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Masaaki Suzuki & Bach Collegium Japan
Cantatas - Vol. 12
Cantatas BWV 147, BWV 21

C-12

J.S. Bach: Cantatas Vol. 12 - Cantatas from Leipzig 1723 / V - BWV 21, 147

 
 

Cantatas BWV 21 (1723 Leipzig version) [38:26], BWV 147 [29:59]

Masaaki Suzuki

Bach Collegium Japan & Concerto Palatino (BWV 21)

Soprano: Yukari Nonoshita; Counter-tenor: Robin Blaze; Tenor: Gerd Türk; Bass: Peter Kooy

BIS 1031

Jun 1999

CD / TT: 69:21

Recorded at the Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel, Japan.
See: Cantatas Vol. 12 - conducted by Masaaki Suzuki
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Suzuki - Vol. 12

Patrik Enander wrote (March 29, 2000):
I bought it a couple of days ago. It contains cantata BWV 147 Herz und Mund und Tat und leben, which is new to me, and my favourite BWV 21 Ich hatte vie Bekümmernis (Leipzig version). Soloists are Yukari Nonshita (new to the series I think) Blaze, Türk and Kooy.

Haven't had time to listen to it properly yet, but I have listened a bit to BWV 21. It is very good, but as good as Herreweghe's. Blaze is no match for Gerard Lesne, I think Crook has more to give than Türk, and I miss the almost erotic quality in the soprano/bass duet between Barbara Schlick and Peter Harvey. Kooy is a better singer than Harvey, but I think his approach in the duet is a bit heavy going.

But, Suzuki fans need not hesitate.

By the way, yesterday I received a letter telling that Gramophone is closing down Early Music magazine. Sad I have enjoyed it. Haymarket is obviously all about the bucks and not about the music.

Ryan Michero wrote (March 30, 2000):
[To Patrick Enander] (Yukari Nonshita) She sang soprano solo way back on Vol.1 one and she has sung in the choir for others.

(BWV 21Öis very good, but as good as Herreweghe's) I assume you mean "not" as good as Herreweghe's.

It may take me a week or so to listen to it properly, but the group can expect a full comparative review from me soon.

< Gramophone is closing down Early Music magazine >
Too bad! It's a really good publication, I think. Geez, is it really that tough to put out four issues a year?

Piotr Jaworski wrote (March 30, 2000):
[To Patrick Enander & Ryan Michero] We do really wait!

I enjoy this CD every day since last Monday. It's simply marvellous! I'll not compare BWV 21 to Herreweghe recording - simply don't remember which version he takes - Weimar, Köthen (probably this one!) or Leipzig? This is the very basic thing in any comparisons. For some of us (Steven, watch out!) it might be interesting that in the Chorus "Sei nun wieder..." BCJ is supported by members of Concerto Palatino (!).

But I'd like to rise your attention about BWV 147. I used to know it only from Rifkin recording - charming, a bit subtle, but definitely very good. But Suzuki's is STUNNING, LANDMARK - whatever you prefer. And, IMO, at least for this cantata only - this CD is a must for all Bach admirers.

Patrik Enander wrote (March 30, 2000):
Piotr Jaworski wrote:
< I'll not compare BWV 21 to Herreweghe recording - simply don't remember which version he takes - Weimar, Köthen (probably this one!) or Leipzig? >
They use the same version.

And Ryan, forgive me my keyboard dyslexia!

Piotr Jaworski wrote (March 31, 2000):
[To Patrick Enander] OK - you are mostly right! But both version still differ a bit... On Suzuki's Vol.12 - in the chorus of the second part ("Sei nun wieder...") trombones are splendidly added!

And after several portions of listening to it - I must admit that I prefer Suzuki - splendid recording, definitely one of the best in the whole series yet! What is your choice, Patrik?

