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Pieter Jan Leusink & Holland Boys Choir & Netherlands Bach Collegium
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Bach Edition

Juan Carlos Herrera wrote (April 14, 2005):
Here in Chile has appeared in the market a series of CD's under the heading Bach Edition. They are mainly cantatas, played by a dutch ensemble. They are "tres bon marché" so I'am tempting to buy them . Has anyone had the opportunity to listen to them and is there any advice?

Thanks !!!!!

Jay Kauffman wrote (April 15, 2005):
[To Juan Carlos Herrera] There is no question there are better versions of different cantatas out there but I have that Brilliant set and often go into it to investigate cantatas I don't know without having to invest in the Harnoncourt or the Rilling sets - both of which have their weaknesses as well.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 15, 2005):
[To Juan Carlos Herrera] Is this, by any chance, the series with the Holland Boys' Choir and the Netherlands Bach Collegium, conducted by Pieter Jan Leusink? This was a complete recording of the sacred cantatas, which formed part of an ultra-cheap set of the complete works of J. S. Bach. The entire series has been uploaded to teh Bach Cantatas website; so if you have a good internet connection, you can sample it for yourself on audio streaming (you can find the links by working your way from: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/index.htm).

This series was also the subject of some lively (and sometimes acrimonious) debate on BachCantatas. You can find the conductor's biography, and links to the discussions on his performances, on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Leusink-Pieter-Jan.htm. This should give you some idea on what members of the lists thought about these recordings. My own views are somewhat in the middle (judging from the volumes I've heard) -- I found the series variable, but often highly enjoyable.

Juan Carlos Herrera wrote (April 15, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] Thanks for your replay. The Bach Edition CD's are exactly those you mentioned. As matter of fact, and just for comparison, when you talk about the set being "ultra cheap", what level of price in US$ are you refering to ?. Here, in Chile, being a rather expensive country for all cultural products, each CD of the set comes to about US$ 6. Is this similar to what you pay in USA or Europe ? A more expensive set of cantatas, such as the Herreweghe's comes to about US$ 20 a piece (1 CD). A box of a good SMP ( also Herrewegue's) comes to about US$ 60. (Consider that the average income per capita in Chile is about US$ 600 a month).

Unfortunately, both web sites you mentioned are not available here in Chile ( they have been deleted, according to what I read now on the screen)

Richard Loeb wrote (April 15, 2005):
[To Juan Carlos Herrera] I know that Zweitauseneinds at the link below has it for about 89 Euro: http://www.zweitausendeins.de/

Juan Carlos Herrera wrote (April 15, 2005):
[To Richard Loeb] Thanks for your advice.

I have already a lot of Richter cantatas, some of the Herreweghe and one or two Harnoncourt. As I am going very fast in the way to accept the cantata as my preferred genre in Bach's music I will definitevely get the Brilliant set, and others in the future if the purse allows it!

I heard the BWV 80 (Ein' Feste Burg..) by Richter last week, and I was so joyfull and impressed at the ability of Bach to create, fron a very serious theme (Luther's Hymn) some incredible dancing music. My feet star moving automatically in the second part. I enjoyed it so much...

Thanks

Richard Loeb wrote (April 15, 2005):
[To Juan Carlos Herrera] Yes I Have the big box of Richter cantatas (25 CDs) and also his box of Oratorios and Passions - I know his is out f favor right now but I think Richter is usually dramatic bold and exciting . And I'll take his singers over a lot of the current ones as well.

John Pike wrote (April 20, 2005):
[To Richard Loeb] Unfortunately, they have sold out but jpc have the complete cantatas, directed by Leusink on Brilliant Classics (60 CDs) for 90 Euro. They ship daily to the USA and, in my one previous experience of them, provided an excellent service. Although maybe not the best recordings of the cantatas, I have heard a lot of good things about them and, with the likes of Ruth Holton, they are surely worth 90 Euros of anyone's money.
http://www.jpc.de/jpcng/classic/detail/-/hnum/8004473/rk/home/rsk/hitlist

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 21, 2005):
[To John Pike] Well, I'm not sure who has done the "best" cantata cycle. However, I heartily concur with John's comment that the Leusink set is worth it's modest price. Because almost all of my own collection developed piecemeal over a two year period it includes representatives of all of the current major Bach performers except the American Bach Soloists (ironically, the only professional group I have heard sing cantatas - should remedy that I suppose.) Almost all were used from Amazon and Ebay but I'm glad it worked out that way because I have examples of so many different approaches. (I've even broken down and begun to like the old oratorio style cantata, but not by Richter but by the Thomanerchor and Rotzsch.) In any case a couple of Leusink boxes were included by the time I finally had acquired at least one performance of each cantata.

I remember one post on the board that suggested that although the low price for Leusink's cycle might draw buyers, the CDs would gather dust as one acquired a keener ear. Perhaps that is what should happen. For me, however, it was exactly the opposite. The more cantatas I listened to, the more I liked Leusink's work. Indeed, although each was a duplicate, I've picked up another five volumes on EBay in the past two months or so, bringing the total to 10 of 12. (For those searching for bargain cantatas, Ebay still has a large number of Leusink volumes for sale on any given day.)

