Secular Cantatas Ii (Bach / Bach Collegium Japan / Suzuki)
This release is part of Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki's fine complete cycle of Bach's cantatas with his Bach Collegium Japan, but it stands somewhat apart from the others, both in content and style. The two Bach secular cantatas featured both date from early in the composer's career; the "Cantata No. 208, Was mir behagt, is nur die muntre Jagd (What makes me happy is only the lively hunt), BWV 208," comes from 1713, during Bach's years of service to the Duke of Sachsen-Weissenfels, while the "serenata" "Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht, BWV 134" (Time, maker of days and years), dates from 1719, during the Köthen period. The former piece was apparently written to adorn one of the Duke's hunting outings and is a sort of pastoral paean; the latter is a New Year's ceremonial work proclaiming the desirability of long life and power for the "Saxon hero." It would be unlikely to find these works among anybody's top Bach picks, and it's interesting to reflect on the ways in which Bach's vocal idiom was bound up with Lutheran devotion. But they make a satisfying effect here in the hands of Suzuki and his group. Partly this is due to the terrific work of soprano Sophie Junker, the standout among the group of soloists; her voice has a startling range of colors within the small dimensions Suzuki lays down here. Also notable is the way Suzuki avoids the utter precision that usually characterizes his style, letting the orchestra's natural horns define a looser, more festive sound. Listenable for anyone, with the usual BIS engineering values, and a worthwhile choice for Bach completists as well as those sampling Suzuki's series or acquiring it in full.
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