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.)
As the mysterious opening bars of the Kyrie gradually emerge into the light, we know that this recording of Mozart’s glorious Great Mass in C minor is a special one: the tempi perfect, the unfolding drama of the choral writing so carefully judged, and, above it all, the crystalline beauty of soloist Carolyn Sampson’s soprano, floating like a ministering angel. Masaaki Suzuki’s meticulous attention to detail, so rewarding in his remarkable Bach recordings, shines throughout this disc, the playing alert, the choir responsive, the soloists thrilling. And there is the bonus of an exhilarating Exsultate, Jubilate with Sampson on top form.
Since founding Bach Collegium Japan in 1990, Masaaki Suzuki has established himself as a leading authority on the works of Bach. He has remained their Music Director ever since, taking them regularly to major venues and festivals in Europe and the USA and building up an outstanding reputation for the expressive refinement and truth of his performances.
The music of Bach's 'St. John Passion', which the composer wrote for Holy Week in 1724 immediately after his appointment as cantor of St Thomas's Church in Leipzig, still retains all its freshness and vitality nearly 300 years later, and is a true Baroque delight. The two main choruses Herr, unser Herrscher and Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine form the beginning and culmination of a large-scale orchestral and vocal structure in which Bach reveals his absolute mastery of polyphony. Inwardly reflective chorales are as much interwoven into the events of the Passion as the haunting arias which comment on the biblical texts of the Gospel of St John. Throughout this solemn Passion oratorio, there is a constant emphasis on Baroque musical magnificence. What makes this live recording of the concert version of March 7, 2015 in the Herkulessaal of the Munich Residenz so special? The fresh voices of the young and excellent vocal soloists, the regularly praised "astonishing three-dimensionality" and "crystalline clarity" of the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the direction of Peter Dijkstra and, of course, the renowned period instrument ensemble Concerto Köln.
The Amsterdam Bach Soloists comprise an ensemble of ten or so musicians. They play modern instruments but base their musical approach on ''an undogmatic use of authentic interpreting practice, so that the rich potentialities of the modern instruments can be combined with the baroque way of performing, which is in keeping with the accomplishments of Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Concertgebouw Orchestra''. Most of the players are, in fact, drawn from the Concertgebouw, though there are some from Frans Bruggen's Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. Nowadays Bach's didactic but very beautiful The Art of Fugue, is widely regarded as a work for solo harpsichord. Bach himself left no precise indication concerning instrumentation but the music was engraved in open score which places each individual voice or strand of the texture on a separate stave. This practice was not uncommon in contrapuntal keyboard works and is one of several features pointing towards the solo harpsichord as being Bach's most likely intention. Nevertheless, since 1924, when the Swiss musician Wolfgang Graeser set the canons and fugues for various combinations of instruments, the practice of performing The Art of Fugue with a mixed ensemble has remained popular.