Patrik Enander wrote (April 1, 2000):
(To Piotr Jaworski) Well, how am I to compare with these expert listeners! I haven't heard Suzuki that much yet, but since Herreweghe's CD with BWV 21 & BWV 42 is one of my desert island discs, it will be a though job for Suzuki to beat that. I'll let you know.

Ryan Michero wrote (April 6, 2000):
I just got a chance last night to properly listen to Vol.12 of Suzuki's cantata series, which includes performances of favourite cantatas BWV 147 and BWV 21.

Oh my.

I'm still doing comparative listening to confirm my first impression, and you all can still expect my full review sometime this weekend.

What is my first impression? That Vol. 12 is simply one of the best Bach cantata recordings ever made.

Stay tuned...

Piotr Jaworski wrote (April 7, 2000):
Uahhhh! EXACTLY! Nothing more - nothing less: "one of the best ever made".

I especially wait for your BWV 147 comparisons since I have only Rifkin's - definitely from another performance planet.

So shortly, WHEN Ryan?

Ryan Michero wrote (April 12, 2000):
Hello again, list-mates! I'm checking in with my full review of Volume 12 (sorry I'm a bit late). Enjoy!

Volume 12--Cantatas from Leipzig, 1723/V
BWV 147 and BWV 21
Bach Collegium Japan, dir. Masaaki Suzuki
Yukari Nonoshita, Robin Blaze, Gerd Türk, Peter Kooy
With Concerto Palatino (BWV 21)
Recorded June 1999, Kobe, Japan
BIS CD-1031

Volume 12

This is something of a landmark volume in Suzuki's cantata series as it includes two established masterpieces of Bach's cantata output, BWV 147 and BWV 21. Both are long works, challenging the interpreter's ability to illuminate details while still retaining a sense of the emotional progression of the whole. Both contain some fiendishly difficult passages that can push even the seasoned performer's abilities to their limits. And as these cantatas are both frequently recorded favourites, Suzuki faces some stiff competition. I'm happy to report that, in the face of these challenges, Suzuki has again risen to the occasion, producing wonderful readings that do full justice to the works and, for me, eclipse all other available versions. I think this is an essential disc not only for the Bach cantata enthusiast but also for all Bach lovers and music fans in general.

BWV 147 - "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben"
Yes, this is the cantata with the famous "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" chorale movement. But it's so much more than that! This one is full of wonderful movements, including a magnificent contrapuntal opening chorus and arias for each of the four soloists. Suzuki picks a perfect tempo for the opening chorus, making the rhythms dance without sounding rushed. The choral singing is dramatic and expressive, and Toshio Shimada's trumpet playing is both beautiful and thrilling. Suzuki uses a harpsichord along with the organ here and in some other movements of this cantata, enriching the texture and adding more of a sense of occasion. The next accompanied recitative features some gorgeous string textures (shades of Jesus' passages in the St. Matthew Passion) and fine, dramatic singing from Gerd Türk. Suzuki picks another effective tempo for the alto aria "Sdich, o Seele, nicht", slow enough to make its full emotional impact yet fast enough to keep from dragging. This aria is really touching, with some heartbreakingly gorgeous singing from Robin Blaze and fine oboe d'amore playing (by Masamitsu San'nomiya I assume--the notes aren't entirely clear). Kooy nicely sings the next recitative, which features some neat illustrative effects in the continuo. In the aria "Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn", soprano Yukari Nonoshita makes her solo debut on Suzuki's series. I wonder why she has not been used before, because she is an elegant, expressive singer with great technical ability (she handles the wide interval leaps in this aria superbly) and fine German pronunciation. She is quite sensitively accompanied by Ryo Terakado on violin. The cantata's famous chorale setting comes next, here set to the text "Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe". It is warmly and affectingly done, though I think the rhythms could dance a little more. I rather like how the trumpet on the soprano line stands out here, soaring above the rest of the ensemble.

