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Helmuth Rilling

Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Note for the owners of the Rilling set

Neil Halliday wrote (October 4, 2003):
Leonhardt's volume 3 (Teldec) is the ideal supplement for Rilling's volume 3 (Haenssler); both volumes contain BWV 7, BWV 8, and BWV 9.

As you would know, many (along with myself) consider that Rilling conducts the opening choruses to BWV 7 and BWV 8 at tempos which are too fast, resulting in loss of much, or at least some, of the charm of these two glorious choruses.

Leonhardt adopts very satisfactory tempos, and since, according to Aryeh's report at the BCW, this CD (volume 3) is amongst the pick of H/L set (and I like these performannces a lot, despite my dislike of much of what I have heard this set), it is well worth having.

Rilling is also too vigorous/fast in the opening chorus of BWV 78; Richter is the way to go with this one.

Rilling's 'soft' BWV 12? Richter's is pretty good, but I have Suzuki on order...

That just about fixes up the major drawbacks of Rilling's set. The rest of the set is, in the main, extremely enjoyable; their are a few other disappointments, as is to be expected in an enterprise of this size, which I will deal with another time (I can't remember them at the moment).

 

Introduction

Bart O’Brien wrote (November 27, 2003):
I've been collecting recordings of classical music for the last 40 years. I always had some Bach of course, but 2003 was the year that I really got keen on the cantatas - and mainly in the Rilling recordings.

I've got most of the Rilling cantatas from Berkshire Record Outlet, where they are quite cheap.

Now what would you do if you suddenly had all or most of the cantatas? What I do is store them unplayed in the spare bedroom and take them down one or two CDs at a time to listen to and add into my collection proper. It will take me about five years to get through them at the present rate. (I'm following the same strategy for the Haydn symphonies too). I never heard of anyone else doing that, but it seems to me the only way of appreciating them properly.

Sato Fumitaka wrote (November 22, 2003):
[To Bart O’Brien] I have a set of Rilling cantatas, my first policy on obtaining it was to listen through all the cantatas along BWV numbers. In a holiday period it took about 2 weeks, without boring.

Then I am digging each recording which I am interested in at a moment.

Continue of this discussion, see: Recordings of Bach Cantatas - General Discussions – Part 7: Year 2003 [General Topics]

 

Helmuth Rilling's Complete Bach-Werke Edition (Edition Bach-Akademie?) in Athens

Iason Marmaras wrote (December 4, 2003):
Helmuth Rilling just did his yearly (?) concert in Greece, performing the St Matthew Passion. He also gave a 'speech' (sorry, can't find the right word here) about the meaning and depth of the music, accompanied by examples sung by the Gaechinger Kantorei (Choir), Greek student soloists that excelled in his seminaria; the Camerata and woodwind soloists were also Greek. In the concert the 'cast' was the same, except for the soloists. Anyway. The thing I wanted to say (mostly for Greek list members {are there any?}) is that the complete Edition Bach-Akademie box (172 CD's!) is discounted - 59% - at 1400 Eur. instead of the quite sharper 3440 Eur., so if someone is interested and wealthy enough, I think that this is quite the chance.

[I plan to do a short review for the concert in the near future]

Christian Panse wrote (December 4, 2003):
Jason Marmaras wrote:
< the complete Edition Bach-Akademie box (172 CD's!) is discounted - 59% - at 1400 Eur. instead of the quite sharper 3440 Eur., >
I have seen cheaper sources for this edition, one of them giving away the set for no more than € 1017.47 - still € 5.92 per CD, which I would call quite okay (though I wouldn't wish anybody to buy the whole set without exactly knowing in advance if he/she is going to like Rilling's interpretations - the disappointment may be big afterwards... But that's only a warning from a little HIPster ;-])

 

Rilling's Performance in Athens' Megaron

Jason Marmaras wrote (December 8, 2003):
As I promised, here is a short review of the performance. I was seated up-high, and so didn't have too much of an immediate contact with the musicians... Anyway...

So, the Opening Chorus.
Rilling started off at a very quick tempo, which caused me to lose the attacca' of the first chord, and catch up with the 3/8 beat in the pedal in the second or third repeat [note that Rilling's recording of the Passion had the same "at unawares" effect on me]. The choir were the gem of the performance; they shined in melancholy through the first mvt. and the sound s 'focus' was outstanding. The crescendo (voice entree effect, actually) was better three days before the actual performance, but it was quite good in the performance, too (I was seated quite further back in the hall in the performance, anyway).

