Bach Complete Cantatas, recommendations please

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Charles
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Bach Complete Cantatas, recommendations please

Post by Charles » Fri Dec 09, 2005 12:58 pm

Can anyone please recommend a good set of the complte Bach cantatas, and also where to order from also. A quick web search has turned up no such set on Arkiv, and only one such set on amazon, by a Dutch group I've never heard of. Thanks.

Charles

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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 09, 2005 1:11 pm

Oh dear. :?

Well, I have examples of all of them (including the Ton Koopman, which is what I presume you are referring to) and they are all good. The problem is I lack the funds to own any complete set before it goes out of print (unless I want to spend my disposable income on nothing but Bach Cantatas, and even I am not that much of a fanatic), and that goes back all the way to the Harnoncourt LPs on Telefunken which were the first complete set. Another problem is that some series organize them strictly by BWV number, while others organize them by theme, so you can't just play the game of filling in gaps.

I'd go straight to Amazon for this one and listen to samples if they have them. Good luck. You are attempting something I was never able to accomplish. However, I have never heard a series, however partial and however somewhat flawed, that I didn't like (the Helmut Rilling uses the harpsichord along with the organ in the continuo for reasons that are a mystery to me, but I do not find it offensive).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Charles
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Post by Charles » Fri Dec 09, 2005 9:27 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Oh dear. :?

Well, I have examples of all of them (including the Ton Koopman, which is what I presume you are referring to) and they are all good. The problem is I lack the funds to own any complete set before it goes out of print (unless I want to spend my disposable income on nothing but Bach Cantatas, and even I am not that much of a fanatic), and that goes back all the way to the Harnoncourt LPs on Telefunken which were the first complete set. Another problem is that some series organize them strictly by BWV number, while others organize them by theme, so you can't just play the game of filling in gaps.

I'd go straight to Amazon for this one and listen to samples if they have them. Good luck. You are attempting something I was never able to accomplish. However, I have never heard a series, however partial and however somewhat flawed, that I didn't like (the Helmut Rilling uses the harpsichord along with the organ in the continuo for reasons that are a mystery to me, but I do not find it offensive).
Thanks. I agree that Bach is kind of hard to get wrong, if the musicians can read notes and keep time. The set I found on Amazon, the only fully complete one, is by Pieter Jan Leusink, Holland Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium, and there are no samples. So it makes me a little nervous.

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Post by Haydnseek » Fri Dec 09, 2005 9:40 pm

Charles wrote:The set I found on Amazon, the only fully complete one, is by Pieter Jan Leusink, Holland Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium, and there are no samples. So it makes me a little nervous.
This Bach Cantata series from Brilliant Classics was reviewed by Gramophone Magazine. You can read the reviews online (registration is free):

http://www.gramophone.co.uk
Last edited by Haydnseek on Fri Dec 09, 2005 10:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 09, 2005 9:43 pm

Charles wrote:Thanks. I agree that Bach is kind of hard to get wrong, if the musicians can read notes and keep time.
I didn't say that. Bach is very easy to get wrong and was in fact gotten wrong for something over two hundred years. The survival of his music in an essential integrity must be counted the greatest musical miracle of all time after the composing of it in the first place.

The set I found on Amazon, the only fully complete one, is by Pieter Jan Leusink, Holland Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium, and there are no samples. So it makes me a little nervous.
Shows you what I know. This is a new one to me. But it does rather reinforce my point that these cycles are evanescent and if you want to invest in the whole thing before it disappears it would be nice to have an inheritance (and a small truck to pick up the shipment).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Dec 09, 2005 10:09 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Oh dear. :?
My sentiments exactly! :D
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val
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Post by val » Sat Dec 10, 2005 4:40 am

I would suggest the set conducted by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt with all the Cantatas. But, in my opinion, it would be usefull to have also the recordings of Karl Richter (some are very good, as is the case of the extraordinary Cantata BWV 44).
The recent set of Suzuki is remarkable regarding the conductor and orchestra, but the soloists are very bad.

