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Recordings of Bach Cantatas
General Discussions - Part 9: Year 2005-1

Continue from Part 8: Year 2004

Finding scarce old recordings...

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 150 - Discussions - Part 2

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 6, 2005):
Fritz Werner

[To Ehud Shiloni] When the list's veterans talk about the glories of cantatas past, I admit to a degree of envy. The commercial state of classical music in the USA is not the greatest at this moment, and, I'm afraid, Bach cantatas have always been a niche commodity in most of the country. For instance, it's pretty unlikely I'll ever hear Fritz Werner do BWV 150 or any other cantata. Even the best public libraries here have, at best, one cantata cycle available for loan - and that's rare. Archiv doesn't list a single CD from Werner and Amazon invites you to try to find a used copy of the Teldec Secular Cantata set (10 CDs - one done by Werner). And when you factor in exchange rate woes and shipping costs, buying a CD from Europe is a real expense.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Over the years I have grown so accustomed to baroque performances on authentic instruments (I find the term Historically Informed Performance hideous jargon - it was coined, I believe because of carping from Berkeley professor Richard Taruskin about sins that people like Harnoncourt never really committed - leave it to an Americans to take a brief French academic trend and explode it into something insane - in this case post structuralism) that I find it difficult to enjoy "classic" performances of the great works. I'll grant a few exceptions like Malcom Sargent's Messiah, but, works like Klemperer's SMP (BWV 244) strike me as simply ponderous. Yet the style is part of musical history no doubt. It would be an interesting exercise in "HIP" (if not already done) to try to recreate Mendlessohn's performance of the SMP - of course you'd have to do it with some an ensemble like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Mackerras or someone of similar stature. It wouldn't sound like McCreesh, but it wouldn't sound like Klemperer either I'd bet.

Thankee for tips concerning the Lautenwerk. I just received a charming CD of Bach's sonatas (1027-29 & 1038) for Viola da gamba and Lautenwerk (Ekkehard Weber and Robert Hill). Ditto Tragicomedia's selection from Anna Magdalena's notebook from Teldec. Both are absolutely charming and would have remained in the void except for prompting from the list.

John Pike wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] The Mendelssohn arrangement of the SMP (BWV 244) has been recorded by Fasolis (1995) and Spering (1992). I have Fasolis' recording and it is very good.

Paul Farseth wrote (January 6, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
"The commercial state of classical music in the USA is not the greatest at this moment, and, I'm afraid, Bach cantatas have always been a niche commodity in most of the country. For instance, it's pretty unlikely I'll ever hear Fritz Werner do 150 or any other cantata. Even the best public libraries here have, at best, one cantata cycle available for loan - and that's rare. Archiv doesn't list a single CD from Werner and Amazon invites you to try to find a used copy of the Teldec Secular Cantata set (10 CDs - one done by Werner). And when you factor in exchange rate woes and shipping costs, buying a CD from Europe is a real expense."
P. Farseth replies: Dig up an old phono turntable and go visit the used-phono-records stores in the larger cities. I believe I have two or three good Fritz Werner disks from stores in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, with names like "Cheapo Disks", "Applause", and "Root Cellar Records". Sometimes you can find intact classical disks at thrift shops, too, often undamaged because they were played carefully on good equipment (sometimes at radio stations which have since culled them out). Used CDs (even of Bach cantatas!) are also becoming very affordable (as at the "Applause" store mentioned above in my locale... U.S. $ 5.95 for Rotzsch and the Thomanerchor doing BWV 127 and 21). No guarantees of success for particular performances, of course, but a decent chance.

Fritz Werner can be very good.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Paul Farseth] Actually, Rotzsch's recordings have already been remasterd to CD. What I think would be more valuable, however, is Phono or even wax recordings of Karl Straube and the Thomanerchor performing Bach. I have only seen one CD recording of this pairing.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Paul Farseth] I'm a Minnesotan living in exile and spend a lot of time in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul). For an American cities they're very classical friendly. Applause has sucked a good portion of my funds, although the manager told me they were cutting back in quantity soon. The big Applause is in Minneapolis. (Applause is the classical/jazz wing of Cheapo Disks). There's also a classically oriented vinyl shop near the University (that might be Root Cellar). Still, I've only made off with about 5 Bach cantatas. But we will give it a try again this coming week. Anyway, if for some reason fate takes anyone to Minneapolis-St.Paul, save some time for record seeking. You might want to check out the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra or one of the wonderful local groups while you're at it. 25 years ago, Berkeley and San Francisco had top notch used and new classical stores. They no longer exist except for Rasputin's in Berkeley, and that doesn't hold a candle to Applause. Can't say that the Bay Area live music scene is all hot either unless you like 20th Century opera. Even the Club scene is a shadow of what it was. Can't figure what's happened in California. Hope it's just a bump in the road.