I'm not a musician and no doubt miss some of the fine points that distinguish the works of Suzuki, Koopman or Gardiner. (I prefer Gardiner of the three - there's a liveliness in some of his work that appeals.) I certainly can tell that the level of musicianship is extremely high. Perhaps Leusink's forces don't reach that level. If so, I still find the playing most pleasing and they are fine musicians playing Bach - a good combination. I don't want to be a nag on the subject, but I do think boys fit Bach's choral works very well and Leusink, unlike the other big names (except Cleobury, Rotzsch and obviously Harnoncourt) uses them. On a good day, I think Ruth Holton holds her own against any Bach soprano, although I grant I'm probably in the minority. But I like the other soloists also. I especially like Nico van der Meel when he's "on." And, heck with the critics, I like Buwalda. I suppose Leusink could have played it safe and used a contralto but he didn't and I say good work. There's also a straight forward approach Leusink employs. One rarely encounters eccentricity. Tempos are middle of the road, but I don't think that's bad. Perhaps what I'm hearing is a lack of top level musicianship. But I hear Bach. Only in Harnoncourt / Leonhardt do I hear it more clearly.

This is not a matter of dogma, believe me. Performances by Suzuki, Koopman, Junghanel, Rifkin, Parrott, Gardiner and others frequently appear on my CD player and I like them all. Indeed, I'm a miserable critic because I find the music produced by all of these ensembles so beautiful. But I don't apologize for collecting Leusink.

BTW: some news on the acquisition front. I just watched a DVD of the SJP by Suzuki and BCJ. Wonderful music and I like subtitles in such works. I also picked up a Scarlatti "oratorio" (I guess that's the formal designation) entitled La Santissima Trinita by the Ensemble Europa Galante under Biondi: this is a craCD by a splendid group that I hadn't heard before. Lastly, I shelled out for the McCreesh SMP. I've only listened once and the jury is out, but I think I'm going to like this one a lot.

John Pike wrote (April 21, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Well, I'm not sure who has done the "best" cantata cycle. However, I heartily concur with John's comment that the Leusink set is worth it's modest price. Because almost all of my own collection developed piecemeal over a two year period it includes representatives of all of the current major Bach performers except the American Bach Soloists (ironically, the only professional group I have heard sing cantatas - should remedy that I suppose.) >
Interesting, Eric. The one conductor you don't mention in your e mail is Herreweghe, certainly one of my favourites for Bach.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 21, 2005):
[To John Pike] I have several of his too: lot of bargain editions from recordings done in the early 90s. Also some of his romantic performances. (Must say I think his Beethoven 9th is a dud. Some nice Schubert though.) His cantatas are lovely because they're Bach cantatas, but my dull ears detect nothing that sets them apart from the other top ensembles. Ditto on the romantic stuff. If nothing else, I would go with Suzuki because of those lovely BIS sonics. What Herreweghe's works do have is the extremely expert musicianship that we have come to expect from contemporary baroque ensembles. I'm just not sure whether something isn't lost by pursuit of beauty and almost flawless execution. I guess we all have some kind of mental image of what Bach should sound like. Herreweghe doesn't match mine. So, yes, I prefer Leusnik to Herreweghe. But my opinions concerning WWII Japanese naval aircraft are really more expert than my ratings of some of the world's greatest musicians.

 

Question: the pronunciation of "Leusink"

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (June 17, 2005):
Once I was told in a news group that the pronunciation of "eu" in "Leusink" was pronounced like the umlaut O in German. Now some people in Japan say "Leu" is pronounced as "loose" in English, and some "leu" as it is written. Noone in Japan says that it is pronouced as Ö. So I want to ask again which is the nearest to the fact. Would you kind enough to teach me how I can pronouce "Leusink" correctly?

Thomas Gebhardt wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu] I think it should be pronounced [øi] - as in "German" would be: "löisink" - but it is always difficult to apply general pronunciation rules on proper names.

Maybe there are Dutch people willing to comment on that (there are some on this list, I know...).

Joost wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu] Your original information was correct. The "eu" in Leussink is pronounced exactly the same as the "ö" in "böse" or "höchster".

Thomas Gebhardt wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Joost] Thanks, Joost!

That's interesting: I thought there where a slightly pronounced diphthong in this sound!?!? (In "böse" [bø:ze] ([e] should be "schwa"-sound) there is nothing like that... so it's [lø:zink] ???

Joost wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Thomas Gebhardt] An 's' is dutch is almost always pronounced sharply, sounding like the 's' in the German 'Haus'. A double 'ss' is even e bit sharper, as in 'besser'. This rule of course applies to standard Dutch, there are many deviations in some dialects.

Thomas Gebhardt wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Joost] But there is no "double s" in Leusink...!?!?!?

Anyway, I didn't care too much on the "s"-sound, which maybe [s] (sharp s) but I'm wondering if the "eu" is a straight [ø:] as in "böse" or anything more like [øi] (not existant in German).

Maybe I have something mixed up and I 'm thinking of Dutch (or Flemish) as spoken in Belgium...!? But I believed to be sure that I have heard the <eu> sounding as [øi] instead of [ø:].

In turn (to make this theme relevant to the Bach list again) it is very often audible, that "straight" vowels, as they tend to be sounded in German are diphthongized (does any word like this exist at all...?) in Bach recordings by non-native speakers of the German language.

There's much to say about Bach pronunciation (even by native speakers)... I'm always amazed, how far the well-known Japanese ensemble singers go into that: they are almost never to blame for any mispronunciation.