The Soloists.
The Evangelist, tenor Andreas Schmidt, who also sang the tenor arias, was very good. Perhaps a little bit too light (what I'd call the counter-tenor effect =) ), but otherwise very good. I couldn't see the text at the time, and so give you half his performance, but anyway he had a great 'feel'. He is not a specialized 'antique music' singer, though*.

Michael Andreas Nagy, the Bass, was very good, too. I think he got 'on his feet' after the intermission (his deeper notes were clear and strong then). I would generally like to hear him again, I think. He isn't specialized in baroque either*.

Ingeborg Danz, the Alto, was quite nice; perhaps a bit heavy for my tastes, I think. (I don't remember her singing very well...).**

The unpleasant surprise for the night was Soprano Sibylla Rubens... She started singing her first note, I recall, and I got the feeling of a sweet, cool voice, exactly the way I like sopranos and, not a tenth of a second later, her vibrato emerged... I don't hate vibrato in all voices, but in this pious, innocent voice that sounded in the Megaron for a second's tenth, I do... It just results in a voice with some childish innocence mixed unskilledly with the classical or romantic vibrato, into a trembling completely un-Bachly -at least to me- piano... Sorry for the dramatic narrating, but it's the way I feel (!) ...
____
* I checked the performer's biographies on the programme(?), and found that the men are not very interested in Bach (so far at least); as for the ladies Danz seems to be quite good and distinguished - HIP and non-HIP – and Rubens seems to have made most of her Bach or baroque repertoire with Rilling. Well, perhaps not-her-day or not-my-taste... =)
____

I haven't much today about the orchestras, except that they made a good impression (to me, at least) [although the strings were Greek... but this is another matter] and that [most of?] the woodwinds were from Bach-Akademie.

The Choräle were magnificent, of course... And the closing chorus (hmmm... I don't remember it too vividly, but) it was good [within what I expected]

So that's all folks.... I know it should've been here earlier and more balanced (&extensive...?); sorry everybody... =D

 

Rilling in Toronto

John Grant wrote (January 15, 2004):
I've been attending this week the Rilling Cantata rehersals at the U.of T. (Nos. BWV 140, BWV 150, BWV 26, BWV 67, BWV 172) Apparantly Rilling works with modern instruments but the band is more or less Baroque in its numbers and components. He demands much singing sans vibrato, which seems to me different from the earlier Cantata recordings by him that I've heard, and which I've never liked. His tempi are quite strick and well-defined, which I do like in Bach's choral music. I purchhis most recent account of No. 78, which I like a lot, and which is not at all like a much earler version I have somewhere by him.

Rilling makes no secret of the fact that he believes the text--and its religious "message," as it were, to be integral to the music. I've never listened to the Canatas (or any choral music) in this way; which may be so much the worse for me. In fact, his detailed account of what Bach was "saying," and how Bach's "message" is reflected quite deliberately in the structure of the music, throws me off. I prefer listening to Bach Cantatas without attending to the extra-musical content. (Obviously he would argue strenuously that I am wrong, or at least that I am listening in the wrong way.)

There are some contributers to this newsgroup who will not be happy to hear that the series of performances and rehearsals over five days has as its explicit theme "peace", and the afternoon practice sessions are preceded by a discussion between Rilling and various scholars about the relationship between music and "peace." One commentator/scholar pointed out that if there is a connection, it cannot be a simple one: many of the same Germans who happily oversaw the gassing of Jews, Communists, Gypsies, Russians, etc., were great lovers of Bach. Ergo, listening to Bach, and even loving Bach, will not make you a nice person. A truism. I am ab unrepentent peacenik; but I never have managed to convince myself that music is a "language" in any meaningful sense, or even that music conveys emotions (much less "ideas" of a political or social nature). Certainly music very often serves this function, but it is not for me personally what music is about.

T. Deacon wrote (January 16, 2004):
[To John Grant] I have attended many of Rilling's Bach concerts in Oregon, John, so I am very familiar with his attitude towards Bach.

What worries me about your second paragraph is that you would seem to like the music of Bach but don't really have much time for the words. Wouldn't that make the St. Matthew Passion a fairly meaningless exercise? What's the point of all the words, the drama, etc. if the words are of no import whatsoever?

