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GRAMOPHONE (05/2017)
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Reviewer: Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

Far from the all-purpose grandiloquence of the Martinikerk in Groningen – where Masaaki Suzuki recorded his most recent Bach recital (10/15) – the Garnier organ in Kobe offers us with a rather more unusual context for Bach. The instrument is broadly constructed in the French style from around 1700, with its decidedly fruity mean-tone tuning. While the Shoin Chapel represents Suzuki’s spiritual home (a place where he returned to build a career after study in the Netherlands and in which the complete series of Bach cantatas was recorded), the specific musical reasons for choosing this location soon become evident in performances of deep-seated understanding, colour and vitality.

The symmetrical layout of the programme embodies the kind of parlour game that Bach would have appreciated – a pair of Preludes and Fugues framing the whole, working towards the middle with two versions of the same chorale prelude, two Vivaldi transcriptions and with the great 20-minute chorale partita Sei gegrüsset as the fulcrum. The structure serves a significant purpose, as we soon discover. Suzuki’s climb to the heart of the partita is made all the more searching because the palate seems ideally prepared for the richly diverse registrations that characterise the organist’s eloquent reading.  

Indeed, the variations on ‘Sei gegrüsset’, bursting as it is with a serious young composer’s desire to pay homage to his possible teacher Georg Böhm, fit round the Garnier’s quixotic turns like a glove. Var 5 quacks with a naturalist’s delight and the penultimate variation offers such subtly complementary timbres between chorale and paraphrase as to capture perfectly the inner thread of the work’s open-hearted faith.

The C major works are intermittently compromised by the organ’s ‘tough’ mean-tone tuning but Suzuki’s exceptional rhetorical placement and fine judgement prevails. The Groningen volume may enjoy a greater kaleidoscopic range than this reflective and carefully navigated recital but Suzuki never disappoints. In fact, quite the opposite: this volume says ‘Vol 2’ (the first disc had no number) and so we anticipate a series that will take Bach into new spheres while also thrillingly recalling the great Piet Kee, Suzuki’s teacher.

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