Nikolaus Harnoncourt & Concentus Musicus Wien
Gustav Leonhardt & Leonhardt-Consort
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 1
Laurent Planchon wrote (March 4, 1998):
< I followed with a great interest your contributes about the Cantatas recordings, and hope to read more about this. I've noticed that nobody (since I'm member of the list) did any distinction between Harnoncourt and Leonhart. Despite their collaboration for the Cantatas recording, their style of interpretation is IMO quite different. >
Although I usually like what they both do, I also sense a big difference in their ways of playing this music. And this is also one reason why I treasure this integral set so much. To my ears, Leohnardt is much more contemplative, introvert and intimate, while Harnoncourt insists on the exaltation, exuberance and drama. One of the things I like a lot in the contribution of Leohnardt in the cantatas set, is that he often used Max Van Egmond as bass, who was (IMHO) much "better" than any of the other Basses that Harnocnourt used (except Huttenlocher maybe). There are so many other things I could say about these cantatas and the performances (like I don't think that anybody has matched Kurt Equiluz yet), but I will keep it for later.
As far as Harnoncourt is concerned, he is probably - like everybody - not always at the top, but the level of his musicianship is already so high, compared to the others that I don't really care. A bad recording from Harnoncourt is often much better than a good recording by Pinnock or Gardiner for instance (at least in Bach).
The Brandbourg concerti from Leohnardt are indeed very fine (you cannot beat the ratio quality/price for sure), but I am not sure whether they are the 'bests' (if such a thing as the best recording exists). The competition is rather intense (MAK, Harnoncourt, for instance), but they sure are one of the best choice around IMHO.
Terry Rodgers wrote:
I have to jump in here and say--especially after my enthusiastic experience with Rilling's interpretations of Bach cantatas--that this morning before work, I put on Leonhardt's version of Cantata BWV 114 and was soon ready to jump out of my skin--the sketchy approach, with notes treated as brushstrokes, the emphasis on swooping into notes and then as quickly easing out of them--all that makes me crazy. I guess matters of taste are totally absolute, and no one can ever be talked out what he likes--or dislikes--or rather, there is a slight chance one may come to like something one dislikes a wee bit more, but I doubt if, for me, my dislike of the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt/Gardiner approach will ever modify a great deal. I may have been the culprit who uttered the word "frivolous" with regard to Gardiner-type interpretations. I'm sorry if people are offended. I disagree with people who think Bach should be treated lightheartedly (I'm thinking of several posts I've recently read); I regard Bach as altogether a "heavy" man (the fact that he sired 21 children to me is Heavy). I certainly believe, having last night heard a most unbearable performance of BWV 198, conductor Beringer, on Koch label (in the Gardiner/Leonhardt, etc. tradition), that BWV 198 deserves a certain degree of ponderousness, slowness, contemplativeness. It is very "heavy." Or, as we would have said in the sixties, Bach had "soul."
Bob Halliday wrote (March 6, 1998):
I emphatically agree with Terry Rogers as concerns tempo in Cantata BWV 198. It is, after all, a funeral cantata, and I have been puzzled at the tendency in recent recordings to take what sounds like an inappropriately sprightly approach in the great opening chorus, "Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl". Is there documentary evidence that justifies this tempo? To at least one pair of ears, conductors like Gardiner and Herreweghe betray the work, at least in part, by denying this chorus its essential element of dignity. I think that Jrgen Jürgens' performance of BWV 198 on Teldec 4509-93687-2 is much closer to the mark. I was especially disappointed in Herreweghe's account of this cantata because so often, at least to me, he gets everything right. The Virgin Classics disc that includes BWV 105 ("Herr, gehe nichts ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht") is a special favourite.
I'm fairly new to the list and haven't seen any comment on some cantata recordings that I have come to love very much, those by Christophe Coin on Audovis Astreé. He has recorded ten cantatas on three CD's, his choice being limited to those that incorporate a violincello piccolo (which he plays) in the scoring. Some of these pieces, like BWV 115, were new to me, and they are knockouts. The performances are in period style but full of fervor, not chilly or wispy as some of the more self-consciously academic interpretations can sometimes be. Has anyone else on the list been as impressed by these as I have?