qmp

Post by qmp » Sat Dec 10, 2005 5:14 am

I've literally just begun listening to the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set (thanks to a library)...WOW! In only the first couple discs, I haven't merely discovered "hidden gems" for myself, but rather some of the most stirring music I've ever heard, and I'm wondering why it's taken me this long to launch into Bach's cantatas. The 1st movement choruses from BWV 1 and 3, for example, are incredible (at least to my ears!). If churches these days performed music like this every Sunday, I'd be there at sunrise.

Many would be off-put by the amateurish sound of these recordings (they were begun over 30 years ago, when HIP still very new). And using wavering boy sopranos for the arias is a bit too much for me. But despite these flaws, I have so far enjoyed the recordings (especially the choruses) just as much as the far more polished recordings of Gardiner and Herreweghe. Unless you have money to burn, I would suggest you do what I do and find a library with some of these sets so you can compare for yourself.

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Dec 10, 2005 5:23 am

val wrote:I would suggest the set conducted by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt with all the Cantatas. But, in my opinion, it would be usefull to have also the recordings of Karl Richter (some are very good, as is the case of the extraordinary Cantata BWV 44).
Karl Richter represents at its best an era that got these things dead wrong. Everything about his "Christ lag in Todesbanden" (BWV 4, which is what I assume you meant) is off in some way. Either he is using a chorus to perform something that should be a solo or he is using Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to sing "Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm" when he cannot sing a vocal trill and cannot hit the low E at the end and has to manufacture a high option. Germans getting Germans wrong.

The recent set of Suzuki is remarkable regarding the conductor and orchestra, but the soloists are very bad.
I cannot agree with this either. I do not understand the Japanese affinity for Bach (among other things it is a wonder that they pronounce the German perfectly), but this goes all the way back to the Harnoncourt B Minor Mass, which used a Japanese as one of the soloists in the Christe Eleison. The Japanese appear to adore Bach. More power to them.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Peter Schenkman » Sat Dec 10, 2005 1:51 pm

To my ears Rilling on the Hanssler label is an easy first choice for a complete set of the Bach Cantatas. Good singers, superb instrumentalists as well as a balanced approach to earlier performing practices combined with newer thinking. At one time the entire cycle could be purchased at Berkshire in something like the $200.00 range! Quite a steal.

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Post by premont » Sat Dec 10, 2005 3:05 pm

Charles,
the Leusink set is very cheap, a HIP performance with very fine instrumentalists and a natural way of singing, which convinces me much more than the pre-authentical somewhat opera-like singing of many of Rillings soloists. Rilling conducts with a tad more authoritity than Leusink, and his instrumental forces are very fine too. As to Karl Richter I can´t but agree with Jbuck. All in all Leusink offers IMO the cheapest and best way of getting hold of all the cantatas, if this is what you want. Later, when you know the ouvre, you can acquire selected cantatas in selected recordings.

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Dec 10, 2005 3:55 pm

When I was at a university whose name most of you will soon figure out if you don't already know, I was a poor lad and hired myself out for odd jobs to make a few extra bucks. One of my jobs was helping a professor re-putty his windows. It was a one-day sort of thing but we had the most interesting conversation because he was playing BWV 1080 in the background and asked if I could guess the forces (since my father's instrument was the saxaphone I could hardly miss sax quartet).

Eventually we talkied about a new recording project under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. He allowed as to how he admired the recordings of the larger works but for unspecified reasons had his doubts about the complete cantata series then in progress.

