Konrad Junghänel & Cantus Cölln“Actus Tragicus” - Cantatas BWV 4, 12, 106 & 196
Cantus Cölln: one-to-a-par BachJohan van Veen wrote (February 29, 2000):
Some time ago there was a discussion on the performance practice of Bach's Cantatas in which every part is sung by only one singer. A new recording has just been released with four Cantatas performed this way, by the German ensemble Cantus Cölln. I would like to give my impressions. First the details.
Four Cantatas are performed (in this order):
1) Christ lag in Todesbanden (BWV 4)
2) Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (BWV 106)
3) Der Herr denket an uns (BWV 196)
4) Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (BWV 12)
The ensemble Cantus Cölln consists of:
Johanna Koslowsky (Soprano), Elisabeth Popien (Contralto), Gerd Türk, Wilfried Jochens (tenor), Stephan Schreckenberger (bass), Karin van Heerden, Beate Knobloch (recorder), Uwe Hartwich (trumpet), Katharina Arfken (oboe), Andrea Keller, Werner Ehrhardt (violin), Antje Sabinski, Claudia Steeb (viola), Werner Matzke (cello), Jean-Michel Forest (violin), Lorenzo Alpert (bassoon), Carsten Lohff (organ)
Director is Konrad Junghänel.
The performances are excellent from a technical point of view. All players belong to the very best on the early music scenes. The string players for example are all members of Concerto Koln, one of the best orchestras in baroque and classical music. One of the preconditions for a successful on-to-a-part performance is that the voices blend. You just can't put some solo singers together and hope they will do their best to sound like an ensemble. But although these singers all have solo careers, they work together very closely in this ensemble, and have done so for years. That definitely pays off. The Choruses and chorales as well as the duets sound great. They all use hardly any vibrato, and in particular in some Choruses where the harmonies are very important, that has a very striking (positive) effect on the emotional impact of the performance.
The program contains four early Cantatas, all composed around or before 1714. I don't know what view Konrad Junghänel holds on the point of one-to-a-part performances (the booklet doesn't give any information about that), but in general the performance of early Cantatas in this manner doesn't meet as much opposition as does such a performance practice in the Leipzig Cantatas.
What about the interpretation? My feelings about that are somewhat mixed. I feel that the emotional content of some of the Cantatas isn't fully exploited.
The best performance is Cantata BWV 196. It is assumed that this is a wedding Cantata, but there is no firm evidence for it. It is a rather happy and uncomplicated work, very short but very beautiful. I don't understand why the only recordings of this piece are part of complete editions. It seems that no director wanting to do some Cantatas, is looking at this one, and that's a great shame. The fast tempi on this CD work well here. Johanna Koslowsky gives a fine performance of the short da capo Aria 'Er segnet, die den Herrn furchten'.
Cantata BWV 106, also known as 'Actus Tragicus' and one of the most brilliant Cantatas Bach has ever composed, is also done quite well. The contrast in the Chorus 'Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit' comes across well. On the whole the tempo in this Cantata is a little too fast, but otherwise the singers and players are convincing in their expression of the character of this piece. The pitch used isn't mentioned, but I assume it must be the high pitch, which is thought to be used by Bach in the early Cantatas. The consequence is that in the duet 'Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein' the bass part is sung by a tenor (Wilfried Jochens). I can't quite figure out how the Alto part is sung: it sounds like Soprano and Alto are singing in unison.
Cantata BWV 12 is a very gloomy piece, which starts with a Sinfonia, which has the character of the slow movement of an oboe concerto. The Chorus 'Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen' is excellent - it is especially here where the almost vibrato-less sound of the ensemble is so important to bring out the chromaticism in this piece. In the Arias the singers are sometimes a little too pale. In particular the bass Stephan Schreckenberger is not the most expressive singer I have heard. Wilfried Jochens does really well. Impressive is Uwe Hartwich on the trumpet, who plays the melody of 'Jesu, meine Freude' in the tenor Aria, and also (together with a violin) the upper part in the chorale at the end 'Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan'.
