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Ramin Bahrami's Bach

Ramin Bahrami at the piano
Calma Management
Ramin Bahrami

On The Bach Hour, the Iranian-born pianist performs Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 3, and Masaaki Suzuki conducts the Cantata No. 69a.

On the program:

Sonata No. 1 in G minor for solo violin, BWV 1001 - Christian Tetzlaff, violin

Cantata BWV 69a Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele (translation) - Yoshie Hida, soprano;  Kirsten Sollek-Avella, alto;  Makoto Sakurada, tenor;  Peter Kooij, bass;  Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor

Keyboard Concerto No. 3 in D, BWV 1054 - Ramin Bahrami, piano;  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, conductor


It’s an expression of pure musical joy.


But for pianist Ramin Bahrami, Bach is more than mere joy. This Iranian-born musician says that Bach’s music did nothing less than save his life.


You’ll hear how, coming up on The Bach Hour.

Hello, I'm Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from 99-5 WCRB, a part of WGBH Boston. Conductor Riccardo Chailly enjoyed great success recording Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Brandenburg Concertos with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. And to continue that series of recordings, Chailly turned to pianist Ramin Bahrami for Bach’s keyboard concertos. You’ll hear the result coming up.

Also on the program today, Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach’s festive Cantata No. 69a, Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, or “Praise the Lord, my soul.” As always, you’ll find a translation of that piece from Boston’s Emmanuel Music online at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

The Cantata 69a and the keyboard concertos are extroverted works. One is meant for the large public space of St. Thomas Church, the others for Zimmermann’s coffee house in Leipzig. Bach also wrote music for the other end of the spectrum, including the very personal and introspective set of sonatas and partitas for solo violin. As music critic Jeremy Eichler wrote in The New Yorker, violinist Christian Tetzlaff considers the cycle of six pieces to be Bach’s “personal prayer book.” Here is Tetzlaff with the Sonata No. 1 for solo violin.

[MUSIC – BWV 1001]

“Bach’s music confronts the player and the audience in a very personal situation, in a very alone way. And I try at that moment to put away pretensions … and instead say, ‘This is where all of us have common ground.’”

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff’s words, as spoken to the writer Jeremy Eichler for an article in The New Yorker. You heard Tetzlaff’s 2006 recording of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor for solo violin.

I’m Brian McCreath, and this is The Bach Hour, from 99-5 WCRB, online at Classical WCRB dot org.

Many of the cantatas Bach wrote for the late summer and autumn months tend to have a certain … well, toughness about them. The themes Bach followed during those weeks tend to revolve around, to use our modern shorthand, “hellfire and brimstone.”

When it comes to the piece catalogued as No. 69a, though, brightness and energy dominate, making it something of an exception in the cantata landscape for that time of year. Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, or “Praise the Lord, my soul,” written for the 12th Sunday after Trinity, was inspired by a story from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus heals a deaf and dumb man.

To express the believer’s joy in that miracle and what it represents, Bach stacks the orchestra with three oboes, a trumpet section, and drums, all backing up the chorus as it sings words from Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, my soul, and do not forget the good He has done for you!”


It’s a brilliant opening that sets a celebratory tone. Bach then takes things into a more personal realm, the gentle tones of a recorder and oboe da caccia underpinning the tenor soloist singing the words, “My soul, arise! Tell God has revealed to you.”


After a recitative by the alto soloist, a darker sound world emerges in an aria for the bass that reflects that story of the blind and dumb man being healed by Jesus. The soloist sings, “Stand by me in suffering and sorrow, then my mouth will sing with joy…”


The final chorale brings us back to the community voice, as the chorus sings, “What God has done, is well done.”

You can find a complete translation of this piece by visiting us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is a performance of the Cantata No. 69a with soprano Yoshie Hida, alto Kirsten Sollek-Avella, tenor Makoto Sakurada, and bass Peter Kooij. Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach Collegium Japan, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 69a]

The Cantata No. 69a, Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele, or “Praise the Lord, my soul,” in a performance by Bach Collegium Japan and conductor Masaaki Suzuki. The soloists included soprano Yoshie Hida, alto Kirsten Sollek-Avella, tenor Makoto Sakurada, and bass Peter Kooij.

Ramin Bahrami was born in Iran in 1976 just a few years before the overthrow of the Shah and the institution of a theocratic government. Those years of chaos and uncertainty eventually led to the imprisonment of his father. The elder Bahrami wrote to his son from the jail cell, saying that the young pianist should, “Pay attention to Bach; he’ll never leave you alone.” Later Bahrami’s father died in a Tehran prison, killed, according to his son, by “Islamic fascists.”

Bahrami threw himself into Bach’s music, and credits it with saving his life. He eventually made his way to Italy, where he studied with, among others, Alexis Weissenberg and Rosalyn Tureck. In 2009, he collaborated with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and conductor Riccardo Chailly in this performance of the Keyboard Concerto No. 3 in D major.

[MUSIC – BWV 1054]

Pianist Ramin Bahrami with Bach’s hometown orchestra, the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, and conductor Riccardo Chailly. Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times describes this recording as having, “a rhythmic litheness that makes you want to get up and dance,” while mentioning that Bahrami “also has a mystical side.”

Remember, if you’d like to hear this program again on-demand, just visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.