 

Cantata recruitment

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 106 - Discussions Part 3

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 26, 2005):
On Jan. 25, 2005, Lex Schelvis transcribed a retrieved old letter he had written to his girl friend describing his first experience listening to BWV 106, and he ended with this:
"The friend put a reaction on the bottom of the letter. 'I was impressed in those days by your letter, but the music didn't do too much too me. I tried several times, but it didn't reach me, except for the first part. A shame though that you didn't try more often to impress me. I was waiting for more in those days.' For a moment that reaction gave me a glance of melancholy, till I realised that a relationship with her wouldn't have worked out. How can you live with a woman that doesn't like BWV 106?"
MY COMMENTS:

Lex, this was an enthralling description of the experience. No wonder your girl friend was waiting for you to impress her further!

But, the best part of your posting was the surprising humor in the last sentence.

Fantastic writing!

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 26, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] I was thinking over the post too. The Cantata World is a pretty small one, even among classical music fans, and much is the pity. That said, what single cantata would be the best introduction for recruitment purposes? The most accessible? I think it would be hard to top BWV 106. It's lovely, it's not very long and it's simplicity might actually make it an easier dose to take than some of the later more elaborate pieces. Even my rocker son likes it (he calls cantatas "Eric's Space Music.")

Doug Cowling wrote (January 26, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] My into cantata would be Wachet Auf (BWV 140) preimarily because the three choral movements are so beautiful. I think the best introduction to Bach's choral music is the Magnificat (BWV 243): 22 minutes and you hear every choral and vocal genre in Bach's ouevre. And no da capos!

Michael Telles wrote (January 26, 2005):
Cantata recruitment

[To Doug Cowling] What a great conver-- I've thought really hard about what might be the best introduction to the cantatas. I just can't seem to hook anyone around me. I usually try out an aria or chorus on someone and see if it lights up the boards. BWV 106 certainly is a beauty and is compact (it's hard to even write about it without feeling like you're bastardizing the experience). The gentler ones seem to catch people; BWV 161, maybe? I've found that the big, hefty choral numbers scare people off at first; it's easy for to forget that it's an adjustment for people, especially of my generation, to listen to choral music.

I must say, it was that opening aria from BWV 54, Wiederstehe doch der Sünde, performed by Yoshikazu Mera, that had me staring at my speakers for a week. The tension and resolve of the diminished chords and that lovely melody is so gripping.

Let me know your ideas, Michael.

Adrian Horsewood wrote (January 26, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] If I may be permitted, I'd go for the 'Peasant' Cantata (BWV 211) - it never fails to make me smile. If I have to go for sacred, I'll plump for 'Wachet auf' (BWV 140 - again, not too long, and the last duet is somply fabulous...

Bob Henderson wrote (January 27, 2005):
What was the audience for the Sacred Cantatas when they were written? All of a few thousand people at best. Yes its true that the numbers when compared to a world-wide potential are small. But today these are performed on an international basis with ensembles devoted to their music from Japan to Boston. The real market for beauty has always been small. Market is not the right word. We are doing quite well.

Peter Smaill wrote (January 27, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud & Michael Telles] What a good question ! How to select a cantata so as to open up the world of Bach's choral oeuvre to a wider audience.

We are perhaps all used to even quite musical friends glazing over when the Kantatenwerke are brought into conversation. This is despite the familiar BWV 140, which many have heard ; and BWV 147 is too long albeit very familiar at the chorale.

Is it just a question of the musical quality - or does the text matter too?

