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Recordings of Bach Cantatas
General Discussions - Part 2: 1998

Continue from Part 1: Year 1996

Cantatas (Re: Budget CD's)

Sam Etler wrote (January 15, 1998):
I have a fair amount of bach's non-vocal works now, so I think i'm ready to move on to cantatas and the like. I guess i kinda avoided them from the start because of their religious roots, but i found some old tapes of cantatas and listened to them on a very long drive and found the ones I had to be really amazing at least musically. I don't know a word of German, so I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. but anyway, what would people recommend for starting with the cantatas. There seem to be a lot of recordings, and I don't want to get some piss-poor singers.

Margaret Ikulska wrote (January 16, 1998):
(To Sam Etler) I would say that in the case of Bach's cantatas it may be better not to know German. The texts are atrocious, absolutely atrocious: bad poetry at its worst. Many were written by Christian Friedrich Henrici - in "real life" an official in the Leipzig postal system - who as a poet used the pen name Picander. At least he had a shred of self-criticism when he wrote about a collection of his poetry "I flatter myself that the lack of poetic charm may be compensated by the loveliness [of the music] of our incomparable Kapellmeister Bach".

But even if his poetry were good, one has to keep in mind that Bach's flavor of Christianism is permeated by the longing for the "other" world and a rejection of this one. The imagery of these texts can be all too often rather appaling if not downright disgusting. So just enjoy the music.

On the other hand, one can argue that if you don't understand the world view behind the cantatas, you don't understand the works themselves. One more thing: you said you avoided the cantatas because of their religious roots. But Bach wrote also a number - admittedly rather small - of secular cantatas. The "Coffee Cantata" is the best known, and perhaps the best choice for the first cantata. The "Peasant Cantata" is another nice choice, and the two are often coupled. Harnoncourt's recordings are very good, for instance, but some more traditional ones are very good, too (Fischer-Dieskau and Schreier).

In any case, I recommend the current traversal of the complete cantatas (both sacred and secular) by Top Koopman and the Amsterdam orchestra. The project is not yet close to half-way, though.

A complete recording of sacred cantatas was done by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt - I like those recordings very much. They are on Teldec, currently in their mid-price CD incarnation. Both this one and Koopman use period instruments.

You may not necessarily want to buy the complete set right now. A few sacred cantatas I would recommend are:

* BWV 4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden" - a most likely very early cantata, and certainly a very old-fashioned one. Musically, it's not typical for Bach, as this particular style of composing was outdated already in Bach's time. Doesn't matter, the work is beautiful.

* BWV 82 "Ich habe genug" - for bass or baritone solo and orchestra.

* BWV 56 "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" - also just for one soloist. As much as I like period-instrument performances, I would recommend here Fischer-Dieskau; I think Karl Richter is conducting.

* BWV 51 "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen" - yet another solo cantata, this time for soprano and trumpet and orchestra.

* BWV 21 "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis" - especially the first chorus.

* The so-called "Christmas Oratorio" (BWV 248) is in fact a set of six cantatas. Splendid works. There is a great choice of recordings: of the traditional, Karl Richter on Archiv is very good; in the period-instrument category, Gardiner (also on Archiv) is recommended.

 

Cantatas

Simon Crouch wrote (February 24, 1998):
< Here's a question I've been wondering about. I am collecting the Teldec Harnoncourt Cantatas (the 42+ volume set) and I'm enjoying them. But They are the only recordings of the Cantatas I own, so I must be missing something. I've avoided the Koopman for two reasons 1) the Teldec is rather expensive and eating up my cash.
2) I've not heard anything about the Koopman.
Does anyone have opinions that have heard both? >
Do you want the 5 minute argument or the full half-hour?! (Ob-Python) Maybe I'll keep it to 5 minutes for now...

First, let me tell you what I have heard so you can judge the value of my opinions to you. I have both the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set on Teldec and the Rilling set on Haenssler plus a whole load of other bits and pieces including the Richter set that includes 75 of the cantatas. I do not have the Koopman set (yet!) but I have heard several of these performances when broadcast on the radio. I have also heard a number of the pre-recording concerts given by the ABO on the radio. So, I've probably heard about 10 or so of the Koopman cantata performances.

