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Pieter Jan Leusink & Holland Boys Choir & Netherlands Bach Collegium
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Brilliant edition

John Welch wrote (February 21, 2001):
(To Andrew Oliver) When you were discussing BWV 78 some time ago, you mentioned that you have the Brilliant Classics CD. Do you have the whole set, and if so did you have any problems to get them to send it to the UK. I am assuming that you bought them from

I have just bought one of JEG's Pilgrimage CD's it has BWV 94, BWV 105 and BWV 168. The quality of the recording is very poor in the choruses.

To digress a bit, just before Christmas I had a minor driving accident, a car door was opened and hit my car making a dent in it. A lady got out of the other car, and we exchanged addresses, she gave me a printed card, I looked at it in more detail when I got home, and was surprised to see it was Katherine Fuge!!. When I phoned her up later we talked mainly about her forthcoming trip to New York for the last concert of the pilgrimage, and how they had been so busy during the year recording all those Cantatas.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (February 21, 2001):
(To John Welch) And what a NAME for a BACH singer! [Nice voice, too...;-)]

Andrew Oliver wrote (February 22, 2001):
(To John Welch) No, I do not yet have the whole set of Leusink's recordings from Brilliant Classics, but I hope to have them very soon. I have obtained mine through the kindness of a friend who has brought them back from Holland for me. However, they are available in the U.K. from CD & Video Selections, Dorchester, Dorset, DT2 7YG, U.K. Tel. 01305 848725 . Their website is Just search Bach J S. They have other cantata recordings as well. The Brilliant Classics ones are listed as Church Cantatas, and are priced at £9.99 for each of the 12 boxes of 5 CDs. P & P is extra, I think, but I believe there is reduction on the normal price in force at the moment. According to their printed ordered form, they will export to anywhere
in the world. Hope this is some help.


How Brilliant can you be?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 22, 2001):
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Yesterday I got six of the vols. of the Brilliant Classics Leusink set. I am listening to Cantatas BWV 198 and BWV 110 now. I picked first BWV 198 as today is my own Mother's 15 Todestag.
Verstummt, verstummt, ihr holden Saiten!
Kein Ton vermag der Länder Not
Bei ihrer teuren Mutter Tod.
O Schmerzenwort! Recht anzudeuten.
Me, I am happy for the Saiten of Bach.


Weekly Calendar

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 22, 2001):
One again I request that the moderator maybe could put the major links like the weekly cantata calendar into the bookmarks of the site. Someone else could too, I assume. Otherwise I have to save too many links which Aryeh sends and I do not have a good system for that. But maybe all these links are in Aryeh's site and I just never paid any mind or heed.

I have now obtained 6 of the 12 Leusink vols. and Berkshire promises me that the rest will be back in stock. I listened last night to both the Trauer Ode (BWV 198) and the Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) (and the other cantatas on those CD's) and then I played the Actus T. on the Cantus Cölln and found it, if very effective, less affecting. It seemed more like a demonstration of every trick in the book that a great group can do, but I enjoyed the totality of simple wonderful Bach in Leusink's group more, much more. I shall of course give Cantus Cölln many more listens.


An Interview with Pieter Jan Leusink

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (March 9, 2001):
See Short Biography
Trust you have received my interview with Pieter Jan leusink. Hope you will find it worthwile reading. However, I have not been receiving any digest mails for some days now. is anything the matter?

Frank Fogliati wrote (March 9, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) Hello Peter, and many thanks for sending this interview to the group.

An Interview with Pieter Jan Leusink >
< Our goal is not in the first place commercial success, but to reach a lot of people. It is expected that about six million cantatas CD's will find their way to listeners in our country of sixteen million inhabitants. ...> reaching maybe half a million households. It gives me and everybody involved an enormous kick and a boost to continue the good work. I get sick of the thought that our cantatas-CD's would and could only be bought by some 400 diehard Bach-lovers at Dfl. 44.50 (US $ 20.00) a piece. >
Very true. I would love to see something similar happen in Australia. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people had access to the Bach cantatas? At a time when sales of modern trash disposable music is at an all-time high, what chance does 'classical' music have of ever reaching those who currently shun it? Companies like Krudivat and Naxos are to be applauded for their efforts. Selling CDs in unconventional places and at a 'no-risk' price may be the only way to win over the next generation of classical music enthusiasts. Members on this list may be horrified at this prospect, but really we represent a very small minority of music consumers in the world. New comers to classical music are easily put off by perceived elitism and jargon. Far better that someone who would never enter a Classical Music store, pick up a low price, quality Bach cantata on the spur of the moment in a petrol station, chemist etc.