Joost wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Thomas Gebhardt] Indeed, there is no "double s" in Leusink (that was my mistake earlier today), but it really wouldn't make any significant difference to the pronunciation.

In Dutch the standard "eu" is not a diphtong. It sounds exactly like the German "ö". There may be regional differentiations though, so it is very well possible that Flemish people may tend towards a a diphtongized pronunciation.

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Joost & Thomas Gebhardt] ] Thanks, joost. Now I have recovered confidence about the pronunciation of "Leusink".

And thanks, Thomas. Your questions made the matter clearer.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find."

John McCarthy wrote (June 187, 2005):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu] My understanding is that " Loyzink "is very close in English for "Leusink"

Joost wrote (June 18, 2005):
[To John McCarthy] This is not even close. But funny enough it is close to the pronunciation of the German "eu", as in "heute". Leusink however is Dutch, and therefore it is pronounced the Dutch way...

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (June 18, 2005):
[To John McCarthy] Thank you for your reply. But " Loyzink " seems to be very non-Dutch pronunciation even for me...

 

Leusink - artist's statement

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 30, 2006):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Leusink-Interview.htm

Sometimes you can solve a difference of opinion with a jest. Not so long ago, a soloist and some members of the orchestra were having quite an argument over the question whose fault it was that the recordings just went wrong time after time. I ended their quarrel by telling them the time had finally come to produce some good music and that afterwards they could leave the church, where I was going to supply them with boxing gloves to settle the matter once and for all. Everyone was laughing, the air had cleared up and then the recordings went smoothly. Afterwards, when the results are great, they are as thick as thieves again.

In the spirit of many BCW threads, it is worth giving Leusink the opportunity to state his case. Not to mention that the interview is very good reading, and not unnecessarily long.

<Thick as thieves>? I'll bet if you gave him the chance, he would choose a more subtle phrase. Or perhaps not.

 

The Leusink complete sacred cantatas, after 6 months

Lawrence wrote (July 31, 2006):
Not bad, not great. The texture is a little thin sometimes, but I guess that is the fashion now with "authentic" interpretations. The chorus is a bit ragged at times. The alto is a male with a very nasal voice and I cannot abide him. Apart from these drawbacks, the set is serviceable and sometimes very moving. At under $200, and with other sets over $600, it makes possible inexpensively getting to know a good deal of wonderful music from the master which one may never hear otherwise.

 

Complete Set

David Richie wrote (September 13, 2007):
I've sung numerous Bach cantatas, both as soloist and chorus member, over the past 40-odd years, and have owned and enjoyed many recordings, in varied styles, ranging from Gardiner to Goennenwein. I remember being awed by the gorgeous tone of Goennenwein's choir, as compared with Richter's coarse bunch of what sounded like college students. But Richter had such vitality and propulsion....

Then I recall being horrified when the first Harnoncourt SJP came out when I was in college -- what awful phrasing -- everything's all disconnected. Then I gradually got used to it, and the 'early instrument' perforemances got better and better.

So what's the general consensus on the "Brilliant" boxed set of the complete JSB music? I'm sure it is worth the very modest price, but is it worth the shelf space?

In my view, the vocal music is most important, so how are the cantata recordigns? Are they generally fine or second-rate and dull? Will I want to come back to them over and over, as I do with Rene Jacobs, John Eliot Gardiner, Koopman - and Karl Richter!

Randy Lane wrote (September 14, 2007):
[To David Richie] I personally think the Brilliant Classics set is well worth the shefl space.I thoroughly enjoy just about every part with Ruth Holton. She definitely excels far beyond any of the other solists in the set. A few of the soloists, especially teh men, are awful sometimes, but I find some such weakness in just about every complete cycle. The Holland Boys Choir are almost always a delight. Given your dislike for the Teldec set in this regard, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the excellence of this ensemble. Pieter-Jan Leusink (the Conductor) often delivers very lively accounts, though he certainly was not able to devote the care and devotion to each cantata that we get from one such as Suzuki. Leusink is good, but is no John Eliot Gardiner for sure.

Likewise, the Netherlands Bach Collegium while never unbearable, are not as fine as the English Baroque Solists or the Bach Collegium Japan (IMHO). Given the whirlwind schedule they went through to record this set, I have to say I am continually amazed at just how well the ensemble does perform.

One weakness of the set that I will leave to others to comment about is an observed inconsistency with the scores used. I am no expert in that area, but I have read others comment that there are instances where different participants are clearly using scores form different ediitions while performing the same cantata. Perhaps with some ilumination from others you can determine if that will bother you. I am just a listener, not a performer, so I cannot even tell the difference.

Jean Terrayre wrote (September 19, 2007):
[To Randy Lane] I am delighted by the opinion expressed by Randy Lane about the Brilliant Classic set often too severely judged here ( to my mind) . Freshness and impetuosity of the Holland boys with a kind of cherubinic enthousiasm are treasurable.Softness but firmness of vocal lines (not stentorian) with the four soloists suggests monastics voices (spares but fervent) rather than concerts or opera voices "alla" Rilling. This set has for me an elusive "charme", "le je ne sais quoi et le presque rien" of Jankelevitch, beyond any analysis by scholarly criteria. My problem is his non-existence in France.