BWV 106 is indeed beautiful, buts speaks of death, the last taboo; BWV 54, marvellous in its way but with an awesomely downbeat libretto. Satan, Sodom's apple, sin, curses,shackles, sharp swords and sepulchres! It is also odd in that (a) it has only three movements (b) many people find male altos hard work, which is the authentic sound low in the register (c) it is also peculiar in having no mention of Jesus whatever. Now that is unusual too in the Cantatas.

In the case of BWV 71, which we must soon discuss, this emphasis on one person of the Trinity alone flows from the exclusive selection of Old Testament texts. The other Ratswahl offering without Christ, BWV 137, is Neander's Nun Danket, a different cause (thanksgiving to God for deliverance ).

Other than these, BWV 13, BWV 14, BWV 26, BWV 39 and BWV 138 appear to be Deist cantatas. BWV 26 and BWV 13 are both fatalistic texts by Bach's contemporary Lehms. The entrancing BWV 26 (Ach wie nichtig), like BWV 54, contemplates death without an atoning Saviour in the picture. The point is perhaps that an introduction to Bach's church music without Christ is unusual if possible but the librettos tend to be a challenge!

If attractiveness and unity of libretto and music are the aim, then Whittaker's choice would be high on the list - BWV 40, "Dazu ist erscheinen" for Christmas Monday, "One of the most perfect, every number is of superb quality.It is, indeed, truly representative both of the composer's religious outlook and of his supreme inventive and imaginative powers."

Perhaps regarding the Cantatas it is best to have a personal favourite but to hold its place in the same diffident way that Reimnschneider identifies the the Schlusschoral of the SJP (BWV 245), "Herzlich lieb hab' ich dich, o Herr"

"It is one of Bach's most noteworthy examples of truly inspired chorale harmonization, if one may be so bold as to make such a selection among such a great treasure store."

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 27, 2005):
Cantata popularity

[To Bob Henderson] We are doing quite well if we accept the narrow measure offered by Mr. Henderson. Look at things a little differently though. I would venture that Bach instrumental works outsell cantatas by, what, 20-1? (Arkiv has 4,000 Bach titles available - 212 are cantatas) Classical music in general has seen better days, but the big symphonies and opera houses still pack them, especially if they throw in some Mozart or Beethoven. I just attended a very nice performance of four terrific cantatas by the American Bach Soloists - a major period group, founded originally to perform Bach cantatas - and they only half filled a church in Berkeley on a Saturday night. That's not a sign of a booming market to me. I'm not suggesting that Suzuki should sell more CDs than Nora Jones, but I think we must recognize that Cantata World is a very small one. I'm puzzled: why will people flock to Mozart (or the Brandenburgs) and not to BMV 106? Good grief, even Wagner is more popular (hard to take but true). So, sure there is beautiful music being made and some people love it dearly. I'm not ringing alarm bells. I just don't really understand why the most beautiful music ever composed is not more popular than it is. And I'm not sure that dismissing most of the human race as inevitably Philistine is quite the answer.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 27, 2005):
I'd think that the first ones to play for a newcomer might be BWV 34 "O ewiges Feuer", BWV 29 "Wir danken dir", BWV 54 "Widerstehe...", BWV 80 "Ein feste Burg", BWV 82 "Ich habe genug", BWV 170 "Vergnuegte Ruh'", and BWV 140 "Wachet auf".

If the prospective new listener isn't hooked by the end of hearing those seven, give it up.

And IMO the 1954 Vanguard recording of BWV 170 and BWV 54, by Deller and Leonhardt and Harnoncourt, is essential.

Michael Telles wrote (January 27, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thank for the suggestions -- I'm sorry to say that I'm so new to the Cantatas that I haven't heard a few of the ones you suggested. Lucky me!

I should be frank about my introduction to the Cantatas, since I'm new to them myself and was raised on, and still enjoy, rock, folk, etc. I've actually noticed this progression in others as well: I first developed an ear for Bach by listening to single instrument adaptations -- piano, guitar -- and then tuned my ear to the instrumental work. The passions and cantatas I approached cautiously, aria by aria, chorus by chorus, until I was hooked.

I think what I'm getting at is that folks that have developed an ear for rock, folk, pop have some difficulty developing an ear for too many competing melodic lines / complicated structures, and also have trouble taking entire cantatas in, especially the recitatives. That's why my inclination, at first, was to suggest a bunch of arias. Maybe I'm underestimating listeners. Of course, there's the simple fact that most people put on their armour when other genres of music are suggested: "I listen to everything . . . except classical and country, of course." Etc.