H & L "first edition"
Laurent Planchon wrote (March 25, 1999):
< Ryan Michero wrote: This is an interesting comment. I would love to know which of the first edition volumes are good and which ones aren't. If you have compiled a list of the best volumes, I would love to see it, even if I can't track down all of them separately. >
Ok, here it is. Of course, as usual this is only my personal taste, so...
The to-get list (real good ones) :
Vol. 8 (BWV 28 to 30)
Vol. 15 (BWV 57 to 60)
Vol. 16 (BWV 61 to 64)
Vol. 29 (BWV 115 to 119)
Vol. 35 (BWV 140 to 146 )
Vol. 37 (BWV 152 to 156)
Vol. 38 (BWV 157 to 163)
Vol. 39 (BWV 164 to 169, even though 165 is bad)
The to-avoid list :
Vol. 17 (BWV65-67)
Vol. 9 (BWV31-34)
Vol. 20 (BWV76-79)
The why-not list (either not as good/inspired as in the to-get list or often because of the cantatas themselves, but still interesting and worth having):
Vol. 3 (BWV 9 -11)
Vol. 13 (BWV 47-50)
Vol. 44 (BWV 192-195)
Vol. 21 (BWV 80-83)
Vol. 41 (BWV 175-179)
Vol. 24 (BWV 95-98)
Vol. 32 (BWV 128-131)
Vol. 23 (BWV 91-94)
Vol. 33 (BWV 132-135)
Vol. 18 (BWV 69-72)
Vol. 13 (BWV 47-50)
The not-necessary list (not so good, but not so bad either. I can live well without them):
Vol. 5 (BWV 17-20)
Vol. 6 (BWV 21-23)
Vol. 1 (BWV 1-4)
Vol. 11 (BWV 41-40)
Vol. 30 (BWV 120-123)
Vol. 45 (BWV 196-199)
Vol. 7 (BWV 24-27)
The probably-good-but-not-heard-for-a-long-time list :
Vol. 28 (BWV 111-114)
Vol. 26 (BWV 103-106)
Vol. 31 (BWV 124-127)
The rest is 12 volumes that I have not heard yet, and a few others which I don't remember, and which I have to listen to again.
Teldec Vol. 5 - Secular Cantatas
Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 20, 1999):
Vol.5 of the Teldec 2000 set contains the secular cantatas, as well as several cantatas that were not included in the original Teldec edition.
I have the Schreier edition of the secular cantatas, and, anyway, the reviews I have read here in France say that the Teldec performances are not very good. I am, however, interested in what is on the 2 other CD's in the set. Are these cantatas available anywhere else? Is Koopman recording them in his set?
Wim Huisjes wrote (October 20, 1999):
In Volume 5, CD # 1 has BWV 134a ("Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht") & BWV 173a ("Durchlauchster Leopold") performed by Koopman.
BWV 207 (Goebel) AND 207a (Koopman) are included on respectively CD # 4, 6.
On CD # 10: BWV 190, BWV 191, BWV 193 (Koopman), which were left out in the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt set.
On CD # 11: BWV 36c (Schreier) & BWV 200 (Werner) and two alternative movements from respectively BWV 63 & BWV 182 (Koopman).
The rest (the "regular", i.e. tusually performed secular cantatas) are a mixed bag, performed by Koopman (BWV 201, BWV 204, BWV 207a, BWV 210, BWV 213, BWV 214, BWV 215), Schroeder (BWV 202), Leonhardt (BWV 203, BWV 209), Jurgens (BWV 206), Goebel (BWV 207), Harnoncourt (BWV 205, BWV 208, BWV 211, BWV 212).
These "regular" ones are taken from:
- The ongoing ERATO cycle (Koopman): quite good. In the Erato cycle these can be found in volume 2, 3, 4, 5 (three 3-CD sets and one 4-CD set). Although the performances are quite good, it's hardly an alternative: you have to buy 13 CD's (with quite a few church cantatas in very good performances though).
