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Pieter Jan Leusink & Holland Boys Choir & Netherlands Bach Collegium
Bach Edition Vol. 4 & 5 - Cantatas Vol. 1 & 2

C-1

Bach Edition Vol. 4 - Cantatas Vol. 1

 
 

CD-1 [62:04]: Cantatas BWV 80 [24:41], BWV 82 [23:02], BWV 61 [14:15]
CD-2 [58:50]: Cantatas BWV 16 [17:32], BWV 170 [21:33], BWV 133 [19:30]
CD-3 [62:15]: Cantatas BWV 97 [27:24], BWV 132 [17:16], BWV 72 [17:12]
CD-4 [52:44]: Cantatas BWV 113 [24:53], BWV 42 [28:22]
CD-5 [56:22]: Cantatas BWV 33 [20:38], BWV 56 [19:19], BWV 37 [16:29]

Pieter Jan Leusink

Holland Boys Choir / Netherlands Bach Collegium

Soprano: Ruth Holton; Alto: Sytse Buwalda; Tenors: Nico van der Meel, Knut Schoch; Bass: Bas Ramselaar

Brilliant Classics 99363

Apr-Sep 1999

5-CD / TT: 292:15

Recorded at St. Nicolaschurch, Elburg, Holland.
See: Bach Edition Vols. 4 & 5 - Cantatas Vols. 1 & 2 - conducted by Pieter Jan Leusink
Buy this album at:
5-CD: Amazon.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.de | Amazon.de

C-2

Bach Edition Vol. 5 - Cantatas Vol. 2

 
 

CD-1 [59:41]: Cantatas BWV 92 [28:58], BWV 54 [12:20], BWV 44 [18:17]
CD-2 [64:11]: Cantatas BWV 111 [19:23], BWV 159 [13:59], BWV 165 [13:13], BWV 22 [17:29]
CD-3 [62:03]: Cantatas BWV 114 [24:13], BWV 57 [25:00], BWV 155 [12:40]
CD-4 [46:36]: Cantatas BWV 98 [15:00], BWV 188 [19:07], BWV 23 [12:25]
CD-5 [64:45]: Cantatas BWV 135 [15:16], BWV 86 [14:10], BWV 85 [16:54], BWV 167 18:15

Pieter Jan Leusink

Holland Boys Choir / Netherlands Bach Collegium

Soprano: Ruth Holton; Alto: Sytse Buwalda; Tenors: Nico van der Meel, Knut Schoch; Bass: Bas Ramselaar

Brilliant Classics 99364

Apr-Sep 1999

5-CD / TT: 297:16

Recorded at St. Nicolaschurch, Elburg, Holland.
See: Bach Edition Vols. 4 & 5 - Cantatas Vols. 1 & 2 - conducted by Pieter Jan Leusink
Buy this album at:
5-CD: Amazon.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.de

Bach Edition on Brilliant Classics Cantatas (Preview)

Johan van Veen
wrote (October 28, 1999):
<< Johan van Veen wrote: 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 wrote: Does anyone know who will be doing (/has done) the cantatas in this set? >
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 Schtz' Symphoniae sacrae II by La Capella Ducale and Musica Fiata (Sony).

Bach Edition

Johan van Veen wrote (November 23, 1999):

Today the eagerly awaited 2 volumes of 5 CD's each with cantatas by Bach in the Bach Edition of the Dutch drugstore 'Kruidvat' (on the label Brilliant Classics) were released. They contain these cantatas:

Vol. 1: BWV 16, 33, 37, 42, 56, 61, 72, 80, 82, 97, 113, 132, 133, 170

Vol. 2: BWV 22, 23, 44, 54, 57, 85, 86, 92, 98, 111, 114, 135, 155, 159, 165, 167, 188

The interpreters are Ruth Holton (soprano), Sytse Buwalda (alto), Knut Schoch and Nico van der Meel (tenor), Bas Ramselaar (bas), the Holland Boys Choir and the Netherlands Bach Collegium (on period instruments), directed by Pieter Jan Leusink.

Of course, I can't comment right now. I have only heard a couple of CD's. So I make some short observations, to which others who have purchased the two sets may reply.

First of all, the pitch. I wonder if that is modern standard pitch. In BWV 80 (Ein feste Burg) the church organ of the St Nicholas Church in Elburg (hometown of the choir) is used (I wonder why in this cantata, and not in any of the others in these sets), and as far as I know this is an early 19th century organ, which I'm sure has modern standard pitch. So unless the organist is playing in transposition, I have to conclude that a=440 in this recording.

Secondly, the text. In BWV 61 (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland) the soprano aria ffne dich, mein ganzes Herze contains the line "Jesus kommt und ziehet ein". The soprano sings "kommt" in stead of "kommt" (ignoring the Umlaut). That must be a decision taken by the conductor, since the same thing happens in the opening aria of BWV 132 (Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn: "Messias kommt an", instead of "kommt an"). Why using "original" instruments and not the "original" text? And why does the bass sing - in the recitative "Erwäge doch" from Cantata BWV 80 - "zum Siege" instead of "zum Kriege"? That is not exactly the same. And it doesn't make sense in the context. Result of the short period of time used for the recording?