< So, unless the regular classical CD shops change their policy, they will never reach the man in the street <snip>That's why I prefer the Kruidvat vision and approach, who offer a 40 CD Mozart-box of good quality for only Dfl. 99.00, that's US $ 1.00! >
Again I must agree with these comments. I still buy full-price CD's - when I can justify the outlay- but Naxos is a label that just gets better and better. They are attracting world-class performers and covering repertoire shunned by the giants like Sony. Of course I will always have a place for releases from Alia Vox, Channel Classics, Glossa etc. as their material is exceptional. More power to the under-dogs I say!

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 10, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) A fascinating interview. It supplies many insights into the happenings of this awesome project and the point of view of the conductor. The interview is already in the Bach Cantatas Site in the same page of Pieter Jan Leusink's short biography:

Thanks a lot,

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 10, 2001):
Frank Fogliati wrote:
< Again I must agree with these comments. I still buy full-price CDs - when I can justify the outlay- but Naxos is a label that just gets better and better. They are attracting world-class performers and covering repertoire shunned by the giants like Sony. Of course I will always have a place for releases from Alia Vox, Channel Classics, Glossa etc. as their material is exceptional. More power to the under-dogs I say! >
And Naxos Historical is not only releasing amazing performances, but doing it with remastering of the most supreme sort to be found in the person of Ward Marston. His remasterings of the 1946 Samson et Dalila is a marvel, ditto for his Georges Thill Werther and the Covent Garden 1936 Tristan. Performances don't get any better than these. Naxos is truly a wonder as is the Bach Cantatas set from Brilliant Classics.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 10, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) I will print this to read, thank you very much.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 10, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) Thank you very much for that interview. Did you translate it yourself? If s, you did a great job.

I just got the cantata set a week ago, and, although I have only listened to a couple of the CD's so far, am extremely pleased with it.

Pablo Fagoaga (March 10, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) On Naxos, you can find competent performances of works found in other full-price label, but what pleases me the most, is that very often, Naxos is ALMOST THE ONLY version you can find of many, many works. Take for instance early music!!! Naxos' series on ancient music is outstanding, not just because of the quality of performance, but also because of the many titles available!! An unusual catalog even in major labels

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (March 10, 2001):
Hallo Frank (and for that matter anyone interested in purchasing the Sacred Bach cantatas by Leusink c.s.),

An hour ago, during a break of our Saturday choir rehearsal, I talked to Christine Schreuder, Leusink's wife and Manager of Holland Boys Choir about your complaint that cheap classical records are not to be had in Australia, except for Naxos.

She told me that the complete Cantatas set is still directly available for anyone all over the world through Holland Boys Choir. The costs are Dfl 240.00, postage not included.

When you are interested, you'll have to e-mail mrs. Schreuder at , telling her you would like to order the set. She will instruct you to what bankaccount you will have to remit the amount. After having received your money, she will send you the complete cantatas via airmail by returning post.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (March 10, 2001):
I'm sorry to inform you that by the website of the group I ordered the MP four weeks ago, but never got ANY response !

Jane Newble wrote (March 12, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemndaal) I have just now had time to read and print the interview, and I want to thank you for it. Writing and translating it must have been a big job. Thank you so much for doing this, it is much appreciated! I shall treasure it with my Leusink cantatas.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 13, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemndaal) Thanks a bunch for the interview. Obviously, as a journalist friend of mine says, "many times the questions are the key to juicy answers". So much interesting Leusink's point of view, that I'm moving to get his cycle. When he explians the "supermarket" distribution issue, he is just so "common sense" concerned, that he deserves the best of the succeses, just for being SMART.

Of course, I think he could also be starring in a movie in which super-corporations try to blast into pieces a nice guy that just want to get all the world to know and listen great music. This character is kind of a romantic moron that doesn't see he's messing around with an armed shotgun. I hope this never become real!!!

Marie Jensen wrote (March 13, 2001):
(To Peter Bloemendaal) A BIG thank you for translating and mailing the Leusink interview to the list. It is very interesting.