- Teldec's back-catalogue (Schröder, Jr): very good; Harnoncourt: personally I don't care much for his performances of the secular cantatas.
Don't know where the Leonhardt and Goebel performances come from (Sony, Philips and/or Archiv or the 1960's Teldec ones with both Jrgens and Schröder co-operating with Leonhardt? BWV 51, BWV 202 & BWV 209 were re-released on Teldec 3984-21711-2. The LP cover specified that Schroeder was in charge, the CD leaves you in the dark). Anybody know?
As for the "rarely recorded" cantatas: don't know BWV 134a and BWV 173a by Koopman, though comparing them with BWV 134 & BWV 173 should be interesting: there's a lot more than just a different text. Maybe they'll be included in the Erato cycle. BWV 173a can be found in a fine performance by Hans-Joachim Rotzsch on Berlin Classics 0090362BC.
BWV 190, BWV 191 & BWV 193 will undoubtedly show up in time in the Erato cycle. Koopman is doing fine (and getting better), so I suspect these should be all right. Rilling has them on two single CD's: Hanssler 92.057 (BWV 188, BWV 190, BWV 191, BWV 192) & 92.058 (BWV 193, BWV 194).
BWV 36c is part of the Berlin Classics Schreier set, available separately (and will be in the Kruidvat cycle): very good.
BWV 200 is an Erato recording from the early/mid sixties: very well done. You can buy the Rilling performance on a single CD (the cantata part lasts only 5 minutes or so).
The alternative parts are interesting, but not that spectacularly different. Hope you can figure it out. Since you already have the Schreier set, I'd think twice, probably only add a few CD's and look for BWV 134a. But consider yourself lucky that you can buy the Teldec volumes separately!
Patrik Enander wrote (April 6, 2000):
Today I popped in to the library, They have bought the Teldec Bach edition, and I found Cantata BWV 21 conducted by Harnoncourt.
Yesterday I listened to Suzuki's new version (I'm not ready to compare it with Herreweghe yet, Piotr!). Not being a very experienced Bach listener, I was in for a shock. The Sinfonia was OK, but the fist choral part was sung horribly fast, and with boy sopranos! I've read about this, but only have experienced in Leonhardt's St. Matthews. I don't like it all. I remember that the boy soprano didn't pitch the notes, it sounded a bit false, and it ruins these arias.
I found it almost ridiculous to hear the dialogue between Jesus and the soul, this tiny boy, even though I'm impressed by the fact that he can sing this difficult music, and van Egmond's full bass. Compare this to Suzuki and Herreweghe's version!
To be honest, I only listen to small parts of the CD since I was in a hurry, but didn't enjoy it all. It was Herreweghe who made me love Bach's choral music, this wouldn't have done the same job.
Matthew Westphal wrote (April 7, 2000):
That's a standard problem with modern performances of Bach by boys' choirs. Bach wrote the upper parts in his church music for 14-17-year-old boys who were full-time music students; we shouldn't be surprised that 9-12-year-old boys can't quite manage the music properly. That's why I prefer the use of female sopranos who sound at least a bit like boys (as opposed to opera divas) -- the female sopranos who sing in Herreweghe's choir and who do solo and choral work for Suzuki and McCreesh.
An Annoying Criticism
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 11, 2000):
Yesterday I received by mail the book 'The Insider's Guide to Classical Recordings' by Jim Svedja (1999 edition). Naturally I opened the book in the pages dedicated to Bach and looked for any review of his Cantatas. How disappointed was I. Only one page (out of more than 800) is dedicated to the group of works which embodies more than one third (in playing time) of Bach's total work. When I read it carefully, I was not only more disappointed. I really got very annoyed at the writer. I would not like to refer to his general attitude to this group of work. When he writes: "I won't pretend I've heard each and every recording: life, as we know, is too short for that", I can say that it is an issue of personal taste. If he prefers to hear the 'Choral Symphony' of Rachmaninov, it is indeed his choice. I feel sorry for him for missing the enjoyment from this group of spirited works, as we do, but that is his problem.