His name was Arthur Mendel, and I am not making this up.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Charles
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Post by Charles » Sat Dec 10, 2005 11:22 pm

premont wrote:Charles,
the Leusink set is very cheap, a HIP performance with very fine instrumentalists and a natural way of singing, which convinces me much more than the pre-authentical somewhat opera-like singing of many of Rillings soloists. Rilling conducts with a tad more authoritity than Leusink, and his instrumental forces are very fine too. As to Karl Richter I can´t but agree with Jbuck. All in all Leusink offers IMO the cheapest and best way of getting hold of all the cantatas, if this is what you want. Later, when you know the ouvre, you can acquire selected cantatas in selected recordings.
Thanks...I am going to get the Leusink. The price at $189 cannot be beat. I ferreted out a review in Gramophone from 2000, which was mostly positive except for reservations about some shortcomings in some of the soloists. In those cases I will pretend I'm hearing one of the Master's original performances with the schoolboys he was obliged to work with. And as you say, I can always fill in with other versions later here and there. To be able to hear all this music at will, and not have to pay $600, is to my mind a good compromise.
Last edited by Charles on Sat Dec 10, 2005 11:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by 12tone » Sat Dec 10, 2005 11:23 pm

Charles wrote:Thanks. I agree that Bach is kind of hard to get wrong, if the musicians can read notes and keep time.

The Brandenburg Concertos are very easy to get wrong. I've not come across anyone besides Musica Antiqua Koln that did them right.

I had bought the Boston Baroque set and they sounded more old and dusty than anything. They somehow sounded old and dusty. Even Pinnock who I greatly recommend for anything baroque messed it up last I heard him. Really messed it up.

Christopher Hogwood's reading was just embarrasing.

For modern orchestration? No thanks. No baroque work will ever be done right with having a work played by a modern orchestra.

Musica Antiqua Koln just nailed it so good with hard, fast and percise playing.

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Post by Charles » Sat Dec 10, 2005 11:41 pm

12tone wrote:
Charles wrote:Thanks. I agree that Bach is kind of hard to get wrong, if the musicians can read notes and keep time.

The Brandenburg Concertos are very easy to get wrong. I've not come across anyone besides Musica Antiqua Koln that did them right.

I had bought the Boston Baroque set and they sounded more old and dusty than anything. They somehow sounded old and dusty. Even Pinnock who I greatly recommend for anything baroque messed it up last I heard him. Really messed it up.

Christopher Hogwood's reading was just embarrasing.

For modern orchestration? No thanks. No baroque work will ever be done right with having a work played by a modern orchestra.

Musica Antiqua Koln just nailed it so good with hard, fast and percise playing.
I'm getting clobbered all over the place for that line. What I mean is that for me, a performance of Bach need not be great to communicate most of what the composer intended. The HIP perfromances are for me sometimes too fast -- I don't see how or why 18th C. groups which were probably not up to today's technical standards would have played that fast -- but this doesn't prevent me from enjoying the music anyway. Likewise, I have NEVER heard the climax of the keyboard cadenza of movement one of the Fifth Brandenburg played properly, ever. And I have a very clear idea in my mind of how it should be played. But I still usually enjoy it anyway when I hear it. Also, having grown up in pre-HIP days, I am used to that older approach and don't dislike it. I spent years wearing the grooves off a B Minor Mass by Felix Prohaska, who would probably be dismissed as a mediocre dinosaur today if anyone even knew his name, and thrilled to all of it. Call me a gourmand rather than a gourmet if you wish - or something worse. But I enjoy all my Bach intensely in any case, and if I were listening to any more lately than I am, I would need a rehab program.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Dec 10, 2005 11:53 pm

Charles wrote: The HIP perfromances are for me sometimes too fast -- I don't see how or why 18th C. groups which were probably not up to today's technical standards would have played that fast
I agree. I shouldn't, being the EM maven here, but I do. I have to be careful about some groups, like Giardino Armonico - I can appreciate works only if I didn't learn to love them under someone else's hand. Their tempi are just too fast for me on several recordings. And then there is Harnoncourt in his puckish phase - somewhere in the mid to late 80s.
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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Dec 11, 2005 5:38 am

The best ensembles of the 18th century were, as far as we can know, as good with what they had to work with as the best modern orchestras. I have questioned tempo too (not particularly in any of the Bach sets but with Christopher Hogwood's Messiah, for example), but I don't think it was an issue of technical competence.