Least successful is the Cantata BWV 4 'Christ lag in Todesbanden'. This is a chorale Cantata in which all verses of the chorale are set to music. It has a symmetric structure: after the Sinfonia the first verse is for 4 voices and instruments, like the last. In the center is the 4th verse, again for 4 voices and instruments, and this is surrounded by two duets and two solos. In most recordings the last section is a four-part chorale setting, but this dates from 1724/25, and was not how it was originally conceived. The music of the first performance hasn't survived. In this recording the last verse is sung to the same music as the first verse. The argument for this is the symmetric structure. But how Bach has originally composed this last verse is not known. So this solution is based on an assumption. Would Bach really have used the same music for a different text? The other difference with most recordings is the use of strings only. In the later version a cornett and a trombone are involved, although they only play colla parte.
This Cantata is not all happiness and joy. The text of this chorale constantly refers to Jesus' death at the cross, and its cause: sin. It is not surprising that Bach has set this whole Cantata in c minor, according to Mattheson a key, which can hardly be linked to cheerfulness, 'how hard one tries'. It makes you rather thoughtful. Interesting is that Mattheson characterizes this key as something which both makes you sad and gives you consolation. That is exactly what this chorale is all about. The problem with this performance is that it underplays the sad side. The tempi are too fast. The contrasts are not strong enough, for example within Versus I (Christ lag in Todesbanden) between the first seven lines and the 'Halleluja' at the end. The heart of the Cantata is Versus IV (Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg), and unfortunately this is the worst part of the performance. The tempo is so high that it sounds like a madrigal by Johann Hermann Schein. The text (Das Leben behielt den Sieg, es hat den Tod verschlungen - and: Wie ein Tod den andern frass, ein Spott aus dem Tod ist worden) doesn't ask for such a speedy tempo - here it is almost a caricature.
As far as the instrumental aspect of this CD is concerned, the players may be technically better than for example those on the Teldec recording. But they are far less colorful. What I am missing is the characterization of the content of the text by the instruments. They are too often just accompanying the singers.
On the whole, an interesting recording, and - with all the reservations I have - one of the best of its kind.
M. Saramago wrote (February 29, 2000):
(To Johan van Veen) Thanks for your impressions on that cantata CD. Could you tell us the laband if possible the catalogue number?
Johan van Veen wrote (March 1, 2000):
[To M. Saramago] Sorry I forgot that. It is on Harmonia Mundi France - HMC 901694; playing time: 70'23".
Jacco Vink wrote (March 2, 2000):
I recently heard the Cantus Cölln CD in a CD store. I did not listen to the whole CD, but I heard most of Christ Lag in Todesbanden. Unlike Johan, I was actually very impressed by the performance. Later at home I compared with Suzuki and in my opinion the Cantus Cölln version is better. For me the higher tempo, especially of Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg, seemed the right one. Note that the words mean: "It was a miraculous war", so a fast tempo seems not at all strange. Obviously this is very much a matter of taste, go to a shop and listen to it. I have not bought the CD yet, but I am considering it.
Patrik Enander wrote (March 2, 2000):
Even though it is off-topic, I would like to recommend their excellent CD "Vespro della Beate Vergine" by Rosenmuller (no not Monteverdi). The line-up of singers is different. Two Sopranos Koslowsky and the lovely Maria Christina Kiehr, Steve Dugardin and Pascal Bertin, Alto, Gerd Türk and Wilfred Jochens, tenor and finally Schreckenberger and Matias Gerchen bass. They are all excellent I owned this CD for about two years before I realized it was a gem in my collection. Critics describe the music as a blend of Monteverdi and German counter-point. I do not know about that, but is a CD I would recommend any lover of baroque music.
Matthew Westphal wrote (March 20, 2000):
Here are some more impressions. (This is the long version of what I whittled down to make a review for Amazon.com:
TITLE: Bach: Actus Tragicus / Junghänel, Cantus Cölln
ARTIST: Composer: J. S. Bach
Conductor: Konrad Junghänel
Performers: Johanna Koslowsky, Elisabeth Popien, Gerd Türk, Wilfried Jochens, and Stephan Schreckenberger
LABEL: Harmonia Mundi France
The one-singer-per-part theory seems to have made the most headway in the early Cantatas -- probably because the arguments over the interpretation of the Entwurff don't apply.