But what made me really mad was the thing this guy wrote about the Teldec cycle of Bach Cantatas. "I can offer a few words of warning and encouragement to the prospective Bach Cantata Collector, beginning with the heartfelt injunction to avoid any of the Teldec recordings as though they were (to quote Baudelaire) 'the breeches of a man with itch'. The Teldec series is divided between Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, who gleefully take turns mauling the luckless pieces beyond recognition. The Harnoncourts are packed with the usual belly laughs, and the Leonhardts are not much better. It is almost as if these two clowns were engaged in some sort of bizarre contest as to who can conjure up the most screechy and etiolated instrumental sound and the most feeble choral outbursts. (I hate to sound like some sort of reverse sexist, but why give us a gaggle of struggling boys when a group of accomplished female singers would do even better?)".
And why am I so angry? Firstly, these two men have dedicated a major part of their lives to learning, searching and performing Bach's music. Some more respect to their efforts would be in place. Secondly, the results they achieve in many of their recordings are more often than not, on a very high level. I have learnt from my comparisons of different recordings of the same Cantata, that you cannot judge in advance which of them will be the most satisfying, and many time the conclusions I am getting at are quite surprising. More than once I found that the best recording of a special Cantata are of Harnoncourt or Leonhardt. Now, I do not consider myself as an expert. I am not a professional musician or critic. I am only a devoted listener, guided by many hours of listening to most of the Classical repertoire and a major part of the Jazz music. For me one of the picks of the Western world music is the Bach Cantatas. I would not dare to say to anybody to AVOID any of the Teldec recordings. If I do so, I might prevent many high spirited listening hours from many potential Cantatas lovers. Hodares he?
Harry J. Steinman wrote (April 12, 2000):
[Tom Aryeh Oron] Well said! It would be interesting to hear of others' pet peeves. My own (at least today) would be directed to the host of a radio show at Boston University. The topic was anti-Semitism in the Passions (the Matthew and John Passions in particular), and it revolved around the scene in which Pilot asked the crowd (the Jews) what to do with Jesus, and the answer was, "Crucify him."
What ticked me off was that the conversation revolved around the anti-Semitism of "Bach's work" rather than looking to the original text, the gospels. Overlooked entirely was the requirement by the church (as I understand) that the Passions use text directly from the gospels, without paraphrasing.
Any other pet peeves out there?
Matthew Westphal wrote (April 12, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron] Come on Aryeh, name names... Who wrote this?
Johan van Veen wrote (April 12, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron] I totally agree with everything you say. It is a disgrace to talk that way about two highly accomplished musicians, whose integrity and devotion to the music they perform cannot be in doubt. Even if you don't like the style of singing or playing, or if you prefer a totally different approach, this is not the way to criticize. I wonder, if this "gentleman" (hardly the right word to describe him, is it?) has ever listened to the whole series carefully. There are some conductors whose approach of Bach I certainly don't like (p.e. Rilling), but I wouldn't dare to call them "clowns". There is nothing wrong with criticism - but it should always be based on respect for those who are criticized. But let's face it, this writer doesn't insult the musicians he criticizes, but undermines his own credibility in the first place. Who could take him seriously after a judgement like that?
Armagan Ekici wrote (April 12, 2000):
I suggest not to spend any time even worrying about Jim Svedja -- he just a by-product of the formula of "public abuse = commercial success" in the TV-Radio culture. He is sort of a Jerry Springer of classical music business and I don't believe deep inside he really takes himself very seriously-- he must do a show of abusing people to get his daily dough after all.
Let's get on with real business: I wish that Aryeh's reviews of cantata recordings --most passionate and informed analysis I have ever seen, professional or amateur-- get published in an organized way rather than disappearing into the ether. Would Aryeh be interested in such a project? I for one would be very happy to provide web space and format them for HTML as they come, but since my HTML is very schoolboy-ish it can only be very basic. Any ideas on cross-referencing, indexing these etc.?