Alain Bruguières wrote (September 19, 2007):
[To Jean Terrayre] Whose non-existence in France are you talking about? The Brilliant Classic set is certainly available in France - at least in Montpellier, where I saw it at the FNAC, Virgin's, Carrefour... and I ordered if from amazon.fr. I don't regret buying it!

Randy Lane wrote (September 19, 2007):
[To Alain Bruguières] You can either get the complete Bach Edition a hinged box with paper sleeves, or with this Amazon product number you can get a 60 disk hinged box in cardboard sleeves of just the cantatas: Amazon.com

Joel Figen wrote (September 21, 2007):
David Richie wrote::
< So what's the general consensus on the "Brilliant" boxed set of the complete JSB music? I'm sure it is worth the very modest price, but is it worth the shelf space?
In my view, the vocal music is the most important, so how are the cantata recordigns? Are they generally fine or second-rate and dull? Will I want to come back to them over and over, as I do with Rene Jacobs, John Eliot Gardiner, Koopman - and Karl Richter! >
In my opinion, the Leusink set adds little or nothing to the world of available Bach interpretations. His choir boys are obnoxiously out of tune most of the time and almost always so overeager that they make a simple chorale sound like a mob of crazed fundamentalists carrying pitchforks and lanterns in protest of Frankenstein's monster and gay marriage. Three of his soloists are vocally inadequate by my standards. His Bass soloist is the only one I find technically within the pale of professional standards, in fact, he's rather good, but his performances are often damaged by a tendency to use far too much aspiration.

(Good singers use aspiration lightly, along with glottal stops, pauses, an occasional catch-breath, and, of course, lots of good old legato, to give shape to coloratura passages. This singer, who I would say really has an excellent voice and knows how to use its various timbres and subtleties to advantage, but he seems to know no other way of articulating melismatic passages but with a superstrong heh-heh-heh sound. That wrecks it for me.)

Leusink's baroque oboes and trumpets are for the most part incompetently played, with bad tone and horrible intonation; his strings are generally ok.

His own directorial decisions regarding tempi, continuo, etc., are often interesting and deserve a better actualization. But, on the whole, his personnel just don't play/sing well enough to be considered professional... or even amateur....

This set was available online for casual listening for a long time, maybe it till is. If so, you can listen to it and make up your own mind before buying.

In my opinion this set has value only in one specific case: when I've never heard a particular cantata played and this set is all I've got handy, that's when I listen to Leusink, otherwise not.

Some things are unacceptable even if authentic! I can't listen to Leusink's Bach cantatas without cringing frequently.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (September 22, 2007):
[To Joel Figen] I have to say that you are underestimating the "last but not least" comment you made: Leusink et al. made possible to have "get to know" versions of every Bach work at a price worth of spending in a supermarket cashier, in cash, with a manageable amount of perspiration ;-).

To me, this is not a minor issue, since, honestly, not everything by Bach deserve super-cached artists. Of course, if you can afford a complete set like Teldec's or Hänssler's, much better, no boubt.

But I think that a combination of Brilliant Classics Complete set plus first rate performances of the works you dig the most, is a good way to go if budget is an isuue, and even if not so, but you happen to like other music too!

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 22, 2007):
Joel Figen wrote:
< In my opinion, the Leusink set adds little or nothing to the world of available Bach interpretations. His choir boys are obnoxiously out of tune most of the time and almost always so overeager that they make a simple chorale sound like a mob of crazed fundamentalists carrying pitchforks and lanterns in protest of Frankenstein's monster and gay marriage. >
Perhaps they are just preparing to run for President of USA?

< His own directorial decisions regarding tempi, continuo, etc., are often interesting and deserve a better actualization. But, on the whole, his personnel just don't play/sing well enough to be considered professional... or even amateur.... >
I found some of the comments from France to the point. On the whole, Leusink achieves and conveys a sense of lightness which is appropriate to the music. There are extensive negative remarks in the BCW archives regarding performance details. IMO, they give an unfair impression of the set, and I have made occasional comments to add a contrasting dimension.

If the personnel are not professional, or even amateur, what shall we call them? Leusink's own comments are archived on BCW. He stated his goals, and he achieved them. If only more professionals would do the same.

< This set was available online for casual listening for a long time, maybe it till is. If so, you can listen to it and make up your own mind before buying. >
Fair enough. The price and availability of this set seem to vary. I hesitated for some tine before buying it, because of negative BCW commentary. Eventually, I saw a price which was too good to resist. I am glad I did not resist, and I try to share that experience.

< In my opinion this set hvalue only in one specific case: when I've never heard a particular cantata played and this set is all I've got handy, that's when I listen to Leusink, otherwise not. >
In the context of following along with the weekly discussions, it is handy to have a complete set. Leusink is a cost-effective way to do that. An easy decision for starters. Is it worth adding to an existing, extensive collection? Not so easy a choice.

The price and shelf requirements are modest, but there are only a few instances where Leusink is the preferred performance. Finding any particular cantata is an exercise for developing patience. The decision probably comes down to how much you appreciate Ruth Holton. IMO, always enjoyable, even if the overall performance is not first choice.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (September 22, 2007):
And re: Joel Figen's astringent and dismissive putdown of the Leusink cantata recordings.

Silly me; I have thoroughly enjoyed many of these examples of "Bargain Basement Bach."

When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise!

