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Joshua Rifkin & The Bach Ensemble
Cantatas BWV 182, BWV 12, BWV 172
Three Weimar Cantatas


J.S. Bach: Three Weimar Cantatas


Cantatas BWV 182 [28:18], BWV 12 [23:33], BWV 172 [22:10]

Joshua Rifkin

(OVPP - No Choir) / The Bach Ensemble

Soprano: Susanne Rydén; Counter-tenor: Steven Rickards; Tenor: John Elwes; Bass: Michael Schopper

Dorian 93231

Jul 31, Aug 6-8, 1995; Aug 4, 1996

CD / TT: 73:55

Recorded at the Kirche des Priesterseminars, Brixton/Bressanone, Italy.
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J. Rifkin is back…

Riccardo Nughes wrote (May 19, 2001):
....J. Rifkin is back... ...but it seems it's not so good.... who knows?


Joshua Rifkin Returns to Bach Cantatas

Donald Satz wrote (July 27, 2001):
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Three Weimar Cantatas

Himmelskönig, sei willkommen BWV 182
Weinen, Klagen Sorgen, Zagen BWV 12
Erschallet, ibr Lieder, erklinget, ibr Saiten BWV 172

Dorian 93231 - Recorded 1995/96
The Bach Ensemble
Joshua Rifkin, Director
Susanne Ryden, Soprano
Steven Rickards, Countertenor
John Elwes, Tenor
Michael Schopper, Bass
TT 73:55

Summary for the Die-Hard Rifkin Fan: Not good enough for you

Joshua Rifkin is one of the first Bach conductors to use the one voice per part approach. His Bach Cantata recordings quite a few years ago for Decca are a treasured part of my music library. With the so-called major companies dumping many recording contracts in recent years, it's good to have Rifkin recording for Dorian. However, as noted above, this recording of Weimar Cantatas has been 'in the can' for some time. Concerning reviews, I'm only familiar with one from the Classics Today website; the reviewer, who seems to have high regard for Rifkin's Bach, was not pleased at all with the vocal soloists whom he felt had trouble with tonal beauty and intonation; Steven Rickards was particularly taken to task. In his opinion, the disc could not be recommended except for die-hard Rifkin enthusiasts.

The three Cantatas on this Dorian CD are the first three composed by Bach after he was appointed "Concertmaster" at the Weimar court. Prior to the appointment, Bach composed little vocal music, but as a Concertmaster he was obligated to come up with sacred vocal works on a monthly basis. These three Cantatas are wonderful compositions highlighted by an absolutely gorgeous aria for countertenor in BWV 182.

Those who have loved Rifkin's Bach cantata recordings on Decca will likely expect more of the same from this new Dorian release - that expectation will not be realized. From my perspective, the singing, although not sterling, isn't where the basic problem resides. That honor goes to the sound engineering which is all wrong for Rifkin and his strengths as a conductor of Bach. Rifkin's Decca recordings are excellent and distinctive because of his great capacity for incisive, angular, and crisp performances with outstanding rhythmic vitality and pacing. The Decca sound engineers gave Rifkin just the right soundstage for his approach. However, Dorian gives Rifkin a relatively rich and homogenized sound which might work well for Suzuki who is so elegant and stately; it's a killer for Rifkin.

And there are additional sound issues as well. The recorder plays an important role in BWV 182 and sounds quite piercing for Rifkin at normal balance levels. In response, I turned on my trusty equalizer and upped the frequency levels of the left channel; that move eliminated the piercing sound. The funny thing is that I naturally expected everything else to be way out of whack, but that didn't happen.

The sound also greatly impacts the voice of Steven Rickards whom the Classics Today reviewer disliked so much. At normal balance levels, Rickards sounds terrible, but at the increased frequency levels from the left channel, he sounds fairly good. In fact, his aria in BWV 182 becomes an excellent one. I'd wager that the Classics Today reviewer did not give Rickards a tryout after some creative audio adjusting. Of course, most listeners just have the regular audio controls, and even I had to spend quite a bit of time getting Rickards to sound presentable.

Of the other three vocal soloists, Michael Schopper is the gem. His voice is very manly, strong, and tonally alluring. Elwes is just passable, regardless of what's done with the audio controls. I have no problem with Susanne Ryden, but she's only around for the choruses and one duet with Rickards.

Don's Bottom Line: Each of the three cantatas is more rewarding from sources other than Rifkin; the combination of Gardiner, Junghänel, and Suzuki does the trick. Essentially, Rifkin is done in by the sound and, to some degree, his singers. The bottom line is that not one movement on the disc stands out with distinction. The performances are enjoyable, nothing more. With better alternatives readily available, I recommend a pass on this one.