Frank Wakelkamp wrote (November 24, 1999):

Indeed, the organ player has been transposing. The actual pitch varies between 413-417 Hz due to temperature, humidity and morning temper.

Yes. Sometimes the Neue Bach Ausgabe or Dürr were not available on location. When singers have performed the specific cantata before, corrections to the older editions have been noted. It has to be mentioned that for some cantatas different texts occur in later copies (i.e. for a later performance). Please do not insist on playing the figured bass as written! It contains lots of mistakes... Some might even have survived the recording session due to lack of time or editing fatigue (working days for this poor but extremely talented lad, Jean van Vugt, have been at least 16 hours every day since last April except for two weeks of "holiday" with Uchida).

Eltjo Meijer wrote (November 24, 2000)::

I don't want to blame you, the cello player, but I think that Pieter Jan Leusink and Pieter van Winkel (who is ultimately responsible for the project) have some explaining to do. Rehearsing and recording cantatas without having the correct text at hand is not just simple dilettantism, it is plain amateurism for which there is no excuse, unless you only play at home for friends and family. I just can't understand how this is possible. From what I 'do' understand I can only conclude that sometimes the words were made up as the sessions went along. Either, you do things right or you don't do them, which means that this project should probably not have been undertaken under these conditions (in a hurry and cheap). I have also noticed bad German pronunciation and sometimes I can hardly understand the German at all.

Het Kruidvat has shown disdain for thcustomers and I don't see how they can sell these recordings abroad. Luckily they had a nice Figaro (Davis/BMG) for 9,95 guilders.

Philip Peters wrote (November 24, 1999):

(To Eltjo Meijer) I agree by and large with the remarks above. Moreover, on first hearing of a few of these 10 CD's I heard a lot of out of tune singing, especially by van der Meel and Ramselaar, a very weak sounding soprano (whom I heard in better shape with Koopman) and overall a rather dull playing orchestra. I don't pretend to have a sound opinion after hearing so little of the cantatas issued only once but I fear that this set will not find a place in the history books as an inspired reading. It's sort of redundant but the speed with which the musicians and others had to work has sacrificed potential quality.

Frank Wakelkamp wrote (November 25, 1999):

(To Eltjo M.) What are you trying to prove? Would you have done better? What are your qualifications? One thing I can say is that apart from embellishments nothing has been made up in this project. About the quality I respect your opinion. Please do not blame ANY people here unless providing a thread for improvement. Just the accusation "amateurism" will not do if you cannot prove that you are capable of doing it better. Otherwise you would make yourself a fool, a Don Quichote.

Remember the story of Buddha:

There was a man who was almost mad, a mad murderer. He had taken a vow that he would kill one thousand people, not less than that, because society had not treated him well. He would take revenge by killing one thousand people. And from every person killed he would take one finger and make a rosary around his neck - a rosary of one thousand fingers. Because of this vow his name became Angulimala: the man with a rosary of fingers. He killed nine hundred and ninety nine people. Wherever people came to know that Angulimala was near, nobody would move in those parts, the traffic would stop. And then it became very difficult for him to find that last man, and only one man was needed to fulfill his vow. Buddha was approaching a forest, and people came to him from the villages and said, "Don't go! Angulimala is there, that mad murderer! He doesn't think twice, he simply murders. He will not think of the fact that you are a Buddha. Don't go that way! There is another way..." But Buddha said, "If I don't go, then who will go?... He is a man, he needs me. I must take the risk. Either he will kill me or I will kill him." Buddha went. Even his closest disciples, who had said they would remain with him up to the very end, they started lagging behind. This was dangerous! So when Buddha approached the hill where Angulimala was sitting on a rock, there was no one behind him, he was alone. All the disciples had disappeared. Angulimala looked at this innocent man, childlike, so beautiful that even he, a murderer, felt compassion for him. He thought, "This man seems to be absolutely unaware that I am here, otherwise nobody comes along this path." And then he thought, "It is not good to kill this man. I'll leave him, I can find someone else." He shouted to Buddha, "Go back! Don't move another step! I am Angulimala, and these are nine hundred ninety-nine fingers here, and I need one finger more - even if my mother comes I will kill her and fulfill my vow! So don't come near. I am dangerous! And I am not a believer in religion... you may be a very good monk, a great saint maybe, but I don't care. Your finger is as good as anybody else's. Don't come a single step further, otherwise I will kill you. Stop!" But Buddha kept on coming. Then Angulimala thought, "Either this man is deaf or he is mad." Again he shouted: "Stop! Don't move!" Buddha said: "I stopped long ago. I am not moving, Angulimala, you are moving. There is no goal for me... and when there is no motivation, how can movement happen? YOU are moving - and I say to you, YOU stop!" Angulimala started laughing, "You are really a fool or you are mad," he said. "I don't know what manner of man you are!" Buddha came closer and said, "I have heard that you need one more finger. As far as this body is concerned, my goal is achieved, this body is useless. You can use it, your vow can be fulfilled - cut off my finger and cut off my head. I have come on purpose, because this is the last chance for my body to be used in some way." Angulimala said, "I thought I was the only madman around here. And don't try to be clever, because I can still kill you." Buddha said, "Before you kill me, do one thing - just the wish of a dying man - cut off a branch of this tree." Angulimala hit his sword against the tree and a big branch fell down. Then Buddha said, "Just one thing more: join it again to the tree." Angulimala said, "Now I know perfectly that you are mad. I can cut but I cannot join." Then Buddha started laughing and he said, "When you can only destroy and cannot create... you should not destroy, because destruction can be done by children, there is no bravery in it. This branch can be cut by a child, but to join it a Master is needed. And if you cannot even join back a branch to the tree, what about human heads? Have you ever thought about it?" Angulimala closed his eyes and he said, "Lead me on that path." And it is said that in that single moment he became enlightened.