The second part begins with a tenor aria accompanied by a lively continuo line with an almost uninterrupted stream of triplets. Türk is great, and the rich continuo realisation, with its jangling harpsichord, is invigorating. In the following alto recitative, accompanied by oboes da caccia, Blaze again touches the heart, and the closing bars are very movingly done. But without a doubt the high point of this performance of the cantata is the incredible aria "Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen", one of those great, hair-raising Baroque bass arias with trumpet, la "The trumpet shall sound". Kooy, Shimada, and Suzuki make a great team, and this movement is tremendously exciting from first bar to last. Suzuki swings the rhythms irresistibly, Kooy is wonderfully expressive and colourful, and Shimada is more impressive here than the trumpeters on any competing version. You'll have to hear it to believe it--a definite WOW moment! A reprise of the chorale, here set to the text "Jesus bleibet meine Freude", brings the cantata to a satisfying conclusion.

BWV 21 - "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis"
Although BWV 147 is a fine work, BWV 21 is an absolute favourite of mine. The range of expression here is very wide, beginning with intense, sustained despair, progressing through uncertainty and consolation, and ending with a tremendous outburst of joy. Suzuki and the BCJ give a wonderful performance here that can stand among, even above, the best available. The orchestra of the BCJ grabs our attention from the beginning with a gorgeous performance of the opening Sinfonia. Patrick Beaugiraud, whom I have never encountered before, is the oboist here, and he is quite a find--very expressive, with a warm tone and a nicely flexible sense of rhythm. He compares well with Marcel Ponseele in Herreweghe's version, and that's saying something. Ryo Terakado on solo violin makes a great companion. Suzuki takes the Sinfonia quite slowly, savouring the melodic interplay of the violin and oboe as well as the painful dissonances near the end of the movement. With the despairing mood set, the choir begins the second movement with three breathtaking chordal statements of the word "Ich"--the first sombre, the second more forceful, the third quieter, sighing. Bach's stark textures in the first section of the chorus sound wonderful as sung by the BCJ. But the real treat is in the second half of the chorus, where the tempo picks up for the text "deine Trostungen erquicken meine Seele". Suzuki makes the most of the quickening rhythms, and other conductors' interpretations sound stodgy in comparison. The moving soprano aria "Seufzer, Tranen, Kummer, Not" comes next, and it is beautifully sung by Nonoshita, here sounding appropriately bleak and austere. After a fine recitative, Gerd Türk sings "Bache von gesalznen Zahren", which expands on the sombre mood of the cantata's first half. In Suzuki's version the phrasing and orchestral playing have a great, tragic sweep that I don't hear in any other version. Türk is lyrical and passionate throughout most of the aria yet virtuosic in the coloratura runs of the "storm" section. The chorus that ends the first part, an emotional turning point of the cantata, is given a wonderful performance. Bach specified that the first statement of the words "Was betrubst du dich, meine Seele" be sung by "soli" ensemble (one-voice-per-part, or OVPP), and the voices of the four soloists sound GORGEOUS together. The chorus also makes a strong impression in the following bars. With the magic words "Harre auf Gott" ("Put thy trust in God"), the mood switches from grim and uncertain to warm and hopeful, and the choir and orchestra simply glow, with Beaugiraud's oboe soaring into the heavens. The concluding fugal section is invigorating, and the first half ends on a spine-tingling major chord.

The second part of the cantata begins with a recitative and duetto that illustrate a dialogue between the soul (soprano) and Jesus (bass). Kooy is great as the voice of Jesus, with a great sense of authority as well as lyrical warmth, and Nonoshita sounds delectably innocent and vulnerable. I was quite moved by these dialogue numbers. In the passage where the soprano despairingly exclaims "Nein, du hassest mich!" ("No, you hate me!") and Jesus replies "Ja, ich liebe dich" ("Yes, I love you!"), Kooy's softening voice brought tears to my eyes. The "stile antico" chorus that follows, on the text "Sei nun wieder zufrieden", is simply ravishing. Suzuki's wonderful "soli" ensemble begins the movement, with the choral tenors singing the stanzas of the chorale. When the full chorus enters, the BCJ is joined by three trombones and a cornett, played by members of Concerto Palatino, doubling the vocal lines. The sound is magnificent, and the final bar reliably sends chills up my spine. Türk returns to give a bright account of the joyous aria with continuo, "Erfreue dich, Seele". The final chorus, "Das Lamm das erwurget ist", where Bach introduces three trumpets and timpani to the ensemble, is overwhelmingly powerful. The Händelian fugue that closes the work makes me want to get up and dance. Alleluia indeed!

