If you asked Carl Crosier today who his favorite interpreter of Bach’s choral music he would say it is the widely-acclaimed Bach Collegium Japan, under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki. In fact, Carl has ordered multiple copies of the Bach Collegium Japan’s CD of the Bach “Mass in B Minor” for the choir to study. A harpsichordist, organist and conductor, Suzuki studied under Ton Koopman and Piet Kee in Amsterdam.
Carl first started collecting their CDs in 1995 when they set about to record all of the Bach cantatas, using period instruments and in historically-informed performances. He now has the complete set of cantata CDS (50) plus other baroque works which they have recorded to date. I have heard that the choir and baroque orchestra take several weeks to do each recording, almost in a retreat setting, rehearsing many hours daily to learn and perfect the music.
I would highly recommend Bernard Sherman’s article in the New York Times in which he discusses Suzuki’s Christian faith. Because Christians in Japan are a miniscule minority, Suzuki says, “My chorus members don’t have any Christian tradition, so I must explain almost everything. For example, what a parable means. Everybody in my choir has the translation in their hands for the rehearsal and recording.”
We in fact heard the Bach Collegium Japan on their first North American tour in 2003. In February of that year, Carl and I flew to Los Angeles and heard them perform the “St. John Passion” on Friday night, and the “St. Matthew Passion” on Saturday night — two nights in a row! Of course, we asked for Suzuki’s autograph and he very willingly obliged. Carl told him we had all of their recordings, to which Suzuki replied, “Then you must be a rich man!” Chorister Vreni Griffith has talked to him several times on their European tours and has told him about the LCH choir in Hawaii.
Carl says “their German is impeccable. You can close your eyes and you think you are hearing a German choir. Then you open your eyes and see that they are all Japanese!”
Here are some of their reviews:
I have never heard period instruments played with such purity of tone, so reliably in tune. The small, precise, dramatically alert chorus breathed fire but also revealed a heartbreaking tenderness.” – The Los Angeles Times
“The performances are, to my ears, of unmatched excellence.” – Gramophone Magazine
“The Collegium, led by conductor and founder Masaaki Suzuki, is almost impeccable. Its violins, violists and cellists draw a pure, precise tone from their strings. The woodwinds, especially the flutes, lifted the piece to ethereal beauty with their delicate lyricism,” – Associated Press
I’m excited that Carl and I will be going to Valporaiso, IN next month to hear the Bach Collegium Japan when they perform, you guessed it, Bach’s “Mass in B minor.”