In the case of "Christ lag" (BWV 4), Cantus Cölln has serious competition in even the single-voices category from both the Taverner Consort/Parrott (Virgin) and the American Bach Soloists/Thomas (Koch). To my ears, Cantus Cölln wins, which is saying a lot. In the full Choruses you can't hear the individual vocal lines so well. I don't think that's because of the small forces (it's not true of Parrott or of Thomas, who doubles the voices with cornett & trombones) but rather because Junghänel's fast tempo and the singers' sharp enunciation of German stress the syllables rather than the melodic lines. It's definitely not what I'm used to hearing, and not everyone will like the shift in emphasis, but these musicians are very effective at their approach. The solo and duo numbers are marvelous – not as charged with energy as Thomas, but engaged, subtle and engrossing. Stephan Schreckenberger in particular gives the only account of "Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm" I've ever heard that managed some subtlety in delivery without sounding under-powered. Compare him with David Thomas for Parrott (not subtle) and Kurt-Owen Richards for Thomas (under-powered) and you'll understand what I mean. In place of the simple (and anti-climactic) Leipzig-style four-part harmonization of the chorale melody that we usually get for the final movement (and which, according to the booklet notes, comes only from a 1724 Leipzig revival of the Cantata), Junghänel repeats the music of the first Chorus with the text of the final verse. Unorthodox, yes, but I sure liked it. (Although I wonder just how justified it is - after all, we probably shouldn't go snipping and pasting Bach's music as was done with Handel in the bad old days.)
"Actus Tragicus" has always seemed a misnomer to me for BWV 106. Yes, it's a funeral piece -- but I think the word "tragic" in the context of classical music inevitably brings to mind a Tchaikovsky-"Pathetique"-like quality that just doesn't fit with this Cantata. Bach's writing is too lively, too much in a major key, too lightly scored. Some conductors (even HIP ones like Gardiner) seem to impose this "tragic" feeling on the music. Junghänel doesn't - this performance is much the most fleet and lively I've heard - and frankly, matches the Lutheran text (which doesn't view death with dread at all) quite well.
Der Herr denket an uns, BWV 196, is a winsome little wedding Cantata for singers and strings only; it benefits greatly from the light touch Cantus Cölln has always brought to the madrigal repertory. (See their recording of the Italian madrigals of Schutz.) I particularly liked the lilting tenor-bass duo "Der Herr segne euch".
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12 is most famous, of course, for its first Chorus which Bach adapted to make the Crucifixus of the Mass in B Minor. But it has a lovely opening Sinfonia with oboe solo and three lovely meditative Arias for Alto with oboe, bass with two violas da gamba, and tenor with trumpet playing a chorale melody.
I haven't yet praised Wilfried Jochens' singing, at once vigorous and sensitive, or that of the ladies, who are outstanding. Soprano Johanna Koslowsky can float an ethereal chorale melody, toss off virtuoso runs and take your breath away with a descending figure trailing off into silence (the end of "Es ist der alte Bund" from the Actus Tragicus). All done with equal skill, and all in a tone so pure she could almost pass for a boy Soprano. Alto Elisabeth Popien is every bit as good.
With Herreweghe and Jacobs already on Harmonia Mundi's roster and with some expressed reluctance on Junghänel's part to bring the one-on-a-part approach to some of the larger Leipzig works), I don't know how many more Cantata recordings we'll get from Cantus Cölln. But I hope they at least do some more early works like Aus der Tiefe and Gott ist mein Konig.
Harry Steinman wrote (March 20, 2000):
Matthew and Frank F: Well, Matthew’s ecstatic rave of a previous email (his exact words, he may recall, were, "Oh God YES YES YES!!!") and review and Frank's comments pushed me over the edge: I just ordered the HM Actus Tragicus, and now I can't wait. Frank, hanks for a good tip, and Matthew, thanks for an excellent review (and for your unrestrained passion).
Frank Fogliati wrote (March 21, 2000):
[To Harry J. Steinman] I listened to my radio recording of this on the way to work this morning. The Soprano and viols sent shivers down my spine! I hope you love it as much as it I do. It's truly sublime (and probably dangerous to get 'lost in' when driving in slippery conditions as I was!) Enjoy.
Harry Steinman wrote (March 22, 2000):
Hey, a quick note to Matthew and Frank and All. Thanks for the recommendation of the Cantus Cölln recording that included the Actus Tragicus (Harmonia Mundi 901694) as well as BWV 4, 12, and 196. This is WONDERFUL singing and instrumentation. Everything is so crisp and clean...the soprano is wonderful (as are the other singers). This ensemble has quite a distinctive and pleasing sound. I HIGHLY recommend this recording to any and everyone.