Brilliant Classics

John Welch wrote (March 17, 2001):
I want to thank you all for talking about the Brilliant Classics Edition of the Cantatas over the last weeks, because of your comments I have bought Vols 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. at CD Selections in Dorchester UK, they were very cheap by UK standards.

It is very interesting to compare them with the H & L Teldec version, Ruth Holton sings beautifully and with far more confidence compared with some of the boy sopranos of H & L. Especially Helmut Wittek in the early recording although Wilhelm Wiedl and Barbra Bonney are much better.

Did Bach write his soprano parts for male or female voices?

One thing that is dissapointing about the Brilliant Edition is the lack of English translation of the text. So I am thinking of buying Robert Stokes book. Do you think his book is better than the translations by Ambrose?

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 18, 2001):
[To John Welch] Hi John: Regarding your question: if soprano parts where intended for male or female singers.

For performance, Bach used boys for contralt, alt, and soprano parts. I don't know if it was his intention on a composition level. I don't know if the use of boys was a performing limitation, or he meant his works to have all male singers. That's why Harnoncourt uses boys. It's just part of the HIP thing. Notice that Harnoncourt sticks to this rule almost always. The exceptions are BWV 199 and BWV 51, just because they are TOO difficult parts, and HIP was sacrified in the name of taste.

Anyway, in my opinion, using boys in the late 20° century may be a bit tricky, and not too much HIP at all. Let me explain my point. It's no mystery that lately some evolutionary changes are taking place in the human race. Just if you compare the average age of sexual maturity in the late 19° century and the late 20°, you can observe it rapidly dropping down. Nowadays, a boys mutates his voice at a MUCH, MUCH younger age than in Bach times, when the average was between 16 and 18.

Now you have to kiss goodbye your soprano boys at the age of 13 or 14. At this stage of life (14-18) a few years make a BIG difference in terms of intellectual and p´hisical maturity, and in the case of singers, it makes a huge difference in terms of artitical and profesional experience. My conclusion is that may be Bach's boys were not as dissapointing as Harnoncout's in terms of performance and experience.

But certainly they would be closer to today's boy sopranos (say, Claus Lengert) than to Nancy Argenta!!!

Jane Newble wrote (March 19, 2001):
Pablo Fagoaga wrote:
< My conclusion is that may be Bach's boys were not as dissapointing as Harnoncout's in terms of performance and experience. But certainly they would be closer to today's boy sopranos (say, Claus Lengert) than to Nancy Argenta!!! >
Another reason why Ruth Holton is such an excellent choice, I think.


Leusink’s Bach Cantatas

Bob McDonald (Sally Behr) wrote (March 23, 2001):
I'm Bob and have been lurking for a while on this group. I have found it to be one of the most fascinating and informative of all music discussion groups. I have tried to follow along for the last couple weeks with the cantata listening but have found that I'm missing quite a few. (I have collected the early discs of Koopman and Suzuki -- both of which I like quite a lot -- with a slight preference for the latter.)

In any case, I'm thinking about taking the plunge into a complete set of cantatas and have opted (from going through the archives) for the modest venture of getting the Leusink. My question is: where can I get them for a good price? I see that berkshire only has 4 volumes. Zweitausendeins in Germany has a good price but I haven't heard from them yet what they'll charge for shipping. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

Michael Grover wrote (March 23, 2001):
[To Bob McDonald] I ordered a Brilliant Classics box of organ works from Zweitausendeins. Shipping for that 8-CD box to USA was DM 16,30 -- about DM 2 per disc. However, I don't think that same ratio would hold true for larger orders such as the complete cantatas. Hopefully not, otherwise shipping would be what, DM 120?