The Teldec set has very high peaks (BWV 106, for example) and some very low troughs (out of tune brass playing, under-rehearsed trebles) but I think that it's fair to say that nowhere is it really dull. If anything, Harnoncourt is liable to try too hard (a particular bugbear for some listeners is his emphasis on the first beat of the bar). In summary, you get some really exciting listening out of this set but some really unlistenable stuff too. Also, if you want to hear these works performed by boy trebles then you have no choice!

Koopman's performances are, in a certain sense, the opposite of Harnoncourt/Leonhardt's. The instrumental playing is very fine (though not, perhaps, up to the standard of Herreweghe's performances), the singing is consistent and sometimes very fine (though Barbara Schlick's detractors may disagree!) and the conducting always slick. Erato claim that this is going to be a genuinely complete set, including all the secular cantatas and all variants whereas the Teldec set only includes the sacred cantatas and the omits a handful of them too! [Mind you, having just released two sets of secular cantatas, Koopman seems to have missed a few. I presume they'll appear later despite the publicity material claiming that the rest of the sets will be devoted to sacred cantatas].

Comparing the two depends somewhat on your aesthetic approach to these works - if you like the music to be "given a bit of welly" and you're tolerant of some dodgy intonation then you should stick to the Teldec set (and save a lot of money). If you like slick, clean performances in the best possible taste then mortgage your house and get the Koopman. I must admit that the Koopman performances that I've heard so far have filled me with mixed feelings. For example, I heard Koopman's BWV 22 a couple of days ago on the radio and, up until the last movement, thought it was a reasonable performance. But then he just tossed off the glorious concluding movement (similar in style to the famous bit from BWV 147) as if it were a vacuous afterthought. A great shame. But others I've heard sounded really good. A mixed blessing then (as such an enormous endeavour probably has to be.....).

Having answered your question, I'd like to drift a bit. Don't forget the Rilling set - It's VERY cheap at the moment, the performances are always consistent and sometimes very good indeed. (Those including Arleen Augér especially!). It's on modern instruments, which may be a drawback to some. Also, the Suzuki set (just getting under way on BIS) looks like it will be well worth considering - I've heard four or five of these performances and where there's a comparison with Koopman, the Suzuki set wins (IMHO). Early days, though, for this set - they've only released 5 CD's so far.

 

Cantatas - another aspect

Hartwig Modrow wrote (March 22, 1998):
I have been enjoying the ongoing discussion about recordings of the cantatas for quite some time and consiit most interesting, especially as I am at the edge of plunging myself into the expense of starting to buy a complete set I really like. Right now, I am just "sampling" this and that (I came across a Suzuki and liked it A LOT, bought a CD with a number of entry-choruses from TELDEC's Harnoncourt/Leonhardt mix, gave Gardiner a try), however there is one point where I might want some additional advice and direct your interest to.

I have to admit that I am an instrumentalist by heart (I used to play the violin and intend to take it up again once my time permits it), and so it may not surprise you too much that I am at least as if not more interested in the quality of INSTRUMENTAL soloists as compared to the VOCAL soloists. To the best of my knowledge, the arias are not, "Aria for Soprano" but rather "Aria for Soprano and Violin" (just to give an arbitrary example), and for me the instrumental soloist is just important. Especially, I love the sound of the oboe and its close relatives like oboe d'amore etc.

So, are there any opinions/suggestions out there where to point my attention?

Maybe it is helpful if I line out my "likings" a little bit more clearly (although I am open to any suggestion) by giving you a couple of "I like better" comparisons between recordings of other vocal works by Bach:
* I do own both a Gardiner and a Schreier-Recording (the latter is on Phillips) of the Christmas Oratory and like both of them, however the Schreier is my favourite
* I like my mass in b-minor recording by Gardiner VERY much and cannot grasp the beauty the old Richter Recording I also have has without a doubt for a lot of ears (one exception is Richter's "cum sacto spiritu" which always leaves me breathless)
* I do like Gardiners recording of St Johns passion, but not at all his St. Matthews passion (he breaks my internal speed limit already with the first chorus).
* In general (be it historically justifyable or not) I tend to go for "round, full sound", implying especially that I tend to like recordings not using pure boy-choires and do not stress historic instruments too much, but not meaning I would not like some of those as well.

A pretty complicated case, eh???

Thank you for your advice and consideration !!!