Cantus Cölln's New Bach Cantatas: anyone heard them?Fang-Lin Hou wrote (March 25, 2000):
I saw that Cantus Cölln conducted by Konrad Junghänel has recently made their (first?) recording of Bach sacred cantatas using one-to-a-part style. The programme consists of famous (funeral) ones including the "Actus Tragicus" BWV 106. Anyone
heard this and is it equally fine as their JSB motets?
Simon Roberts wrote (March 26, 2000):
(To Fang-Lin Hou) Based on the one listen that I've had time to give it so far, I would say it is as fine as their motets, though of course the music doesn't provide any opportunities for the exuberance they display there. Like the motets, these are one-per-part performances and make a very good case for such minimalism (as, maybe even more so, does the first disc of the Chandos series of Bach Lutheran masses).
Johan van Veen wrote (March 27,2000):
(To Fang-Lin Hou) On the whole it is a very good recording. Now and then I think the tempi are a little too fast, in particular in Cantata BWV 4 (Christ lag in Todesbanden). The bass (Stephan Schreckenberger) is not the most expressive singer I have ever heard, but the others are all very good, and as an ensemble they are unbeatable. They use a high pitch for these cantatas, which results in the aria "Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein" in Cantata BWV 106 being sung by a tenor (Wilfried Jochens) in stead of a bass - in this case that is an advantage, since Jochens is a very expressive singer. And of course all the singers are German - so there are no problems with pronunciation. I haven't been very impressed with any one-per-part performance so far, but this one is perhaps the best argument in favour of such an interpretation.
Simon Roberts wrote (March 27, 2000):
< Johan van Veen wrote: I haven't been very impressed with any one-per-part erformance so far, but this one is perhaps the best argument in favour of such an interpretation. >
Have you heard the Chandos recordings of the Bach Lutheran masses?
Johan van Veen wrote (March 27, 2000):
(To Simon Roberts, regarding the Lutheramn masses on Chados) I have heard Volume 1, and to my taste it is interesting and acceptable, but nothing more. I have this prejudice (which is often confirmed) that most English musicians can't sing/play German music. They just don't have the instinct for the characteristics of the German language and the way that is reflected in the music (even in instrumental music). The English Concert's recordings of Telemann and Fasch etc. are very flat. I think that Cantus Cölln would be far better in those masses. And another factor is that CC is an ensemble of singers who have worked together in many projects over the years. You don't get a real "ensemble" by putting together some soloists, who never sing madrigals or motets together like CC. (To put things in balance: Germans and English music don't go along that well either. I once heard Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with the Freiburger Barockorchester. The dances sounded like military marches.
PK wrote (March 27, 2000):
(To Simon Roberts) I'm very interested. Could you give us more details?
Catalogue number and performers? Thanks.
Simon Roberts wrote (March 27, 2000):
(To PK) Susan Gritton, Robin Blaze (much better here than on Suzuki's St Matthew), Mark Padmore, Peter Harvey (I think; I don't have the disc handy), the Purcell Qt plus hangers on. I find the cast of the second, which includes Chance, I think, rather off-putting). I suspect you won't find the singers ideal, but they're a reasonably characterful bunch who sing well (it's a peasure to have the bass line so clear; a b minor mass would be welcom...), and while Il Giardino Armonico (say) would probably be preferable, the instrumentalists are fine. I have no idea who presides over these generally lively performances; no conductor is listed.
Alvin Cado wrote (March 27, 2000):
(To PK) Chandos 0642, with Susan Gritton, Mark Padmore, Robin Blaze, Peter Harvey. The orchestral playing is a bit creaky to these ears (my standards in this repertoire being MAK, Akademie fur Alte Musik and Freiburg Baroque), but the singing is quite fervent; these are far and away the most convincing performances of these pieces I've heard, although I've kept Herreweghe for the Gerard Lesne bits. Lesne's one-to-a-counterpart, Robin Blaze fares much better than he does in the sadly soporific Suzuki series… which I was inclined to enjoy, if only because the orchestral performances are more detailed than Herreweghe or Koopman, but a bit by bit comparison of his St. Matthew with either Herreweghe or Rilling II shows just what a dreary perfectionist Suzuki has turned out to be.
PS: Have you heard the new Gardiner easter cantatas yet? And does anyone like the MAK/Christine Schäfer disc as much as I do (which is a lot)?