John Grant wrote (January 17, 2004):
[To T. Deacon] I'm just back from the final concert. Made the same remarks to Kuerti (re the text) whom I bumped into on the way out. He said that Bach could be conceived of as "universal" at least in the sense that we need not understand the text (of the cantatas) to appreciate them at some level. The canatas without the German text would hardly be the same music, no doubt. But I do not want to know what the text actually means. I DO absolutly want to hear the text, however, but for the purpose of attending to the "sounds" as musical components in themselves, absent religious (or other) meaning. Of course, when you know the precise meaning of the text you quickly see how cleverly the structure of the music symbolizes elements like the trinity, the Holy Ghost, God, and so on. But the cleverness doesn't interest me. Perhaps my little stint as a boy in the St. Simon's Choir put me off paying attention to meaning in any and all choral works. St. Simon's Great choir in those days, by the way, but what a drudge for any self-respecting 12-year-old who wants to be playing ball hockey, soccer, or football in the park, not attending seemingly endless choir practices! (I think my mother had just a bit of the Rosedale Matron in her then, and she literally forced me to do it.)

T. Deacon wrote (January 17, 2004):
[To John Grant] Understandable, but in a way incredible to me, that you would downplay the experience of having sung in the St. Simon's Choir.

 

The new Rilling

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 161 - Discussions

John Pike wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] Am I right in thinking that Rilling has recorded some (if not all) the cantatas twice, once in the 1960s, and again in the 1990s. I have the recordings in the budget set released for the Czech market last year. I suspect these are recordings from the 1960s. i suspect you have the recordings from the 1990s. Are you able to clarify?

Uri Golomb wrote (June 8, 2005):
John Pike asked about Rilling's cantata recordings. As far as I'm aware (and also as documented on Aryeh's website), the chronology is as follows:

In the 1960s, Rilling recorded a number of secular cantatas, and a few sacred ones as well. Between 1970 and 1984, he recorded the complete sacred cantatas, a series that was eventually released by Hanssler. It was this series that appears on Hanssler's Edition Bachakademie, and probably also on the Czech set that John mentioned.

In the 1990s, Rilling also recorded Bach's complete secular cantatas for Hanssler; these recordings were made especially for the Edition Bachakademie (unlike the 1970-1984 sacred cantatas, which were only re-issued on that edition).

I hope this is accurate enough...

Neil Halliday wrote (June 8, 2005):
John Pike asks:
"Am I right in thinking that Rilling has recorded some (if not all) the cantatas twice, once in the 1960s, and again in the 1990s."
I believe Rilling has re-recorded some (but only about a dozen) of the church cantatas as part of a lecture series, in the late 1990's, as well as re-recording all of the secular cantatas.

But the vast majority of the church cantatas have only been recorded once by Rilling, starting about 1971 and finishing about 1984.

BWV 161 was recorded in 1975, which is the recording you and I have.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To John Pike & Uri Golomb] To complete the picture provided by Uri, Rilling recorded again 6 of the sacred cantatas between 1997-2000. They are included in the 4-CD album "Lecture Concerts - New Recordings Cantatas". See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Rilling-Rec6.htm [L-11]

Rilling's approach in this album is quite different from his earlier recordings. It is faster, lighter, uses smaller forces, more transparent, almost HIP (although he does not use original instruments, as far as I can tell). The cantatas as well as Rilling's lectures, which precede the performance of each cantata in its entirety, are part of a series of TV productions. If you do not understand German, you can read the printed synopsis in the liner notes (German & English). The singers are all first-rate. In short, highly recommended!

 

Misstatement

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 26, 2005):
I am listening to a broadcast of Rilling conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, distributed by American Public Media or some such group. This program may be from a year or more ago as are most "live" broadcasts which my radio station plays almost every night of various genres of "Classical music". The syndicated announcer speaks of Rilling as "the only conductor to have ever recorded all the Bach sacred cantatas". Shame when national announcers are unaware.

No, I am not claiming to be all that "aware" but I am not a national announcer then, am I?

Main part of the program is the WAM Mass in c (minor).

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 26, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] The statement that Rilling is "the only conductor to have ever recorded all the Bach sacred cantatas" is not exactly incorrect.

- H&L shared the Telded cantata cycle and this cycle is not even complete.
- Lesusink also missed some of the sacred cantatas in his cycle for Brilliant Classics (following H&L footsteps?).
- Koopman finished recording his cycle at the end of 2003, but so far only (?) 18 albums of the planned 22 have been released. We do not know yet how complete his cycle is.
- Susuki has not finished yet recording his cycle.
- Gardiner recorded his cycle of the sacred cantatas during the famous BCP, but only 3 albums have been released so far. We do not know yet how complete his cycle is.
- ...And Milnes & Montreal Baroque have just started.