A person who has the energy to become mad also has the energy to become enlightened - it is the same energy, only the direction changed. If you cannot be creative, energy becomes destructive.

Johan van Veen wrote (November 25, 1999):

< Frank Wakelkamp wrote: What are you trying to prove? Would you have done better? What are your qualifications? One thing I can say is that apart from ebellishments nothing has been made up in this project. About the quality I respect your opinion. Please do not blame ANY people here unless providing a thread for improvement. Just the accusation "amateurism" will not do if you cannot prove that you are capable of doing it better. Otherwise you would make yourself a fool, a Don Quichote. >
I am sorry but this is sheer nonsense, and unfair too. I don't need to be able to lay an egg in order to be allowed to say that an egg is rotten. The consequence of what you are saying is that all reviewers - most of them are not professional musicians - should keep their mouth shut, and are not allowed to give their opinion. Musicians who make recordings, do so for an audience. It is our right, being the audience, to give our opinion on the quality of those recordings, just as I have the right as a customer to tell a shopkeeper that his product is bad. I go along with the criticism of Eltjo. What sense does it make to use "authentic" instruments, when at the same time not the "authentic" score is used?

I fully understand that the invitation to record all Bach's cantatas was a chance of a lifetime for all people involved, in particular the conductor and his choir, which I greatly admire. But there is also something like artistic integrity. I think the musicians should have told the producer that recording all cantatas in such a short period of time is simply impossible, if you want to do a really good job.

I haven't had the opportunity to listen to every cantata in detail. But my impression is that many things are just not well thought over. The way in which recitatives are sung, is very inconsistent. Sytse Buwalda - by far the best performer - is very expressive, but Ruth Holton and Knut Schoch just sing the words, and nothing else. I had the bad fortune of starting with the first CD of the first set - it contains some of my favourite cantatas, and therefore my first impression was very negative. BWV 80 is very lacklustre, the rhythms which are so characteristic of this cantata are very shallow. So far I certainly have enjoyed some performances, and it is too early to give a final
verdict. You invited us to give our comments, so don't complain when these comments are not of your liking.

Frank Wakelkamp wrote (November 25, 1999):

(To Johan van Veen) OK, but did you like the story?

OY wrote (October 25, 1999):

(To Frank Wakelkamp) Does a HIP performer have Buddha-nature?

Olivier Raap wrote (October 2, 2000):

I have listened volume 5. You can read my article about it in Dutch language at the Dutch Bach site www.bach.nl in the discussieforum.

Ben Crick wrote (November 24, 1999):

Could it not just be that the soloists are not native German speakers, and so tend to pronounce the words as if they were English or Dutch, which have no Umlaut? Zum Siege instead of zum Kriege is evidently proleptic wishful thinking. In this spiritual war, the final Victory (the Resurrection) is assured. Are you sure about those Umlauts? I don't have the lyrics here to check....

Johan van Veen wrote (November 24, 1999):

(To Ben Crick) Yes, I am. The lyrics, printed in the booklet, have Umlauts as well. So have the lyrics in the Teldec recording, which I used in comparison. It is typical for 18th century German, as is 'Jüden' instead of 'Juden' (see St Matthew Passion). There are other errors in the lyrics as well: BWV 33, bass recitative (Mein Gott und Richter): the lyrics say: "und meine Sünd ist schwer" - the soloist sings: "sind meine Sünden schwer". It has to do with the editions used during the recording sessions. According to Frank Wakelkamp (cellist during the recording) they didn't always have the Neue Bach Ausgabe at hand - see his posting in this thread. I doubt whether ignoring the Umlaut has anything to do with not being German native speakers. Even if it was someone should have heard it and corrected it.

Frank Wakelkamp wrote (November 24, 1999):

< Johan van Veen wrote: I doubt whether ignoring the Umlaut has anything to do with not being German native speakers. Even if it was someone should have heard it and corrected it. >
I must admit my modern German is still better than my ancient variety, and the two of them are getting mixed up once in a while. I cannot deny that the fact of not being a native speaker is sometimes a trouble to Ruth Holton, but so far she's been doing fine. I hope you can listen through the slight mispronounciations. I am learning a big deal about nuances in German language myself, because Knut Schoch and sometimes members of the orchestra are native speakers. The Umlaut business has slipped through, as I mentioned before, because of lacking NBA or (as I reveal to you now) fatigue of the players and other people involved.

