Masaaki Suzuki’s second recording of the St Matthew Passion, coming two decades after his first, reveals the further deepening of an already profound empathy with the works of Bach.

What impresses from the opening chorus is a sense of spaciousness that gives each strand of the music plenty of room to unfold. At the same time Suzuki has the wonderful ability to balance the vivid, outward drama of the narrative with an inward spirituality that goes straight to the heart. These aspects combine to make for a powerful listening experience, exemplified in the aria and chorus So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen towards the end of Part One.

Suzuki is supported by a distinguished group of soloists. Evangelist, Benjamin Bruns is a born storyteller, bringing an almost breathless, rapid-fire delivery to the scene of Jesus’ arrest, yet heartache to the reporting of his death. Similarly, Christian Immler brings a wide emotional range to his portrayal of Jesus, contributing much to the prevailing mood in his relatively short utterances, as well as giving an admirably controlled Komm, süsses Kreuz.

Amongst the other soloists English soprano, Carolyn Sampson’s lucid, agile tone is a delight (Ich will dir mein Herze schenken), contrasting with the dark expressiveness of Aki Matsui (Blute nur). Damien Guillon gives a fervent account of the famous alto aria Buss and Reu, richly colouring the text, while in a superbly limpid rendering of Ebarme dich Clint van der Linde plumbs the depths of this intensely penitential encounter. Tenor, Makoto Sakurada urgently communicates the deepening tragedy in O Schmerz.

Undergirding Suzuki’s vision is the supreme flexibility and nuance of his orchestral players, prominently displayed in the many obbligato soloists. Suffice to say that each of them provides enormous listening pleasure. Another notable feature of the orchestral sound is the presence of a new organ by French builder, Marc Garnier. Larger than a conventional chamber organ, the instrument supports the first orchestra and comes closer to what Bach would have had at his disposal.

An illuminating essay by Bach expert, Robin Leaver is an added incentive to acquire this deeply considered and richly rewarding musical experience.

Composer: Bach
Work: St Matthew Passion
Performers: Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
Label: BIS BIS2500 (2CD)