Bach: Cantatas, BWV 2, 3, 38 & 135

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Bach
WORKS: Cantatas, BWV 2, 3, 38 & 135
PERFORMER: Dorothee Mields (soprano), Pascal Bertin (countertenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass); Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1461
The four cantatas sung on this disc in Suzuki’s series belong to Bach’s second Leipzig cycle which began in June 1724. This was his great chorale cantata cycle, so called because he generally retained the first and last verses of his chosen hymn together with its associated melody, while paraphrasing the intervening verses often with quotations from the same melody. The technical mastery and artistic endeavour that Bach demonstrates in these chorale fantasias is never less than breathtaking. The four cantatas here strike a penitential even austere note underlined by chromaticism and in two instances (BWV 2 and 38) by the setting of the deeply contemplative opening choruses in motet style. Luther’s texts do not mince their words but, as always Bach’s poetic responses sugar the pill. The anguished anonymous text of the Epiphany cantata Ach gott, wie manches Herzeleid (BWV 3), for instance, is alleviated by lyrically expressive melodic contours.

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While these cantatas certainly do not wear their hearts on their sleeves Masaaki Suzuki brings to them a textural clarity and a lightness of tread which makes more sense of Bach’s often strongly chromatic music than any rival recording that I can recall. Dance rhythms are seldom far away in his cantatas and in this respect, too, he captures their spirit more readily in these particular works than does Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt or Ton Koopman. Singing and playing is of a very high standard almost throughout. German soprano Dorothee Mields’ light, ethereal singing and pleasingly textured voice is ideal in this context, but the contributions of French countertenor Pascal Bertin strike my ears as technically and stylistically less assured. The recorded sound is excellent. Nicholas Anderson