Ryan Michero wrote (April 12, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron] I'm sorry you bought this book. I have seen it on the shelves of several bookstores. A quick glance through its contents convinced me that Svedja is a fool. He is the kind of reviewer that book review blurbs call "irreverent" or "opinionated" or "brutally honest"--and the kind that no reputable music publication would consider hiring.
Here is a reason why he has his own book. Casual classical music consumers don't want to be told "Bach wrote many wonderful cantatas and you should explore all 200+ of them". Too overwhelming! No, they want to be told, "Oh life is too short for that--you can pick out one or two and move on".
This hints at my own personal pet peeve in classical music criticism: Reviewers that prefer music of another era belittling Baroque/Early music. I read in one book ("The 100 Greatest Classical Composers" or something) that Telemann was a historically important composer, thus included on the list, but his music is facile, monotonous, and uninteresting and is mostly unknown today for good reason. Of course, even though he was respected and important in his time, nobody in their right mind would listen to his music today. ARRGH! The author came right out and said that he personally regretted including Telemann on the list instead of Rachmaninov simply because Telemann was more influential. He ended by encouraging listeners to hear a little Telemann--an orchestral suite or two--and move on to the more interesting composers.
Many of these same reviewers believe Bach was a proto-Romantic and is the only pre-1750 composer worth listening to. I suppose we should avoid all of Bach's transcriptions then, eh?
Of course, there's the famous Stravinsky remark that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 500 times. This kind of attitude toward Vivaldi is still common today, but anyone who has seriously listened to this music knows how foolish this is!
Funny how he uses a quote a prestigious source to say something foolish...
This makes me really mad. What a jerk! Hey, there's a quote for the back cover of his book: "What a jerk!" says Ryan Michero of the Bach Recordings Mailing List...
I agree with you that Harnoncourt and Leonhardt have made some wonderful cantata recordings, many of them still the best available. Svedja simply does not know what he is talking about but still feels the need to say something. My humble advice to you: Don't listen to him.
Ryan Michero wrote (April 12, 2000):
(To Harry J. Steinman) Did the commentator mention the part where the disciples ask who will harm Jesus, and Bach responds with a chorale that implicates all of mankind, the sinners of the world?
Yes, if there is any anti-Semitism there it is in the original texts, not in Bach's work. Bach seems to go out of his way to put the blame on himself and all mankind instead of using the Jews as a scapegoat.
People forget that the name of Judas, Jesus' disciple and eventual betrayer, means "the Jew". Bach didn't pick the names of his characters!
Steven Langley Guy wrote (April 12, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) Aryeh, Jim Svedja is a joke and his ideas are a joke. There are so many so-called academics that are simply philistines at heart when it comes to music outside their area of expertise. Svedja is a such a man. Burn the return the book to the publisher or write a letter to Svedja if you dare and tell him that his writings are not likely to help either the novice listener or connoisseur alike. What does Svedja expect from future recordings of Bach? One wonders!
Dyfan Lewis wrote (April 12, 2000):
(To Armagan Ekici) Wonderful idea! They really are mails that I look forward to and learn a lot from. The respect and affection for the music and the players is always so evident
Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 12, 2000):
Why not write a "reader's review" in the Amazon listing of this undeserving book? This will help in spreading the word beyond the small group on our List and serve properly the commercial prospects of this book...
Ben Mullins wrote (April 12, 2000):
(To Ryan Michero) Exactly! While the Bible does say that the Jews killed Jesus, nowhere does it say that everybody should now hate the Jews! Also, has anyone stopped to think that the men who wrote the gospels where themselves Jews? It really irritates me when people try to slap labels on Bach for things he had no real control over. Like Ryan said, it's not Bach's fault that the Bible says what it does!
Santu De Silva wrote (April 12, 2000):
< Steven Langley Guy wrote: Aryeh, Jim Svedja is a joke and his ideas are a joke. There are so many so-called academics that are simply philistines at heart when it comes to music outside their area of expertise. Svedja is a such a man. >
There's a little truth in such statements--but only a little! While on this list we would disagree with Svedja violently, his opinions are not all useless (except to many on this list!).
