The Reformations fundamental alterations to traditional forms of church service, had, by Bach's time, resulted in German churches Latin yielding to the country's own language. To a limited extent, however, the Latin mass text did remain in use in the Protestant church in particular the Kyrie and Gloria sections. Termed Missa to differentiate them from complete settings, these pieces are often referred to now as 'Lutheran Masses'. Bach's famous Mass in B minor began its existence as a work of this type, and four other examples from Bach's pen have survived. Newly performed and recorded by Bach Collegium Japan under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki, the Missae BWV 235 and 236 are here combined with four separate settings of the Sanctus. Two of these are original works, whereas BWV 241, and possibly also 240, is an arrangement of another composers setting. The 'KyrieChriste' BWV Anh 26 is an example of how Bach used music by other composers, in this case by his Neapolitan contemporary Francesco Durante.
For this hybrid SACD of famous organ works by J.S. Bach, Masaaki Suzuki plays the restored Schnitger-Hinz organ in the Martinikerk (Martin's Church), in Groningen, one of the most celebrated instruments in the Netherlands and one which dates back to Bach's time. Its bright, Baroque sonorities and Suzuki's historically informed interpretations give these performances a compelling sense of authenticity and period style. The pieces are among Bach's greatest hits, particularly the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which gives the program a decisive opening. Following that flashy demonstration, Suzuki is relaxed and almost contemplative in the Pastorale in F major, and continues his thoughtful readings in the Partita on "O Gott, du frommer Gott," the Prelude and Fugue in G minor, and the Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her." Yet he includes two sparkling virtuoso performances in the Fantasia in G major and the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, which keep the album from being too soft and subdued. BIS' super audio sound is crisp and detailed, which is no mean feat in a church recording.
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.)
In June 1995, a virtually unknown group of Japanese musicians embarked on the monumental task of recording the complete sacred cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. Almost eighteen years later, on 23rd February 2013, the Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki – by then household names in the international music world – reached their goal, as they finished recording the 55th disc in a series which in the meantime had met with overwhelming acclaim worldwide. Made in conjunction with the final cantata recording, this film commemorates the occasion. Besides filmed performances of the three last cantatas – Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV191, Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, BWV69 and Freue dich, erlöste Schar, BWV30 – the film includes interviews with Masaaki Suzuki and key members of Bach Collegium Japan as well as behind-the-scenes footage.
This is an enjoyable, somehow spontaneous recording of several of Bach's works for a pair of harpsichords, with the great Japanese Bach conductor Masaaki Suzuki joined by his son Masato. The high spirits of the elder Suzuki here could be chalked up to any combination of several factors. One might be freedom from the rigors of his complete Bach cantata cycle, just recently completed when this album appeared in 2014.
Listening to this irresistibly joyful and magnificently musical set of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and Orchestral Suites, one is immediately struck by two thoughts. First, Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan have been wasting their time concentrating on Bach's dour cantatas, and second, Bach himself was wasting his time writing his melancholy church music when he could have been composing infinitely more cheerful secular music. While Suzuki and his crew have turned in superlatively performed, if spectacularly severe recording of the cantatas, they sound just as virtuosic and vastly more comfortable here.
This performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion is sung in English and played on modern instrument. If that bothers you, don't bother checking out this recording. If it doesn't bother you, and you like the idea of a heartrending, awe-inspiring, and profoundly moving performance of Bach's sacred dramatic masterpiece, by all means, try this recording. David Willcocks, the dean of English choral conductors, leads the combined forces of the Bach Choir, the Boys' Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Thames Chamber Orchestra along with six A-list British soloists in a deeply human, intensely spiritual, and amazingly dramatic performance of the work.
J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245 – one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five – is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach's lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material. The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts – which seem to have been hasty ones – are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach's tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.
Among traditional modern-instrument versions of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Wolfgang Gönnenwein’s 1968 recording has a lot to offer. Not least is the excellent choral singing from top to bottom. The texts are always clear, and the pacing for the chorales is governed by the story’s dramatic unfolding. You can’t help but be hooked by Evangelist Theo Altmeyer’s warm tone and vivid portrayal, complemented by Franz Crass’ sonorous, touching Jesus. What a joy it is to hear Teresa Zylis-Gara, Julia Hamari, and Hermann Prey at the peak of their respective powers. Tenor Nicolai Gedda is heard to better advantage with Gönnenwein than in Otto Klemperer’s recording, where he struggled with that conductor’s craggy tempos. The orchestra plays beautifully, and the engineering does full justice to Bach’s antiphonal interplay. All the recitatives are accompanied by rather dutiful chordal backing from the organ and cello (Bach adds a “halo” of strings, of course, whenever Jesus opens his mouth). A harpsichordist with a bent for improvisation would have spruced up the texture. Lovers of great Bach singing, however, will treasure this release.(Jed Distler)