Have I missed something?

If you want to know who recorded what and what cantatas are missed in each cycle, please take a look at pages starting with: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Recordings-Table.htm

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 26, 2005):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< - Lesusink also missed some of the sacred cantatas in his cycle for Brilliant Classics (following H&L footsteps?). >
I have always had 1/2 the Leusink set (all that Berkshire sold while promising the rest) and assumed that he had recorded all. I also have the L& H and obviously they are two different conductors. So in the current vernacular then "my bad".

Thanks,

John Pike wrote (July 26, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] Yes, good point, Aryeh. I understand that Koopman has recorded a lot (?all) the alternative versions of the cantatas. For those wanting to complete their incomplete H/L collection, this can conveniently be done using Volume 5 of the Bach 2000 edition on Teldec. There are some very nice recordings in this set, including some by Koopman. For example, item 4 on the page below shows the Koopman recoridng of BWV 190 in both his own recording of the complete cantatas (Vol. 6) and in volume 5 of the Bach 2000 edition on Teldec.
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV190.htm

Brendan (Dorian Gray) wrote (July 26, 2005):
Oh, geez...I hate to be such a smart-alek, but no-one has ever recorded all of Bach's sacred cantatas, nor is such a feat possible. We only know what a majority of them consist of, considering the fact that a great deal of them have been consumed by the sands of time, and probably various fireplaces, garbagebins, etc., unknown to us forever.

I suppose what Aryeh has said about Rilling would be exactly correct (although he has acknowleged that it is not 'exactly' incorrect as originally stated) if the announcer had said, "the only conductor to have ever recorded all of Bach's existing sacred cantatas." That would shed light on the monument of the achievement, as well as the many and well-documented scholarly caveats are involved. Such a statement would be only slightly more enlightening to the average listener, I suppose, but in the interests of fairness and general edification...

 

My first experience with Rilling

Chris Kern wrote (June 3, 2006):
Up until recently I had only heard cantata recordings by Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Suzuki, and Leusink. But I just discovered that the library at OSU has a full set of Rilling cantatas (as well as a full set of Harnoncourt, and a full set of NBA scores!), so I've finally been able to hear some of Rilling's interpretations.

It's something of a shock to hear these after so many HiP recordings, and it's hard to get used to them. I've listened to BWV 22 a few times now. The first movement is odd because the score marks the fugue as "Allegro" but it sounds like Rilling actually slows down the tempo -- in his interpretation the disciples sound drugged rather than confused. (Although this is a tough movement, IMO only Suzuki brings it off convincingly.) The arias have all kinds of operatic vibrato which sounds wrong, but the singing still brings some warmth and affect to the music.

The instrumentation is sometimes overbearing, and particularly with the oboes I think that the HiP group sounds much better than the modern instruments -- in the first movement of BWV 23, for instance, Rilling's oboes sound strangely quiet and unexpressive, in comparison to either Harnoncourt or Suzuki's oboes. This may be the players as much as the instruments themselves, though.

However, it's still worth listening to even though I'm not sure I like them as much as the HiP. Maybe I'll get used to them.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 3, 2006):
Chris Kern wrote:
>>Up until recently I had only heard cantata recordings by Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Suzuki, and Leusink.... The first movement is odd because the score marks the fugue as "Allegro" but it sounds like Rilling actually slows down the tempo....<<
There are two aspects of this which you might take into consideration:

1. The HIP groups that you have been listening to primarily until now generally have a tendency to take the tempi of the faster mvts. faster than other recordings, an observation borne out by numerous comparisons made with the recordings of other cantatas that have been discussed on this list.

2. The definition of 'allegro' which is difficult to define in any case and depends upon many factors other than a metronome designation meant the following in Bach's time: joyful, lively, often even fast, but it can also mean a moderate ("gemäßigt") tempo, albeit with some liveliness attached to it. [from Johann Gottfried Walther's "Musicalisches Lexicon...." (Leipzig, 1732).

