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Recordings of Bach Cantatas
General Discussions - Part 4: 2000

Continue from Part 3: Year 1999

Recommendation of non-HIP Cantatas

Patrik Enander wrote (April 8, 2000):
My collection of Bach Cantatas is very small, ca 20 CD's, consisting mainly of recordings by Herreweghe and Suzuki (are you surprised!). HIP came natural to me. When I discovered Bach's cantatas, it was through Herreweghe. And I really enjoyed the sound I also sing in a choir that does quite a lot of HIP-Baroque, unfortunately not Bach since my conductor is very much into French baroque and doesn't enjoy Bach (you can imagine that we have been arguing about this!)

But I haven't heard any non-HIP Bach Cantatas. I do have preconceptions about how it will sound and that has put me off. But, I'm getting more and more curious. So my Bach-loving friend, cut you give me a recommendation on non-HIP CD's you've really enjoyed.

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 8, 2000):
The best of the non-HIP recorded cantatas, which are generally available, are:

1. Karl Richter - 26-CD Set from Archiv - includes 75 Sacred Cantatas (late 1950's to mid 1970's).
2. Helmuth Rilling - 69-CD Set from Hänssler - includes all the Sacred Cantatas (except those which were not composed by Bach) + Easter & Christmas Oratorios (late 1960's to late 1980's).
3. Helmut Winschermann - 5-CD Set from Philips - includes 13 Sacred Cantatas + some Cantatas overtures (1968-1972).
4. Felix Prohaska - 6 CD's from Vanguard (available individually) (Early 1950's).
5. Günther Ramin - 12-CD Set from Leipzig Classics - pioneering in recorded Cantatas after 2nd World War (First half of the 1950's) (not recommended for beginners)
6. Hans-Joachim Rotzsch - 11-CD Set from Leipzig Classics (1970's).
7. Neville Marriner - CD from London - includes Cantatas BWV 170+BWV 159 (with Janet Baker) + Cantata BWV 82 (with Shirley-Quirk) (Mid 1960's).
8. Anthony Bernard - CD from EMI - includes Cantata BWV 82 with the legendary and magnificent performance of Hans Hotter (1950).

And there are many more on individual CD's. I have also to note that many cantatas were recorded by East and West German groups in the 1950's and 1960's by Cantate label. Unfortunately most of them are unavailable today in any form. About 50 or 60 Cantatas were recorded by the conductor Fritz Werner in the 1960's and 1970's for Erato label. Most of them are also not available today.

I would not like to judge which is the better set. From my weekly comparisons of the various recordings of each Cantata, I am finding that I learn a lot from every recording, and quite often the results are very surprising (at least for me).

In any case, you have a lot to explore. If you have the budget, it is recommended to start with the Sets. They are of course much cheaper than purchasing the CD's individually. If I am pushed to the wall, I will say go for Richter. It is on very budget price and most of the performances are on a very high level with really great singers (Fischer Dieskau, Mathis, Stader, Haefliger, Schreier, Adam, etc.). But taking it step by step and purchasing one CD each time, is also a legitimate and valid way. It is up to you to decide.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (April 8, 2000):
When I move into the non-HIP cantata world, I tend towards Rilling: Very tightly-performed, crystal clear, and for me most enjoyable! My first Rilling recording was his "Secular Cantatas" 2 CD set with the Hunt, Coffee, Wedding and Peasant Cantatas, (Hänssler Classic, 98: 161/44) and the G minor and G major masses, (Hänssler Classic, 98-962).

 

What next?

Cem Tural wrote (August 22, 2000):
I am a relatively new Bach listener, and I love his choral works. I have listened to 10 - 12 of his famous cantatas, Mass in B Minor, Mass in F and Johannes Passion. Any recommendations of yours about his choral masterpieces, is much appreciated.

Hell Spree wrote (August 22, 2000):
(To Cem Tural) You can't miss the Matthew Passion (BWV 232). It is THE choral masterpiece!

Rob Potharst wrote (August 22, 2000):
(To Cem Tural) Try the 6 Motets next. They are great! I love especially "Fürchte dich nicht", BWV 228. But the others are great, too. I have them performed by Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale Gent.

 

Bach Cantatas - best and worst!