Joel Figen wrote (September 22, 2007):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< Silly me; I have thoroughly enjoyed many of these examples of "Bargain Basement Bach." >
De gustibus non disputandum. Do I need to translate it?

My commentary on the Leusink set was based on fairly specific musical criteria, not on whether you enjoy it or not. For all any of us know, you may thoroughly enjoy snuff films or McDonald's value meal.

I won't go so far as to agree with your words "silly me," since I don't know you. But your message is indeed silly.

As for your taste, however, I won't dispute it. You like Leusink. Nuff said.

Julian Mincham wrote (September 22, 2007):
[To Joel Figen] I don't want to get into the sorts of turf wars that have so often marred this list and which have been (I am glad to say) largely absent of late. But I find the above comments which are critical of a member's opinion arrogant and patronising. Harry's message was not 'silly'---it was an honest statement of his opinion which is based upon a very wide listening of different performances over quite a long period of time.

So you don't agree with him? fine--just don't patronise fellow members in this way.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (September 22, 2007):
[To Joel Figen] Which complete set you like the most, and, in your own terms, which one seems to be the best by your standards?

Joel Figen wrote (September 23, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< So you don't agree with him? fine--just don't patronise fellow members in this way. >
Julian, I usually agree with what you say, but in this case, you've got it backwards. Please go back and read his message to me as he posted it, not just the snippet I included in my response. I found his tone and content quite patronizing, to use your word. The point of his message was on the order of, "Something must be wrong with you if you don't like what I like." (Though expressed in a sort contrapositive shaming tone.) It's not out of line to call that silly - which was the word he used to describe himself, sarcastically. If he hadn't used that word, I would have just called it inflammatory.

Your message should have been addressed to him. And I will desist, in the interest of peace. I hope everyone else will too. I expressed a serious musical opinion and I don't appreciate having it flamed upon. How could I possibly mind if someone has a different opinion. De gustibus.... I merely answered sarcasm with sarcasm.

Alain Bruguières wrote (September 23, 2007):
[To Joel Figen] I must say that as usual I agree with Julian; it is true that I detected mild irony in Harry's answer to your message; however in my opinion, your initial message is so devised that anybody with a different mind on the question is left to believe he's a complete idiot. Such a way of formulating one's opinion doesn't encourage an earnest exchange of views. Therefore to me Harry's message was entirely appropriate, as, like him, I think the Leusink set has its limitations and its merits and doesn't deserve to be treated in such a scornful way.

Julian Mincham wrote (September 23, 2007):
Joel Figen wrote:
< Your message should have been addressed to him. And I will desist, in the interest of peace. I hope everyone else will too. I expressed a serious musical opinion and I don't appreciate having it flamed upon. How could I possibly mind if someone has a different opinion. De gustibus.... I merely answered sarcasm with sarcasm. >
Joel's note responded to OL

Chris Kern wrote (September 23, 2007):
When I did my set of 6 introductions and listened to the cantatas fairly closely with the scores, I found that to my tastes, Leusink was not only competitive with Rilling and Harnoncourt but sometimes exceeded them. This is especially true of the arias and duets. The choral movements are not as strong, however.

With regards to the other members' comments, I think that you always need to be careful that you're not phrasing your own personal opinions in a such a way that suggests they are being presented as objective fact, or that your own opinions are based on more objective or concrete criteria than someone else's. Even in your responses, you seem to be saying something like "Well, you can like them if that's your taste, but they're still bad." If this is not your intent then I apologize, but it may explain some of the responses to your initial post.

There are strong feelings all around for all of the complete sets. My own personal opinion is that Suzuki is often the best, Rilling, Leusink, and Harnoncourt all excel in their own areas depending on the cantata, and Koopman is unlistenable most of the time. But there are people who hate Rilling, love Harnoncourt, hate Leusink, hate Suzuki, and love Koopman -- so I would never say that this is anything more than my own listening preferences.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (September 23, 2007):
My sin in the mind of him with whom I took issue was referring to his critique of the Leusink series. I described it as "astringent and dismissive." For a review, Joel and others, please re-read at least the first paragraph of the first Figen offering and see if you think my two adjectives are in any way inappropriate.

I am not calling for a show of hands, but I found the Figen statement rather overbearing. Anyhow, that was what I took away from his piece, and to which I responded. I did not criticize him for having an opinion, but only for expressing it in terms designed to make dissenters feel like the clueless hoi polloi.

Oh, and for anyone concerned about my diet, wife Joanne is noted as a cook as well as an artist, and we are off in minutes to get our organic produce from the local Farmers Market.

And I am now off my high horse, and relinquish the floor to the cognoscenti!

Julian Mincham wrote (September 23, 2007):
Chris Kern wrote:
< There are strong feelings all around for all of the complete sets. My own personal opinion is that Suzuki is often the best, Rilling, Leusink, and Harnoncourt all excel in their own areas depending on the cantata, and Koopman is unlistenable most of the time. But there are people who hate Rilling, love Harnoncourt, hate Leusink, hate Suzuki, and love Koopman -- so I would never say that this is anything more than my own listening preferences. >
Welcome back Chris--is it only my impression or have you been AWOL for some time?

A good case in point above. I put some of Koopman's right at the top especially in bass arias when Klaus Mertens is singing: I find very few other contemporary basses come near to him. Leusink is variable (although I have come to terms with that rather strained tenor voice) and some of Ruth Holton's very pure movements are almost indistinguishable from a boy sop--Leusink's BWV 6 fantasia I found particularly good and it stands up with the best of them, I reckon.