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 27, 2005):
Why is the Bach Cantata markeextremely small? For an answer turn on the radio, scan through a number of broadcast stations, and note what type of music is being played for the listening public. Radio stations survive on advertisers' money by reaching as large a market as possible. Thus they have to play music that appeals to the largest possible audience.

I can't speak for territories outside North America. But, in that latter geography, the vast majority of radio music is popular songs and Country & Western songs. The tunes have to be catchy, the words need to be understandable, and the story needs to relate to love, romance, and everyday hardships. On that latter issue, there is an answer to the question, "What do you get if you play a Country & Western song backwards?" ANSWER: You get your pickup truck back, your dog back, your girl friend back, your wife back and your mobile home back. Popular Country & Western songs are about hardship and love. They relate to everyone's everyday experiences.

Teenagers are a big portion of the music market. Another type of music that appeals to them is something with a strong beat and a feeling of intense frenzy and excitement. That explains the popularity of Rock & Roll and Rap. Teenagers have a need to feel that life is exciting and going somewhere fast. Once they get past 40 years of age they won't want life to be too exciting and hectic, ... just comfortable.

If the above scenario defines the biggest portion of the music market, why don't Bach's cantatas address that same market. There are a couple of reasons.

1) Appreciating the beautiful subtleties of Bach's compositions requires more sophistication in hearing what is in the music. Most teenagers are neophytes to music and have not developed the necessary insight.

2) The libretti of Bach's cantatas are in German, and for much of the world that is a foreign language. It is hard to relate to lyrics you cannot understand. Isn't this also a limitation for operas? It must also be a limiting factor for American songs in Europe and other non-English-speaking countries.

3) The cantatas are permeated with Christian religion. That dampens the receptiveness of non-Christians. One only has to look at the relative popularity of Gospel Music versus secular popular music and Country & Western music in the USA to realize that religious music has a much smaller market.

4) The style of the music is quite different than the average teenager is used to hearing. It is not what they have learned to love.

5) The instrumentation and voicing seem antique to those exposed mainly to modern music.

I think the above 5 points are the reasons the cantatas are supported by a small market. However, for those who are more than superficial appreciators of music, there is much gold to be mined in Bach's cantatas. If you want to interest a potential convert, you must find a person who has a deep and broad appreciation of music, and who is interested in exploring new experiences.

Bob Henderson wrote (January 27, 2005):
Until today there never has been an audience for the Sacred Cantatas. These works were written to be heard as part of the liturgy. Those attending church cannot rightly be called an audience in today's secular terms.

Today there is a secular audience - however small - for these works. And they are rarely performed whole in church. Too long.

The values of popular culture are wholly at varience with this music.

Great music is the preserve not of audience but of performers. It is they who treasure greatness and it is they through practice and performance who feel the real thing in their bones. They would be performing this music to empty halls, or more likely to friends and family should no audience exist. The music will live. Audience or not.

Michael Telles wrote (January 27, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] Some friendly contention:

I agree with Dale that what one hears on the radio is mostly idiotic, that there are many barriers to appreciating Bach, and that it takes someone with real intellectual curiosity to make the leap. Yet I think the reverse also holds true.

I think a few questions are begging to be asked: is rock, rap, country, folk, etc, doing something one might call artful, and is the music coming out of those genres making some kind of lasing meaning for humanity in general? I'm leaving aside technical brilliance, because -- and this might get people hot under the collar -- I don't believe that technical brilliance or sophistication necessarily creates something affecting, meaningful, or enduring.

There are meaningful, valuable things happening in those genres, only the most interesting stuff doesn't make it to the radio often. Yes, there are tropes that these musicians work with, that appear again and again, but isn't that true of any period, genre, or region? The best writers / musicians take these tropes and consciously rework them or put them into new settings that expose deeper, hidden meanings, or even expose them as vacuous: Shakespeare did it ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"), Bach did it, and many rock, country, etc. artists do it today. Some unconsciously dole out the same old stuff, and that's what you hear on the radio. But there is plenty of music out there that is intellectually charged, and there are plenty of teens who appreciate that (I teach at a high school, btw), and I think it will make a lasting impression on people. Of course, to reiterate what Dale wrote, this music happens on the fringes and sometimes works its way in.

