Bach, Kuhnau, Zelenka

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bach,Kuhnau,Zelenka
WORKS: Magnificat in D, BWV 243
PERFORMER: Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
In the early 1730s Bach revised his E flat major Magnificat of 1723, transposing it to D major and omitting the interpolations peculiar to Christmas performances in Leipzig. (Recent research suggests such richly scored Latin Magnificats could be performed in Lutheran churches at some 15 annual festivals, not just the three – Xmas, Easter, Ascension – previously supposed.) The D major was apparently Bach’s preferred version and is the one commonly played today, as on this latest instalment of Masaaki Suzuki’s acclaimed survey of Bach’s sacred vocal music.


Suzuki’s Magnificat, like his earlier Bach recordings, is sharply focused and performed with engaging conviction. My benchmark disc, by Philippe Herreweghe, grips with its palpable air of excitement. Suzuki’s reading is cooler, more nuanced and has a clearer acoustic; yet Herreweghe’s soloists retain a slight edge – few could match Barbara Schlick and oboist Marcel Penseele in rapt duet on ‘Quia respexit’.


Herreweghe’s coupling is the splendid Cantata, BWV 80; Suzuki offers a trio of fascinating rareties. The Magnificat by Kuhnau, Bach’s predecessor at Leipzig, resembles Bach’s in instrumentation and division of text: it’s a lively, attractive piece, trumpets ringing out boldly in the bright opening chorus. Two shorter Magnificats by Bach’s Dresden-based contemporary Zelenka represent a very different and highly individual approach, the C major’s tripartite structure creating an almost concerto-like framework for soprano soloist. Suzuki’s excellent, scrupulous performances should provoke greater interest in Kuhnau’s and Zelenka’s church music – the latter’s Missa Dei Filii, by Tafelmusik/Frieder Bernius (DHM), is also highly recommended. Graham Lock