Conductor Masaaki Suzuki and the Japan Bach Collegium, Japan's leading historical-instrument ensemble, here take a break from a long series of cantata recordings to present Bach's Easter Oratorio and Ascension Oratorio. Actually, these recordings are very much of a piece with Suzuki's cantata discs. The two oratorios are really large cantatas, with their music imported from a variety of sources, some of them secular. There aren't dramatic roles, as in the larger cantatas, although the Ascension Oratorio does have a narrator-evangelist. The text of the Easter Oratorio is written from the point of view of onlookers to the Resurrection. Bach was among the most consistent composers who ever lived, but if he wrote any minor works, these could be placed under that heading.
Bach tweaked these works repeatedly as they were used for different occasions, and the booklet devotes a lot of space to sorting out all the different versions. As for the performances, they have the deliberate, calm quality that is the hallmark of Suzuki's Bach. In soprano Yukari Nonoshita he has found an ideal collaborator; check out track 5, the soprano-and-flute aria "Seele deine Spezieren," for an example of the hypnotic grace Suzuki's readings can have. Even her recitatives seem to glow with quiet light. Bass Chiyuki Urano is equally smooth, but the edgier sound of countertenor Patrick van Goethem is slightly out of place here. In general, those who prize the quality of contemplation in Bach's music will find Suzuki to their liking. His ongoing Bach project is producing recordings of lasting significance, and this production of the master's two small oratorios is well worth hearing.