Many historically informed performance ensembles perform on original instruments. Some play with exceptional virtuosity; a few expand our understanding of a work by playing it. Bach Collegium Japan, which returned triumphantly to the Library of Congress on Wednesday evening, does all of these things. Beyond that, as demonstrated at this concert perhaps even more than on its last visit here, in 2006, the ensemble is never willing to sacrifice musical instinct and ensemble cohesion on the altar of authenticity.
At the heart of the program were two soprano blockbusters, both sung with limpid clarity and sensitive phrasing by Joanne Lunn. A setting of the “Gloria” in B-flat, attributed by some scholars to Handel, but not without controversy, stood out as much for the plaintive repetitions of “Miserere nobis” in the “Qui tollis” movement as for the pyrotechnics of its finale. In Bach’s Cantata 51, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” Lunn placed the high C’s like little bursts of energy, while still keeping a boyish lightness in the many clearly delineated runs. Appropriately, the single encore was another joyous soprano piece, the aria “Wie freudig ist mein Herz” from Bach’s Cantata 199.
The instrumental contributions stood out even more in this excellent concert. Trumpeter Guy Ferber was both svelte of tone and remarkably accurate on the excruciatingly high solos of the second Brandenburg Concerto. Andreas Böhlen had a scintillating turn on the flautino recorder solo in Vivaldi’s C concerto (RV 443), while Kiyomi Suga produced a pale violet pastel halo of sound on the traverso flute in Bach’s E minor flute sonata (BWV 1034).
Oboist Masamitsu San’nomiya showed digital prowess in his Vivaldi concerto in C(RV 450), if the slow movement was expressive enough. Conductor Masaaki Suzuki, leading from the harpsichord with inventive continuo realizations, kept the tempos fast but flexible, always allowing his musicians room to turn corners safely.
Downey is a freelance writer.