Simon Roberts wrote (March 27, 2000):
< Alvin Cado wrote: Have you heard the new Gardiner easter cantatas yet? And does anyone like the MAK/Christine Schäfer disc as much as I do (which is a lot)? >
The new Gardiner sits next to me unopened, so I can't comment yet (besides wondering why the disc is so short). As for the MAK disc, their contribution is superb, as one might expect. But I continue to find Ms Schäffer -- or, at least all the fuss made about her in the music press -- baffling. Her clear projection of the text is, as always, appealing, but her voice strikes me as utterly ordinary, while her technique (as on the Mozart concert arias disc) isn't up to the task -- she simply can't sing the fast florid music with the degree of accuracy brought to it by most other sopranos who have recorded BWV 51 (my favorites being Kirkby, Argenta and Kweksilber).
But I'm glad to see someone agrees with me re Suzuki's series...
Matthew Westphal wrote (March 27, 2000):
(To Simon Roberts) I agree with Simon about Schäffer (here, at least -- she may indeed be the great Lulu that the press suggests, I don't know).
I listened to the new Gardiner two or three times over the weekend -- I can't give a full report right now (and I may be reviewing it for Amazon), but don't feel compelled to rush out and buy it at full price. It has only 48 minutes of music; the choral blend, especially in the sopranos, would be adequate for other choirs but seems sloppy for Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir, which (by reputation and judging by many of their recordings) is supposed to be precision incarnate; the conducting isn't dull, exactly, but seems uninspired; some of the soloists (Bernarda Fink and Steve Davislim) are quite good, but the one with the most to sing is Michael Chance, who sounds GHASTLY. (Simon, you think Argenta's voice is in a parlous state?) Most aggravating, Chance's voice mars what might otherwise be the best solo singing on the disc, by Mark Padmore (in a duet with Chance). Except for Chance, the performance is respectable enough, I suppose, but I can't imagine paying for this when Koopman and Suzuki either have done or will soon do those two cantatas.
Simon Roberts wrote (March 30, 2000):
(To Matthew Westphal) I finally broke down and listened to the Gardiner disc and completely agree with your assessment of it (and yes, I do think Argenta has declined, but no, not to the extent that Chance's has -- though I've heard him worse) -- except for the final phrase; I'm really not interested in what Koopman and Suzuki have to say with this music (if I want something along those lines I would rather listen to Herreweghe).
Alvin Cado wrote (March 28, 2000):
(To Simon Roberts) Agreed re: Schäffer's somewhat clunky efforts at the quicker end of things; she's not ideal but in this case, with MAK, I'd say her virtues outweigh her flaws. Curiously, Schaeffer does have a fair amount of experience as a Bach-singer, having recorded a number of things, some secular cantatas prime among thing, with the revitalized Rilling. (I think she's also on the Weyand-conducted St. John I haven't heard; any comments on this, esp. in regards to the agility of the boys choir?)
As for Suzuki, I honestly don't believe people really like it as much as they claim. This is quite presumptious, I know but there are a number of factors in play which leads me to believe it is true:
a) Dissatisfied with all other cantata series', Bach lovers desperately want to like it. I admit to falling into this camp and, sometimes, it's hard to seperate an affection for Bach from the flaws of the performance. Having listened to everything through the St. Matthew and Vol. 11 of the cantatas, I'd say the choir is best thing Suzuki has going. The orchestra, while well drilled, is one of blander period ensembles I can recall in terms of sonority.
b) Series-mania: as mot collector's know, it's difficult to give up on a series once you're in; I solved the problem by unloading the lot of 'em, but otherwise, there's quite an investment of time and money involved. BIS as a label also tends to engender loyalty.
c) The "Holy Bach" syndrome.Everyone seems to excuse Suzuki's longeurs by claiming that he's cutting to the "spiritual" core of the 18th century Lutheran church music. Funny thing is, such dull perforances are rarely accepted with such good cheer in any renaissance or baroque repertoire other than Bach. (I'm passing over British indulgences of anodyne, "selfless" performances because I can't stand them; likewise the sort of early music folk inclined to use the word "indulgent" as a pejorative) While I may prefer the articulation of Suzuki's band to, say, Herreweghe's for "gentle Bach," neither is really praiseworthy.
Listen to the range of rougly contemporary composers conducted by, among others, René Jacobs, Konrad Junghänel, Goebel, Savall, Marc Minkowski, Diego Fasolis (on a good day), Hermann Max (despite occasionally awful soloists: Monika Frimmer!), Francois Lassere (excellent recordings of Monteverdi and Schütz on Pierre Verany) Ludger Remy, Il Giardino Armonico and, going back a bit further, but still in the sacred domain, Paul Van Nevel and Roland Wilson, and you realize just how limited and limiting Suzuki's (and Koopman and Herreweghe's) performances really are.
