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Pieter Jan Leusink & Holland Boys Choir & Netherlands Bach Collegium

Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 1


Johan van Veen
As mentioned earlier, Brilliant Classics releases a Bach Edition, which is put on sale in the Netherlands by the drugstore chain 'Het Kruidvat'. The whole series will probably be available abroad next year. Today Vol.1 of the keyboard works has been released.

J. Bayer 34 wrote:
Does anyone know who will be doing (/has done) the cantatas in this set?

Johan van Veen wrote (October 28, 1999):
The choir is the Holland Boys' Choir, the orchestra the Netherlands Bach Orchestra (or something like that; probably put together for this recording; playing on period instruments). The soloists are Ruth Holton (soprano), Sytse Buwalda (male alto), Knut Schoch (tenor) and Bas Ramselaar (bass). The choir has made beautiful recordings in recent years. As far as the soloists are concerned: I haven't heard Ruth Holton in Bach, so I am wondering how she will be. Sytse Buwalda has a beautiful voice, reminds me a little of Paul Esswood - but with less vibrato. Knut Schoch is a young German tenor. Two years ago I heard him in the St Matthew Passion, and I found him interesting and a good prospect for the future. I am sure he has improved since then (recently I heard him on TV in Mozart's Requiem – very good). Bass Ramselaar is a very impressive young Dutch singer. Last year he was involved in the recording of Schutz' Symphoniae sacra II by La Capella Ducale and Musica Fiata (Sony).

Frank Wakelkamp wrote (November 9, 1999):
Release of the first 10 CD's of this series is November 23, presentation to the press 24 November 17:00 - 18:00 in Elburg, Netherlands. A small live performance (for the first time in this project) is foreseen. If anybody would be interested to attend, please let me know via the e-mail address below. Maybe I can arrange something (no guarantee, though).

Brilliant Classics Bach Edition

Colin Thart
wrote (January 3, 2000):
I was wondering if someone could shed some light on the contents of the Brilliant Classics Bach Edition?

I am confused as going back over the emails that I've received. They are contradictory, but this may be because I am equating the Kruidvat edition with the Brilliant Classics edition. Is this correct -- the Brilliant Classics edition is available through the Kruidvat stores?

The reason I ask is my grandfather in NL is buying these for us (we live in Australia), and he's also a bit confused by it (apparently).

Harry Steinman wrote (January 3, 2000):
Yes, the Brilliant Classics and the so-called 'Kruidvat edition' are the same. Kruidvat is the primary distributor for Brilliant Classics. In an earlier post to this list, one of the list members suggested, I believe that Kruidvat and Brilliant Classics are owned by the same company or that K owns Brilliant Classics. I don't quite remember clearly... Based on what I've heard of the first few volumes, I think you'll be delighted.

Wim Huisjes wrote (January 4, 2000):
They are indeed the same. A while back, in search of a Website, street address or anything on Brilliant Classics, joined forces on this list more or less concluded that Kruidvat AND Brilliant Classics were owned by the same company (probably a.o. also in the drugstore business in Germany and other countries).

IIRC correctly, Rien Pranger found the parent company. Rien, are you still there? Could you enlighten us (again?).

Philip Peters wrote (January 4, 2000):
I would be interested to know what you like so much about this series, Harry. Living in Holland I bought all of the boxes currently issued and will buy the other ones as well but besides the incredible price (here $ 1. -to $ 2. - per CD) I must say that there are some interesting interpretations (some of the keyboard works, the organ works and the reissue of Schreier's worldly cantatas) but also a lot which is mediocre or worse (the orchestral works - at this very moment I am listening to Szymon Goldberg directing the Dutch Chamber Orchestra way back in the fifties playing the Brandenburgs and they are 'great', so as to show that I'm not at all cost partial to HIP - and the cantatas which were obviously recorded in a hurry).