At the time Svedja gained fame as a columnist for CBP or PRI (Public Radio), it was a little tiring to listen to all the groupies of HIP on public radio, just a never-ending stream of folks who all agreed with each other.
There is still a strong pro-"not politically correct" sentiment among many classical music lovers. The reason we love music performed the way we* do has a great deal to do with what sounds appropriate, after all, and not whether it is played the "right way". Most of us, I'm sure, would grant tour differences with Svedja have more to do with taste than with correctness.
To oppose Svedja on grounds of being on the "wrong" side, is to push the disagreement into the political arena. To accuse Svedja of bad taste is more appropriate. I won't go so far as to say that Svedja is a joke, though he's viewed with amused contempt by a lot of people.
I do think he has some interesting things to say, however. My bottom line: don't ignore him completely, but don't let him get to you.
Donald Satz wrote (April 12, 2000):
I also wouldn't be too hard on Jim Svedja. He's a public personality who must make sure that he catches the attention of the public. That tends to require relatively extreme and exaggerated statements and views. I don't feel that he is supposed to be taken seriously, but more as an entertainer.
Johan van Veen wrote (December 20, 2000):
There is an interesting interview with Nikolaus Harnoncourt on
HarnoncourtDaniel Hobbs wrote (March 29, 2001):
Hi! I just joined the group, and am looking forward to fraternizing with other Bach fans through the Web. I want to get a general opinion of the Harnoncourt recordings of the cantatas. I picked up a used (at hometown NYC's fantastic Academy records) Vol. 26, which I got primarily to have a copy of "Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht". Well, when I listened to it, notably the sublime soprano aria "Wie zittern", I was positively offended. How, I thought, could anyone so willfully destroy such a work of beauty? Does anyone else have this reaction? The strings sawing away unmercifully at the normally subdued accompaniment immediately gave me pause, but the final straw was the entrance of the boy soprano, who leans on the strong beats so much they fall over. I don't have any other recordings by Harnoncourt besides this one, but I am wondering if all his other recordings are so shocking. Sorry to you H-court fans, but maybe you can explain the appeal.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 29, 2001):
< Daniel Hobbs wrote: I don't have any other recordings by Harnoncourt besides this one, but I am wondering if all his other recordings are so shocking. Sorry to you H-court fans, but maybe you can explain the appeal. >
Not at all, in fact, I just got his new SMP (BWV 244), and it is magnificent. I'll post a review when I get time.
Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 29, 2001):
(To Daniel Hoobs) Hallo Daniel, welcome to the list.
The Leonhardt-Harnoncourt Cantatas recordings are widely discussed at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/H&L-Gen1.htm
As regards their choice to use boy sopranos that is conform to the rule "muliera tacet in ecclesia"adopted in Leipzig (and in other german towns) at Bach'times.
Artistically nowadays sometimes this choice leave me dissatisfied with, but you must remember that it was the beginning of HIP. However you get only 2 CD’s on 60. In some cantatas the boy sopranos are good, in other they're bad (as the same Leonhardt said). In the first recording of the Matthaus Passion (1970) the boy soprano works very well and touching. Harnoncourt didn't use boy soprano or altos (but female voices) in his second recordings of these works : Mass BWV 242, Johannes Passion and the recently published Matthaus Passion. I strongly reccomand to you all of them.
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 30, 2001):
< Riccardo Nughes wrote: As regards their choice to use boy sopranos that is conform to the rule "muliera tacet in ecclesia"adopted in Leipzig (and in other German towns) at Bach'times. >
Riccardo, The Latin is MULIER (without the -A ending). And certainly this is at least based on the words of St. Paul.
< Artistically nowadays sometimes this choice leave me dissatisfied with, but you must remember that it was the beginning of HIP. However you get only 2 CD’s on 60. In some cantatas the boy sopranos are good, in other they're bad (as the same Leonhardt said). In the first recording of the Matthaus Passion (1970) the boy soprano works very well and touching. >
As one who really likes boy sopranos, I hate the boy soprano in Harnoncourt's first recording and, of course, Syband will most likely correctly tell me that I am speaking of only one. I no longer have the LPs I had. And I didn't pay attention when I did not respond to that recording.
