Bach Cantatas 136, 138, 95, and 46.
Midori Suzuki, soprano; Kai Wessel, alto; Makoto Sakurada, tenor; Peter Kooij, bass. Bach Collegium Japan led by
Masaaki Suzuki
, on BIS CD-991

Reviewed by Bernard D. Sherman in Gramophone Early Music, Spring 2000.
Click here for an essay on Suzuki I wrote for The New York Times, May 20, 2001

On this latest entry in his cantata series, Masaaki Suzuki continues to draw forth responsive, accomplished performances. For an example of their strengths, try the phrase 'to die is my reward' in the opening of Cantata BWV95. While Bach's setting is in itself dramatic, Suzuki's realisation is unusually arresting. The first word, 'Sterben' (to die), is marked with a sudden piano, and Suzuki makes it sound eerie. In the mysterious diminished-seventh chord that follows, he gives the dissonances enough time to have their full effect. By way of comparison, Nikolaus Harnoncourt cuts the chord angrily in spite of its fermata, and thus lose out on some of its harmonic tension. And Ton Koopman makes less than Suzuki of the contrast of the 'Sterben' setting to the preceding and following material.

Suzuki also clarifies more fully than Koopman the metre of the cantata's syncopated opening bars. And in the aria 'Ach, schlage doch bald', Harnoncourt's dance of plucks may be charming, but it is Suzuki who conveys the serious concerns of the text, with a slower tempo and smoother articulation (the latter being indicated in the sources).

Of course, not every comparison favours Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan. While Suzuki's vitality is appealing, Koopman's slower opening tempo in Cantata BWV95 allows for a more noticeable increase later on when the Allegro section arrives. In the opening chorus of Cantata BWV136, an (admittedly arguable) case could be made for Harnoncourt's slower tempo. And in that cantata's recitative 'Ach, dass der Fluch', the rhyming words draw too much emphasis from Suzuki's tenor, Makoto Sakurada.

Sakurada does have some impressive moments elsewhere on the disc, however, and overall Suzuki's solo singers are a fine group. Peter Kooij's suitably terrifying 'Dein Wetter' in BWV46, for example, makes the Koopman version sound tame, superb though its singing is.

Suzuki once again experiments with dual accompaniment, using a harpsichord as well as an organ in all but Cantata BWV95. Few listeners will mind the added variety, and the harpsichord playing is excellent.

The minor-key works draw particularly on Suzuki's interpretive strengths. Listen, for example, to the expressive string playing in the opening sections of Cantata BWV46 (a heartfelt performance in general) and Cantata BWV138.

The virtues of this disc, then, are considerable. Like earlier entries in the BCJ cantata series, it leaves one eager to hear the next installments.

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