What are the most obvious differences between Bach’s religious cantatas and these secular cantatas? 

The aim of the composition. That makes the essential difference of the character of work, but still it remains within Bach’s language.

Masaaki SuzukiMasaaki Suzuki. Photo supplied.

Has recording his secular cantatas taught you anything about his religious ones?

Our project of secular cantatas taught us that actually in Bach’s attitude toward composing there was no difference between sacred and secular cantatas, in spite of some technical differences derived from the different aim. And this is probably how he has felt about his life in – and outside of – the church.

Most of these cantatas were composed for a special event and never played again in Bach’s lifetime. Is this ever apparent from the music?  

I do not think so. He has done his best to make the music suitable for each case, whether or not they might ever be repeated.

Have any other musician’s interpretations of Bach influenced your own approach?  

Leonhardt and Harnoncourt’s versions of the complete cantata recordings are at all times a basic model to me, although in detail we are quite different in performing style. What I admire about them is actually their enormous enthusiasm and courage, not only for performance, but also for research in instrumentation and performance practice, which was not known very well at that time.

Do these essentially celebratory works present specific challenges to a conductor?

Not so much for the conductor, but in some parts, singers and instrumentalists are faced with quite a technical challenge.

What vocal qualities do you look to draw from the soloists and choirs in this music?

I would like to have singers who can devote themselves to the music with honesty, and who are able to integrate technicality and musicality together with established body usage.

When will you complete the set?

We have already completed all the recording sessions, so you will get them probably within one year.


Masaaki Suzuki’s recording of Bach’s secular cantatas with Bach Collegium Japan on BIS is Limelight‘s Recording of the Month in October.

Read our review