< Harnoncourt didn't use boy soprano or altos(but female voices) in his second recordings of these works : Mass BWV 242, Johannes Passion and the recently published Matthaus Passion. >
I am very fond of Lipovsek in the Johannes "Es ist vollbracht", but no comparison with the boy in the Gillesberger-Harnoncourt, as we have decided to label that very favourite Johannespassion of mine.
I have not heard the new Harnoncourt Matthäuspassion, but too bad he lets women sing in church. I think that the old practice must be observed here.
Too bad that Harnoncourt is leaving principles behind.
Sybrand Bakker wrote (March 30, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) One should remember boys voices broke at a much later age than nowadays, 18 is an observed age. Bach himself was relatively early with 15. Obviously, the boys at that time would have had years to master the technical difficulties, and they were singing Bach only, and were instructed in the theological concepts dealt with in his cantatas. I'm not sure whether the 'first boy soprano' is an exceptional case, as they were never named.
I do remember though the boy soprano singing the aria 'Oeffne dich, mein ganzes Herzen' Technically speaking, he is hardly capable of singing those notes. However, I usually don't like female sopranos singing that aria, just because of that specific recording. He is struggling, and doing so, he is adding charm to it (and maybe even understanding), as 'opening your heart for Jesus' is a struggle. For me he comes closer to understanding and interpreting the meaning of this text than anyone else, singing technically perfect.
Comparing Harnoncourt to Leonhardt:
It is quite obvious Leonhardt was much more consistent in his selection of singers. I stopped listening to Harnoncourt's cantatas, when he hired Ruud van der Meer to sing in cantata BWV 42. That voice is too accustomed to sing 19th century repertoire, and it has too much vibrato, to be usable at all in any Bach cantata. The same would apply to Thomas Hampson. Evidently, during the course of the project, it was quite clear there were more and more artistic differences between Leonhardt and Harnoncourt. It was also quite clear the two conductors started to fell out on each other, Harnoncourt reserving the most beautiful, and/or well-known cantatas for himself.
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 31, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) Sybrand: I follow you on this 100%.
It's a honor to me (because of your great knowleage) that we have the same view on soprano boys, age and artistical maturity. As I said on a post dated March 18, 2001, Bach boy sopranos were clearly in a different situation that today's boys, from a technical point of view, the prior ones with much more practice and experience than the later ones. This is may be a litte brawback in today's HIP ensembles.
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 31, 2001):
< Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote: (SNIP) I am very fond of Lipovsek in the Johannes "Es ist vollbracht", but no comparison with the boy in the Gillesberger-Harnoncourt, as we have decided to label that very favorite Johannespassion of mine. >
I jumped in this post from boy sopranos to the alto aria par excellence, but I assume that my point was clear and, yes, I knowthe difference between a soprano and an alto (boy or oman/counter-tenor :-).
Anyway this is the wrong list for the passionen. But of the five or so Johannespassion recordings I have, only Lipovsek moved me in this greatest of all the arias (IMVHO). Most of the female altos do not move me here. And those female altos whom I adore, Rössl-Majdan and Ferrier, I know only in Matthäuspassion recordings.
Daniel H wrote (March 31, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) Speaking of Johannes (BWV 245)...
I have a Gönnenwein recording with Elly Ameling (my personal chouchou) and Brigitte Fassbänder. The latter's arias are so gorgeous. She absolutely nails the essence of the German feeling of suffering. Does anyone else have this recording? I got mine from Musical Heritage.
Continue on Part 2
Nikolaus Harnoncourt: Short Biography | Concentus Musicus Wien | Harnoncourt – Glorious Bach! (DVD) | Motets – Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - Harnoncourt | BWV 244 – Harnoncourt | BWV 245 - Harnoncourt-Gillesberger
Gustav Leonhardt: Short Biography | BWV 232 – Leonhardt | BWV 244 – Leonhardt | Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801 - Leonhardt | BWV 988 Goldberg Variations - Leonhardt
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt – Recordings: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt – General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Table of recordings by BWV Number