I must mention the fact that now I remember having a discussion about this text (Sieg <--> Krieg) during the recording. I can assure you this is indeed such a case as I described in my other posting, namely the multiple text availability. The chosen text seemed to be more appropriate considering the context, but the change did not get into the booklet.
I think this a minor administrative error, considering the big pile of different movements, recording days (might be months between one movement and another, neighbouring one) &c. We are very glad that every Cantata till now has all the movements and in the right order. For this, a special triple check formula has been invented...

Johan van Veen wrote (November 24, 1999):

I have just looked at the matter of the Umlaut somewhat closer. I don't know very much about German in Bach's time, but when you look at both examples I mentioned, there is a clear suggestion that 'kommt' refers to something that will (in the near future) happen if some preconditions are fulfilled. Cantata BWV 61, soprano aria: "Uffne dich, mein ganzes Herze, Jesus kommt und ziehet ein". The Teldec recording gives this translation: "Open thou, my heart, to Jesus, He will come and enter there".

Cantata BWV 132, soprano aria: "Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn (...) Messias kommt an". As 'translation' Teldec gives Isaiah 40 vs. 3, which is reflected in this aria - also known from Handel's Messiah: "Prepare ye the highway, the way of the Lord! Make straight in the desert the way for our God". This suggests the same as the first aria: something has to be done before Jesus can come. If this is indeed the case, then ignoring the Umlaut isn't just a matter of pronunciation, but in fact changes the meaning of the text.

Unknown Thread

Zachary Uram wrote (November 24, 1999):

< Frank Wakelkamp wrote: Indeed, the organ player has been transposing. The actual pitch varies between 413-417 Hz due to temperature, humidity and morning temper. > Wow how you know this? The pitch for Baroque organ should be 416 yes?

< Yes. Sometimes the Neue Bach Ausgabe or Dürr were not available on location. > Why not just carry it around so thus they would have it on location?

< When singers have performed the specific Cantata before, corrections to the older editions have been noted. It has to be mentioned that for some Cantatas different texts occur in later copies (i.e. for a later performance). >

Hmm

< Please, do not insist on playing the figured bass as written! It contains lots of mistakes... Some might even have survived the recording session due to lack of time or editing fatigue (working days for this poor but extremely talented lad, Jean van Vugt, have been at least 16 hours every day since last April except for two weeks of "holiday" with Uchida). >

Wow how you know such details? Did you work on this recording project? Who is Uchida? Who is Jean? What you do?

Frank Wakelkamp wrote (November 25, 1999):

I am the cellist in this project... That is why! Since I have to play 98%, the rest being bassoon solo or "bassetto" (i.e. without bass, with other instruments like oboe da caccia performing) stuff, I am well informed about this project.

I can assure there is almost no time for checking text, hardly for checking bowings (slurs), right notes, right figures, right togetherness, right length of notes, right musical phrasing. Each person is expected to do research by himself, but quite a lot of things remain unsolved or unattended. Don't forget that recording days of 8 hours (playing, that is, 10 hours bruto without traveling) are very common. During those sessions we record ca. 45 minutes of music, measured in CD-time. An average recitative takes 10 minutes, a very long aria 90 minutes... This is all a consequence of Bach year 2000 ruled recording. John Elliot Gardiner, who also wanted to do all Bach Cantatas, had to drop the idea, because the producing company would have been bankrupt if he had done so. The good thing about this is that all musicians have to leave their ideas at home as much as possible, because discussing ideas takes ages and does not evenly contribute to the quality of the music. We have to stand together like musical musketeers in order to be able to perform well.

Uchida = Mitsuko Uchida, female pianist, Mozart specialist

Jean = former Phonogram (Philips recording company) producer (Phonogram has cut down a lot on new recordings). One of the reasons Holland Boys Choir got the project is because Jean could be hired to do the job. His favorite phrase: "I've got it all" (Ik heb het allemaal bij elkaar). That means that all musicians did play/sing the right notes and he is going to make music out of it. For that, he is a magician.

So I hear stories... And I make some as well.

Frans Hollander wrote (November 25, 1999):

This Monday I bought the first two boxes with Kantaten at Kruidvat-store. They both contain 5 CD's with about an hour of music each.

Bach-edition Kantaten vol.1

BWV. 80; BWV 82; BWV 61; BWV 16; BWV 17; BWV 133; BWV 97; BWV 132; BWV 72; BWV 16; BWV 113; BWV 42; BWV 33; BWV 56; BWV 37.

Bach-edition Kantaten vol.2

BWV 92; BWV 54; BWV 44; BWV 111; BWV 159; BWV 165; BWV 22; BWV 114; BWV 57; BWV 155; BWV 98; BWV 188; BWV 23; BWV 135; BWV 86; BWV 85; BWV 167.

