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Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Recommended Cantatas
General Discussions - Part 20: Year 2016

Continue from Part 19: Year 2015

OT: I would like to acquire all the cantatas

Mahribua Klein wrote (August 10, 2016):
I am interested in two things:
1. Getting a complete set of Bach cantatas
2.Getting the complete scores.

I admire the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt complete sets. But I also love Suzuki, Gardiner, Richter and Rilling. Which set is the best? I think only Leonhardt and Gardiner have done the complete sets but Suzuki is so extremely fine, and I also love Rilling and Richter, although they may be harder to get. Did Gunther Ramin also record many of the cantatas?

I'd like the scores because then I can follow along. I sing and also play a little violin.

Can anyone help me in acquiring a complete set of this music?

Julian Mincham wrote (August 10, 2016):
[To Mahribua Klein] Hi There are a number of complete sets by which I mean both the church and secular cantatas. In this regard Harnoncourt does not qualify. Koopman is complete in that he has recorded both church and secular as well as some alternative setting and some reconstructions. Some people find Gardiner and Suzuki can be more exciting if, at times inconsistent in the performances (especially the former) but this is a matter of taste. Most scores can be found for free on the internet but it's a nuisance if you want to run them off. The best commercial set is that by Barenreiter which includes, the motets, sacred songs etc but this does not come cheap---maybe 7-800 euros now although I got mine at about a third the price when it was first published. For info on the cantatas see also

Mahribua Klein wrote (August 10, 2016):
[To Julian Mincham] Thanks a lot for the detailed response. Really helpful. I looked at your website- fascinating, in-depth essays.

Thank you.

Evan Cortens wrote (August 10, 2016):
[To Mahribua Klein] Just to follow up on Julian's response, if you're looking for scores of the cantatas online, here's a great place to start:

Indeed, it would be an awful lot of time/effort to print them. Also, these editions are, in some cases, nearly 150 years old, so while they're out of copyright, and therefore cost-free, they don't always represent the latest scholarship on a given source. Definitely something to get started with though!

Good luck!

Linda Gingrich wrote (August 10, 2016):
[To Mahribua Klein] It depends on what you want the scores for. As a conductor I like Bärenreiter scores in general, which are nearly always clean and easy to read and scholarly, although I don't have any of the Bach cantatas in that edition so I can't judge. I have a number of Breitkopf scores, which are pretty dependable, and a couple of Carus Verlag scores which I like, and one of which has a forward, but in German. But these are pricey. You can get cheap Kalmus scores of some of the cantatas, but the plates they use for printing are old so there are small blanks in letters, notes, etc, which makes them blurry and rather hard to read at times, and the pages are often crowded. That's part of what makes them cheap! But if you just want them to follow along with the music as you listen they would be okay, at least the ones you can get.

Stephen Clarke wrote (August 10, 2016):
[To Mahribua Klein] Great question. As a musician, you will know your own taste in cantata style. but the Gardiner set for c. $249.xx the bunch is hard to beat. as for style, I think Bach himself would go for Gardiner. recorded in a swath of european churches - the Reformation cantatas set in the Thomaskirche!! - and with full-chested Lutheran christian enthusiasm, well it sets some kind of benchmark in that dept., I think. Individual artist performances vary, mostly very good in all sets, but all sets you mention display impeccable technical recording skills. Suzuki (full set) sounds very 'clean-up'; I think Bach's own performances were pretty ragged around the edges sometimes. Rilling & Richter sets I would disallow because of use of modern instruments unless I had professional interests but that's just me. Good luck. It's not like its back in the '60's when really good individual cantata recordings were rare and hard to come by. nowdays you can't go very wrong. Good luck.

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (August 13, 2016):
[To Stephen Clarke] I think there is no answer about choice for sets of Bach’s vocal music. Each work is such a masterpiece that you can hear it in different versions, each performer feeling it differently.

On the site:
you can hear every Bach’s vocal work, chosen in different versions showing the variety of possibilities.

You can also follow the words while listening.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (August 13, 2016):
I write as a non-expert who simply appreciates listening to Bach. There probably isn't a "right" answer to your question. As you will already know, there's the choice between modern and historical instruments. Also, how "complete" do you want your set to be? Koopman records a few extra bits 'n' pieces; Gardiner appears to miss out a few cantatas. Think about live versus studio recordings, and perhaps most importantly of all the quality of the respective soloists, choir and orchestra - you should be able to find samples online.

There's also the question of price. Personally I might have held out for Koopman because I'm a completist, but a few years ago I saw the Rilling set advertised for less than £50, and it seemed daft not to go for it. I've been happy with my purchase. I could have got Gardiner for five times the price, but it wouldn't have been fives times as good. It doesn't bother me that there Koopman may have another version of a certain cantata. I'm never likely to buy another complete set (I feel I already own too many CDs), and in the overall context of my life I'm happy with the decision I made.

Finally, how much time are you likely to spend listening and playing along? If you want to make this exercise the focal point of your life, you will be more inclined to spend more money. If it will be only occasional, the choice of recording may be less important. I mention this especially with regard to the scores. I recommend that you pick a cantata that you like and find the score online. When you've had enough of it, pick another cantata. Proceed through the cantatas in the same way, one by one. You could spend a fortune acquiring the scores but never using a lot of them.

I wish you pleasure in your search.

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (August 14, 2016):
[To Jeffrey Thomas] May I point to you that on website you can together hear freely and read the texts of all cantatas, oratorios, passions and motets. Some explanations are in French but they are very simple to understand.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 15, 2016):
[To Jean-Pierre Grivois] A very impressive resource for listening and study. Thanks for reminding us about it.


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