The above statement is ironic when you consider that Bach did not have one of the best ensembles in Leipzig. He was in fact always complaining about his forces there, and a case could be made that between that and short rehearsal time he must have put up with many inadequate performances of his own very demanding work.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by premont » Sun Dec 11, 2005 5:52 am

12tone wrote: The Brandenburg Concertos are very easy to get wrong. I've not come across anyone besides Musica Antiqua Koln that did them right.
Being that eclectic you will certainly find that almost everyone else is wrong. Are you sure your idea of the concertos is right, or do you just wear musical blinders?

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Post by 12tone » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:45 pm

premont wrote:
12tone wrote: The Brandenburg Concertos are very easy to get wrong. I've not come across anyone besides Musica Antiqua Koln that did them right.
Being that eclectic you will certainly find that almost everyone else is wrong. Are you sure your idea of the concertos is right, or do you just wear musical blinders?
Well for one thing the harpsichord is a very crucial piece. I like my harpsichord very thickly tinny. I like some meat in it. At least in how it's recorded that is. I've come to liken the sounds to a color + tin. A very pingy or 'ting ting ting' harpsichord could come off with a name like a 'grey-ish tin' as apposed to one of a better, more rounded timbre which could have a name like 'brown-ish honey tin'. The ultimate would be a 'honey meat tin' in which a full thick sound is brought forth.

ANYWAYS....

For instance, I'll just say it: Hogwood's recording is so immature I had to turn it off after the first concerto. I was embarrased for having owned it. If I had a score, I would tell you where they messed up. As it is, I can't really explain it. Maybe tomorrow I'll get some 'timings' up and explain from there. It's not physically or technically possible for such a group to get things as wrong as they did when 'professional' is basically what they're under. It shouldn't exist but they somehow did it.

Sir Neville Marriner. Wow. Do any of his recordings sound like they're NOT played through pillows? Trevor Pinnock, or I mean...people in the 50s had better recordings than this guy. This guy could have broadcast his works through a HAM radio and recorded THAT it would have sounded better. I think someone forgot to clean the mics that they used to record Goldfish crackers swimming in crystalized honey. BTW, I havn't heard his BbC's so I can't say anything other than what I have heard.

Trevor Pinnock. Just from what I heard at Amazon didn't impress me. I can't say much more than that because I have not heard the whole thing.

Boston Baroque. Might as well have picked this up from a garage sale. Like I said, they somehow SOUND old. I'm not talking like old recording...not mono. I'm talking FOGGIES. I felt old listening to it. I felt -- nay, SAW browns and greys and dust. The amount of dust and debris coming through my speakers or headphones when I listened to the BbC's being done by the Boston Baroque either equaled or exceded the amount of dust and debris that would come from demolition group bombing down a old building -- at least 10 stories. Forget that. If I want my hears full of dust, which I don't, then I'll stuff 'em up with dust.

Benjamin Britten. I havn't heard this recording in a long time but I know I didn't enjoy it that much. Scared to listen to it again.

Musica Antiqua Koln = best.

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Post by val » Mon Dec 12, 2005 3:21 am

jbuck919

Karl Richter represents at its best an era that got these things dead wrong. Everything about his "Christ lag in Todesbanden" (BWV 4, which is what I assume you meant) is off in some way.


Well, you assumed it wrong. It was not the 4th Cantata, it is the 44th Cantata, my favorite, "Sie werden euch in den Bann tun". It is a Cantata that Richter conducts very, very well. There are others.