Ryan Michero wrote (March 22, 1998):
Hello, everyone. I'm new to the group and excited to be a part of it.

Well, I'm quite a cantata fan, and I would like to add my two cents to what I'm sure will be an interesting series of replies to Hartwig's query. There's a lovely and rewarding series of cantata recordings on Auvidis Astreé featuring the Concerto Vocale de Leipzig and the Ensemble Baroque de Limoges conducted by Christophe Coin, the wonderful period cellist. The quality of the vocal soloists is quite high, with Barbara Schlick, Andreas Scholl, Christoph Prégardien, and Gotthold Schwarz all contributing nicely.

It is an interesting collection of recordings because instead of organizing their program around times of year or liturgical celebrations as is customary with cantata collections, Coin instead decided to record every cantata with an aria featuring the smaller, 5-stringed relative of the cello, the violoncello piccolo, which he himself plays. The result is an outstanding series, nicely focused and beautifully performed.

As you might assume, the emphasis in these recordings is placed on instrumental solos as opposed to the opening choruses. Hence, the performances are not as grand as in performances by Richter, or even Gardiner. But the effect is more intimate and personal, and probably more of what Bach could have expected to hear (that is, of course, if his players consisted of talented professionals instead of schoolboys!). One thing I love about these performances is that they were recorded in a little church on the borders of Saxony and Thuringia that has a nicely preserved organ made by Silbermann. The organ is used as a continuo instrument (giving the readings a nice warmth and never overpowering the rest of the group) as well as an obbligato instrument in Cantata BWV 49, which has an opening sinfonia that would later become a movement of a harpsichord concerto. And it sounds fantastic there, played excitingly by Willem Jansen and expertly conducted by Coin. As far as the other arias go, there are nice solos for recorders, oboes, oboes d'amore and da caccia, and transverse flute. A gorgeous set!

There are three compact disc releases in this series. The first contains BWV 180, BWV 49, and BWV 115, the second BWV 85, BWV 183, BWV 199, and BWV 175, the third BWV 41, BWV 6, and BWV 68. I got them in a box for a slightly reduced price about a year ago. All three volumes are great, though if you only get one I'm partial to the first volume, which contains an illuminating and exciting version of BWV 49, one of my favorites. Incidentally, the choir is mixed and consists of about 25 people (just about right, if you ask me).

It says in the liner notes that this group is going to record the complete cantatas in the future. Does anyone know about this? Is it just wishful thinking or overambition on the part of the record company?

If you want a recommedation for a complete cantata series, my bets are hedged on Suzuki to record the one to beat. (Although I'm personally waiting for Gardiner's upcoming set.)

Pieter-Jelle de Boer wrote (March 23, 1998):
< <snip> I came across a Suzuki and liked it A LOT... < more snipping (never heard of that word before! >
It seems that many people like Suzuki, which seems odd to me. I tried a few of his cantata recordings, and whilst (old-fashioned word, isn't it? I like it!) the orchestral playing seemed very polished and quite nice too, the overall impression it made on me was of a very cool, distant approach to Bach's music, which can be impressive in itself, but not this one, at least, not for me. Especially the beginning of "Widerstehe doch der Sünde" was so sharp and edgy (truly "Japanese" in a sense (hoping not to offend any Japanese listers), that for me it spoiled the whole cantata. What a difference with Herreweghe's new recording (w/ Andreas Scholl), where the orchestra sounds warm and rich, with still enough "Widerstand". This coming from a Herreweghe fan, of course... Plus, concerning Suzuki, his tempos are often too quick for my taste. His whole approach is, what I recall of having heard, to "extreme" for me. But maybe I should give him a second chance.