Performers are:

Ruth Holton (soprano) & Sytse Buwalda (countertenor) & Nico van der Meel (tenor) & Knut Schoch (tenor) & Bas Ramselaar (bass)

Holland Boys Choir (an all man choir)

Netherlands bach Collegium on authentic instruments

Pieter Jan Leusink

I heard all the Kantaten and I was surprised by the quality. Especially the bass-arien sound very good. Ramselaar is a revelation. Holton has a young man's soprano, so she fits well. The weakest singer is Buwalda. The players in the orchestra played in ensembles like Oof the 18th century, Musica ad Rhenum, Netherlands Bachvereniging. Orchestra de l'anima eterna.

The first official offering will take place Wednesday November 24.

Piet Wester wrote (November 28, 1999):

Before starting my trip to Elburg (I had been there once, by boat) I entered the Kruidvat shop in Amsterdam Zuidoost to buy the first two sets of cantatas. I also bought the Mozart Nozze di Figaro (Colin Davis) and successfully resisted the temptation to buy all the other important works of Mozart for only fl. 99. Listening to the first discs on my car radio I drove through the Flevopolder. My first impression of the performance and sound quality was very good. The Flevopolder was very beautiful, so in a very happy mood I arrived in Elburg. To find the fight church was a problem, because on the map there were five churches and Frank had not indicated the exact place of the happening. Luckily in the booklet of the first disc the St. Nicolas church was mentioned, and I concluded this had to be the Roman Catholic Church. And indeed, a group of people waited in front of the church, so this had to be the Bach site. Elburg is a very beautiful old Zuiderzee-town, worth a visit. You can climb the tower of the Nicolas Church, but on your own risk, as is clearly indicated. If you fall down don't complain to the Elburg municipality. We had al the time to study these rules, as we had to wait some time for the rehearsals to end.

Inside the church it did not look to me as a Roman Catholic Church, more like a Protestant church and a perfect place for playing Bach. But I do not know much of churches and go there only to listen to Bach cantatas (each month in the Bullekerk in Zaandam for example).

A manager of Kruidvat introduced the session, telling us that the Cantate project had been started with great expectations and these were surpassed a lot. Of the first three volumes more than 150.000 had been sold. Next a manager of the recording company (sorry I forgot all the names) told that despite of low prices this was a normal recording project, no compromises on quality or salaries, and that despite of criticism this project was good for the branch, for Kruidvat, for the consumers, for the arts and above all good for Bach. Pieter Jan Leusink, the conductor, told us that the choir are amateurs and they do this beside their normal jobs or schoolwork. They used to make two CD's each year and that was quite a job for them. Now they have to do 200 cantatas in one and a half-year. I got a little bit worried when he said that there is almost no time for rehearsals and that they learned to do it during the job. But the performances during the session proved that there is little reason for worries. We heard Sytse Buwalda and Nico van der Meel (I think) and of course the Holland Boys Choir and the Bach Collegium. A special joy was to see Pieter Jan Leusink conducting, a kind of dancing.

I liked the presentation very much and thank Frank for giving me the opportunity to attend. It enhances the pleasure listening the Cantatas to be able to imagine the performers and the environment.

It is Bach these days, and each time I discover new jewels. For instance now I am listening to the final chorus of BWV 22: "Ertot uns durch deine Gute". Never heard before! (Sorry to the freaks for the missing Umlauts but they are difficult to make in Free Agent).

Rob Kruijt wrote (November 30, 1999):

Orchestra very good

Chorus very good

Singers good to very good

As a long-time owner of the famous Harnoncourt / Leonhardt series, I still discover unbelievable beautiful pieces of music in the set Cantatas conducted by Pieter Jan Leusink. Only some parts of pronunciation could be better? Maybe, but where there is so much music to be enjoyed: who does care. To listen to this very integer and beautiful performances is a continuous pleasure. For NLG 0,15 (per Aria, chorus or recitativo) this is a true bargain for all music lovers.

Bach Edition

Johan van Veen wrote (November 29, 1999):

Last week there was a short discussion about the recording of cantatas in the 'Kruidvat'/Brilliant Classics Bach-Edition. I have had the opportunity to listen to all cantatas, and to listen more carefully to some aspects of the performances.

Here are my impressions.

Last week I already mentioned the way the text was dealt with. One of the participants in the recording explained the reasons why there are differences between the text, printed in the booklet, and the text used by some of the singers. There are more examples then mentioned last week, but it doesn't make sense to list them all. I agree with some comments that not having the Neue Bach-Ausgabe at hand is unacceptable.

The approach chosen - by the conductor, I suppose - is a rather cautious one. Obviously he wanted to avoid extremes in tempo, accentuation, stressing of words, freedom in the recitatives etc. He has succeeded, unfortunately. The result is that this interpretation - apart from some fine performances now and then - is rather boring.