You could try placing a "fake" order on the web site, simply cancelling before you get to the payment at the end, and you should be able to see how much shipping would be. At any rate, I don't think you're going to find a much better price than Zweitausendeins.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (March 23, 2001):
It's a good price! In holland it's about 2 dfl for a CD. I can remeber someone told me, that however large the shipment was (for just for the Fabius to pay so much shipping...) there was this one rate. Enjoy your organ works, the vantates are even better and the have good service!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 23, 2001):
[To Bob McDonald] I got mine from Zweitausendeins, but I'm in France, and the shipping is less. Check with them; they seem like they are great people as well. Definately worth buying that set of cantatas, though.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (March 23, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] In holland the complete sets are obtainable for Dfl 180,00 and excludes shippi! PS. The price for shipping to the USA will be for the total set about Dfl 59.00 if it not exceeds the 5 kg mark

Diedrik Peters wrote (March 25, 2001):
[To Bob McDonald] My experience has been that Zweitausendeins charges very little for shipping. But because they ship via ground, expect to wait some time for your purchase. Let us know what their response is, as I also have been thinking about purchasing the set from them.

Charles Francis wrote (March 25, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I got mine from Zweitausendeins and fully agree. I also have the 8-CD set of Secular Cantatas from Zweitausendeins which I recommend highly.

Bob McDonald (Sally Behr) wrote (March 29, 2001):
Thanks to all for your suggestions. I ordered the Brilliant Classics Bach Cantata cycle from Zweitausendeins after I received the following information from them:

For the USA we have different shipping charges:

Within 2 KG weight we can either ship via sea for DM 16,30 or via airmail for DM 32,-.

From 2 KG to 18 KG, there are also two different possibilities, but they are both via airmail. In this case we can offer shipping via Economy (approx. shipping time 3 to 4 weeks) for DM 49,50, or via Premium (approx. shipping time 2 weeks) for DM 69,50.

I expect they will ship tomorrow, so perhaps by next month this time I'll be able to keep up with the weekly commentary on cantatas.

Jane Newble wrote (April 5, 2001):
Pieter Pannevis wrote:
< Leusink Cantatas does cost here a CD dfl 2,99 >
Last week I was in HMV in Birmingham, and those selfsame Leusink cantatas were on sale at £13.99 PER BOX. I think they just changed the currency from guilders to pounds :o) Somebody must be profiting here....

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 5, 2001):
[To Jane Newble] That's a big difference. The same is true here in France, though. They are much more expensive. I got mine from Germany, and don't regret it at all. Great work!

Pieter Pannevis wrote (April 5, 2001):
A simple currency transform gives me about 4.19 English Pounds for a cantatas set...... Well good things comes not without costs, but......

Jenny Rowland wrote (April 6, 2001):
[To Pieter Pannevis] . They have all the volumes for 9.99 sterling, but you have to factor in postage. HMV used to sell them at this price--even in Dublin where currency differences of 20-25 percent apply the occasional volume that made it into the store was 13.99. Seems to be HMV which is raising the price.

Also try . They are advertising the Oxford Composer Companion, ed. Boyd for 14.99 Sterling, hardback. I don't know what their postage rates are like.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (April 6, 2001):
[To Jenny Rowland] Welcome! I can't find the OCC on psbooks. Can you be more specific?

John Welch wrote (April 6, 2001):
[To Jenny Rowland] CD are running a discount at the moment that cancels out the postage. As you say most of the Cantata sets are 9.99 but the Secular cantatas are 8 CD’s and cost 15.50 pounds, also the Organ Works Vol 1 ...9-CD’s are 15.50 pounds. I have the Vol 1-8 of the Cantatas and hope to buy the rest soon. They are wonderful, I am listening to a different one every day.

Marie Jensen wrote (April 7, 2001):
[To Pieter Pannevis & Jane Newble] In Denmark it is even worse: One box: 199 = £16,47.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (April 7, 2001):
Since this discussion about high prices is going on, I will repeat what I wrote before, that the Sacred Cantatas under Leusink can still be ordered through Christine Schreuder at <>. The total set of 60 CD's will cost you Dfl 240 plus postage, which is a little more than Dfl 4 per CD. If you should want to order seperate boxes, please check with her.