I could put together (for me) a pretty good set by mixing (what I consider to be!) the best of Suzuki, Elliot G, Koopman and some Leusink. I can live without Rilling, Harnoncourt and Richter. But it wouldn't work for everyone.

In any case the only really perfect performances are those I hear in my head, unby any form of technical constraints when reading the score!! And noone can argue with that!

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 23, 2007):
The Leusink set of cantatas is, to me, better to have than not to have.

Sometimes I like some other performances more, or sometimes (especially in the instrumental department of arias) I like parts of Leusink's more. In any case it's good to have around as an option. And if there's some parts of some of them that I just don't fancy, well, nobody's forcing me to listen to them (or to anything else) more than once or twice.

The real treasures in the 155-CD Brilliant set, for me, are some of the instrumental offerings. Once again, better to have this set than not to have it.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 23, 2007):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< My sin in the mind of him with whom I took issue was referring to his critique of the Leusink series. I described it as "astringent and dismissive." For a review, Joel and others, please re-read at least the first paragraph of the first Figen offering and see if you think my two adjectives are in any way inappropriate. >
Perhaps you are referring to this comment, for example?

<His [Leusink's] choir boys are obnoxiously out of tune most of the time and almost always so overeager that they make a simple chorale sound like a mob of crazed fundamentalists carrying pitchforks and lanterns in protest of Frankenstein's monster and gay marriage.>

I previously offered a response, subtly suggesting that I did not read these words as 'objective musical criteria'. I find your adjectives appropriate.

< And I am now off my high horse, and relinquish the floor to the cognoscenti! >
Well, return soon.. It is always good to see your comments on-list.

Stephen Benson wrote (September 23, 2007):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< I am not calling for a show of hands, but I found the Figen statement rather overbearing. Anyhow, that was what I took away from his piece, and to which I responded. I did not criticize him for having an opinion, but only for expressing it in terms designed to make dissenters feel like the clueless hoi polloi. >
Well, Harry may not be asking for a show of hands, but I agree with him. As one who finds pleasure in Leusink's series, imperfect though it may be, I felt after reading Joel's initial condemnation of the set that my own critical judgment was unfairly being disparaged, and any enjoyment I might experience while listening to that set trivialized.

I also felt that Harry's post which inspired such high dudgeon in Joel was remarkably, and unfairly, self-effacing. As I read it, "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise!" is nothing if not self-deprecatory.

I would further suggest that the issue is not one of simple taste, as Joel would have it, but of implications re. the importance of technique in the realization of a piece of music. It seems to me that Harry is suggesting that there's more to a performance than technique. (My apologies to Harry, should I be reading more into this than he intended.) A fine technician can easily fail to capture the essence of a piece of music, and a listener who focuses solely on technical aspects can miss out on a fine performance. It's the old "forest for the trees" thing. (I sometimes think that we self-proclaimed "critics" can be insufferable nit-pickers.) Sincerity, honesty, devotion, or a particularly felicitous turn of phrase can all play an important role in Bach performance, qualities which I find throughout the Leusink set, beginning with BWV 1, which I particularly enjoy. Sure, for the most part my preferences lie elsewhere — Herreweghe, Gardiner, and Suzuki among others — but that doesn't mean that there aren't moments of great beauty in Leusink, and therefore of inestimable value. I feel the same way about Rilling, for example. There's a lot I don't like, but I frequently find the clarity and phrasing of his brass playing particularly rewarding, and I love to listen to Arleen Augér sing Bach, which combination makes his BWV 51, for example, my clear favorite.

But I digress. I guess my bottom line is that Joel has the right to his opinion. His invocation of "musical criteria" notwithstanding, however, he does not have the right to be so dismissive of the opinions of others.

Skip Jennings wrote (September 23, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The Leusink set of cantatas is, to me, better to have than not to have. >
I don't have the depth of knowledge that some of you regularly demonstrate on this list. But I know what I enjoy listening to. I have the complete Leusink and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt sets, along with a lot of Koopman, Rilling, Gardiner, Suzuki and Herreweghe. I enjoy them all. In fact, every time I think that I know enough to consider a particular performance as inferior, I find that I am wrong. Just this morning I put on Rilling's performance of BWV 27, expecting it to be a lesser listening experience. Instead I was stunned by how beautiful it was. Of course, he had some pretty good raw material to work with.

I agree with Brad. It's better to have the Leusink set than not to have it. And at the price there is not a more inexpensive way to get all of this wonderful music at once. On that basis alone I have recommended it to several people who wanted to try to get into Bach's cantatas.

Back to lurking.

Russell Telfer wrote (September 24, 2007):
Thought I'd weigh in with an opinion. Everyone else has!

I've relied on Rilling and Leusink for most of what I've listened to in the last two years.

I appreciate and enjoy nearly everything I've got, or that is available to me.

There are a very few duds, or irritating performances. Generally I don't linger with the ones which have (what I think is) the wrong tempo, where someone is out of tune or a voice that draws attention to itself for the wrong reasons. There are two solutions: get another version, or make your own - that becomes easier with improvements in music notation software which is what I'm supposed to be studying at the moment.

I'm sure there is a consensus on many aspects of received performances, and equally surely, there will always be some strong differences of opinion. Let's not push our own opinions too hard.