< I have to admit that I am an instrumentalist by heart (I used to play the violin and intend to take it up again once my time permits it), and so it may not surprise you too much that I am at least as if not more interested in the quality of INSTRUMENTAL soloists as compared to the VOCAL soloists. To the best of my knowledge, the arias are not, "Aria for Soprano" but rather "Aria for Soprano and Violin" (just to give an arbitrary example), and for me the instrumental soloist is just important. Especially, I love the sound of the oboe and its close relatives like oboe d'amore etc. So, are there any opinions/suggestions out there where to point my attention? >
It's a good point you make that the instrumental soloists are just as important as the vocal ones. When you think about it, can you imagine ANYBODY involved in a Bach performance who's NOT important? Anyway, speaking about oboes: If you want cantatas with some great oboe playing, you should definitely go for Herreweghe or the (more recent) Koopman (Needless to say what my choice would be...). They have the best oboist I ever heard, Marcel Ponseele. No other player can make such an expressive, round, warm, rich tone as he. Just listen to the way he play the solo in the Easter Oratorio, second movement. Some other specific solo instruments... Well take the flute for example. Herreweghe has Patrick Beuckels, also aexceptional musician. I have seen him play on tv: The man hardly ever breaths, it's incredible! But I believe that also Koopman has some good flutists, although I don't know them as well. Any other recommendations for violin, trumpet, continuo, strings as a whole, timpani, etc. etc.?

<<snip snip> In general (be it historically justifyable or not) I tend to go for "round, full sound", implying especially that I tend to like recordings not using pure boy-choires and do not stress historic instruments too much, but not meaning I would not like some of those as well. >
Well, as you can see, my recommendations are for period performances only, although I was raised as a "period hater" (or maybe just "disliker") and I too still go for "round, full sound". I just think the difference between individual instrumentalists shows more in the period area.

Once I heard somebody make a comparing between a baroque trumpet player (Per Olov Lindeke) and Maurice Maurice André (Un)fortunately, the man didn't know that they weren't playing on the same instrument...

Ryan Michero wrote (March 24, 1998):
Hello again everyone. Wow, I'm still getting used to how international this discussion group is. How incredible that people in the U.S., Sweden, the Netherlands, and Italy (I did get your countries right, didn't I?) can have a discussion about Bach's cantatas. The magic of the internet!

Olle wrote:
< Have you tried the Harnoncourt/Leonardt complete issue on 60 CD's from Teldec? I have it. I think it“s wonderful. >
One cannot discuss complete recordings of Bach's cantatas without mentioning Harnoncourt and Leonhardt! Of course, their series was groundbreaking--a landmark not only in the history of Bach recordings but of baroque music performance in general. For this reason alone it is a set to treasure. But what we care about, of course, is its musical quality, which I believe is generally quite high.

Enrico wrote:
< The choir is often 'under-tone' and very weak. In the opening choir of the BWV 147 you don't have the impression of a great work or better I have the impression that there would be something else. And I hardly could listen to an aria from start to end. The soloists have a beatiful voice but they lack of intonation and in many points you heard the difficult of the work. >
I do understand Enrico's criticism of this set and agree with him to an extent. I have only sampled the series, so I'm not really an authority on these matters, but I agree that their choral sound is not a very powerful one (the opposite of Richter's Munich Bach Choir, but I guess that's the point!). I prefer the H&L recordings in the more intimate cantatas, like BWV 106 (Gottes Zeit), where their performances can be exquisite. Also, the boy soloists, talented and distinctive though they are, are boys nonetheless! Call me a romantic but I just can't give up my female singers in Bach's sacred music. A male countertenor now and then is nice, but boy sopranos test my limits. My only other criticism is that while generally the quality of the instrumentalists is high (their orchestral rosters sometimes read like a "who's who" list of period instrument performers!), the ensemble often lacks polish and the ease of execution that comes with a lot of rehearsal time.

On the whole though, I have admired and enjoyed what I have heard of the set. H&L can be imaginative and convincing, and often the beauty of these wonderful works are newly revealed. As Enrico said, this is all a matter of personal taste.

About the Coin series on Astreé, Pieter-Jelle said:
< I once listened to a cd of this series, and indeed the vocal soloists seemed of very high quality to me. If I recall well, I also liked the orchestra, but the choir was an absolute disappointment to me, not at all of the standard set by Collegium Vocale, Monteverdi Choir, Amsterdam Baroque Choir and others. I remember it was just one chorus - or a choral, but it was for me the reason not to buy this one. But when I read your enthusiasm... maybe I should give it another shot. >
Well, I agree that the choir on this series is not in the league of the groups you mention (not many are!). But they are reliable and often more than that, and I certainly prefer them to the one-to-a-part Rifkin choirs. And besides, what really makes this a valuable series is the conducting and amazing violoncello piccolo playing of Coin, the sound of the instrumental group backed up by the Silbermann organ continuo, and the excellent singing of the soloists.