But I must say that I think there is a danger in idealizing not only genres of music but qualities of music, such as technical brilliance. It's a joy to discover the subtleties of Bach's composition, but part of Bach's genius is the summative quality of his music is so affecting to the listener that its complications reveal themselves very gradually, after the listener is done sobbing.

Hopefully no one thinks I'm a neanderthal. Oh, and I've got Suzuki's 26th vol. coming in the mail and will write it up as soon as I can.

George wrote (January 27, 2005):
[To Bob Henderson] There is so much truth in this I simply had to acknowledge it. I took up voice lessons at the age of 51, never singing much at all until I joined the choir that year. The sense of joy I get from singing Bach and Händel and Brahms and Mozart and Mendelssohn is difficult for an engineer such as myself to put into words. Not only my own singing but that feeling of being a part of something that is so beautiful and powerful. I am thankful there are two decent community choruses here that I am able to be a part of.

We are singing the Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise this spring. Anyone suggest a recording? I am not yet familiar with this work.

Jim Groeneveld wrote (January 27, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] Largely similar at this side of the big pond. Youngsters, who like Bach and the like, are exceptions and even older people, like myself, are exceptional I think. I think there is an additional reason for the current situation and that is the influence of the mass media currently, which is dominated by money of course, but which not only answers, but also generates a "common" musical taste. To me that is a large difference with Bach's time, where there were no mass media yet and neither a musical influence driven by big money.

As far as quality differences between classical and current popmusic are concerned I would like to draw a parallel with painting and sculpture. Compare the art of classical paintings and sculptures of well-known artists from the past ages with the work of current artists, which is much less complicated, less detailed, sometimes comparable to a child's drawing or clay figure.

To my impression a generation ago there was much more classical music on the radio than today. Happily nowadays we have modern sound media (next to the radio) and we are able to select what we want to listen to, while there is a very large choice of music. In that respect we are better off than the previous generation and even Bach's generation. Attending concerts has become more and more common and there are quite a lot of them (nearby if you live in a larger c).

Bob Henderson wrote (January 27, 2005):
I have one copy of Lobgesang on LP c 1979. Dohnanyi with the Vienna. London FFRR. Sounds as good as any CD ever made. But now I see that the same is available on CD. I would go with this. Or the Sawallish. Check Archivmusic.com.

Lex Schelvis wrote (January 27, 2005):
My problem with Bach was that I thought it was too heavy, too serious. The Brandenburg Concertos opened my eyes and made me want to hear some vocal music. So I always start with the Brandenburgs when I want to interest people for the music of Bach. And believe me: I am an apostle, so I tried a lot.

But how do you start the vocal music? Well, everything is happy and the concentration is short. So I always take the happy pieces. Those are good weapons against that one prejudice I had to overcome myself without any help: that Bach is gloomy, melancholy. So do not start with masterpieces like BWV 23,1 and BWV 32,1. No, take BWV 68,2: BWV 132,1; BWV 78,2 by Herreweghe. That last one made even my mum hum. Others: BWV 117,7 and BWV 92,8. The first full cantatas in my strategy are BWV 134, BWV 106 and BWV 8. To my surprise BWV 202 never worked.

The choirs, that's hard stuff. I found out BWV 39,1 works well, BWV 118; BWV 99,1; BWV 180,1; BWV 127,1. The key word: calm. So I would say: no BWV 80,1.

The first duet: BWV 167,3. I mean: your audience is a bit more experienced now, it doesn't have to be only jolly anymore. Accept some sneering remarks about the words, though.

And then come the knockouts: the slumber aria's: BWV 34,3; BWV 170,1; culminating in the full cantatas BWV 104 and BWV 82.

Your victims (?) are running to the record shop.

G. Master wrote (January 28, 2005):
I know from experience how difficult it is to "recruit" people to Bach. On a recent road trip through Colorado with my brother, I pulled out the big guns - BWV 4 with Parrot, BWV 131, BWV 39 and BWV 105 with Herreweghe, etc; I put disk after disk into the rental car's CD system, all the while thinking, "this one's the charm," while my brother remained dispassionate. He expressed respect for Bach, but not love.