It's interesting to note, also that Suzuki's non-Bach recordings have been received much more cooly: some folks have heard much better Handel, Buxtehude, Schutz and Zelenka and won't be swayed by glossy novelty.
Finally, while I'm on the subject, somebody please stop Paul McCreesh before he does another unlistenable "litugical" reconstruction; the good bits of his Bach disc are buried within an hour plus of crap nobody wants to hear (reproduce the texts alone if it's so damn important) and aren't that great anyway. I'll scream if I find out that his Archiv contract is keeping MAK or Minkowski away from recording more Bach or Handel. . .
PS: If Hurwitz is still lurking, perhaps he or someone else can explain why DG hasn't released Magadela Kozena's excellent Bach disc? A fairly popular composer and a very attractive young woman singer seems like an easy sale even for the dim bulbs at Universal distrubition. What gives?!
Simon Roberts wrote (March 28, 2000):
(To Alvin Cado, regarding Shäfer) I tried that St. John the other day in Academy -- wandering around a store listening via headphones from a portable player isn't an ideal way to judge a performance, but experience tells me that, if anything, it makes me like a performance more than I do when I get a chance to listen properly at home -- and wasn't impressed. The boys seemed OK (not as good as those on Beringer's B Minor Mass), but the conducting is quite dull and the soloists no better than ordinary. I would suggest you don't buy it unless you can hear some of it first.
(Regarding Suzuki and Herreweghe) Since I don't like Suzuki's Bach (but seem to like Herreweghe's more than you do) either I'm somewhat sympathetic to your explanation, but perhaps we should simply concede that others have different taste....
(Regarding modern composers conducted by modern conductoers) Absolutely. As I've said before around here, I find it maddening that the current complete Bach Cantata series underway from Koopman and Suzuki should be of the same general type -- gentle, understated, "respectful" etc. I've given up on both of them.
(Regarding Suzuki' non-Bach recordings) Except for Fanfare's Bernard Jacobson, who gave an extraordinary rave review to Suzuki's piddly little Messiah; I understand that Suzuki's recording the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers....
(Regarding Paul McReesh) Agree; but at least someone should make him ditch the ghastly countertenor (the other soloists aren't exactly first rate either) who participates in the Bach event.
(Regarding Magadela Kozena's excellent Bach disc) Well, they've released it in Canada (didn't see it in London a couple of weeks ago) and it's available readily enough in the U.S. at Tower and HMV as an import at European prices (and worth every penny).
Johan van Veen wrote (March 28, 2000):
< Alvin Cado wrote: Finally, while I'm on the subject, somebody please stop Paul McCreesh before he does another unlistenable "litugical" reconstruction; the good bits of his Bach disc are buried within an hour plus of crap nobody wants to hear (reproduce the texts alone > if it's so damn important) and aren't that great anyway. >
How do you know what other people do want to hear or don't? What are you referring to? The chorales sung by the "congregation"? Those are great! I can't get enough of them! The chorales are one of the attractive aspects of Bach's cantatas. So I hope McCreesh is going to do more that way.
PK wrote (March 28, 2000):
(To Alvin Cado) To make a long story short, I agree with most of what Alvin says, but he needn't to scream : Goebel and Minky do what they want. Minkowski is recording Hercules these days (April 15th in Paris), von Otter, Dawson, Croft, Daniels, Saks - could be worse, huh?
The new Gardiner I barely sustained until the end, even my beloved Bernarda seems asleep, and, to these humble ears, the guy simply doesn't know the first thing of what the music is about (which we already knew from the elder cantatas). A friend of mine suggested that this new disc is, in fact, a beginning of a diabolical project to destroy Bach. Look at the numbers of the cantatas : BWV 6 and BWV 66.
Alvin Cado wrote (March 30, 2000):
(To PK, regarding Gardiner) Good news on the "Hercules" indeed. As for Gardiner, it's too bad he recorded a merely adequate (sub-Harnoncourt, I think) Poppea a few years back which prevented Archiv for taping Minkowski's. Speaking of which, do you have any idea when Minkowski's "Dardanus" will come out? Also, and perhaps this should be another thread, what do you think of Christie's Händel? Or, to put it less exclusively, are there any Händel recordings which match the excitement of Minkowski's "Ariodante," "Teseo," and "Amadigi." Jacobs' "Guilio Cesare" comes close, but I haven't heard his "Flavio." I was quite upset over Kraemer's much lauded "Rodelinda."
