COMPOSERS: JS Bach
WORKS: Cantatas, Vol. 42: BWV 13, 16, 32 & 72
PERFORMER: Rachel Nicholls (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass); Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
CATALOGUE NO: SACD 1711 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Although all the cantatas on these discs come from Christmas to Epiphany 1735-6, Suzuki has judiciously altered their order in Vol. 42, creating a programme demonstrating Bach’s astonishing variety and imagination in musical structures, instrumental tone-colours and response to texts.
BWV 72, for instance, opens with spine-tingling energy, instruments and voices in floridly elaborated lines over a slow, powerful harmonic foundation. It’s followed by two violins and continuo weaving their trio sonata texture around Robin Blaze’s alluring countertenor, while remaining wholly independent of him melodically.
Then, a soprano aria, with oboe dancing hand-in-hand with the bewitching soprano of Rachel Nicholls, including a totally unexpected afterthought introduced in the final three bars.
BWV 32 is conceived in strikingly operatic terms, a ‘Concerto in Dialogo’, in which the soprano ‘soul’ seeks reassurance from the bass ‘Jesus’ and which ends with the two voices together in a gavotte, a clear Lutheran analogy to a love duet.
Rare, if not unique, colours must include two recorders and oboe da caccia, solo instruments in the opening tenor aria of BWV 13, while BWV 16 includes one horn, perhaps replacing trumpets required elsewhere on New Year’s Day 1736, and given a dazzlingly florid part (including a note obtainable only by hazardous ‘lipping down’).
Bach’s response to text is vividly illustrated in the bass aria ‘Achzen und erbarmlich Weinen’ (BWV 13), ‘Groaning and pitiable weeping’ evoking anguish – all 12 notes of the chromatic scale in under two bars of the opening ritornello.
Bach Collegium Japan responds magnificently to such diversity of expression and contrasting forces. Peter Kooij is particularly striking, singing with such uncontrived ease in the aria, ‘Laast uns jauchzen’ (BWV 16).
Two excellent stages in Suzuki’s on-going Cantata project, with Vol. 42 particularly highly commended. George Pratt