Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Earthy fun from Maestro Suzuki


If I had to choose one major recording project this century I think I'd go for the Bach Cantatas series on BIS with Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki (I'd cheat and add Bach's other major choral masterworks). Suzuki never lets us down; he chooses the right singers, his choir and instrumentalists are scrupulously prepared, his tempi are nearly always bang on, and most importantly through all of this he has something interesting to say related to Bach and Baroque music, and religion and history and performance practice. Throughout this project Suzuki, along with his gifted musicians and the just-as-gifted BIS producers and engineers, communicates a gentle peace, but keeps a strong joy bubbling just below the surface.

All of this is obviously apparent in the Passions and the Mass, but it's even more appreciated in the lesser works, and those that come from the quotidian working musician rather than the great genius communing directly with God. The Peasant Cantata has always been fairly popular; I counted about 25 different versions on Amazon.com. There are some great tunes here, and a chance for the vocal soloists to characterize and even ham it up a bit. But its popularity also comes partly because it fits well on a CD with the Coffee Cantata, and partly because the record company gets to put on the record cover a cool Breughel-style picture of Flemish peasants having a grand time. Suzuki, though, comes through with something that sounds close to what Bach might have written for the opera stage. There is, of course, no real dramatic spark here, nothing like what is evident in even the earliest operas of Mozart. But there's a proto-singspiel feeling, with a fairly coherent libretto by Picander about young lovers, quotations of popular folk songs and the introduction of popular dance rhythms. Suzuki brings a vital, earthy feel to my favourite number, the final duet Wir gehn nun, wo der Dudelsack, by adding very cool drone sounds. I haven't heard any other version using this (I just listened to a dozen on the Naxos Music Library), and there's no indication in the liner notes as to how it was accomplished. The scoring indicated reads only "Corno, Flauto traverso, Violino I, II, Viola, Soprano, Basso, Continuo, Cembalo", but I suspect maybe it involved trumpet mouthpieces or, who knows?, kazoos. I'm not sure if anyone has ever staged the Peasant Cantata, but it sure sounds like it might be surprisingly effective, perhaps as part of an opera gala. But only if it's played and sung as perfectly as this.

Rather than the Coffee Cantata, we have for fillers two Italian cantatas of doubtful authorship. What isn't doubtful is the quality of the music, which is very high. There's no slacking off by the Suzuki and his forces, of course; this sounds like medium- if not top-drawer Bach to my untutored ears, though of course it's odd to hear Bach sung in Italian. So it's a surprisingly fun hour and a bit from BIS and Maestro Suzuki, though I guess it's no surprise it's so good. This CD is due to be released on September 9, 2016.

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