Thierry van Bastelaer wrote (September 15, 2000):
Thomas J Wood wrote:
< My top ten are BWV 8, BWV 11, BWV 34, BWV 50, BWV 51, BWV 66, BWV 79, BWV 82, BWV 130, BWV 172. None are bad, although some are rather dull. >
I would suggest to take a hint from Bach: he indirectly identified his top cantatas by reusing them in later works, most notably the B Minor (BWV 232) and the 4 "Lutheran" masses (BWV 233-236). Find out which cantatas produced these Mass movements and listen to them. Surprising in that regard that nobody so far mentioned BWV 187, whose three arias and opening chorus are at the core of the G minor Mass.

Christian Panse wrote (September 18, 2000):
(To Thierry van Bastelaer) Disagreed. All the great chorale-based choruses and other pieces wouldn't have worked for a transformation into a mass, simply because of the built-in chorales. So Bach's choice was quite limited and he had to choose from chorale-free compositions those with roughly matching affects.

 

Details are important

Harry Steinman wrote (October 22, 2000):
Well, it took me from approximately June, 1998, when I first found this List till now...and that's, what, 29 months...figure that's about 10 CDs per month...but about 80 or so are from the Brilliant Classics series and are so economical that 300 becomes less lofty of a position.

And there's so many more...

I think if I were wealthy, the next thing I'd start is the Suzuki BIS cantata series. I got started with Koopman because the pricing at BMG was so attractive (and I don't regret the choice!) and it's really hard to start a 2nd complete cantata series...but that would be my wish list.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 22, 2000):
< Zachary Uram wrote: wow 300 >
Hey, it's taken me a lot of years to get there. But 60 of them came all at once, when I bought the Teldec cantatas about 5 years ago. And another 50 or so this year, with the many Hanssler sets I bought.

Marse Ward wrote (October 23, 2000):
(To Kirk McElhearn) Is the last cantata volume by Koopman #9? Will there be more? BMG has a history of offering the first few in a series, then quitting.

Donald Satz wrote (October 23, 2000):
(To Marse Ward) Koopman's Vol.10 came out a short number of months ago. I think Vol..11 is close at hand.

Zachary Uram wrote (October 23, 2000):
Zachary Uram wrote:
<< wow 300 >>
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< Hey, it's taken me a lot of years to get there. But 60 of them came all at once, when I bought the Teldec cantatas about 5 years ago. And another 50 or so this year, with the many Hänssler sets I bought. >
I have been waiting to get the Teldec cantatas, one day perhaps. What do you think of the Hänssler? I have 2 volumes of sample discs. Sounded good but due to time limitations it is impossible this one complete edition will be comparable to invidiually buying those select recordings you feel are superior. It is a practicallity, if you have 2 weeks to learn/rehearse/recorde say 3 Bach cantatas you cannot a similiarly skilled group who has 6 months to do same thing. There is more variety of performers than in past complete Bach compilations but still I am reluctant to buy one of these complete sets. I rather amass a complete set by drawing on different labels/performers. I think limited complete sets can work as I have complete set of the organ works and I'd like the complete cantatas set.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 23, 2000):
Zachary Uram
< I have been waiting to get the Teldec cantatas, one day perhaps. What do you think of the Hanssler? I have 2 volumes of sample discs. Sounded good but due to time limitations it is impossible this one complete edition will be comparable to invidiually buying those select recordings you feel are superior. It is a practicallity, if you have 2 weeks to learn/rehearse/recorde say 3 Bach cantatas you cannot a similiarly skilled group who has 6 months to do same thing. There is more variety of performers than in past complete Bach compilations but still I am reluctant to buy one of these complete sets. I rather amass a complete set by drawing on different labels/performers. I think limited complete sets can work as I have complete set of the organ works and I'd like the complete cantatas set. >
First, re the Rilling. I'm not a fan of his cantatas - modern instruments, mushy sound sometimes... not very HIP, even though that is not my only criteria.

Re: complete sets - I agree to not by a complete set by any one label. The good side is that you would get everything (almost), but the down side is not everything is good. I have taken my time, and just recently reached "completeness", by buying the best versions of each work that I could find, and, often, waiting for them to be released in budget priced editions. And the others on this list have helped me a lot in my choices.

Now that I have reached completeness, I am on the road to expanding my collection by getting alternate versions of many of the works... And waiting for 2015...

 

Continue on Part 5: Year 2001

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