Three Weimar Cantatas/Rifkin

Jack Botelho wrote (March 30, 2004):
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Three Weimar Cantatas BWV 182, 12, 172
Dorian Recordings DOR-93231
Recorded at the Kirche des Priesterseminars,
Brixen/Bressanone, Italy, on 31 July & 6-8 August 1995
& 4 August 1996.
2001 release
Total Program Length: 73'55

Susanne Ryden, Soprano
Steven Rickards, Countertenor
John Elwes, Tenor
Michael Schopper, Bass

The Bach Ensemble:
Joshua Rifkin, Director
Andreas Lackner, Trumpet
Herbert Walser, Trumpet
Martin Rabl, Trumpet
Niklas Eklund, Trumpet (BWV 12/6)
Karl Fischer, Timpani
Christopher Krueger, Recorder
Stephen Hammer, Oboe
Stanley Ritchie, Violin
Linda Quan, Violin
Nancy Wilson, Viola
David Miller, Viola
Myron Lutzke, Violoncello
Christian Beuse, Dulcian
John Finney, Organ
Joshua Rifkin, Organ (BWV 12/4)

J.S. Bach: Three Weimar Cantatas

"On 2 March 1714, barely three weeks before his twenty-ninth birthday, the Weimar court organist Johann Sebastian Bach received 'the title of Concertmaster.' Shortly before he had turned down an important organist's position in Halle; the promotion to concertmaster, granted 'at his most humble request,' clearly represented a 'quid pro quo' on the part of his employer, Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. As the principal condition of his new post Bach had the obligation 'to perform new pieces every month' - in today's parlance, to produce a new church cantata on a monthly basis. Previously, he had composed vocal music infrequently and only as particular occasions demanded; now he faced the taof writing cantatas at regular intervals for the usual Sundays and feast days of the liturgical year. Exactly on the fourth Sunday after his appointment as concertmaster - 25 March 1714, which in that year marked both Palm Sunday and the Feast of the Annunciation - he made his debut with 'Himmelskönig, sei willkommen' BWV 182; on 22 April and 20 May he presented the two further cantatas recorded here, 'Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen' BWV 12 and 'Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten' BWV 172. But for an interruption in the summer of 1715 caused by the death of the musically gifted young prince Johann Ernst, Bach continued the series until the end of 1716, when he abandoned it for reasons still unexplained.

"The first three cantatas of the Weimar cycle form a closely knit group. The texts, evidently the work of the court poet Salomo Franck, distinguish themselves both through their fervent, at times almost erotic language and through an unusual formal layout marked by the absence of recitative verse - in place of which a biblical citation
appears as the second number of each libretto. The arias as well as the introductory instrumental movements of BWV 182 and 12 afforded Bach his first sustained
opportunity to explore in depth the innovations of the newer Italian operatic style and the Vivaldian concerto; the majority of the movements unfold according to the principles of ritornello form with its clearly delineated phrasing and harmonic structure. Within this framework Bach achieves a seemingly inexhaustible richness of
variety and invention. The opening chorus provide a characteristic example: while all three follow the formal dictates of the da-capo aria, the first unfolds essentially as a fugue, the second - which Bach subsequently adapted as the 'Crucifixus' of the B minor Mass - as a passacaglia, and the third as a concerted ritornello movement.

"Bach's Weimar cantatas differ most notably from the better-known vocal works of his Leipzig period in their more modest dimensions. Individual movements seldom
reach the length of their later counterparts; the vocal lines show largely syllabic declamation and compact melodic lines, while the instrumental preludes and interludes hold to similarly compact boundaries. In contrast to the Leipzig orchestra with its frequent part doublings Bach employs a small, flexible ensemble with single strings, sparing use of winds, and often no contrabass reinforcement of the continuo line; together with the high pitch standard of the Weimar chapel all goes to produce an intimate, finely nuanced chamber music strikingly differentiated and vivid in its impact. Revivals of these cantatas in Leipzig saw the orchestral part adapted to local circumstances, with the string section enlarged and other portions of the ensemble expanded as well - and with not a few details of the original versions obscured in the process. In the Weimar scoring, however, the music retains all the freshness and color with which the young Bach invested it at the moment of conception."

-Joshua Rifkin

Donald Satz wrote (March 30, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] I've had this Rifkin/Dorian recording for a two or three years and was greatly anticipating it based on his earlier Bach Cantata recordings for Decca. Unfortunately, I have never warmed to it, primarily because of the soundstage which is rather homogenized. Rifkin needs a crisp and well detailed soundstage, given that his interpretations are sharply etched. With the Dorian soundstage, the sharpness is not allowed to flourish. It's likely a soundstage better suited for the smoother interpretations of Suzuki. I did try to improve the sound with the use of my trusty equalizer, but didn't have a great deal of success.

The solo vocalists, although not outstanding, fare well. I was particularly taken with the bass Michael Schopper. At any rate, those wanting Rifkin recordings of the Bach Cantatas are advised to go directly to Decca and bypass Dorian.

Jack Botelho wrote (March 30, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] Thanks for this, Don. You have posted some interesting reviews at BRML. I have some general questions and thoughts about these, which I'll post when time permits.


Joshua Rifkin: Short Biography | The Bach Ensemble | Recordings of Vocal Works | General Discussions
Individual Recordings:
Three Weimar Cantatas - J. Rifkin | BWV 232 - J. Rifkin | BWV 243 - J. Rifkin
Bach's Choral Ideal [by J. Rifkin] | Article: The Passion according to Saint Matthew BWV 244 [By J. Rifkin]

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