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Brandenburg concertos

Post by premont » Mon Dec 12, 2005 4:33 pm

12tone wrote:
Well for one thing the harpsichord is a very crucial piece. I like my harpsichord very thickly tinny. I like some meat in it. At least in how it's recorded that is. I've come to liken the sounds to a color + tin. A very pingy or 'ting ting ting' harpsichord could come off with a name like a 'grey-ish tin' as apposed to one of a better, more rounded timbre which could have a name like 'brown-ish honey tin'. The ultimate would be a 'honey meat tin' in which a full thick sound is brought forth.
I am not sure, that I get your point. The sound of a harpsichord is not only a question of the instrument or the harpsichordist, but also a matter of acoustical balance, and certainly most harpsichords in the recordings of baroque music, I know, are underbalanced even in concertos for harpsichords and strings, e.g. The Purcell Quartet´s recording for Chandos of Bachs harpsichord concertos (recorded with solo strings!!). Indeed I often find balancing and acoustics even on modern recordings annoying, but with age and experience I have learned to compensate for these things so to say psycho-acoustically. Putting forward your exclusive demands for a certain harpsichord tone, you seem to forget that the harpsichord in most of the the Brandenburg concertos plays a secondary role. What about the corni, the tromba, the traverso, the violin and so on? I have heard almost all existing recordings of the Brandenburgs from the Cortot recording until to day, and even if not all recordings are winners, I have found very much to enjoy in every recording. I think your ideal demands are undue and unrealistic, since you tear many excellent recordings to pieces. You certainly have a formal right to your demands, but IMO you cheat yourself of some great musical experiences.

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Post by Charles » Wed Jan 04, 2006 9:20 am

I have gotten the inexpensive Leusink set on Brilliant Classics. I find it fine so far, quite stirring and very sensitive in turn. I am no scholar or expert, just a devoted Bach listener with 50 years of on-and-off experience. I have not yet heard anything here that does not move me, including old favorites as well as a number of stunning works I've not heard before. As an example among my old favorites, the two very beautiful arias of BWV 82 are performed here as well as in any versions I've heard.

premont
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Post by premont » Wed Jan 04, 2006 12:56 pm

Charles wrote:I have gotten the inexpensive Leusink set on Brilliant Classics. I find it fine so far, quite stirring and very sensitive in turn. I am no scholar or expert, just a devoted Bach listener with 50 years of on-and-off experience. I have not yet heard anything here that does not move me, including old favorites as well as a number of stunning works I've not heard before. As an example among my old favorites, the two very beautiful arias of BWV 82 are performed here as well as in any versions I've heard.
Just the same happened to me, and was my reason for recommending it.

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Post by Charles » Thu Jan 05, 2006 12:03 pm

premont wrote:
Charles wrote:I have gotten the inexpensive Leusink set on Brilliant Classics. I find it fine so far, quite stirring and very sensitive in turn. I am no scholar or expert, just a devoted Bach listener with 50 years of on-and-off experience. I have not yet heard anything here that does not move me, including old favorites as well as a number of stunning works I've not heard before. As an example among my old favorites, the two very beautiful arias of BWV 82 are performed here as well as in any versions I've heard.
Just the same happened to me, and was my reason for recommending it.
Thanks, your posts were partly responsible for my going ahead and getting it, and I'm very happy with it.

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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jan 05, 2006 12:09 pm

Charles wrote:
premont wrote:
Charles wrote:I have gotten the inexpensive Leusink set on Brilliant Classics. I find it fine so far, quite stirring and very sensitive in turn. I am no scholar or expert, just a devoted Bach listener with 50 years of on-and-off experience. I have not yet heard anything here that does not move me, including old favorites as well as a number of stunning works I've not heard before. As an example among my old favorites, the two very beautiful arias of BWV 82 are performed here as well as in any versions I've heard.
Just the same happened to me, and was my reason for recommending it.
Thanks, your posts were partly responsible for my going ahead and getting it, and I'm very happy with it.
Got me convinced too. It's my order for the month.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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