The e-mail adress is
The internet address is

Jenny Rowland wrote (April 7, 2001):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] Sorry, I didn't see the website; I bought this a while ago at a much higher price, alas. Publishers send a lot of brochures to the University. I'm at home and this is in the office. If they list email you could maybe inquire about it. I'll check if there is more information like a stock number on Monday.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (April 7, 2001):
This is even worse; for the total costs of the cantatas sets (12 boxes) is still in the Kruidvat for dfl 180.00


Oboe Trio and Leusink / Leusink Again

Eduardo Erand wrote (May 8, 2001):
I am from Brazil and I am new in the list. Bach is the main composer to me. I love his music. I am the owner of a set of complete cantatas with P. Leusink from Brilliant Classic. I would like to know the opinions from the others members of the list about these recording. Is it possible some comparation with Leonhardt/Harnoncourt sets? < Snip >

Galina Kolomietz wrote (May 9, 2001):
[To Eduardo Erand] There is a separate list devoted exclusively to Bach cantatas. The Leusink cantata series has been discussed extensively (I'd even say ad nauseam - personally, I don't find it to be all that it's cracked up to be). If you're not a member of the cantata list go here to join: The website has archives so you can look up all the past discussions on Leusink, Harnoncourt etc.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 11, 2001):
[To Eduardo Erand] I should probably not even be trying to answer your question, since my acquisition of the Leusink set is fairly recent, and I have only heard a half-dozen or so cantatas from this set. My impression of this set upon such a limited exposure should be taken with a grain of salt.

It is important to remember that the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt (hereafter: H/L) series has performances that were recorded as much as thirty years earlier than Leusink's. I am certain that within each series you will find individual movements that are outstanding, and simply the best available to date. This does not mean that they can not be improved upon. Better performances are still in the process of being recorded, or have been recorded and not yet released on CD.

Significant about the H/L series is that it was a pioneering effort, breaking with past performance traditions, but presenting new problems as well: how to take original instruments or reproductions thereof and make them sound the way they were supposed to; how to incorporate Bach's choral practices using primarily male voices and achieve an approximation of what Bach might have heard when he performed them himself; how to look again closely at the original scores that have undergone intensive scholarly investigation during the past fifty years, and include all of Bach's original indications, (tempi, dynamics, phrasing, text, etc.) as much as this is possible.

In the H/L series there are moments of great excitement when these 'genuine' sounds were truly heard this way for the first time, but just as many moments when the listener can perceive the drudgery expressed by the conductor and his ensemble as they plodded onward to yet another of Bach's cantatas. You need to keep in mind that the instrumentalists, working with their 'new' copies of their Baroque instruments or actual instruments of the period, had little time to adjust to the different playing characteristics: the string instruments do indeed sound very thin (sometimes I almost think they were playing on 'wire' strings, although I know that only 'gut' strings were used back then.) With these original string instruments (actual violin makers and dates of these instruments are given in the accompanying booklet), I seriously doubt that these instruments truly sound the way they originally did. In speaking to a violin maker, I came upon a fact that I never knew about: Almost all violins of that period, you can include all the famous makers as well (Stradivarius, Guaneri, etc.) have undergone MAJOR modifications around 1800 and thereafter to accommodate the growing desire for greater volumand carrying power, so unless the instruments they used in the recordings (listed as Amati-1643, J.Stainer-1665, Precheisn-1670, etc.) survived in a museum cabinet without being played all these years (very unlikely), they have been modernized. Perhaps these instruments have been rebuilt again, but just how this is accomplished without losing something that was present in the original, I have no idea.

When you listen to the oboes in the H/L series and then compare with Leusink, Koopman, Herreweghe, etc. you will hear the 'rough edges' still present in the H/L series. Then consider the results of twenty to thirty years of practice on the other recordings, and you will see that practice makes perfect, assuming that the instruments are well-made copies.

Both the H/L and the Leusink series have serious problems achieving a proper balance with primarily male singers. The Thomaner Chor notwithstanding, this type of all male chorus (SATB) tradition is not strong on the continent (compare with England, where this tradition continued unabated for many centuries), and, as a result, serious problems are evident throughout both series (I am still hoping that this will not prove to be true with the entire Leusink, as I have only heard a few of these cantatas.)

It appears to me also that Leusink adopts some of the ground-breaking ideas for his own performances, sometimes improving upon H/L and at other times going off in his own direction, but still definitely HIP. Again, based on my limited experience with Leusink, it appears that Leusink can have performances that equal or excel even beyond the H/L, particularly in so far as the instruments are concerned, but Leusink's choral movements seem to slip even below the H/L series level, which, in my estimation, is not a very positive indication that I have to share with you.

I hope that you will hear from someone who has listened intently to the entire Leusink series as well as the H/L, so that you might get another opinion on this matter.


Continue on Part 3

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 - P.J. Leusink | BWV 245 - P.J. 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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