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.)
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 second section of the cantata is a long vocal section opening with four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) singing together. Many recordings of this cantata use a choir for this section, but recent recordings have featured a one-voice-per-part strategy here, as does this one. The texture of this is excellent, although the balance between the voices wavers a bit. The tenor, bass and soprano each have ariosos within this section. Tenor Knut Schock enters a bit heavily, but his voice is quite appropriate for the melancholy tone of his section. Bass Bas Ramselarr has a slightly dark, yet clear voice. His section features a delightful accompaniment by the two recorders - in an interesting counterpoint with such a deep voice - and, again, the balance is slightly off, his voice sometimes drowning out the recorders just a bit…