Masaaki Suzuki conducts JS Bach’s Celebratory Cantatas, Vol. 8

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Secular Cantatas, Vol. 8: Schleicht, spielende Wellen, BWV 206; Preise dein Glücke, gesegnetes Sachsen, BWV 215
PERFORMER: Hana Blažíková (soprano), Hiroya Aoki (alto), Charles Daniels (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone); Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2231 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Each of these resplendent works, first performed in the mid-1730s, fall into the dramma per musicaor serenata category. Both are closely associated with Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. JS Bach’s opulent orchestration for each piece includes three trumpets, drums, flutes, oboes, oboes d’amore, strings and continuo. 

Schleicht, spielende Wellenis anchored to a somewhat inconsequential dispute between the four principal rivers of the countries under Augustus’s rule. Each tries to outdo the other in obsequious praise of the monarch. Poland’s River Vistula gets my vote with a swaggering A major bass aria with strings. At last the Pleisse which flows through Leipzig is called upon to mediate. In her galant stylearia she urges the rivals to flow in harmony like the three flutes which accompany the soprano voice. Redolent with aquatic metaphor this piece, seemingly without later parodied material, is one of Bach’s finest dramma per musica.

While Schleicht spielende Wellenwas a birthday and name day tribute, Preise dein Glückeis a homage piece to Augustus. Two of its movements were later parodied by Bach; the soprano aria found its way into Part V of theChristmas Oratorio and the other, the work’s opening chorus was used in the B minor Mass. This eight-vocal strand double chorus, a rare occurrence in Bach’s cantatas testifies to the exceptional importance of the occasion.

All four soloists acquit themselves stylishly, demonstrating on occasion praiseworthy virtuosity, while the choruses, in which the soloists partake, rise spontaneously to the music’s occasional character. Brass, timpani, woodwind and strings sound cohesive and unanimous making this volume of Suzuki’s secular cantatas one of the strongest. 

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Nicholas Anderson