JS Bach Church Cantata Box Sets (BIS), Masaaki Susuki

Fergus Byrne

Masaaki Suzuki has been recording his cycle of JS Bach church cantatas with the Japan Bach Collegium since 1995. The first forty single issue CDs have recently been repackaged by BIS as four box sets. The presentation, which is of a high standard, has each hard box containing ten discs each.

The original booklet which accompanied each original disc is also included so that one gets ten discs and ten booklets per box so, effectively, nothing is lost with this presentation in relation to the original issues. The booklets are full of information and contain full texts in both English and German along with interesting comments regarding problems encountered concerning versions and resolutions enacted by Suzuki.

These four box sets are wonderfully fresh and vibrant collections in relation to both both recordings and performances. The vocal offerings, both solo and choral, are wonderfully unrestrained but never boisterous. The soloists are always clear toned and the chorus has weight and body and both soloists and chorus sing with feeling. The standard of instrumental playing is also very high both collectively and individually (when instrumental obbligati are called for). Period instruments are used but one is not overtly conscious of that fact nor is it an issue in any way as the playing is not flamboyant but steady and solid without being boring or pedantic; on the contrary the playing, as I have said, is of a high standard and very engaging. These are, to me, unmannered performances which do nothing but simply present these wonderful works with great solidity but yet with great vitality also; there are no prima donna performances on display here because the music always comes first in these very fine recordings.

It should be pointed out that the original discs nos. 28-40 were issued as SACDs but this is not the case in this collection (i.e. conventional CDs only are issued in this collection). But do not let that put you off. Not exactly budget price issues, these collections offer very good value for money however and they should be strongly considered both by the novice wishing to familiarise themselves with these works as well as by the more seasoned collector who will also find much on offer here by way of comparison with other cycles.