 

Poor Ambroz!

Ryan Michero wrote (April 26, 1998):
Margarita wrote:
< What I mean is that Gardiner is not better or historicaly closer to Bach than Rilling is by pitching in 415, or using little, unexpresive and boring voices. >
Inexpressive and boring voices? Emma Kirkby? Anthony Rolfe Johnson? Michael Chance? Anne Sofie Von Otter? Barbara Bonney? Olaf Bär? And the Monteverdi Choir? Inexpressive and boring? Are we listening to the same recordings?

< IMHO he does not understants the Bach music, the Bach phillosophy, the "Bach way". >
I would say that he understands Bach in a way that you don't respond to. It's an insult to those of us who do respond to his interpretations to say he doesn't understand Bach at all. (And, yes, I see your "IMHO", but I still felt like I should say this.)

< If Bach used to play his works with a few musicians and singers, it was because he could'nt have more. >
But that's not the point of historically informed performances. Bach may have fantasized about his works being sung by 400-person choirs--of course we'll never know this. We do know, however, about how many performers he thought would be adequate to perform his music (from a letter he wrote in Leipzig). More importantly, though, Bach was a practical man, and he wrote for the resources he had at hand. Playing that music on the instruments of his time and using the vocal forces he used brings us closer to Bach's sound world and gives us new insight into the music. This has all kinds of implications for phrasing, instrumental balance, color, etc. By only performing the music with huge orchestras and choirs we conceal essential aspects of the music.

You mention Rilling. I think he, for one, has learned a lot from the "autheticity" school. Compare his early cantata recordings from the seventies with his later recordings from the eighties. You'll find his penchant for romanticism toned down, his tempi faster, his phasing more precise, and his sound generally sharper and more clear. Of course, he didn't start using boy choirs and one-to-a-part ensembles, but he did assimilate some discoveries of the original instrument performers into his own style, which I think is great.

This is not to say that the performances conducted by Richter, Rilling, and others is not valid. Their recordings often capture things that period performers miss. Personally, I like both "authentic" and modern performances. : )

Bach's Cantatas

Jaime Jean wrote (May 12, 1998):
It's usually uncommon to find Bach's sacred and secular cantatas coupled in one disc or disc set. You are most likely to find the Coffee, the Wedding, the Hunting (which include the aria "Sheep may safely graze") and the Peasant Cantatas, which are Bach's most popular secular cantatas, coupled in one disc, though no more than two of them. BWV 140 "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" is a sacred cantata, and you will find it coupled with other sacred cantatas like BWV 147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben", BWV 80 "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott", BWV 4 "Christ lag in Todesbanden", among others.

For the secular cantatas, I strongly recommend Gustav Leonhardt with the Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment. For both sacred and secular, Nicolaus Harnoncourt is a good choice. For those starting a cantata collection, a good budget choice is Karl Richter's 3-disc set of 8 sacred cantatas, especially for those who do not insist on "authentic" recordings on period instruments like I do. Karl Rich' recordings are not in the majestic style of his predecessors, nor are they period recordings as such - it's somewhere in-between. This set includes BWV 61, BWV 4, BWV 56 and BWV 147, among others, with magnificent soloists like Fischer-Dieskau, Edith Matthis and Peter Schreier. If you should happen to find the budget recording of BWV 140 by Karl Richter, give it a try - its very good. And, by all means, avoid Joshua Rifkin and Raymond Leppard.

 

Cantatas

Ryan Michero wrote (June 10, 1998):
Andrea wrote:
< This is my first entry ever in such a forum so please forgive any niavete real or perceived. >
Welcome to the group, Andrea! Don't worry--I have found this to be a very genial and gracious group of people so far. And most of us probably don't care whether or not you're naive (although I don't perceive any naivete in your posts thus far).

< I'm looking for more recordings of Bach's cantatas. (all performances are on period instruments at A415). >
I too am a period instrument cantata afficionado, and I too like the performances of Gardiner and Herreweghe. Regarding Gardiner, he is my favorite overall conductor, and perhaps my favorite Bach conductor. However, I think his cantata recordings for Archiv as well as his recording of the Magnificat on Philips don't achieve the same magic as many of his other recordings; hopefully he will correct this deficiency with his upcoming recordings of the complete cantatas, starting in (I think) the year 2000. His recordings of the passions and the mass are another matter though; here there is magic to spare.