Jean Laaninen wrote (September 24, 2007):
[To Russell Telfer] I agree with Russell here. I own some of the cantatas, but not a lot, so when I listen to Leusink on the computer (not bad sound) I have what is to me a golden opportunity.

Some years ago I sang in a chorale in California. The men were not too bad in terms of getting along, but the ladies had a big problem--lots of catty snipping. I remember some words that came to me at that point. I said, 'We should all remember that in the economy of God's universe we are all little grains of sand on the beaches of time.' There was total silence in the room where we ladies were cutting out our dresses for a future performance. The negative comments then ended publicly for as long as I was a member there. Those who own any cantatas are fortunate and blessed, and it only makes a person look very small and out of touch with the universe and God (if they believe) when they do not make their intellectually critical comments sufficient. There's nothing wrong with pointing out differences, and saying the quality of one item is perhaps more inviting than another, but the simply huge amount of work and study that goes into the preparation of such works should be respected. The musicians should be respected simply for their interest in such great works. The listeners should be highly respected for caring about these works.

Sometimes people mention that they do not like the vibrato in a certain voice. I much prefer to sing with a clear straight tone as much as possible, and on the cantata material especially. But each individual voice is in my view a God-given element and the range of voices simply a wonderful thing. I respect those who do this work. I hope as Russell says, that we can maintain some grace assigning worth to our own opinions. A little humility goes a long way.

Neil Mason wrote (Se24, 2007):
In the last couple of years I have had the good fortune to purchase the complete Bach on Haenssler knock-off (Rilling), the complete Bach on Brilliant (Leusink) and the complete Mozart on Brilliant.

All were astoundingly cheap and well worth their purchase price.

In the cantatas I generally prefer the Leusink to the Rilling.

The strengths of Leusink are his tempi and his instrumentalists. The weaknesses are the choir and the vocal soloists (on which I have already posted).

The strengths of Rilling are the choir and the vocal soloists. The weaknesses are the tempi/phrasing (which I find often lacking in forward momentum) and the instrumental balance (which I frequently find bass-heavy in the arias).

The Mozart is a voyage of discovery for me, particularly the early operas. That is another story.

But if any lurker is wondering whether or not to buy the Brilliant Bach at bargain price, I would say "do not hesitate". It is indeed Brilliant for the price.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 24, 2007):
Skip Jennings wrote:
< Back to lurking. >
No need for that. Tell us what you like, or don't like.

Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The Leusink set of cantatas is, to me, better to have than not to have. >
I agree. If you read Joel's post carefully, even he agrees. Depending on the depth of one's archives (or access to samples), sometimes Leusink is the only choice.

Certainly the most economical. In a few cantatas, in some people's opinion, the best! No disrespect to Joel, in fact thanks, for initiating an interesting exchange.

Suzuki (not yet complete, in release) got several good comments, well deserved IMO. Two other ongoing projects worthy of attention: Gardiner (recorded live in 2000, CD release in process) and Kuijken, partial set, ongoing through 2011.

A snippet from Jean, to summarize:

<The musicians should be respected simply for their interest in such great works. The listeners should be highly respected for caring about these works.>

 

Beginning 2011 listening to the Leusink recordings

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (January 3, 2011):
Compliments to Aryeh and the others that have made the BWC possible!

Let me start the new year with a general comment on the Bach Cantatas complete recording by Leusink. Yes, I have gone to the BWC archives to read past reviews. As for myself, for a long time I had many of the recordings by Harnoncourt-Leonhardt: beautiful to listen to, but certainly far from perfect, a little passé, mainly as the playing of some instruments (notably oboe da caccia and natural trumpet) has advanced a lot since. I also have a few cantatas by other conductors: among my preferred conductors of Bach's coral music are Gardiner and Parrot.

I really needed a complete recording of the Cantatas on period instruments, so when a year ago a knowledgeable friend recommended me the ridiculously low-priced box by Brilliant Classics with Leusink conducting, I bought it immediately and started listening: at 1 per week, I am almost done!

Well. I have been very pleasantly surprised! I expected Leusink's to be an amateurish thing. Far from it, I find that most cantatas are beautifully performed: I really like the tempi, the intonation, the articulation, the instrumental solos (marvellous and very authentic-sounding oboes), the singing, and Ruth Horton provides what is IMHO the very best Baroque soprano singing. Except for old Harnoncourt-Leonhardt, I have not hear enough other recordings, and having read reviews in BCW I am sure that a few are EVEN better than Leusink (though in a different price range): yet I am very happy with this set.

I apologise: it is not my intention to stirr any proverbial "wasp nest" or to start any discussion, just to voice an opinion! Happy New Year!

