JS Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 33

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Johann Sebastian Bach
WORKS: Cantatas, Vol. 33: BWV 41, 92 & 130
PERFORMER: Yukari Nonoshita (soprano), Robin Blaze(countertenor), Jan Kobow (tenor),Dominik Wörner (bass); Bach CollegiumJapan/Masaaki Suzuki

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In his second year as Cantor of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, Bach faced a daunting workload: composing and copying, rehearsing and performing, teaching, playing, organising his musicians. Yet his inspiration and invention were unparalleled.

For Michaelmas, September 1724, BWV 130 has a mighty chorus with trumpets and timpani, oboes, and strings; a bass aria with trumpets and drums alone – no strings; a pert gavotte for tenor, flute and plucked cello without continuo (Suzuki has identified the ‘pizzicato’ marking in Bach’s hand, and tacet, ‘silent’, in a copy of the organ part).

On New Year’s Day, in BWV 41, he produced another huge chorus, over 200 bars long, with stratospheric trumpets; a gentle Pastorale for soprano, with three oboes and bass playing teasingly unpredictable phrase-lengths; a reflective tenor aria wrapped in a florid angular line from violoncello piccolo (a mysterious instrument possibly of Bach’s own invention).

A month later, in BWV 92, a trio of two oboes d’amore and continuo weave seamless counterpoint around a chorale melody; a tornado of strings depict Satan’s rage… Bach had virtuoso performers at his disposal, stretching them in wonderfully inventive colours and textures.

Suzuki responds magnificently to the musical challenges, and his Bach Collegium to the staggering technical demands. You simply won’t hear better natural trumpet playing– no valves, just lip-control – than the almost violinistic top line of the bass aria in BWV 130.

The violoncello piccolo in BWV 41, played here on a small cello, is beautifully managed, the continuo bass virtually redundant as the broken solo line sketches its own harmonic accompaniment to its melodic arabesques.

Of the soloists Dominik Wörner, though a light and lyrical voice, has plenty of dramatic force to depict ‘howling of rough winds’ in a wild duet with continuo in BWV 92; Jan Kobow seems effortlessly controlled within the piccolo cello’s flourishes; and Robin Blaze contributes two heartfelt recitatives.

If Yukari Nonoshita is tonally rather uneven in the first aria of BWV 41, her pinpoint intonation is impressive within this angular line. She is flowingly more at ease in BWV 92, clothed in oboe d’amore and pizzicato strings.

The Bach Collegium chorus, just eight voices in addition to the soloists, contributes to the clarity of texture. Every contrapuntal line is distinctive – a tribute, too, to the sound engineering.

Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel wraps a glorious bloom around the music, yet detail remains admirably clear, particularly in the SACD option with its added dimension of depth as well as width.

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Only in BWV 92 is the sound balance better served by Koopman in Amsterdam’s Walloon Church. Suzuki’s distant oboes are less integrated, though later, in a simpler instrumental trio texture, everything falls neatly into place.