Comparisons

BWV 147--Harnoncourt, Gardiner, Rifkin, Koopman
Harnoncourt's version of "Herz und Mund..." is in my opinion one of his most successful performances--dramatic, cohesive, and very touching. There is some fine singing here by Kurt Equiluz, Thomas Hampson, and both boy soprano and alto soloists. The choir and orchestra lack the last degree of polish, as is usual with this series, but the level of inspiration is so high this hardly matters. And THIS is how "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" should sound--slow enough to be a little bittersweet, but quick enough to skip along with joy. This recording is tied with Suzuki's as my favourite version.

Gardiner's version is predictably the most polished and virtuosic reading of the cantata. Gardiner's tight control of his ensemble makes for some thrilling moments and incredible textural clarity. However, this control has its drawbacks, as some movements sound over-interpreted and mannered. "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" in particular sounds overdone: There are some strangely overemphatic staccato passages, and Gardiner seems to be keeping such tight control over the phrasing and dynamics of his orchestra that the warmth of these movements is replaced with Spartan discipline. Too bad, because all of the soloists--Ruth Holton, Michael Chance, Stephen Varcoe, and particularly Anthony Rolfe-Johnson--sound great.

Koopman's recording is good, but comparably undistinguished. The choral singing here is on a very high level, but the orchestra, with weak-sounding strings and a tonally insecure trumpet, leaves much to be desired. Lisa Larsson and Klaus Mertens make this performance worth hearing. Koopman's "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" is very tender, even sentimental.

Rifkin's version is really wonderful in parts, but it ultimately doesn't cas a completely satisfying performance. Rifkin's opening chorus, taken at an alert tempo, may be the best available, his one-per-part ensemble elucidating Bach's textures beautifully, the trumpet sounding great. I enjoyed all of the vocal soloists here too, especially Drew Minter in "Schame dich". However, it sounds like Rifkin wants to get to the end of "Bereite dir, Jesu" in a hurry, and "Hilf, Jesu, hilf" is taken so fast that poor Jeffrey Thomas has trouble keeping up. The chorale movements are fast but delightful, dancing along without sacrificing a degree of tenderness.

BWV 21--Harnoncourt, Herreweghe, Koopman, Suzuki
Harnoncourt's recording sounds just plain weird to me. It's strange--he whips up the tempo in slow, contemplative movements but slams on the brakes in the usually quick fugal sections. In spite of Equiluz's dramatic singing, "Bache von gesalznen Zahren" fails to makes its full impact because of Harnoncourt's choppy accents. Also, a woman soprano is really preferable to a boy in this cantata due to the mature emotions of the text and the erotic implications of the dialogue sections. However, I loved Jürg Schäftlein's piquant oboe playing, and "Sei nun wieder zufrieden" sounds great.

