A Christmas Greeting from Bach Collegium Japan

Although I’m far more of a “Happy Holidays” audiophile than anything else, the prospect of a high-resolution Christmas-themed recording from Masaaki Suzuki and his superb Bach Collegium Japan led me to their new hybrid SACD issue from BIS, Verbum caro factum est: A Christmas Greeting (BIS-2291). Auditioned as a 24/96 stereo download—downloading or streaming are the only ways to access the recording immediately, and in format choices that include surround—Masaaki Suzuki’s recording managed to bring smiles, warmth, and good cheer to this admittedly down-on-religion Grinch.

The recording begins and ends with two different 15th century arrangements of “Verbum caro factum est”, a medieval hymn to the Virgin Mary. The first version introduces us to Aki Matsui, a truly marvelous soprano member of Bach Collegium Japan who also solos in the trio version of the hymn at disc’s end.

Between many of the sung selections, organist Masato Suzuki takes to the lovely, baroque styled 1983 Marc Garnier organ of the Shoin University Chapel, Kobe, Japan to perform settings of French carols by Louis-Claude Daquin. While the Garnier organ sounds nowhere as big and bass-rich as I expect from the big organ in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, where Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan have performed their Christmas program since 2013, the sound will still fill the space between, above, and around your speakers if you listen in hi-rez and turn up the volume.

Masato Suzuki is also responsible for the unusual carol arrangements, which have been published in the Bach Collegium Japan Christmas Carol Book. There are many harmonically-unusual intros, bridges, and interludes that you’ve never heard before, and that add freshness to such chestnuts as Gruber’s “Silent Night,” “In Dulci Jubilo,” “The First Noel,” the Jewish-born Mendelssohn’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and “Adeste Fideles.” If you don’t look at the liner notes beforehand, you’ll be hard pressed to guess what familiar melody is about to break free when many of these carols begin.

One of my favorites on this recording is the beautiful all-woman rendition of the 15th century carol, “In dulci jubilo. Another is the unusually hushed opening of “The First Noel.” Intentional or not, the opening to “Adeste fideles”—I am not going to give it away—is hilarious.

If you’re searching for last-minute holiday music, or if you love the sound of Masaaki Suzuki’s wonderful choral ensemble, this recording is for you. The air-filled, three-dimensional presentation is as excellent as the singing, and the organ interludes are a special bonus.

Happy Holidays, one and all.

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