, August 2011
Four late works, strongly projected, with some mellifluous alto arias
Dating cantatas from Bach’s later years remains an indeterminate business, not least because their creation played a rather more occasional part in the composer’s life during the final couple of decades than the frenzied activity of Leipzig in the early to mid-1720s. Lost works, fewer hooks, and adaptations from missing secular models all conspire to chronological uncertainty. This is the case in at least one of these four mature works, O ewiges Feuer, where a recently discovered libretto places its premiere a good 15 years earlier than the 1742 of a later revision.
As with the second version of Bach’s three cantata settings of Was Gott tut (BWV98-100), this graphic Whitsun work is given a sturdy performance from Bach Collegium Japan. The compelling juxtaposition of the crackling fire of the Holy Spirit and soaring eternity leaves us less satisfied in the virtuoso opening chorus…than in Bach’s skilful transformation of “Wohl euch” from a secular “slumber aria” into an intimate spiritual devotion. Robin Blaze is at his most ringing, mellifluous and assuaging here.
Yet Masaaki Suzuki’s strength lies in summoning up a world from the text and a sense of believing it (if not always in its capacity to enable a performance to fly far from its stylistic boundaries). This he does with supreme elegance and luminosity in Sei Lob und Ehr, a superb chorale cantata in which the hymn text remains unaltered throughout, with some distinguished if small-scale singing from tenor Satoshi Mizukoshi. “Was unser Gott” evokes God’s creative sleight of hand which Suzuki accompanies with a graceful but unobtrusive continuo under delectably mellow wind dialogues. The languid and delicate tone is extended in another glorious alto aria, “Ich will dich all mein Leben”, accompanied by flautist Liliko Maeda.
If that work is evidence of Bach’s gradual move towards a more finely etched and economic style, the simple beauty of Gott, man lobet dich (yes, with another storming alto aria) lies in the entrancing “Heil und Segen” for soprano and obbligato violin. It is sung exquisitely by Hana Blažíková and caps another consistently fine performance in the late autumn of Suzuki’s steadily impressive marathon.