Herreweghe's version has been the leading HIP version of this cantata for years. Some will continue to cherish this one, but Suzuki's new recording overtakes it in my book. Herreweghe captures the tragic tone of the cantata's first section wonderfully, and Ponseele's playing of the oboe part is a bit more affecting than Beaugiraud's. Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale chorus is terrific, rich and amazingly clear. Barbara Schlick makes a strong impression in "Seufzer, Tranen", and her trembling voice is perfect for this aria. However, Schlick is not entirely comfortable with the high tessitura of the part, and her high notes sound strained. Howard Crook's singing of "Bache von gesalznen Zahren" is expressive, but the aria doesn't have the tragic sweep of Suzuki's. When the "soli" ensemble sings in the choral movements, Barbara Schlick's unique voice unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb, overpowering the other singers and focusing the listener's attention on her strained high notes--ouch. The dialogue sections are nice, with Peter Harvey sounding great, but Schlick begins to annoy. "Sei nun wieder Zufrieden" sounds fine, but Herreweghe omits Bach's cornet and trombone parts, which is too bad! The joyous "Erfreue dich" doesn't sound joyous enough to me, but Herreweghe redeems himself with a great reading of the final chorus.

I have two other recordings of BWV 21, but they are earlier versions of the cantata--played in the key of d-minor instead of c-minor, without cornet and trombone parts, and with all tenor arias given to the soprano. There are extensive notes about the different versions of BWV 21 in Suzuki's Vol.12 and, especially, Vol.6. The final Leipzig version is probably the more satisfying version, and the recordings of the earlier versions really shouldn't compete with the others. However, these deserve a mention here:

Koopman (on his Vol.1) performs a version a bit different than Suzuki's, using the soprano arias and the higher key but observing the "soli"/"chorus" markings of the Leipzig version and providing versions of "Sei nun wieder Zufrieden" both with and without trombones. I'm not certain if Koopman will be providing us with a straight Leipzig-version recording. Koopman's interpretation is remarkably similar to Herreweghe's, with both even sharing the same soprano and oboe soloists! Koopman doesn't touch the heart quite as deeply as Herreweghe in the beginning, but the transition to joy is handled a little better. However, the same reservations about Barbara Schlick in Herreweghe's version apply here too, compounded by the facts that the earlier version is in a higher key and that the soprano has much more to sing! Thankfully, Koopman's recorded sound takes the edge off the voice, so Schlick doesn't sink the whole performance.

Suzuki's Vol. 6 follows the early, Köthen version of the score to the letter. There are no trombones, and there is no soli/chorus distinction in the choruses. The interpretation is otherwise quite similar to the one in Vol.12. Marcel Ponseele plays the oboe part here, making this his third recording of the same cantata (too much of a good thing?). The extended, demanding soprano part is here sung by Monika Frimmer. Frimmer has a lovely, clear voice, and she sings with great feeling. However, she is strained by the high tessitura, and you can hear it. I marginally prefer her to Barbara Schlick, but neither are ideal. It's a good thing Suzuki took another shot at BWV 21, because his second recording has none of the drawbacks of the first. Suzuki sure is thorough--there are three alternate movements included with Volume 6 (3, "Seufzer, Tranen", and 7 and 8, the dialogue pieces) where the soprano part is sung by a tenor so that, with Volumes 6 and 12, the listener can reconstruct the second Weimar version that Bach adapted when a suitable soprano was not available! Türk sounds great in these movements, but it sure is strange to hear a tenor and a bass sing a love duet!

A side note about these two recordings of the early version of BWV 21: The lack of soli/chorus marks in this version mean different things to Koopman and Suzuki: Koopman assumes Bach would've performed it with the concertist/ripienist alternation anyway, and Suzuki just assigns all the music to full chorus. Did it cross their minds that this could mean the earlier version was sung OVPP? I would LOVE to hear the early version sung completely OVPP, but none of the major proponents of this method have tackled it. Why not? Junghänel, are you listening?

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 14, 2000):
Junghänel and Cantus Cölln will be doing BWV 21 at the Melbourne Festival this coming October. It's not yet clear if they will record it for Harmonia Mundi; Konrad Junghänel did tell me, however, that HM is very pleased with the success of their first Bach disc (they're calling it "Actus Triumphalis") and is interested in doing more.

Ryan Michero wrote (April 14, 2000):
Great news! They seem like an obvious choice to record this cantata, or should I say that BWV 21 is an obvious choice for them to perform. Let's hope they do end up recording it.