Philip Peters wrote (March 31, 2000):
(To Alvin Cado) Mc Creesh's Solomon.
Fang-Lin Hou wrote (March 31, 2000):
Thanks Simon (and everybody else) for responding to my inquiry and creating another nice thread on HIP choral recordings. I got the Cantus Cölln recording of Bach early cantatas today and have been listening to it much: it generally lives to high marks that Simon and Johann gave to it. Even though I don't believe they will make a complete set, I hope to have more Bach cantatas from them in the future.
BWV 12 - Supplement (Junghänel)Aryeh Oron wrote (May 24, 2000):
I have not had the Junghänel's CD while we were discussing BWV 106, 196 & 4 in previous weeks. I still have not had it, while I sent to the group my review of the recordings of BWV 12 last week. But, at last I have it, I manages to listen to it couple of times, and my initial conclusion is that this record is well deserved almost every praise it got in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List. However, I do not find it wholly convincing from every aspect. Indeed, its intimate atmosphere is the best visit card of the OVPP approach, the voices are very well balanced and blend charmingly together, the instruments are beautifully played, and the emphasis on the words rather than on the music is well justified. The pronunciation of the words is so clear, that you could almost write them on paper according to what you hear (BTW, it is not mentioned in the booklet, when each tenor is singing. I believe that Türk is singing the Solo parts and Jochens the Chorale parts). The balance between the instrumental and the vocal parts is perfect. They are on equal level. I mean that you do not have the feeling that the instruments accompany the voices or that they overshadow them, but that they play together or one against the other, as needed. The fugal parts obtain the best clarity from this approach. What I miss is a little bit more drama and emotion, and a little bit more softness and tenderness. Don't understand me wrongly. I like this CD very much, because it illuminates special sides of the Cantatas, which are rarely rein other performances. And the aspects that I miss here, I find in other recordings. The Cantatas sound so different in this rendering than any other recording, almost like new works of art, and this approach is performed so convincingly, that this record becomes a 'must have' for every Cantatas collection. But, I also believe that this record should not be the only version one should hold of each Cantata included in it. Since all the Cantatas in this record has been discussed in our group in the last couple of months, one can easily come to conclusion that there are other recordings for each Cantata with different approaches indeed, but not less valid. Regarding BWV 12 in particular, I love Woldike, Suzuki, and Junghänel almost on the same level, different as they are, and maybe exactly for this reason.
Matthew Westphal wrote (May 24, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) I'm glad you finally got the Cantus Cölln CD and I thank you for your comments on it.
One tiny point: you said you think Türk is singing the solos and Jochens the chorale parts. I can't remember where I heard or saw this (Junghänel may have mentioned it when I interviewed him for Amazon.com), but I believe that Jochens is singing all of it and Türk wasn't involved in this recording at all. (He was probably in Japan singing for Suzuki!)
The article for Amazon.com has five performers -- conductors Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghänel and Philippe Herreweghe and singers Drew Minter and Julianne Baird -- talking about performing Bach one-singer-per-part. I will let the list know when the article is up on the site.
Johan van Veen wrote (May 24, 2000):
I have just looked at this recording and this is who is singing what:
- BWV 4: Aria Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn - Jochens; Duet So feiern wir das hohe Fest – Jochens
- BWV 106: Aria Ach Herr, lehre uns bedenken - Türk; Aria Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein – Jochens
- BWV 196: Duet Der Herr segne euch – Türk
- BWV 12: Aria Sei getreu, alle Pein – Jochens
Ryan Michero wrote (May 24, 2000):
[To Johan van Veen] I think Johan is right. Türk's voice is pretty recognizable, and I know I heard him in a few places on the recording. I also remember that Jochens sings for sure in BWV 12.
