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 Recording of the Week  Bach Cantata bargain of the year

Started in 1995, Masaaki Suzuki's Bach Cantata series with the Bach Collegium Japan is maintaining a remarkable consistency of sheer quality. These performances radiate freshness, and their vitality is matched by a wonderfully present recorded sound which, in the later volumes with the addition of the surround effect of SACD, is very realistic indeed. It gives the impression that one is in the auditorium where the performances are taking place.

With soloists like Robin Blaze, Daniel Taylor and Carolyn Sampson, the quality of the solo singing, and indeed the instrumental obbligati, seems unsurpassable. And although there is no shortage of very fine rival versions - not least the continuing series on SDG of John Eliot Gardiner’s pilgrimage from 2000 - the majority of critics tend to favour the Suzuki recordings by a whisker. The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music for example says "Although the excellence of rival surveys is not in doubt, this Japanese survey is the strongest and most consistent, and the BIS recordings are altogether exemplary", while when BBC Radio 3 did their ‘A Bach Christmas’ celebrations in 2005 again it was the Suzuki cycle which was voted the first choice.

Masaaki Suzuki
Masaaki Suzuki

More and more people seem to be continually catching on to the outstanding quality of this series and each time a new disc is released (Volume 44 came out last week) it seems to sell more than the previous one. However, until now there has always been one big downside with this series and that is that they have only been available as single full price discs so, unless you’ve been collecting since the outset, the idea of ‘catching up’ with all the previous volumes is (unless you have very deep pockets) a bit of a non-starter.

However, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Bach Collegium Japan in 2010, BIS have decided to re-issue Volumes 1-40 in four boxes of 10 CDs each, each one at the astonishing value of ten CDs for the price of two and bit. One word of warning though: it is apparently a one-off pressing and so when they’re gone, they’re gone. We’ve bought up pretty good stocks so hope to have them available for a while, but at this price I think these will be very popular so would warn against waiting too long.