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Bach Cantatas and Magnificat, Bach Collegium Japan, Suzuki, Saffron Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Bach Cantatas and Magnificat, Bach Collegium Japan, Suzuki, Saffron Hall

Bach Cantatas and Magnificat, Bach Collegium Japan, Suzuki, Saffron Hall

Fine, benign church music by the greatest of them all in the right acoustic

Bach Collegium Japan and soloists at Saffron HallImages by Roger King

“The rests, the silences in Bach are never for nothing,” I once heard the Dutch cellist and baroque specialist Anner Bylsma telling a student in a masterclass. “You jump up from them, you reach higher.” Hearing the Bach Collegium Japan on Sunday night kept bringing those phrases to mind, because the listener in the acoustic of Saffron Hall really does get to hear this music, so delicately played, emerging again and again from silence. 

The performers stand in readiness. Then, propelled by Masaaki Suziki’s benign, ultra-clear beat, the music springs into action. The unflamboyant, serving-the-music approach of Suzuki and his players and singers is completely involving. They had spent a good couple of hours in the afternoon before the concert getting used to the new hall: it was clearly time well spent. 

The Bach Collegium Japan have visited the UK so rarely, it might be possible to imagine that they have continued to plough a lonely furrow in another time zone. Far from it. For me at least, the biggest surprise was to discover quite how linked they are to the mainstream of European historically informed performance practice, and to the people involved in it. BCJ are more than just connected to the very best of what happens in Europe; they are a part of it.

Joanne Lunn with Bach Collegium JapanAt the beating heart of the ensemble was their exceptionally fine continuo team. The harpsichord and chamber organ player was Masaaki Suzuki’s son Masato. He has studied extensively in Europe with players like Bob Van Asperen. His delicate colours, particularly in soloistic episodes of the cantata Vergnügte Ruh Beliebte Seelenlust, BWV170, were a delight. The bass parts combined the superb French cellist Emmanuel Barss, often to be heard in Les Arts Florissants, working with the discreet and subtle Belgian bassist Frank Coppieters from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. That practice of doubling the line, to give a fuller bass presence, has increasingly become the norm in European groups. 

The solo singers were also all from the western hemisphere. Soprano Joanne Lunn (pictured above with Masaaki Suzuki, by Roger King) communicates sheer joy every time she sings – see the review of Saturday afternoon's concert in St Giles Cripplegate – while bass Dominik Wörner has a Lieder-singer’s ultra-clear diction, and the duetting of countertenor Robin Blaze and tenor Colin Balzer in the “Et Misericordia” of the Magnificat was a delight. The choir sing in a balanced and selfless way. They did have printed music, but it looked as if most of them had the whole programme memorised: the commitment shines through. 

They were superb in the Bach Magnificat which ended Sunday’s programme. The most memorable moment in it was when the dove-like sonorities of two baroque flutes combined with a chamber organ and pizzicato strings, accompanying the countertenor Robin Blaze in “Esurientes implevit bonis”, but each of the dozen movements had its own character, its own lively individual essence.

There were quite a few empty seats on Sunday, perhaps because – as yet – the Bach Collegium Japan are not well enough known here. They received a rapturous reception from the audience. Next time they come here, surely, the secret will be out.

The biggest surprise was to discover quite how linked Bach Collegium Japan are to the European mainstream


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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