I think discovering Bach is a highly individual journey, one characterized by an initial spark of interest, a sudden splurge of collecting, and then many repeated listenings. This last part is key, since Bach usually doesn't "hit" you on the first listen. I don't find this troubling at all; on the contrary, how refreshing it is to have something get better and better with each exposure and not the other way around! Indeed, even such great composers as Mozart and Beethoven can wear down after a while. But with Bach, the listener never ceases to find new secrets embedded in the music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 28, 2005):
G. Master wrote: >>But with Bach, the listener never ceases to find new secrets embedded in the music.<<
This is how Bach intended his music to be: although directed specifically at Canons 9 & 10 of BWV 1079 (Musical Offering), his directive 'Quaerendo invenietis" taken from Matthew 7:7 can be applied generally to his music: "petite et dabitur vobis quaerite et invenietis pulsate et aperietur vobis" "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 28, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I think Mr. Braatz and Mr. Henderson raise very valid points that are very well put. When I suggested that BWV 106 was a good piece for "recruitment" I wasn't suggesting anyone start a crusade. (I must admit that, from a selfish point of view, I'd love to see more cantata fans because that would mean more recordings and more live performances. In the San Francisco Bay Area there is a lot of classical music but cantatas are very few - only a couple a year.) Instead I was posing a rhetorical question that may lie in the realm of group aesthetics: why does the most beautiful music ever written not strike more people as being the most beautiful music ever written? In Boyd's musical biography of Bach he too suggests, more or less like Mr. Braatz and Mr. Henderson, that cantatas are above the heads of most souls and constitute a kind of music reserved only for very keen ears that for whatever reason understand the message.

Perhaps Bach wouldn't have been surprised. The cantatas were not entertainment in any sense. Further, there is little reason to think that Bach was contemplating posterity when he composed them. Bach was certainly conscious of his musical reputation but it does appear he was content to be judged primarily by his keyboard and instrumental works. To the extent that Bach did compose for the "concert hall", loosely defined, it was pieces like the Brandenburgs, Musical Offering or his keyboard works. And indeed, many of these works continued to be played from the time of Bach's death until today without interruption. The choral works flirted with extinction.

Obviously everyone wears different ears. To many yours truly would be counted among the Philistines. I don't like contemporary classical music. Despite many attempts, I never learned to really like jazz. (The jazz I do like a little is Philistine stuff: Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and "pop" Louis Armstrong. BTW: Armstrong was the only famous musician I ever talked with - he and a member of his group let a couple of high school cub reporters interview him after a concert in Minneapolis in 1964 or 1965. Wonderfully funny and owner of the biggest lips on the planet.) I bring this up because in the US, jazz and classical often find themselves lumped together in big record shops: niche markets big enough to carry but not big enough to sweat.

Yet the question still remains - why are cantatas inaccessible to so many that do enjoy other types of classical music, or, for that matter, hard core jazz. I'm not sure that the secular nature of the culture is a good explanation. This might explain a collapse of interest in cantatas in Western Europe, but as Mr. Henderson points out correctly, this has not happened - cantatas have never been at the top of the classical charts. If anything, more and better cantatas are available in Europe today than ever before. (Or at least were within the recent past.) Secularism certainly would not explain why I can't hear live cantatas every couple of weeks in Minneapolis - Christianity is very much alive in the US and Lutherans come to worship in very large numbers, often singing hymns composed by Martin Luther. (However, I do think that the great decline of musical education in US public schools in the past 20 years has had a negative impact on the quality of music listened to in the nation across the board.)

Maybe Mr. Braatz is quite right in arguing that Bach explained it. Perhaps the cantatas are hard because they are so complex, so deep. I suspect every person on this list would agree that each cantata has some moment of genius. Many, perhaps most, are almost inexhaustible in their depth. I recently sat through six different recordings of BWV 106 twice apiece - straight. Every single time I heard something different. I wouldn't think of doing that with a Mozart or Beethoven symphony. (And I may not listen to BWV 106 again for a few months, just in case. But, no matter, there are 200 others.) So maybe there's a stifflearning curve. I certainly came to cantatas late. Heaven knows how many hours of instrumental baroque I listened to in college and later. I didn't really become an opera junky until I was 40 or so. And it took another decade to combine the baroque idiom with the choral idiom - when that happened, the Cantata World was open. Still, I wish the boat was larger and still don't really understand why it isn't.