I like the "Actus Triumphalis" thing. Early music record company humour...

Thanks for the news, Matthew (and for getting me interested in Junghänel's Bach in the first place--the Bach motets recording you recommended is my favourite now).

 

Suzuki's Bach Cantata Series, Volume 12

Donald Satz wrote (April 24, 2000):
Vol.12 of Suzuki's latest recording on BIS 1031 consists of the Cantatas BWV 147 and BWV 21. Both are among Bach's more popular cantatas and have much highly inspired music. For comparison purposes, I'm using Koopman/Erato for both works, Gardiner/Archiv and Rifkin/Decca for BWV 147, and Kuijken/Virgin and Herreweghe/Harmonia Mundi for BWV 21.

BWV 147, 'Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben', is for the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin. The work as we know it was completed when Bach was in Leipzig, although it originates from Bach's Weimar years. It is one of Bach's more festive cantatas and is in two parts, each part ending with the famous chorale melody 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' which was arranged for piano by Myra Hess. So, BWV 147 has much rousing and beautiful music and is a highly memorable work.

The cantata begins with a festive chorus featuring a heroic trumpet. For a festive work, I can't think of a better introduction. It's a beautiful, subtle, and exciting piece. Gardiner was enjoyable but possessed two major problems: The tru, played by Crispian Steele-Perkins, doesn't sound heroic, and the chorus is rather indistinct. Koopman does better, but his vocal forces sound too huge and his trumpet is restrained. Much better than Koopman is the Suzuki version; the trumpet is exquisite and the chorus is crisp and exciting. Best of all is Rifkin. The trumpet work of Fred Holmgren is thrilling in a perfect soundstage. Also, Rifkin employs the one voice per part approach, and it works beautifully. Everything is clear and clinical, yet all the emotion is still strong. In this respect, Rifkin reminds me of the best that Gould offers and that's a great compliment.

A tenor recitative tells of Mary's feeling of the miracle of birth inside her, but concludes with the admonition that non-believers will be subject to "harsh judgement!". The tenor must supply beauty, warmth, and a somewhat menacing tone. Gerd Türk, the tenor for Suzuki and for Koopman, has the menacing tone, perhaps too much, but his voice is not particularly warm when needed. Anthony Rolfe Johnson for Gardiner and Jeffrey Thomas for Rifkin provide great readings.

The alto aria continues the concluding theme of the recitative by relating that those who refuse to accept the Lord will be denied entrance to Heaven. The piece is a sad one but with a consistent ray of hope; an oboe d'amore beautifully complements the singing. Gardiner pretty much takes the sadness out of the music, but Michael Chance is in good form. Suzuki's Robin Blaze does have a gorgeous voice, but I sense that there's little emotion deep within. Much better is Drew Minter for Rifkin; he has a very expressive and pleasant voice. Koopman's alto, Bogna Bartosz, is superlative. The voice is so creamy and deep; her emotion takes hold of me with each word. This could well be the best alto voice I've ever heard. Give me more!

The bass and soprano vocalists get their chance to shine with a bass recitative followed by an elegant soprano aria featuring the violin. The recitative first exclaims in a boastful manner the might of God, then beseeches all to prepare for the day of salvation. The most beautiful section of the piece is in the second part where a dream-like passage is most effective. Jan Opalach for Rifkin and Klaus Mertens for Koopman display the best voices, but Koopman destroys the dream-like sequence with heightened volume and pacing; Rifkin does it beautifully. Stephen Varcoe for Gardiner and Peter Kooy for Suzuki do well, but Opalach/Rifkin bring out everything in the music.

The soprano aria has the singer pleading to Jesus to have mercy on believers. It's very important for the soprano to display the plea, and it is also musically effective. Although none of the soloists was outstanding (or bad), only Jane Bryden for Rifkin really adopted a pleading emotion and easily provides the best version.