I enjoy Herreweghe's recordings a lot, but I can't comment on them too much because I'm just getting to know them myself. I can say the same for Koopman's set, but with a bit less in the enjoyment department.

I can speak with more confidence on Christophe Coin's three-disc series of cantatas with arias for violoncello piccolo. While the choruses are nice but not exceptional, the arias are beautifully sung and played. It's a refreshing change to have so much attention and care lavished on the arias, and these alone are certainly worth the price of the discs.

There is an excellent single-disc set of cantatas on the Koch label conducted by Jeffrey Thomas leading the American Bach Soloists. They play on period instruments and have a "name" soprano in Catherine Bott, but otherwise they were unknown to me before I bought this disc of favorite cantatas (BWV 147, BWV 78, and BWV 80). These are simply excellent erformances, wonderfully judged, thoughtfully and expressively performed, and without disturbing idiosyncracies.

My strongest recommendation, though, is for Masaaki Suzuki's ongoing series of cantatas on the BIS label, performed by the Bach Collegium Japan. I was a bit apprehensive about getting a disc of Bach cantatas by a Japanese ensemble. I wondered, could they measure up to European ensembles in their feel for the German baroque idiom? In expressiveness? In polish? In their pronunciation of the German texts? I was very pleasantly surprised when I heard their performances, which are almost uniformly outstanding, leaving nothing to be desired. In fact, I felt that Suzuki's performances had an expressive intensity that is too often lacking in Bach performances by European groups, including some of those led by Gardiner. The soloists, which include the European Peter Kooij, are always acceptable, often
wonderful. The instrumental group has a unique, straightforward sound and always measures up to Suzuki's expressive demands. The chorus can sing with expression, power, dignity, grace, and lightlness when needed, and every voice is clearly audible. Notes are informative and entertaining, and most of them are written by Suzuki himself, providing an interesting perspective on the recordings. The enterprise has really just begun--Suzuki is taking the cantatas in chronological order and is still working through the Weimar pieces. But if the series maintains the high level of quality it has established, I think it will be the complete cantata set to beat.

< I also bought one volume of both the Rilling and the Harnoncourt Complete sets, both of which were lovely gifts for friends with less critical ears. The Harnoncourt is inconsistent in quality... >
I agree regarding the Rilling set. However, while I did agree with you regarding the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set when I first heard some of it, their approach, in spite of its drawbacks, has grown on me. They lack polish, for certain, but there is more to Bach than polish (I wish some interpreters knew this). H&L bring some very unique and special things to this repertoire, and their set is to be cherished.

Happy listening, Andrea, and enjoy the discussion!

George Murnu wrote (June 11, 1998):
< [snip] The one Rilling CD which I did purchase did have BWV 78 on it. I truly love the SA duet "Wir eilen". In his recording, I liked the soprano, but I found that the alto was swallowed up by her vibrato so I couldn't hear the line or any shape the phrasing may have taken.

I also find Rilling to be a bit methodical. His tempi are a little inflexible (which isn't inherently bad but I find them too rigid) and his dynamic changes can be jarring because he follows indicated markings precisely. >
Well, it is obviously a matter of taste. The volume that contains BWV 78 (Vol.10 ) is in fact one of my favourite volumes in the series and for anybody who would like to sample Rilling's approach I would recommend this or Vol.11; well, you obviously did not like Vol.10 so that much less you will like other volumes. As for "Wir eilen", I like how the voices of the soloists - Arleen Augér and Caroline Watkinson - blend together in the duet. And for the other works in this volume, I like especially BWV 129 with the wonderful crisp trumpets in the opening chorus. My favorite recording of BWV 137 is Karl Richter altough I like Rilling as well; I wish the tempo was a bit more alert in the opening chorus but that's my only major complaint.

And I wouldn't call Rilling "methodical" or "inflexible." His approach is a straightforward one indeed, yet I find in his apporach a lot more immaginative than in most non-HIP recordings; only the old Günther Ramin recordings IMO are a better overall non-HIP set of cantatas, although as I have said, there may be individual works in which I prefer a different conductor ( Karl Richter, Kurt Thomas, Karl Forster, Kurt Redel, Fritz Werner, Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, Wolfgang Gönnenwein, etc.)