The tempi are not the main problem. That is the lack of accents. A good example is BWV 80 (Ein feste Burg). This cantata has very characteristic sharp, almost 'aggressive' rhythms. In this performance they sound almost harmless. The orchestral playing is generally pale and lackluster. In BWV 114 the tenor aria 'Wo wird in diesem Jammertale' has a very expressive flute part. The lack of clear articulation takes away the very somber and 'sighing' character of the piece. The booklet says about the aria 'Endlich wird mein Joch' from BWV 56 (the 'Kreuzstab'-cantata) that it is "full of joy" - you wouldn't have guessed. Sometimes the tempo is way too slow. In BWV 57 (Selig ist der Mann) the aria 'Ja, ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen' takes 6'40" - in the Teldec recording it is only 5'15". Ludwig Finscher rightly refers to 'warlike signals' and 'operatically drastic style' - you will not hear anything of that in this recording. Basically these recordings ignore the rhetorical character of Bach's music. The music consists of phrases, words and syllables (not only the vocal parts). That has to be reflected in the phrasing, articulation, dynamic accents and the characterization of crucial words in the text. Ignoring this phenomenon has serious consequences. Crucial words don't get the attention they deserve. Cantata BWV 80, aria 'Komm in mein Herzenshaus' - just listen how Wilhelm Wiedl (Teldec) sings (or should I say: shouts) "Weg, schnoder Sundengraus". Ruth Holton doesn't even come close. This problem is even more clear in the treatment of the recitatives. They should be 'spoken' rather than 'sung'. All treatises of the baroque era stress that the singer has to follow the rhythm of the text, not that of the music. The notes can be shortened or extended, when the text asks for it. Recitatives should have a natural rhythm of speech. Some words should be accentuated dynamically, just as an orator would do. You won't find it here. (By the way, this is a general problem of many performances of baroque vocal music; so the singers here are in "good" company.)

Something has to be said about the singers. Ruth Holton tries to sound like a treble - I like that. But unfortunately every expression is absent. Or maybe she is so much struggling with the German language and with other technical problems that she doesn't have the time to care about the expression. I wonder if she knows what she is singing. She sings too much legato, which results in some very unnatural phrasing, a sudden appearance of too wide a vibrato. There is some strange ornamentation as well, regularly on the wrong moments. A singer who is not naturally at home in Bach and the German language shouldn't be asked for a job like this, where everything has to take place in a hurry. I believe that with more time to prepare she would have given far better performances, since I know she is a fine singer. Sytse Buwalda is the only singer who gives the impression of being above the music. He knows what he is doing, sings very expressively, articulates naturand treats the text according to its content. For me he is the surprise of this recording. Hopefully he will get more opportunities to make recordings the bigger labels. Knut Schoch has a very beautiful voice, but his range of expression is somewhat limited. Just compare his interpretation of the aria I already mentioned (Wo wird in diesem Jammertale, from BWV 114) with

Kurt Equiluz (Teldec); the difference is almost shocking. Nico van der Meel is somewhat better, but I have heard far better performances from him in the past. He never comes close to the level he reached as Evangelist in Bach's Passions. Bas Ramselaar: again, a fine singer from whom I have heard excellent performances in the past. Here he is very disappointing. The solo cantatas never really come to life. His expression is rather pale.

Finally, the choir. I am a great admirer of this choir and its achievements over the years. But being modeled after the English cathedral choirs I believe it sounds too 'English'. This choir has a very characteristic sound, and somehow it doesn't match Bach's music. The articulation also is a problem. The choir is really good, but in the performance of the chorales the accents are too rare.

To sum up, I had great expectations, on the basis of the past performances by the conductor, Pieter Jan Leusink, and the names of the soloists. But I am disappointed about the result. There was too little time available for a project of this proportion, and it shows. It is a shame. I wonder if conductor, choir and soloists have done themselves any favor by accepting the invitation to the project. The only reason I am going to buy the next volumes is curiosity (and hope that the next volumes will be better), and the performances of Sytse Buwalda.

Eltjo Meijer wrote (November 30, 1999):

Much has been written about them already but thank you very much for your very thorough and knowledgeable review. I hope it, as well as the other comments in this news group, will be read by Messrs. Leusink and van Winkel and give them some food for thought. The whole project reeks of dilettantism and amateurism, and I don't understand how Leusink, the musicians and the soloists could have accepted this project on these conditions, unless they really needed the money. I fully agree that they should have taken more time and I would have gladly paid more for substantially better performances. I wonder whether more cantatas have been recorded yet, if not they can perhaps correct the problems, take more time and charge a higher retail price. At 2x the price they would still be an excellent bargain.

I am not that curious so I shall not buy them, unless someone can convince me that the next lot is significantly better. They take up too much shelf space. Perhaps I'll buy those cantatas, which were licensed, from a former DDR company.

The whole thing just shows that quality must have its price. Perhaps it would have been wiser to buy more existing recordings. If they can sell an excellent Figaro for Hfl. 9,95 then...BTW I noticed that De Trekpleister has the Weihnachtsoratorium by Otto/Concerto Koln/Vokalenensemble Frankfurt and Ziesak/Groop/ Pregardien/ Mertens (Brilliant Classics) for very little money. Two or three years ago it was for sale in Het Kruidvat, last year Kruidvat had H. Rilling's...