That famous choral comes next; it relates the "oneness" of the relationship between the individual and saviour, which results in an inner sense of peace and happiness. I like Rifkin's small vocal forces, which convey a greater intimacy of the relationship than the other versions, although they are very well performed.

Part 2 opens with a tenor aria expressing a plea for help in maintaining strong faith; organ and cello are highlighted. All four versions were effective; none was superb.

By far the most effective recitative in BWV 147 in terms of text and music is one for alto. Mary, with child, visits her cousin Elizabeth who carries the unborn John the Baptist who kicks in recognition of Jesus. This is very uplifting music with two oboes leading us upward. Bogna Bartosz, as in the alto aria, is perfect with her emotions and voice. Michael Chance for Gardiner just sounds unpleasant. Robin Blaze for Suzuki again is low on emotion, and Drew Minter for Rifkin does well.

The last aria is for bass and expresses praise to God. The music is rousing and features an exciting trumpet part. Suzuki and Rifkin have great trumpets, superb pacing, and fine singing. Gardiner is fastest and sounds rushed; Stephen Varcoe is not distinctive. The cantata concludes with a reprise of 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring'.

The best of the four versions is Rifkin who started strong and never had to look back. He provides excellent direction, makes good interpretative decisions such as 'one voice per part', and has the strongest quartet of singers. Suzuki is close to Rifkin's level excepting for significantly less effective soloists; Robin Blaze was particularly disappointing. Koopman's decisions aren't as good as Suzuki's and his orchestra/chorus can sound bloated at times, but he has the excellent Klaus Mertens and an outstanding Bogna Bartosz. Gardiner is not competitive. His superior winds/brass and usually excellent way with Bach's festive music are not in evidence in this recording. Further, his vocal soloists excepting for Anthony Rolfe Johnson do not distinguish themselves. Summing up, Rifkin is a must-buy, Koopman and Suzuki are highly worthy versions, and Gardiner has little to recommend it.

BWV 21, 'Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis', is very different from its coupling. This is a highly dramatic and moving work which is seen from the eyes and heart of a "lost soul" who is in a state of total despair, who wants a connection to God but feels none. Eventually, when the soul has hit the lowest level, God has mercy. There are even a couple of conversations between the lost soul and Jesus. The theme of the repentant sinner being saved by God is one of the strongest tenets of the Christian faith. The text and the music are powerful, making this one of Bach's finest cantatas. For comparison, Rifkin and Gardiner are replaced by Herreweghe and Sigiswald Kuijken. I haven't listened to the Kuijken for a few years but remember it as being very effective.

BWV 21 begins with a Sinfonia of slow pace which expresses both the seemingly interminable hold that sin and despair can have on the soul and hope of forgiveness through faith. At its most effective, a performance fully provides the despair through the thud of the bass line, while the violins and oboe are ever ready to lift us beyond all earthly concerns. The engineering is important in that the violins and oboe need to occupy their own distinct soundstages and provide a crisp and clear enticement. Suzuki and Kuijken do all of this superbly. In the Herreweghe and Koopman versions, the violins and oboe are too embedded with the other instruments; they do not represent a sharp break with the descent to utter despair.

The opening chorus begins with more trouble of the spirit in a moderately paced manner, which suddenly quickens and becomes upbeat. Kuijken's pacing is excellent and his small chorus outstanding. The other versions are good.

Next is a soprano aria which is one of the saddest pieces of music I've ever heard; it really hits the deepest levels. Our lost soul is in major emotional crisis as she continues to moan her state. For best performance, the music needs a very sad oboe and pacing which reflects confusion. Also, the soprano must deliver a complete sense of sadness and despair. Barbara Schlick/Koopman and Greta de Reyghere/Kuijken get everything right. Not only does Schlick sound totally in despair, but her voice has fullness, which is rare for her. Schlick is also Herreweghe's soloist, but here she sounds a little "manic" which I didn't appreciate. Suzuki is not competitive at all. He and the oboe employ a "straight-ahead" approach, robbing the music of much of its emotion. Also, the soprano, Yukari Nonoshita, is not very expressive.

