Bach Collegium Japan

Bach Collegium Japan

Baroque Orchestra

• Founded 1990

Editor's Choice

Masaaki Suzuki's ambitious project to record all 193 church cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach was some 18 years in the making, and this suitably celebratory 55th (and final) volume provides especially gratifying proof of the combined choral and orchestral skills of the Bach Collegium Japan, a period-instrument outfit founded by the conductor in 1990. Make no mistake, there's a beguiling poise, buoyancy and swagger about this commendably selfless music-making that both lifts the spirits and nourishes the soul. And, no, your ears do not deceive you: the introductory Gloria from the Christmas cantata No 191 did indeed later find its way (with a few minor tweaks) into the composer's towering Mass in B minor. Superbly engineered by BIS in the BCJ's regular venue of the Shoin Women's University Chapel in Kobe, this rewarding triptych rounds off a massive undertaking in unimpeachably eloquent fashion.

Biography

The Bach Collegium Japan has become perhaps the finest Japanese period-instrument ensemble. Consisting of a chamber orchestra of 20 or so members and a choir of about 25, the ensemble has devoted itself largely to the cantatas and other choral works of J.S. Bach, and to those of various Baroque-era composers, such as Handel, Schütz, and Buxtehude. The group occasionally pares down its forces for instrumental works, such as the Brandenburg Concertos. The Bach Collegium Japan regularly appears in concert at home, as well as at major international locales and has made over 100 recordings for the BIS label.

The Bach Collegium Japan was founded in 1990 by its music director Masaaki Suzuki. Over the years, the ensemble has performed its regular concerts at two locations: Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall and the Kobe Shoin Women's University Chapel. The BCJ initiated its first international tours in 2000 with appearances in Israel, Spain, and Australia. The following year included a highly successful tour of Italy (Rome, Milan, and Florence), and, in 2003, the group debuted in the United States, giving concerts in six cities, including New York (Carnegie Hall), Boston, and Los Angeles. Suzuki has performed at the keyboard in many concerts and recordings, typically on the harpsichord or organ, two instruments on which he had developed virtuosic skills. It should be noted that Suzuki, apart from his work with the BCJ, has forged a highly successful career as a recitalist and soloist with other ensembles and as a recording artist. Concert activity of note by the BCJ has included a return tour of the U.S. in 2006 and appearances in that same year in London, Amsterdam, and Madrid. In 2011, following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the ensemble and presenting organizations donated proceeds from its U.S. tour concerts to relief efforts.

In 1995, the BCJ began a massive project for the BIS label -- recording all the church cantatas of Bach. The BCJ completed this cycle of 50 albums in 2014. In 2018, the ensemble issued the final volume of its complete cycle of Bach's cantatas. Intermixed with these releases were albums of other Bach works, including Violin Concertos and Orchestral Suites, as well as albums devoted to Handel (Messiah), Buxtehude (Membra Jesu Nostri), and many others. Admirers were astonished at the pace of the Bach cantata series, and continue to be, as the ensemble carries on recording at a persistent clip. In 2020 alone, the BCJ issued recordings of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, and the first volume in a cycle of the composer's Harpsichord Concertos.

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