Wim Huisjes wrote (January 4, 2000):
Well, there's always good, better, "best". Almost all of Szymon Goldberg's recordings with The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra are a winner. Buy (or enjoy again) his recording of BWV 170 with Aafje Heynis (Philips 438 77-2; 1959), coupled with BWV 169 (same orchestra, conducted by Anton van der Horst) & a few arias from the Weihnachts Oratorium and Mass in b (BWV 232) (Hans Gillesberger conducting the Vienna Philharmonic). And I wouldn't call The Consort of London or the Amsterdam Bach Soloists mediocre or worse....

The cantatas were recorded in a hurry, but even so: quite a few sound refreshing, compared to the sometimes too polished performances we have to like nowadays. Now and then the soloists are uncertain, but on average they convey the meaning of the text very well with excitement, devotion or whatever is called for.

HIP has nothing to do with "great" and neither does non-HIP.

Philip Peters wrote (January 4, 2000):
(Hans Gillesberger) Oh yes, have those...great stuff.

(Amsterdam Bach Soloists) Indeed, I was too harsh. Still they will never be my favorites either and I doubt whether they'll be yours...

(Cantatas) They feature Sytse Buwalda, I'll give you that, but he deserves better company. The boys choir is good too.

(Hip/non-HIP) I am well aware of that and I never said or even implied anything of the sort…

Kruidvat again

Dyfan Lewis
wrote (April 20, 2000):
Yesterday a friend who'd been in Rotterdam picked up five boxes of in total 25 CD's or 78 cantatas for the princely sum of 35 US dollars, making about 45 cents per cantata. (It seems they are being sold in the US for about 5 dollars a disc instead. In England about $3.50) You even get brief but good liner notes, photos of the players and the German text.

I'm prepared to accept that there may be the odd dud but the only one I've heard so far is the beautiful alto cantata BWV 44. Sytse Buwalda is certainly a bargain counter-tenor but this short work has been on my player for several trips already and is the best 45 cents-worth you can get anywhere.

I raise a toast to the owners of the Kruidvat drugstore chain who can't be making money but are getting lots of good karma. Does anyone know why have they arranged the cantatas in the order given?

Max Schmeder wrote (May 13, 2000):
I've heard that the cantatas are not so good. I would like to hear what people think of the Brilliant Classics harpsichord installments. In particular, how is the WTK? I'm still looking for a satisfying version.

Galina Kolomietz wrote (May 15, 2000):
For whatever it's worth, here's my opinion. The quality is uneven, so there are some good moments (and you can't beat the price), but in general these are hard to recommend. Of the soloists, tenor Nico van der Meel is the best; in fact, he is quite good by any standards. He reminds me a bit of Nigel Rogers - a very musical singer, even though the voice is not beautiful... Bass Bas Ramselaar is also reasonably good. But the other tenor, Knut Schoch, sounds grainy and often insecure. Ruth Holton strikes me as a very unconvincing Bach soprano. Her voice sounds colorless and disaffected. I like "white sopranos" but up to a point... When they start sounding "like a mouse in cheese" I draw the line. But the person who I find to be absolutely unacceptable is alto Sytse Buwalda. To my ears, his voice is rough and unpleasant, and there is nothing in his interpretation to offset that.

Ryan Michero wrote (May 15, 2000):
Galina gives a very good account of these recordings. I am glad to have them at the price because of the few great moments in them, but just about every other cantata series is preferable. I agree that Nico van der Meel is fantastic, and that Sytse Buwalda is u. The one point with which I disagree is your dislike of Ruth Holton. After all, Bach wrote his soprano music for boys. Here is a voice with all the freshness and purity of a boy but with the technique and musicality of a mature woman--a perfect Bach soprano. A mouse in cheese? Not to my ears.

Lucas As wrote (May 17, 2000):
I can't understand the criticism. It's really a great cycle. Leusink's unpolished and enthusiastic recordings gives the music the spirit and emotional tension which other recordings are missing.

Yes, there are moments that I really can't enjoy the recordings, but in fact all other Bach-cycles give me the same experience. There is -unfortunately- no such thing as a perfect Bach Cantata project.