The lost soul continues the decline into the "abyss of hell" with a recitative and aria. The tenors do the honours excepting for Koopman who uses Barbara Schlick; this time Schlick has some high passages to negotiate, and she has much trouble. Of course, trouble is the theme of this segment, but Schlick's voice is too unpleasant at times. Gerd Türk for is better, but Prégardien for Kuijken and Crook for Herreweghe possess the highly expressive and stunning voices required. Herreweghe also provides some outstanding violin work.

Part 1 of the cantata concludes with a chorus, which essentially offers an "olive branch" to the lost soul and is a sign of things to come. The choral forces need to possess a "bright" voice, which radiates hope. All versions are good, although Herreweghe's chorus is a little darker than the others are.

Part 2 opens with a recitative and an aria for soprano and bass. The soprano is the soul, and the bass is Jesus. They are having a dialogue in both pieces. In the recitative, the soul still feels lost, but Jesus assures her that the time is soon when her burdens will be lifted. In the aria, a beautiful piece of music, the soul is insistent that all is lost while Jesus continues to console her - he is very patient and she is very slow to get the big picture. Barbara Schlick is the soprano for Herreweghe and Koopman, and she's very good in both. Peter Kooy and Klaus Mertens are also very fine. Suzuki's soprano, Yukari Nonoshita, is low on emotion although her voice is more pure than Schlick's; the bass is a little too obvious and a bit of a "ham". Moving on the Kuijken, we find the best soprano, Greta de Reyghere, who has a lovely and vulnerable voice. Her partner, Peter Lika, isn't in Merten's class, but he suffices while Greta steals the show. Overall, Kuijken offers the best rendition, while Suzuki is hurt by his soloists.

In the following chorus, the lost soul is being urged to stop worrying and just trust in God - take him into your heart. The timings of the four versions are quite different. Kuijken takes almost 7 minutes, Koopman less than 6 minutes, and Herreweghe and Suzuki less than 5 minutes. I feel the piece needs some weight and expressiveness. Although Suzuki provides this at a fast pace, Herreweghe does not. His approach is much too light for the subject matter; we still have a soul that needs saving. Kuijken and Koopman are as effective as Suzuki is.

The last aria is for tenor, although Koopman again uses Barbara Schlick. We have reached the point where the lost soul is finally saved and is free of earthly misery. Schlick does much better when in a miserable state; rising to the top is not a strength of hers. Herreweghe's version, although Howard Crook is very good, lacks liveliness. Suzuki and Kuijken are lively, uplifting, and their tenors sound very good.

The cantata ends with a chorus expressing the joy and happiness of the intimate connection between the human soul and God. The music is rousing, exciting, and uplifting in the hands of Suzuki and Kuijken. Suzuki has great pacing and forward momentum, which is achieved without a particularly fast speed. In the hands of Herreweghe and Koopman, the music can seem repetitive and uninvolving.

Suzuki is fully competitive with Koopman and Herreweghe in BWV 21. But, just as his BWV 147 was well below Rifkin's level, the same applies when he's compared to Kuijken's BWV 21. Kuijken has Greta de Reyghere and Christoph Prégardien who are much better than any of Suzuki's singers. Kuijken's version is simply outstanding.

In conclusion, Suzuki's Vol.12 is a worthy addition to his traversal of the Bach cantatas. But, the recording does not represent the best of Bach in this repertoire. For that, one must look to Rifkin and Kuijken. The third artist I was most impressed with is Bogna Bartosz, the alto for Koopman's BWV 147; the voice is full-bodied but not heavy at all, and the emotional output is staggering and right on target.

 

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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Last update: żOctober 26, 2008 ż11:04:45