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 4, 2011):
WKCR Bachfest 2010 [was: Beginning 2011 listening to the Leusink recordings]

Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< I really needed a complete recording of the Cantatas on period instruments, so when a year ago a knowledgeable friend recommended me the ridiculously low-priced box by Brilliant Classics with Leusink conducting, I bought it immediately and started listening: at 1 per week, I am almost done!
Well. I have been very pleasantly surprised! I expected Leusink's to be an amateurish thing. Far from it, I find that most cantatas are beautifully performed [...] >
I had planned anyway to write a few comments to again thank TNTowe for informing us of the WKCR broadcast and webcast, which ended at midnight Dec. 31, to close out the old year. The cantata performances I heard were mostly in the traditional vein, with much Rilling, ample Richter and Werner, and many less familiar conductors from LPs. All have their own virtues. Some of the rare LPs are especially fine, and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau with Richter is unsurpassed. I was especially interested in thinking about the Rilling performances in relation to Leusink, even though there was no direct comparison aired. In fact, I did not hear Leusink at all. Neither Kuijken, although there was some Rifkin to present the OVPP interpretation. Rilling sounds fine, if a bit dated, but not so good (to my ears) to justify the extra cost compared to Leusink, for those considering a complete set. I am happy to hear from Claudio with an independent opinion, in agreement with my previous recommendation that the Leusink cantatas, along with the complete Bach Edition, is an unbeatable value.

WKCR did air a segment featuring cantatas by Herreweghe, which I heard only at the conclusion. These are among my personal favorites, highly recommended to supplement Leusink, or any complete set.

I also had to miss most of the TNT segment on Weds. I did tune in at the end, early in a version of the Goldberg Variations for piano which caught my ear. It was a recent (2008) release by Ronald Hawkins. It was enjoyable to listen to unknown (the old blindfold test), new to me as it turned out. TNTs closing announcement: <Probably not quite desert island material, but I will return to it again long before most of the versions of the Goldbergs which litter my shelves.> My copy is on the way, to join the litter.

 

Brilliant Bach complete set

David McKay wrote (October 10, 2011):
I've been reading about the complete Bach Brilliant set and intrigued that it includes all the scores on a DVD ROM. I'm interested in your thoughts about the set and especially about the scores. Are they the same as the scores I can access here and/or on the Petrucci Music Library?

John Adams reviewed the set at amazon.com and remarked that he had paid about 40 tanks of petrol over a period of time in purchasing all the Kalmus miniature scores, but that this complete set, with about 160 CDs, a DVD ROM, and 2 DVDs of Bach passions cost him about one tank of petrol!

I bought the Teldec set for $1500 in 2001 and am pleased to have it, but don't often play the cantatas from that set, preferring my John Eliot Gardiner set and the Archiv 22 cd supplementary set.

Anthony Lozar wrote (October 11, 2011):
David McKay wrote:
< I've been reading about the complete Bach Brilliant set and intrigued that it includes all the scores on a DVD ROM. I'm interested in your thoughts about the set and especially about the scores. Are they the same as the scores I can access here and/or on the Petrucci Music Library? >
I got the Brilliant Classics set last year. I have the 2010 version which is the only version to my knowledge that includes the scores. (1) The scores are PDFs of the Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe in 46 volumes. I happen to have the sleeve right next to the computer as I tend to keep the DVD-ROM in my drive. It says "digitized by Friedeburg Steltner. For personal use only: no unauthorized copying or distribution."

I don't think that these are the same PDFs as the ones you can download for free online, but they are more or less the same scores. Thus, you will not find any of the music discovered since 1900 in this bunch even though Brilliant Classics bills this as the "complete scores of Bach's works". (The recordings in the set are also not quite what I would consider "complete", but reasonably close).

I've found that the following websithas a lot of information about the set that is hard to find elsewhere:
http://www.thornykoanz.net/bach-complete-edition/

Hope this helps,

(1) The 2010 Bach Complete Edition also includes a number of new recordings, most of which I think are definite improvements over previous editions.

David McKay wrote (October 11, 2011):
[To Anthony Kozar] Thanks for this interesting post, Anthony.

 

BCW: Werner and Leusink Bach Cantata Cycles

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 14, 2012):
In my continuing efforts to improve the data presented on the BCW, I revise the discographies of the recorded Bach Cantata Cycles. I have already finished the major series by John Eliot Gardiner from his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage (Soli Deo Gloria), Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Choir & Orchestra (Erato & Antoine Marchand/Challenge Classics), Masaaki Suzuki/Bach Collegium Japan (BIS), and some smaller scale enterprises by Johannes Somary/Amor Artis Chorale (various labels), Felix Prohaska/various ensembles (Vanguard/Bach Guild), Purcell Quartet (Chandos), Eric J. Milnes/Montreal Baroque (ATMA Classique), Daniel Taylor/Theatre of Early Music (ATMA Classique), Bernard Labadie/Les Violons du Roy (Dorian), Christophe Coin/Ensemble Baroque de Limoges, Craig Smith/Emmanuel Music (Koch), Jeffrey Thomas/American Bach Soloists, Sigiswald Kuijken/La Petit Bande (Accent). .

The revision includes full recording details: exact recording dates & locations, all the published issues (both LP's & CD's), TT of each work and of the album, big front & back cover photos and liner notes where possible.

I have just finished two other major cycles: Fritz Werner and his forces on Erato/Musical Heritage Society (1957-1973) and Pieter Jan Leusink/Holland Boys Choir & Netherlands Bach Collegium on Brilliant Classics (1999-2000).

See:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Werner.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Leusink.htm
Linked from:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/index.htm
and all the relevant cantata pages on the BCW.

 

Pieter Jan Leusink: Short Biography | Holland Boys Choir | Netherlands Bach Collegium
Recordings of Vocal Works:
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
Articles:
Interview with Pieter Jan Leusink | Interview with Frank Wakelkamp
Table of Recordings by BWV Number

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Last update: ýMarch 12, 2012 ý15:19:31