I also possess the complete Bach cantatas performed by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt, which is the other cycle I wouldn't want to miss. I think the two cycles are complementary in many ways. It's quite interesting to hear the music performed by the great musicians of twenty years ago.

Some other cycles tend to be glamorous, but where has the music been? The criticism that there are many great moments but that the whole is disappointing is more appropriate for those recordings. By the way, Sytse Buwalda is a perfect choice.

Ryan Michero wrote (May 17, 2000):
Oops. Forgive me for being unclear. I didn't mean every other cantata cycle was preferable but every other HIP cantata cycle. I do like Leusink's recordings, but I think the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Koopman, and Suzuki sets are all more consistently satisfying.

I was also thinking of the best cantata series to recommend to a beginner. While the Leusink is the least expensive, it is also the least satisfactory in giving you valuable information about the cantatas (i.e., translations of the texts, extensive notes on the works, alternate versions, etc.). In one cantata, BWV 23, Leusink omits a movement where all evidence says Bach performed one. Every other HIP series includes the movement as they are generally much more thorough in such editorial matters. And when blemishes in ensemble and singing (that could be corrected with another take or more rehearsal time) or lack of inspiration (no time for to find the heart of the music) ruins whole numbers, I feel sorry for the people who cannot listen to better versions of these marvelous works. I value Leusink's cantata series, but it is not my desert island Bach cantata project (that would be Suzuki's--, as most of the list members know).

(Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cycle) I agree, but here again I think both Suzuki and Koopman are more consistent. Have you heard any of the Koopman or Suzuki cycles?

(Sytse Buwalda) Some people love him, some people hate him. I'm in the "hate him" camp. IMHO he sounds a bit like a better-trained version of me when I try to sing along with the cantatas--lots of trouble hitting the notes.

Lucas As wrote (May 19, 2000):
The Cantate BWV 23 has been performed for the first time in 1723 and then contained only the first three parts. Only in the 1740 performance Bach added the choral "Christe du Lamm Gottes" Indeed it's a pity that Leusink didn't record this choral.

I agree with you that the hurry to record all the cantatas within one year asks its prize. Nevertheless, I love the enthusiasm on these records.

I don't know the Suzuki cycle, I really should (but you know: time, money...) I know some of the Koopman performances. I do have some problems with his interpretations and the choice of the soloists. Beautiful orchestra, though.

(Sytse Buwalda) What can I say?...

In defense of Sytse Buwalda

F. Oreja
wrote (June 6, 2000):
(Marie Jensen wrote: To quote myself: I have promised myself not to use my boxing gloves on Buwalda this time… That doesn't mean I'm satisfied. I just felt the poor man needed a break. As Ryan wrote in his BWV 86 posting: Buwalda sounds as he just came from the dentist!) In fact he need a break, Buwalda (the alto in the Leusink cantata series) is actually being lynched in this group! And in fact, what many here see as a problem of the singer, may be it is only the peculiarity of a male alto voice. One must get used to it. I find Buwalda excellent for a male alto. And all male altos I have ever heard sound in that way: for moments a little bit 'forced'. I remember my first male alto experience in a live performance of cantatas of Buxtehude, not too long ago. At the beginning I thought that the alto soloist was horrible, that he was destroying the cantatas and distracting me from the music. I had to make big efforts adapting my ears to the texture of the voice and the peculiarities in the articulation of the singed notes. After it I have learned to appreciate and to love male altos, and Buwalda is in my ears a very good one.

When Buwalda sounds like a trained version of Ryan singing, Ryan must be very talented.

