My favorite composer has long been the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), whom many consider the greatest composer in the history of Western music.
His monumental Mass in B Minor (H-Moll-Messe)
may be the greatest work of Christian sacred music ever written.
Because it is Holy Week this week, Bach's sacred and religious music are particularly appropriate during this most solemn, and ultimately joyous, season on the Christian calendar.
Bach's St. Matthew Passion (Matthäuspassion)
and St. John Passion (Johannespassion)
, the two extant passions out of the purportedly five he composed, and his Easter Oratorio (Oster-Oratorium)
suit this time of year very well.
When I moved away from classical music several years ago, Englishman Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists
, Dutchman Ton Koopman's Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
, and Belgian Philippe Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale Gent
& La Chapelle Royale ranked among the leading HIP (historically informed performance) choral and instrumental ensembles of Baroque music.
And they still are.
When I came back to classical music recently, another ensemble had joined their ranks: Bach Collegium Japan, founded and conducted by Japanese Masaaki Suzuki.
Suzuki's Bach Collegium Japan has since become my favorite choral and instrumental ensemble. Their singing and playing are unsurpassed. I love the heavenly, angelic sound of their adult mixed choir - beautiful, radiant and pure, with great diction and oustanding intonation, just perfect for Baroque choral music.
The internationally acclaimed, widely praised Bach Collegium Japan under Masaaki Suzuki won a Cannes Classical Award in 2000
for their superb 1998 recording
, released in 1999 on the Swedish label BIS
, of the St. John Passion
by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Many regard the ongoing Bach Collegium Japan series of the Bach cantatas - most, but not all, are sacred and religious in nature - to be the finest on record.
In his August 18, 2005 article
for the highly respected, high brow, German nationwide weekly newspaper Die Zeit
, "The Meistersingers from Tokyo: Conductor Masaaki Suzuki and his Japanese Bach Collegium left audiences speechless in a recent tour of Germany
," Die Zeit journalist Wolfram Goertz writes:
Masaaki Suzuki was born in Kobe, in 1954. He is the conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan, a hand-picked group of musicians who since the group's formation in 1990 have dedicated themselves so unswervingly and competently to Bach's music that the western world has been left speechless. The jury of Germany's phonographic award, the Deutscher Schallplattenpreis, recently honoured Suzuki's team for the 27th sequel of its recordings all of Bach's cantatas. Now the troop is in Franconia to perform Bach's Mass in B Minor. After the concert the audience looked as if they couldn't quite believe what they'd just heard. Some were clearly asking themselves what on earth had happened to the world and its traditions that their beloved Bach could be delivered with such profundity, virtuosity and sincerity by, God forbid, the Japanese.