George wrote (January 28, 2005):
In the DC area we have the Washington Bach Consort to perform Bach Cantatas as well as more ambitious undertakings - last year they did the SMP (BWV 244) (not OVPP) which I enjoyed very much. They also have free lunchtime concerts, often Cantatas. I was lucky enough to be in DC for one of these, performed at a wonderful old Episcopal church. I cannot remember which BWV alas, but they did it OVPP with a nice orchestra using at least some period instruments. At the time I was blissfully unaware of the OVPP theory/controversy/etc and although I had previously only heard recordings with large choruses I enjoyed it very much and thought each of the performers were very good. If you are in DC on the right day check out one of these free gems. (schedule at bachconsort.org)

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 28, 2005):
[To George] Thankee for the tip: I'm in Washington more often than I'd like and I will bookmark the site. Sure wish there was an equivalent in the Bay Area - we're talking nearly 6 million people. Two cantatas a year isn't enough.

Bob Henderson wrote (January 28, 2005):
I too came to the cantatas late. Altho about one quarter of my record collection has been Bach. Since high school. I'm 63 now. Apart from a few beloved Richter recordings, I found little in the performances of the 50s and 60s. Didn't the first complete cycle become available only during the 70's? Now there must be five complete series. Thats progress.

For me the HIP movement has been central. The clarity and transparency of small ensemble work works for me. So I have more than a few Herreweghe and Koopman and I collect Suzuki.

I believe that appreciation of the Sacred Cantatas requires work and some focus. A belief that rewards will come. Altho several choruses are instantly attractive. I give my bemused children CDs at Christmas and birthdays and I always tell them, "Listen to this ten times. You will get it on the ninth". Who knows.

My wife who has some background as a violinist and who has good taste in music has grown accustomed to listening to these works and now even requests a few by name.

To me these are the greatest canon in Western music, greater than the Mozart operas, or the Beethoven symphonys. Yet they remain not quite accessable to many.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 28, 2005):
Bob Henderson wrote: <"For me the HIP movement has been central. The clarity and transparency of small ensemble work works for me".>
That amazes me, Bob. I thought people of our generation (I'm 59) had to struggle to learn to deal with HIP - I certainly have.

I fell in love with baroque music in the late 50's in my 'teens (1st up: "For unto us a child is born"); soon afterwards I was listening to Bach's organ music (LP of Germani, Royal Festival Hall, London - sheer magnificence). I 'discovered' classical music earlier than this, at about age 12.

I remember being awfully disappointed when I bought my first very own MBM (BWV 232) in about 1974 - I did not read the small print: "Original Instruments" (I've forgotten the performers, I gave the LP's away); naturally the sound was not what I was looking for.

I'm intrigued by your experience, that you actually needed HIP to open the world of Bach's choral music. As it turns out, you appear to be swimming with the tide!

(I'm swimming against it; I want to get the cantatas back on the concert programs of modern symphony orchestras, with at least 24 voice choirs, and grand pianos to belt out some crunchy diminished 7th chords etc, in the recitatives.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 28, 2005):
< My wife who has some background as a violinist and who has good taste in music has grown accustomed to listening to these works and now even requests a few by name. >
My 2-year-old and I listened to BWV 106 this morning in the car, with some repetitions of the first movement. (Bravo, Brüggen and van Hauwe!) She especially likes this cantata because it has pretty flutes like we play together at home. She told me a couple of times that Leonhardt's boy soprano soloist sounds like "a lady singing" and the chorus sounds like girls. I kept telling her it was boys but she didn't believe me.

Bob Henderson wrote (January 28, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] Thanks for your response. Now to sound a bit schizophrenic. I came to love Bach through Karl Richter, his BMM (BWV 232) in particular. I still think his 1959 SMP (BWV 244) is the best, with the last hour being one of the highlights of recorded music. Nothing touches it for intensity and spiritual depth. And I think the few recordings by Ristenpart are among the best with his "Wachet Auf" (BWV 140) being the best (Richter's is a disappointment to me: he seems to be calling" Sleep on, sleep on! "). There are parts of the Klemperer SMP (BWV 244) that I love.