Ryan Michero wrote (June 6, 2000):
I disagree. I actually love male alto voices and far prefer them to female altos in Bach's sacred music. Some of my favorite Bach singers in any vocal range are Yoshikazu Mera, Robin Blaze, Andreas Scholl, Drew Minter, and Bernard Landauer. Gerard Lesne, Michael Chance, Paul Esswood, and Kai Wessel aren't personal favorites, but they are reliable singers and have given me much pleasure. But I can't remember ever hearing an alto quite like Buwalda. He has a strange kind of vibrato that increases and decreases the volume of his voice (and sometimes seemingly its pitch) dramatically. Also, he has a lot of trouble staying on pitch in difficult passages and doesn't pronounce some words correctly. These problems aren't specific to male altos but can be found in any singer. And I certainly don't confine my criticisms to male altos--I'll take shots at screechy sopranos, wobbly mezzos, nasal tenors, and grumbling basses if I feel an unpleasant voice detracts from their interpretation.

I have heard a few male altos live myself, and I realize the problems they have to go through to sing that way. But I won't show favoritism just because they're male and it's hard to sing that way. Some singers sing falsetto marvelously and I love listening to them.

But I should say that although I am very bothered by Buwalda I recognize that in spite of his problems he is a very expressive singer. I just can't get over the problems with his voice and technique enough to enjoy his interpretations. If you can--GREAT! I'm sure Leusink's cantata recordings will bring you much more joy than they have me.

Perhaps I should approach Leusink?

Marie Jensen wrote (June 6, 2000):
I could mention better male altos than Buwalda; for example, Landauer, Scholl, Mera and I could mention worse. Monsieur Ledroit (forgot his first name) gave true horror performances in the eighties.

I know very well as old Rilling fan (he uses female mezzos), that counter tenors is something, one has to get used to, and it took some time for me learning to appreciate them. But to day I really do.

I shall give Buwalda a break, though I know, he will appear in the next cantata BWV 172 in a duet, where he sings the part of The Holy Spirit...hmmm

By the way a wonderful cantata already trumpeting and drumming in my mind!

F. Oreja wrote (June 7, 2000):
Many thanks Marie and Ryan for the interesting comments answering my remarks. I have learned a lot of you both since I have been in the list and you have helped me in many occasions to refine my perception of some interpretations. But regarding Buwalda I have the impression that he is becoming a scapegoat. His something unsteady voice deserves criticism, but I feel still that it remains good enough for not being capable to ruin a whole cantata series whose overall quality is very high, particularly when one realizes the conditions (and the haste) they had for the recordings.

I find his pronunciation OK, may be he could articulate better. What seems to increase or decrease the volume of his singing in long notes is probably not his vibrato, but his difficulty for holding continuously the 'falsetto'. One nthere an effort (and that is often so with adult male altos) and a lack of naturality that has an uncomfortable effect in the listener. What I have also noticed in some occasions is that he changes words when singing, may be when he is attending to Leusink and not reading his part. But that happens frequently in live performances and, so seems to be here the case, in recordings made with haste.

Brilliant Bach series by Kruidvat Holland

Pieter Pannevis
wrote (January 31, 2001):
On checking the availability of Brilliant Classics series in the kruidvat outlet Holland for a well known member of our group I was informed that there is an abundance of records in store and in stock!

Michael Kennedy wrote (February 1, 2001):
(To Pieter Pannevis) How wonderful. I went to the kruidavat webpage to order and it was in Dutch and my computer does handle Dutch translations. Do you happen to know the address? I am eager to complete the Brilliant Bach Sacred Cantatas.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 6, 2001):
(To Pieter Pannevis & Michael Kennedy) It's time for me to enquire about this too as I have finally ordered the six vols. of the eight and I need/will need the other two and finally have, at least, one good complete set for the first time in my life. Thanks to everyone here.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (February 9, 2001):
I'm sorry to all I respond that late! As far as my knowledge goes the Kruidvat (which is a more like a pharmacy store) does not ship their products.(anyway not the bach Brillant series) I just checked by email and I'm awaiting the answer. I found some cantates one of our members was missing and i'm about to ship them .
again sorry so late in responding!

In addition "Kruidvat"emailed me saying they do NOT ship there Bach series abroad.

The Complete Bach Cantatas Edition by Brilliant Classics..

wrote (February 6, 2001):
I recently bought the complete Bach Cantatas edition (Brilliant Classics, available from for DM 180). In spite of the very low price -- 60 CD's for about $1.60 each! --, I'm quite happy with the quality, both for the music and the outfit (all CDs with cover and booklet contaning bibliographical notes and lyrics).