Ehud Shiloni wrote (June 14, 1998):
Andrea Klassen wrote:
< Is Koopman outgrowing his slow tempi phase? >
I am not familiar with his Messaiah, but I would say that his cantata tempi are in the "middle of the pack": Suzuki takes some of the comparable cantatas slower then Koop, Gardiner and Rifkin have some much faster versions, while Herrewege runs at about the same speed (except his recent releases which, I think, are faster and with more "vigour"...).

I take the opportunity to "report" that I saw a TV broadcast of two Bach cantatas performed by Koopman with ABO+C, in what seems to be part of a series, although no details about its future scope were given. Anyway, this was a most exciting event!

The cantatas performed were BWV 106 (Gottes Zeit) and BWV 131 (Aus der Tiefen). Each performance was preceded by a short didactic talk by Koop, who gave some historical background as well as some details about Baroque performance practice, and then - on to the music! Koopman's conducting style appears somewhat "dry" to the unschooled (like myself..), but it was obvious to see that the choir members are deeply involved emotionally, and the entire experience was very moving. The quality of the sound coming from a TV set was obviouly not ttop, but the camera work, which was excellent, made up for that.

This performance was NOT the same as the one recorded on the Erato series (although it took place in the same church, I believe ), and mostly different soloists were used, except Bass Klaus Mertens whom I had the chance to visually see for the first time and found him very impressive.

Has anyone seen this performnce, or knows more about the TV series?

< I actually have a borrowed recording of a volume of the Suzuki. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. >
Amen, although , as I said before, some of his tempi are very slow.

P.S. I am still puzzled by this "rhyme" business...

Ehud Shiloni wrote (June 14, 1998):
Ryan Michero writes [about Gardiner] :
<< However,[...] the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set [...], in spite of its draw-backs, has grown on me. >>
Laurent Planchon wrote:
< I am glad that somebody else - in this otherwise pro-Gardiner biased list - has noticed it. This set has indeed some drawbacks (the major one would be for me some of the boy singers who are not always up to the challenge), >
Cutting into Ryan/Laurent exchange, here are some comments:
1. A while ago someone complained that there is a great dislike of Gardiner on this list. How quickly times change....
2. Being one of the Pro-Gardiner bunch, I once mentioned that it is only natural to like some of his performances and still dislike the other performances by the same conductor (I like his St. Matthew - I dislike his BWV 131). I find the same to be true about H&L, "jointly and separately". As far as their cantata project, I sample it one occassional volume at a time, with mixed results, the latest example being a 2-CD volume which has BWV 21 by H (IMO quite poor and off the mark - any objections?) as well as BWV 22 & BWV 23 by L (IMO outstanding and deeply moving - anyone to second that?).

 

Cantata CD's

Lancelot Fletcher wrote (October 28, 1998):
Lance P. Martin wrote:
< I have been asked to find out which is the better set of Bach cantatas: the Hänssler lable, with Rilling, or the Teldec label, with Harnoncourt. Does anyone have an opinion? >
Nice name you have there, Lance.

If it were me, I would go with Rilling and avoid Harnoncourt. To be fair, however, I should say that this is a case of two products that are so different as to be almost incomparable.

Harnoncourt is, to my ears at least, a good example of what Richard Taruskin meant when he said, a few years ago, that the original instrument movement is an ideological manifestation of musical modernism (or post-modernism) having almost nothing to do with an intention to authentically recreate the intentions of the composers. Harnoncourt creates some very striking sounds, because sound and style are what he is primarily interested in. But I don't hear much of Bach in his performances. Also, and this is rather surprising, Harnoncourt's performances, for all their attention to sonic detail, are rather sloppy in terms of rhythm, and for a composer like Bach, whose rhythms are so complex and central to his musical intentions, this is a very serious weakness. (I don't have strong feelings about this, do I?)

Rilling, on the other hand, is generally excellent. There are also some beautiful Bach cantata recordings conducted by Gustav Leonhardt, and, of course, the old recordings by Hermann Scherchen (especially the ones with Magda Laszlo or Theresa Stich-Randall singing) are wonderful, if you can find them.

 

Continue on Part 3: Year 1999

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