BWV 4 + BWV 106 - Rafi Lavi's DiscussionAryeh Oron wrote (July 1, 2000):
Rafi Lavi is a famous Israeli painter, as well as classical music critic, who writes regularly a column for the local weekly newspaper 'Ha'ir'. Every Tuesday evening a group of dedicated classical music fans is gathered at Lavi's home. He chooses for them a certain work of classical music and they listen together to all the recordings of that work without prior notice what they are going to hear, or who the performers are. Then they compare the various recordings of the work to each other and give them marks. The results are published in the newspaper couple of weeks afterwards. I have never participated in those weekly musical meetings. However, I read the weekly column with curiosity to see if the work under discussion interests me. Last week's comparison was dedicated to cantatas BWV 4 & BWV 106. Before quoting from that article, I have to say that the opinions expressed there do not reflect in any way my personal opinion. But because the matter of our group is discussing Bach cantatas and especially recordings of them, it is interesting to read a review about the same subject from another source. Here is my translation to English of the original Hebrew text:
"The CD in which Junghänel conducts Bach cantatas has raised a lot of attention lately, because it sounds so marvelous and also because it includes two of the most known and beloved cantatas - BWV 4 'Christ lag in Todesbanden' and BWV 106 'Actus Tragicus'.
We compared both of them. We did not choose arias for soloists, but choral movements, which generally characterize the performances. Also, we included only recordings from the last 30 years. It means that Harnoncourt-Leonhardt production was the most veteran of them. All of them were HIP.
According to the participants' statements, all of us were looking for the same thing: beautiful voices, transparent weave of them, fluent flow, not heavy, not didactic, but also not superficial. And at the end, a performance that will 'touch the heart', as the listeners said.
As has been expected, the renderings of Harnoncourt to BWV 4 and Leonhardt to BWV 106 arrived to the last place. Their performances, which once sounded to us innovative, fresh and bold, sound today old-fashioned, heavy, steady and ordinary.
In BWV 4 Suzuki arrived first. He is flexible, plays beautifully with the voices and very expressive. In BWV 106 he was placed at the bottom. He was called stiff and clumsy.
Rifkin, the performance that uses one voice per part instead of choir, has not recorded BWV 4. In BWV 106 he arrived to the first place far ahead before the others. Jeffery Thomas performance, whose approach is similar to Rifkin, got a lot of sympathy. In BWV 4 he was second by a narrow margin, and in BWV 106 he was second together with two others.
Junghänel, the cause for celebration, arrived third, after Suzuki and Thomas in BWV 4, and second, together with Gardiner and Thomas, in BWV 106. By the way, Gardiner was laid at the bottom in BWV 4.
Parrott, who recorded only BWV 4 in Rifkin's method, was put in the middle, in exact distance from the 'good' and the 'bad' recordings.
Koopman, who records the complete cantatas and is considered by many to be the ultimate, was not appreciated in our group - in both cantatas. 'Ordinary', 'smeared', 'tedious', were some of the compliments he got.
Conclusion? Rifkin, Thomas, and Junghänel. Suzuki and Gardiner should be checked according to each cantata and the soloists must not be forgotten, because in these renderings they change from one CD to the other. Koopman is out. Leonhardt and Harnoncourt are passe. And all the above said is valid until the next comparison."
Review in Fanfare & 'Validation"Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 4, 2001):
I don't need to have my reaction to music and the performance of that music "validated" by written reviews. But, OTOH, if I were to read reviews before, I would probably often act on the recommendation if the reviewer in general seemed to share a similar aesthetic to mine. In the present case, I did first follow the reviews on this list. Then I had a very dissimilar reaction in hearing the performance and now I have seen in the current (Feb-March IIRC) Fanfare a reaction to the Cantus Cölln Bach cantatas CD which precisely reflects not my theoretical perspective, but my gut reaction. So, some validation maybe does make one feel a little more sane <g>.
Actus TragicusFrancine Renee Hall wrote (May 15, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Right now I just put on the Actus Tragicus CD conducted by Konrad Junghänel for the first time (Harmonia Mundi). What can I say? I feel like crying tears of joy! Soooo beautiful! It's a good thing Bach was truly religious (even if I and most people are pagans) because his sincerity and fervor shine through! The performances are stunning. And I'm learning about Bach's 'new' and 'old style' of music making in the most pleasant way!
Thanks for the recommendation
Konrad Junghänel: Short Biography | Cantus Cölln | Konrad Junghänel & Cantus Cölln – Recordings | “Actus Tragicus” – by Konrad Junghänel & Cantus Cölln | Motets – Cantus Cölln | Das Alt-Bachische Archiv – Cantus Cölln | BWV 232 - Junghänel & Cantus Cölln