Bach: Christmas Oratorio

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Christmas Oratorio
PERFORMER: Monika Frimmer (soprano), Yoshikazu Mera (countertenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooy (bass); Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
CATALOGUE NO: CD-941-42
The ‘Japanese Bach’ cantata series unfolding on BIS over the last few years has been attracting increasingly enthusiastic reviews, and deservedly so. The Bach Collegium Japan was formed in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki, who studied in Amsterdam with Ton Koopman and Piet Kee. Now Suzuki is challenging the likes of Koopman with his Bach interpretations, sung and played to the highest possible standards and with utter stylistic conviction.

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This new recording of the Christmas Oratorio is one of the best things they have done: the choral singing is flexible and impeccable, the orchestral playing staggering in its command of idiom and accuracy (recalcitrant period instruments like the oboe or trumpet handled better than on some rival versions) and the solo singing a match for that offered by any competitor.

René Jacobs’s account is only the most recent of a number of fine versions to be taken into consideration (others are from Gardiner on Archiv, Christophers on Collins, and Koopman on Erato). But where Jacobs’s tempi are generally fleet (like Suzuki’s), he allows himself indulgences such as an idiosyncratically slow Sinfonia to open Part 2, and Suzuki’s lilting rhythms sound far more natural here.

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Suzuki has his own touch of idiosyncrasy, however, in his countertenor Yoshikazu Mera. I had not expected Jacobs’s Andreas Scholl to be outstripped, but Mera’s almost childlike, confiding delivery has a highly individual quality that some may find hard to take, but which is undeniably expressive. Monika Frimmer’s boyish soprano is equally a matter of taste, but Gerd Türk and Peter Kooy are safely recommendable as the tenor and bass soloists.