Bach: Keyboard Concertos, Vol 2 - Suzuki
Classical - Orchestral
Bach: Keyboard Concertos BWV 1057, 1055, 1058, 1054
Bach Collegium Japan
Masato Suzuki, harpsichord & direction
The concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach for solo harpsichord and strings are some of the earliest, if not the very first, keyboard concertos. In all likelihood Bach wrote them for his own use (or that of his talented sons) – probably to be performed with Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum. The concertos’ fresh and exuberant character reflects how much Bach enjoyed the opportunity to engage with his fellow musicians, a quality that also came across on Masato Suzuki’s first installment of Bach's harpsichord concertos together with his colleagues in Bach Collegium Japan: ‘sparkling performances... [Suzuki’s] remarkable virtuosity is beautifully projected by BIS’s excellent SACD recording’ (MusicWeb-International).
Despite how idiomatic they may sound, many of Bach’s harpsichord concertos are almost certainly transcriptions of earlier works written for other instruments. Of the works presented on this second volume, BWV 1054 and BWV 1058 are adaptations of violin concertos composed while the composer was living in Cöthen. The model for BWV 1055 has been lost but it is believed to be a concerto for oboe or viola d’amore. BWV 1057, finally, is an adaptation of the well-known Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, transposed down one step but retaining the original’s two recorders. As examples of musical recycling, these works display Bach’s uncanny ability to re-use successful music ideas and give them a new meaning and significance.
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- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Keyboard No. 3, BWV 1054 in D major (after BWV 1042)
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Keyboard No. 4, BWV 1055 in A major
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Keyboard No. 6, BWV 1057 in F major (after BWV 1049)
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Keyboard No. 7, BWV 1058 in G minor (after BWV 1041)
Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 17, 2022
Arrangements and or transcriptions of Bach’s music are common. There are many examples of unexpected and surprising results. For instance ‘Das Wohltemperierte Akkordeon’: Bach: Das wohltemperiete Akkordeon - Miki. The best examples, however, are those by the Master himself. Let’s go back in time.
Many years ago (1986) the German Capriccio label (in cooperation with VEB Deutsche Schallplatten, Berlin, DDR) issued a series of ‘Reconstructed Solo Concertos’. After extensive research, The ‘Neues Bachisches Collegium Leipzig’, conducted by Max Pommer, with members and soloists of the ‘Gewandhausorchester, Leipzig’, recorded some nine concertos reconstructed from various sources and supposedly lost originals. Some of it was straightforward, but some were ambiguous, or even controversial, though very interesting and informative all the same.
It demonstrates how Bach was able to treat and rework existing material into ‘new’ compositions, depending on demand and availability of musicians. All proof of his craftsmanship and flexibility. But also, how, in those days, people were not embarrassed by even borrowing someone else’s feathers, like Bach’s version of Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins.
Though it might have been interesting to live at that time and to finally know all the ‘undisputed’ ins and outs of historical performance practices, I’d rather live now and listen to these Japanese performers in the comfort of my home, and not least to enjoy the generous quality of the BIS recording sessions in the Land of the Rising Sun, which is arguably among the best available.
In this second volume, BWV 1054 (Keyboard concerto No. 3) is a transcription of Bach’s violin concerto BWV 1042, whereas BWV 1055 (No. 4), and 1058 (No. 7) are most probably transcriptions of the above straightforward reconstructions of solo concertos for Violin and Oboe d’Amore. In keyboard format all familiar stuff, with the exception of BWV 1057 (No. 6), in which, because of the inclusion of the two recorders, we may immediately recognize an arrangement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 (BWV 1049). Yo Tomita, responsible for the liner notes, adds a wealth of relevant information, be they real or based on educated guesswork.
The liner notes suggest that Nos 3, 4, and 7, as played here, were meant for personal use, and that may very well be true. But even if they weren’t (they may have been commissioned by others), they do come across as what later developed into private concerts in Stately Homes and Paris’ Salons. With a minimal supporting complement, all players find shared intimate satisfaction like brothers in arms. And that, quite frankly, is how I feel these concertos should be played. Not the high-strung brilliance and a too much forward placed, amplified harpsichord, but rather the relaxed, comforting musicianship, revealing the attractive complexities of Bach’s melodious harmonies.
And that is what is on offer here. Masato Suzuki performs (and directs) largely in the style of his father, a pupil of Ton Koopman at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, which is as far as I’m concerned, a true traditional Bach reference. I do, however, accept that tastes develop and that some might wish for more virtuoso, commensurate with the hectic times we nowadays live in. Though, as I said above, who knows exactly how the Great Master performed his brainchildren?
The musical fabric is one of intimate unity. The soloist, playing a warmly and not over-amplified sounding harpsichord (Willem Kroesbergen, Utrecht 1987 after J. Couchet), is well-balanced among the few participating members of Bach Collegium Japan, consisting of Natsumi Wakamatsu (leader) and Azumi Takada, violin; Yukie Yamaguchi, viola; Toru Yamamoto, cello, and Seiji Nishizawa, violone. For number 6, Andreas Böhlen and Kenichi Mizuuchi join in with their period recorders.
This new release stands proudly next to similar readings of Francesco Cerato, a Gustav Leonhardt pupil and graduate of the same Amsterdam Conservatory: Bach: Keyboard Concertos 1-3 & 5 - Cera, Fasolis, the sound of which is slightly more reverberating.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France
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