Its just that as a whole and mostly for the cantatas I have found more in HIP. I am the guardian for an LP collection of 5000, many never played so its not that I havn't heard much of the stuff available. ( the collection is the inheritance of my soon to be son in law)

So I'll just go on living in both worlds. (I'll bet the BMB (BWV 232) you remember from 1974 is the first Harnoncourt. I didn't like it either).

Michael Telles wrote (January 28, 2005):
[To Bob Henderson] Yes Bob!

I'm with you there about the HIP performances: that was the sound that got me going. I can't really explain it, but I think the transparency you spoke of is very important. I'll never forget hearing Pinnock's Brandenburgs and hearing the full sparkle of the harpsichord and almost feeling the scrape of each bow across the strings. There's something really electric about the sound for me. Suzuki's recordings are remarkable because he somehow -- incredibly -- creates a warmth of atmosphere AND a sense of intimacy AND, when needed, a real feeling of grandeur. Can't wait to get volume 26 in the mail.

I am not, however, allergic to other recordings: I have some Rilling discs that, with modern instruments, adds, for me, something very emotional, sometimes full of deep pathos. But I'll reiterate a question I asked earlier: does anyone who has a Rilling recording notice a wavering of tone or crackling, almost as if the music was transferred from vinyl to digital? Strange, but my discs sound this way, although they were copied for me from a friend.

Take it easy, Michael.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 29, 2005):
Michael Telles wrote: <"does anyone who has a Rilling recording notice a wavering of tone or crackling, almost as if the music was transferred from vinyl to digital? Strange, but my discs sound this way, although they were copied for me from a friend".>
Michael, I have the complete Rilling set. I cannot in any conceivable way hear what you refer to as "a wavering of tone or crackling". I can sometimes hear a "rasping" quality in the register of the continuo chamber organ (fortunately Rilling often uses a harpsichord instead), and in a few instances a certain unpleasant coarseness/denseness/harshness in the timbre of the continuo strings.

[But this latter problem with continuo is not confined to Rilling's recordings: I often hear it with Koopman (especially in the recitatives) and others].

I suspect a fault in your friend's copying equipment.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 29, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote: <"Michael, I have the complete Rilling set. I cannot in any conceivable way hear what you refer to as "a wavering of tone or crackling".
It has just occurreto me that anyone coming to the Rilling recordings from the HIP end of the spectrum might be disturbed by the amount of instrumental and vocal vibrato employed (quite different to the vibrato-less, 'messa di voce' articulation of HIP).

Maybe that is the 'problem' you are experiencing?

Michael Telles wrote (January 29, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] Thanks for the response to this; I know exactly what you mean. I'm definitely hearing an overall, albeit slight, wavering of tone that sounds more like a slightly warped vinyl lp. Funny, isn't it? I bet the discs were transferred from vinyl to disc. No matter: I'm not so much of an audiophile that I can't appreciate Rilling's particular sound. Great stuff.

Suzuki's 26 arrived today! I write it up as soon as I get a chance.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 29, 2005):
[To Michael Telles] Weren't at least some of those from analog tape, which may have stretched or otherwise deteriorated?

John Pike wrote (February 18, 2005):
[To Peter Smaill] Talking of Christmas cantatas, I just love the opening movement of BWV 133.

John Pike wrote (February 18, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] A very nice list.

I've been trying to get that Deller recording for ages, but no luck. Anyone know if it is likely to be re-released?

John Pike wrote (February 18, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] We may be in for a renaissance of Bach cantata listening/performing. BBC radio 3 will be discussing them this Saturday, and scarcely a month goes by without a batch of new releases from cantata series by Suzuki, Herreweghe and Gardiner now as well. Koopman may still be active as well. There are other releases of individual cantatas coming out all the time, including the Purcell Quartet's new OVPP recording or early Bach cantatas this month.

Stephen Benson wrote (March 1, 2005):
[To John Pike] It's in the catalogue at H&B (hbdirect.com).

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 1, 2005):
[To Stephen Benson] It will be reissued at budget price by Artemis in the next future ( possibly this year): http://www.vanguardclassics.com/index.aspx?p=thebachguild

 

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