Chris Kern wrote (June 4, 2006):
< 2. The definition of 'allegro' which is difficult to define in any case and depends upon many factors other than a metronome designation meant the following in Bach's time: joyful, lively, often even fast, but it can also mean a moderate ("gemäßigt") tempo, albeit with some liveliness attached to it. [from Johann Gottfried Walther's "Musicalisches Lexicon...." (Leipzig, 1732). >
To me, Rilling's interpretation sounds lethargic rather than lively -- not just because of the speed, but because of the interpretation as well. Apparently the fugue is rather difficult to carry off well; everyone seems to go either too fast or too slow. Suzuki could have slowed it down a bit.

It doesn't seem to me that either the HiP or traditional crowd have the monopoly on poor tempo choices. Sometimes the HiP group chooses extremely slow tempos -- an example is Harnoncourt's middle movements of BWV 131 and BWV 24, which are taken at such sluggish tempos that it's almost hard to tell they are fugues. It reminds me of a cloth that has been stretched so much it's starting to break. On the other hand, Harnoncourt's tempo choice for the fugue of BWV 46 is slower than Rilling's, and it sounds much better to me (especially since Rilling's prelude section is so slow that the contrast is jarring). Rilling's recording of BWV 78 is faster than Suzuki's (the opening chorus is almost a minute faster), although still good (interestingly enough, the orchestral texture of Suzuki's opening movement sounds much richer and denser than Rilling as well!)

But some movements just naturally seem to demand more speed and energy than others. The third movement of BWV 179, the accusatory aria, doesn't sound right to me when it's taken very slowly, with legato, and when the singer almost seems to be crooning the words (as in Rilling and Leusink's interpretations) -- Harnoncourt's frenetic rendition sounds a lot more fitting to the text.

In any case, I just go off of what sounds better to me rather than what I think is more historically accurate.

I am curious, though -- you often write rather scathing comments about HiP, but have you ever heard an HiP recording of a Bach piece that you liked? It seems to me that some of the non-cantata recordings are much more modest in their speed choices -- two examples are the second Herreweghe B Minor Mass and the Leonhardt SMP, both of which are comparable to traditional recordings in their timings and do not seem to contain any wild articulation or ridiculous speeds.

Neil Halliday wrote (June 5, 2006):
Chris Kern wrote:
<"I've listened to BWV 22 a few times now. The first movement is odd because the score marks the fugue as "Allegro" but it sounds like Rilling actually slows down the tempo -- in his interpretation the disciples sound drugged rather than confused>".
I can agree the fugue (in Rilling's BWV 22/1) needs to be taken at a brisker, or livelier tempo.

<The instrumentation is sometimes overbearing>
In the final chorale, the bass (continuo) line is un-phrased and thick; but otherwise I like the sound of Rilling's rich string orchestra. OTOH, I sometimes find the string sections of some period grto be effete and dainty.

<"and particularly with the oboes I think that the HiP group sounds much better than the modern instruments -- in the first movement of BWV 23, for instance, Rilling's oboes sound strangely quiet and unexpressive, in comparison to either Harnoncourt or Suzuki's oboes">.
The female voices in this duet are particularly powerful by HIP standards, and tend to overpower the oboes in this recording, perhaps leading to your observations about the modern oboes. Conversely, period groups tend to emphasize the oboes at the expense of the strings, eg, I recall the expressive `wailing' oboes at the start of the opening chorus of Veldhoven's and Koopman's SJP, but with almost inaudible string parts.

I agree Rilling (and Richter, and probably all conductors), can sometimes choose tempi that are too fast or too slow. But, as you hint at in a later post, Suzuki is probably too fast in the fugue of BWV 22/1; and in general tempi have definitely increased until recently. I found the slower tempi adopted by Rilling in BWV 20 (discussed last week) to make for a more impressive reading of the whole cantata, than the faster (in this case, all HIP) readings. Rilling's tenor and alto arias, with slower tempi and rich string orchestra, definitely have the ability to provoke a more emotional response to the music (if you can manage the alto's vibrato).

 

Helmuth Rilling: Short Biography | Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart | Frankfurter Kantorei | Figuralchor der Gedächtniskirche Stuttgart | Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
Recordings:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Cantatas:
Edition Bachakademie - Vols. 1-20 | Edition Bachakademie - Vol. 9 | Edition Bachakademie - Vol. 60 | Arleen Augér sings Bach - conducted by Rilling | Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sings Bach - conducted by Rilling
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - Rilling | BWV 243 - Rilling | BWV 244 - Rilling | BWV 245 - Rilling | BWV 248 - Rilling | Chorales - Rilling
Cantate Label:
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Last update: ýJune 5, 2006 ý12:39:15