzuki's (how could they be with so little time for rehearsals?), but they have a kind of freshness, which makes them very pleasant to listen.

2. Gardiner is not going to record the complete cycle. He will perform all of them during year 2000, but DG will release only about dozen CD's from these planned performances.

3. The only thing I miss in this exiting era of Cantata recordings is more honor to the past. I mean reissue of historical Cantatas recordings from the 1950's and the 1960's. Cantate label alone has in its archives some dozens of Cantatas' LP's. Except 9 Ramin's CD's (and even they do not contain everything that he had recorded) and some Secular Cantatas with Rilling (his first cycle of them) they have issued almost nothing else and as far as I know they do not intend to do so in the near future.

4. Where can I find your writings on previous Suzuki's volumes?

Ryan Michero wrote (December 18, 1999):
(To Aryeh Oron) Hi, Aryeh! Thanks for your kind words. I have also enjoyed your recent posts on the Bach Cantata List. Hopefully that list will start getting more active soon--it needs more posts like yours. I'm going to listen to BWV 63 to prepare for discussion next week.

(1.Pieter Jan Leusink) I have been following comments on this series too. I am certainly interested in adding them to my collection. Unfortunately, the set is scarce in the US right now. I waiting to see if Brilliant Classics releases them here or if the set turns up on Berkshire Record Outlet, which carries this label's recordings.

(2. Gardiner) Yes, I have heard this too. Maybe there will be some way to get the live recordings though? Perhaps they will broadcast them on the radio, or maybe they will sell them off the Monteverdi Choir homepage? I can hope!

(3. Reissue of historical Cantatas recordings from the 1950's and the 1960's. Cantate label) You bring up a good point, and I agree. I don't get as excited about historical reissues as many because I prefer HIP recordings to modern instrument ones. However, I have a few historical releases and I realize they are an important part of the recorded Bach heritage and should be made available.

(4. Writings on previous Suzuki's volumes) I can mail them to you personally if you would like. Actually, I've been meaning to post them on www.jsbach.org, as my review of Vol.2 is already there. Would you rather I send them to you though?

Thanks for writing!

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 18, 1999):
(To Ryan Michero) I am already ready with some writing about BWV 63 and I am waiting for next week to send it to the Cantata List. I am a little bit disappointed that nobody seems to give any feedback to my writings on BWV 8 and BWV 110. I hoped that they would be a beginning of discussion about those cantatas and that I would have the opportunity to learn some new things from the knowledgeable members of this group. Maybe Ehud Shiloni is right and most of the members are now in the winter vacation.

(4. Writings on previous Suzuki's volumes) Please, e-mail them to me!

 

Suzuki's Bach Cantatas, Volume 11

Donald Satz wrote (February 4, 2000):
Suzuki's Bach Cantata series on BIS has now reached volume 11, and it's a real treat. There are four cantatas in this volume: BWV 46, 95, 136, and 138. Each was fist performed in 1723. Although none of the four is among Bach's most popular cantatas, each one has gorgeous/stirring chorales and very moving arias.

IMHO, Suzuki has such a natural way with Bach and is becoming my favorite conductor of the Bach cantatas. I have groused a little in the past about the sopranos he uses; this time he has gone back to Midori Suzuki who I prefer to Mia Persson (sp?), the soloist on volume 10. The other soloists are excellent as is the wonderful chorus. Recorded sound is consistently superb.

Suzuki's series is competing with the on-going Koopman series on Erato. The main advantage of Koopman's traversal is that each of his volumes has contained at least 3 cds; each Suzuki volume has only one. So, Koopman will likely finish up much earlier than Suzuki and before my hearing recedes.

P.S. - This is my last posting to the List; I wanted to go out with a Bach. I wish all of you and your families healthy and prosperous times ahead. Adios!

 

Masaaki Suzuki: Short Biography | Bach Collegoim Japan
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Recordings of Instrumental Works
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Cantatas:
Suzuki - Vol. 2 | Suzuki - Vol. 5 | Suzuki - Vol. 8 | Suzuki - Vol. 9 | Suzuki - Vol. 10 | Suzuki - Vol. 11 | Suzuki - Vol. 12 | Suzuki - Vol. 13 | Suzuki - Vol. 14 | Suzuki - Vol. 15 | Suzuki - Vol. 16 | Suzuki - Vol. 17 | Suzuki - Vol. 18 | Suzuki - Vol. 19 | Suzuki - Vol. 20 | Suzuki - Vol. 21 | Suzuki - Vol. 22 | Suzuki - Vol. 23 | Suzuki - Vol. 24 | Suzuki - Vol. 25 | Suzuki - Vol. 26 | Suzuki - Vol.. 27 | Suzuki - Vol. 28 | Suzuki - Vol. 29 | Suzuki - Vol. 30 | Suzuki - Vol. 31 | Suzuki - Vol. 38 | Suzuki Secular - Vol. 1
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - M. Suzuki | BWV 243 - M. Suzuki | BWV 244 - M. Suzuki | BWV 245 - M. Suzuki | BWV 248 - M. Suzuki
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Bachís Clavier-Ubung III from Masaaki Suzuki | Bach Harpsichord Discs from Hill and Suzuki | Bachís French Suites from Suzuki | Review: Partitas by Suzuki [McElhearn] | Suzukiís Partitas [Henderson] | Suzukiís Goldberg Variations
Discussions of Instrumental Recordings:
Partitas BWV 825-830 - played by M. Suzuki
Table of recordings by BWV Number

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