Nico van Baren wrote (December 3, 1999):

As you can gather from the header, I'm the happy owner of the Teldec cantata cycle by Leonhardt & Harnoncourt. However, I'm tempted by the Kruidvat/Brilliant Classics cantatas. Those of you who have heard both: does the Kruidvat set offers new insights into the cantatas, or are they just mediocre, made-in-a-hurry performances that have little new ideas to add?

Johan van Veen wrote (December 3, 1999):

I wouldn't dare to give you any advice. But in my view chauvinism is never a good reason to buy a CD. Personally I have bought the Kruidvat recordings, and if you have read my comments in this newsgroup, you will understand that I am disappointed. But I still will buy them, because I am curious, and because of Sytse Buwalda, who is the only one who impressed me. I have bought the Teldec series last year for just under Hfl 1000, and I am very happy with it. I haven't heard new insights into the cantatas, but I don't think that was to be expected. I doubt if the interpreters are pretending to deliver new insights. So to use that as touchstone isn't quite fair.

Johan van Veen wrote (December 3, 1999):

(Regarding Sytse Buwalda) Great to hear that he was doing so well in Handel. Not that it is 'that' surprising. I have heard him some years ago in Messiah, where he gave a superb performance, in particular in the aria 'He was despised'. When I wrote that he is the surprise of the Bach-recording, I didn't mean to say that I didn't expect him to do well. I just hadn't heard him enough, especially in Bach, to be sure what to expect. And I remember some performances in the past, which didn't please me that much. But in the cantatas he is surely in fine form. It is a little surprising that he isn't better known, and although he is doing quite nicely on the international stage, I think he should be invited to sing major roles in Handel oratorios. I know some male altos who make one CD after another, and who are by far not as good as he is.

Samuel Frederick wrote (December 3, 1999):

I hadn't followed the discussion of the Brilliant Classics releases too closely (only closely enough to understand that they are quite good)-- but could some please elaborate on these performances again (or send me the info directly, if others don't want to hear it again). I'm wondering especially, are the performances HIP?

Johan van Veen wrote (December 4, 1999):

Since I have only just joined this list, I don't know in what way this Bach Edition has been discussed. I therefore send the comment I wrote in the newsgroup alt.music.j-s-bach. First my impressions after I had bought the set:

They contain these cantatas:

Vol. 1: BWV 16, 33, 37, 42, 56, 61, 72, 80, 82, 97, 113, 132, 133, 170

Vol. 2: BWV 22, 23, 44, 54, 57, 85, 86, 92, 98, 111, 114, 135, 155,

159, 165, 167, 188

The interpreters are Ruth Holton (soprano), Sytse Buwalda (alto), Knut Schoch and Nico van der Meel (tenor), Bas Ramselaar (bas), the Holland Boys Choir and the Netherlands Bach Collegium (on period instruments), directed by Pieter Jan Leusink.

First of all, the pitch. I wonder if that is modern standard pitch. In BWV 80 (Ein feste Burg) the church organ of the St Nicholas Church in Elburg (hometown of the choir) is used (I wonder why in this cantata, and not in any of the others in these sets), and as far as I know this is an early 19th century organ, which I'm sure has modern standard pitch. So unless the organist is playing in transposition, I have to conclude that a=440 in this recording.

N.B. Since then, one of the participants in the recording (the cellist in the orchestra) has explained that the organist is indeed playing in transposition, and that the pitch is about a=416/417 (when I remember well).

Secondly, the text. In BWV 61 (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland) the soprano aria Uffne dich, mein ganzes Herze contains the line "Jesus kommt und ziehet ein". The soprano sings "kommt" in stead of "kommt" (ignoring the Umlaut). That must be a decision taken by the conductor, since the same thing happens in the opening aria of BWV 132 (Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn: "Messias kommt an", instead of "kommt an"). Why using "original" instruments and not the "original" text? And why does the bass sing - in the recitative "Erwage doch" from Cantata BWV 80 - "zum Siege" instead of "zum Kriege"? That is not exactly the same. And it doesn't make sense in the context. Result of the short period of time used for the recording?

N.B. The cellist explained that this is indeed the case. During the recording they didn't always have the Neue Bach-Ausgabe at hand. Every singer used his own edition, which explains the differences in the text. There was no time to correct them.

Here is my comment after I had listened to the whole recording. Take it for what it's worth.

Last week I already mentioned the way thtext was dealt with. One of the participants in the recording explained the reasons why there are differences between the text, printed in the booklet, and the text used by some of the singers. There are more examples then mentioned last week, but it doesn't make sense to list them all. I agree with some comments that not having the Neue Bach-Ausgabe at hand is unacceptable.

The approach chosen - by the conductor, I suppose - is a rather cautious one. Obviously he wanted to avoid extremes in tempo, accentuation, stressing of words, freedom in the recitatives etc. He has succeeded, unfortunately. The result is that this interpretation - apart from some fine performances now and then - is rather boring.

