For their program of congratulatory cantatas for Professors of the University of Leipzig BWV 205 and 207, Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan have chosen the title “Dramma per musica”, which is the way Bach called some of his secular cantatas. Although the composer did not intend to give these works an operatic atmosphere, there are characters (albeit allegorical) sometimes engaged in dialogue and there is almost a plot in BWV 205. Some conductors understand, however, that there must be some sense of theatre in these works and offer bold performances full of flair and contrast – Leonardo Garcia Alarcón in BWV 207 and Reinhard Goebel in BWV 205, for instance. Because of their laudatory nature, the élan is often translated in fast tempi, marked dance rhythms, virtuosistic playing, hearty choral singing and spirited soloists. However, I am not sure if I would place this evening’s performances in that group.
Although playing and singing were indeed animated for the Bach Collegium Japan’s usual standards, the whole concept reminded me rather of Ton Koopman’s recordings with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, in which the approach is less bombastic, the more exalted numbers (opening and final choruses especially) rather uncomfortable in their lack of clarity and purpose and direct rather than expressive in elegiac moments (such as the famous tenor aria Frische Schatten). Once again, strings lacked presence and brass has left a lot to be desired. The difficult solo in the soprano aria in BWV 205 sounded as difficult as it indeed is.
Joanne Lunn’s boyish soprano is pleasant on the ear and she sings with elegance and animation. Robin Blaze sounds a bit whiny these days, but found no difficulty in some very tricky passages. Wolfram Lattke is really adept in coloratura, but his tenor is rather thin, nasal and not really seductive. Intonation too was a bit dodgy. Makoto Sakurada, an usual collaborator of Maestro Suzuki, does a far better job in Garcia Alarcón’s recording of BWV 205. Although Roderick Williams’s baritone is a bit too congenial for the unsmiling Äolus, he is more fluent in his divisions than any other singer in the discography. Last but not least, the BCJ chorus sang with the usual polish and cleanliness. They could be at times a bit more “dramatically engaged”, but I have the impression that this was not required from them.