The only draw-back is the absence of a general booklet (or catalogue): the sequence of the Cantatas seems to be completely casual, they are neither presented by BWV numer (from #1 to #199) nor in chronological order. E.g.: CD 1 comprises the Cantatas 80, 82 & 61, CD 2 has C. 16, 170 & 133 etc. Has anybody got a clue about this strange sequence? Or, even better, could anyone direct me to a web site that might present the whole edition?

It's a real pain in the neck to go through all 60 CDs one by one when I'm looking for a certain Cantata (and I'm not very fond of writing them all down by myself).

Peter Brixius wrote (February 6, 2001):
(To Timo) A German guy has listed all the items of the Brilliant Edition, you may download it at

Bas van Hengel wrote (February 8, 2001):
(To Timo) The release order of the cantatas is indeed completely random, due to the complicated "fast" way of recording them. Nevertheless a few people in Holland (including myself) have made lists containing all cantatas and their place in the Brilliant boxes. If you like I can send you a copy (just the cantatas, not the complete Bach-edition) in Word or Excel. By the way, in Holland right after the release of the last box, a little book was issued with the complete Bach-edition in the right order, including all the box- and cd-numbers, maybe they're planning to make an english or german translation.

Brilliant cantatas series question / Brilliant Cantatas: Tumbs Up or Down? / Brilliant cantatas mail order solution

Kirk McElhearn
wrote (February 7, 2001):
Was it Johan who posted the info, saying these are still available? What is the price of the entire set? Is it worth having, are there enough cantatas that are well-performed?

BTW, I already have the secular canatas from that series.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 7, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) There is a German store, who is selling the entire Brilliant Classics Sacred Cantata Set (60-CD's) for the small amount of 100 DM. Like any cantata cycle this one has also its ups and downs. But the overall reasult is quite remarkable. In many cases, BWV 196 is only one example, I found their renderings to be the best in the field. Considering the price it is simply iressistable. I recommend everyone in our group to purchase this set. This is the cheapest and simplest way to learn, know and enjoy many of the unfamilar cantatas.

Philip Peters wrote (February 7, 2001):
(To Aryeh Oron) Interestingly at home in Holland this is generally thought of as a hurried and bad production which should not have taken place. Only Ramselaar gets some credit for his singing. I am exaggerating somewhat (and I bought them all and like more of them than I thought I would) but this seems to be the *communis opinio*. The same opinion (but worded a lot harsher, it is generally advised not to waste your time listening to any disc from this set) can be heard on the Usenet newsgroup rcmr - rec.classicalmusic.recorded which is an international group mainly consisting of Americans. Asked for his opinion Gustav Leonhardt said that he was happy if these recordings would get people to listen to Bach. How's that for diplomacy?

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 7, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) In my previous message I forgot to give the details of the German store. The address is (I do not have any commercial connection with them, but I bought from them the complete Teldec Cantata set of H&L for the amount of 600 DM, which was the lowest I could find over the net). The price for the total Brilliant Classics Cantata set is not 100 DM but 179.95 DM, but it is still a very small amount for 60-CD's.

Cory Hall wrote (February 7, 2001):
(To Aryeh Oron) Thanks for the info, but all I could find on that sight was 153 CD's for 1495 DM, which includes sacred and secular cantatas as well as all other vocal music. What is the 60 CD offer called?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 7, 2001):
(To Cory Hall) This German store Aryeh gives is notorious for its search engine. I once went to them for amazing Callas bargains that were available and I simply could not find anything and I do read German.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 7, 2001):
(To Cory Hall) It is very simple to find. Write 'Bach kantaten' in the search box on the left side, press on 'Suchen' and you will get a list of all the items they sell that include Bach Cantatas, among them the desired one. I copied the details for you:

Bach, J.S. "Die kompletten geistlichen Kantaten"
Mit Ruth Holton, Marjon Strijk/Sopran, Sytse Buwalda/Countertenor, Marcel Beekman, Robert Getchell, Nico van der Meel, Knut Schoch/Tenor, Bas Ramselaar/Ba?, Holland Boys Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium/Pieter Jan Leusink. Brilliant Classics. Aufnahme Januar/Februar 2000. Brilliant Classics. DDD. 60 CDs 179.95 DM. Nr. 50402. Notieren.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 7, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) It was Johan who said to contact him for information and it was Michael who then posted the request. As Aryeh said, it is necessary to have a complete set and, for those who have only selected cantatas, this cannot be wrong. I have ordered the six volumes available at BRO and, if that is still more expensive that the entire packet from Germany, we are speaking relative peanuts. So, information from Johan on the 2 vols. I need would still be most appreciated.

Paul McCain wrote (February 7, 2001):
So, what is the verdict on this set? It sounds too good to be true. $47 dollars, plus shipping for a complete recording of all of Bach's sacred cantatas. I compare that price to the Ton Koopman project and WOW!

My question/concern is this:

Is it really any good? Is it worth even $50+?
Is it all digital DDD recording?
Is the sound muand poorly recorded, orchestrations too muted or too loud?
Singing poor or only average?

Does anyone have any answers to these questions?

Dyfan Lewis wrote (February 9, 2001):
(To Aryeh Oron) Yes Aryeh, You're right and the music and the sound quality is good at any price and a gift at this price and the store is fine to deal with.

Bach cantatas

André Gerlo
wrote (February 12, 2001):
This is the site of Kruidvat, who edited the cantatas: you'll find complete lists by BWV nr and alfabetical.

Missing Bach cantatas under Leusink

Pieter Pannevis
wrote (February 16, 2001):
It's even "worse", but there remains a lot! Leusink "skipped" BWV 53, BWV 141, BWV 142, BWV 160, BWV 189, BWV 190, BWV 191, BWV 193 in my opinion enough for a new box !

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 16, 2001):
(To Pieter Pannevis) Indeed, but BWV 53, BWV 141, BWV 142, BWV 160 & BWV 189 (and also BWV 15) are non-Bach Cantatas. List of those cantatas and some discussions about them could be found in the page:
BWV 190, BWV 191 & BWV 193 need some reconstruction and that is why some conductors omitted them from their cantata cycle.

Brilliant Classics, Bach Edition: Cantatas

Alan Richards
wrote (February 21, 2001):
I'm interested to hear what people think of Pieter Jan Leusink's recordings of the Sacred Cantatas for Brilliant Classics (comprising twelve volumes of their recent Bach Edition). Apologies if you've had this debate before, but I've only recently subscribed.

They strike me as exceptionally good value and - although the Chorus singing is occasionally very rustic, the soloists seem generally reliable. Ruth Holton and Bas Ramselaar in particular are excellent, if a little under-rehearsed. There's also some very fine oboe playing in the orchestra which I think Peter Frankenberg must be responsible for.

Any views?

Chris Walley wrote (February 22, 2001):
I'd agree with your comments; The altos and tenors occasionally make me wince but the bass and soprano are generally excellent. Leusink's sense of tempo seems to be about right (and much better than some big names ) for what was after all church music where people were meant to hear the words.

The very good see also has rated some of them very highly.

Consider them as representations of what a Lutheran congregation would have heard rather than as concert hall performances, look at the price and say thank you J. S. Bach, thank you Leusink et al and thank you Brilliant.

Continue on Part 2

Pieter Jan Leusink: Short Biography | Holland Boys Choir | Netherlands Bach Collegium
Part 1 | Part 2 | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Individual Recordings:
Leusink - Vol.1&2 | Leusink - Vol.3&4 | BWV 244 - Leusink | BWV 245 - Leusink
Interview with Pieter Jan Leusink | Interview with Frank Wakelkamp
Table of Recordings by BWV Number

Conductors of Vocal Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | Singers & Instrumentalists


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