The tempi are not the main problem. That is the lack of accents. A good example is BWV 80 (Ein feste Burg). This cantata has very characteristic sharp, almost 'aggressive' rhythms. In this performance they sound almost harmless. The orchestral playing is generally pale and lackluster. In BWV 114 the tenor aria 'Wo wird in diesem Jammertale' has a very expressive flute part. The lack of clear articulation takes away the very somber and 'sighing' character of the piece. The booklet says about the aria 'Endlich wird mein Joch' from BWV 56 (the 'Kreuzstab'-cantata) that it is "full of joy" - you wouldn't have guessed. Sometimes the tempo is way too slow. In BWV 57 (Selig ist der Mann) the aria 'Ja, ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen' takes 6'40" - in the Teldec recording it is only 5'15". Ludwig Finscher rightly refers to 'warlike signals' and 'operatically drastic style' - you will not hear anything of that in this recording. Basically these recordings ignore the rhetorical character of Bach's music. The music consists of phrases, words and syllables (not only the vocal parts). That has to be reflected in the phrasing, articulation, dynamic accents and the characterization of crucial words in the text. Ignoring this phenomenon has serious consequences. Crucial words don't get the attention they deserve. Cantata 80, aria

'Komm in mein Herzenshaus' - just listen how Wilhelm Wiedl (Teldec) sings (or should I say: shouts) "Weg, schnoder Sundengraus". Ruth Holton doesn't even come close. This problem is even more clear in the treatment of the recitatives. They should be 'spoken' rather than 'sung'. All treatises of the baroque era stress that the singer has to follow the rhythm of the text, not that of the music. The notes can be shortened or extended, when the text asks for it. Recitatives should have a natural rhythm of speech. Some words should be accentuated dynamically, just as an orator would do. You won't find it here. (By the way, this is a general problem of many performances of baroque vocal music; so the singers here are in "good" company.)

Something has to be said about the singers. Ruth Holton tries to sound like a treble - I like that. But unfortunately every expression is absent. Or maybe she is so much struggling with the German language and with other technical problems that she doesn't have the time to care about the expression. I wonder if she knows what she is singing. She sings too much legato, which results in some very unnatural phrasing, a sudden appearance of too wide a vibrato. There is some strange ornamentation as well, regularly on the wrong moments. A singer who is not naturally at home in Bach and the German language shouldn't be asked for a job like this, where everything has to take place in a hurry. I believe that with more time to prepare she would have given far better performances, since I know she is a fine singer. Sytse Buwalda is the only singer who gives the impression of being above the music. He knows what he is doing, sings very expressively, articulates naturally and treats the text according to its content. For me he is the surprise of this recording. Hopefully he will get more opportunities to make recordings the bigger labels. Knut Schoch has a very beautiful voice, but his range of expression is somewhat limited. Just compare his interpretation of the aria I already mentioned (Wo wird in diesem Jammertale, from BWV 114) with Kurt Equiluz (Teldec); the difference is almost shocking. Nico van der Meel is somewhat better, but I have heard far better performances from him in the past. He never comes close to the level he reached as Evangelist in Bach's Passions. Bas Ramselaar: again, a fine singer from whom I have heard excellent performances in the past. Here he is very disappointing. The solo cantatas never really come to life. His expression is rather pale.

Finally, the choir. I am a great admirer of this choir and its achievements over the years. But being modeled after the English cathedral choirs I believe it sounds too 'English'. This choir has a very characteristic sound, and somehow it doesn't match Bach's music. The articulation also is a problem. The choir is really good, but in the performance of the chorales the accents are too rare.

To sum up, I had great expectations, on the basis of the past performances by the conductor, Pieter Jan Leusink, and the names of the soloists. But I am disappointed about the result. There was too little time available for a project of this proportion, and it shows. It is a shame. I wonder if conductor, choir and soloists have done themselves any favor by accepting the invitation to the project. The only reason I am going to buy the next volumes is curiosity (and hope that the next volumes will be better), and the performances of Sytse Buwalda.

Samuel Frederick wrote (December 4, 1999):

I will look out for this recording as well, if it's as cheap as the others I've seen are.

But the Brilliant Classics collection I had in mind (I apologize for not specifying in the first place) is the 9-CD set with all the Brandenburgs, Overtures, Harpsichord concerti, and more. It's available at Berkshire for under $18.

Carl Burmeister wrote (December 4, 1999):

In fact I have heard from performers in Europe that this is indeed the case i.e. the Organ transposes a semi-tone to get close, then everyone closes in from there. That works much better than making the Baroque Oboe or Flute do the transposition, trust me.

This however brings up something I have been wanting to suggest for some time. I would like to see the recording companies place an a=415 or a=440 or whatever next to the DDD or ADD lozenges. Of course I can find out after I've got the CD in my hot little hands, but by then it's too late. It would be a critical factor in my buying decision (in the absence of sage advice from my fellow listees that is. I can see people rolling their eyes now.


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

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