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General Discussions - Part 6: 2002

Continue from Part 5: Year 2001

Bach Cantatas - Quick Decision

Dave Bowman wrote:
OK, everybody, lightning decision time.

Bach: Sacred Cantatas - Harnoncourt/Leonhardt
Teldec 60 CDs for $266 from


Bach: The 200 Church Cantatas – Rilling
Hänssler 70 CDs for $209 from

(Buzzer sounds)


John Thomas wrote (March 1, 2002):
[To Dave Bowman] I honestly don't believe that an adequate complete Bach cantata set has yet been recorded, and it's unlikely now that one ever will be. I also doubt that anyone but a fanatic actually needs to have all of Bach's cantatas. If you're a fanatic, get the H/L. But IMO it's much better to collect and absorb these great works one CD at a time.


Another General question

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 4, 2002)
A brief survey on the notes included in CDs.

I am listening to vol. 16 of the Suzuki cantatas, and, reading the notes, I find them to be a bit small. How many of you have difficulty reading notes printed at that size?

If enough of you find this difficult, I think I will start mentioning it in some of my reviews. It is not a problem with all CDs, but often such discs as Bis recordings, where the notes are long, are printed very small. One alternative would be to offer them on the company's web site as well, as Hänssler is beginning to do, and Virgin said they would consider in their black box budget series (following a review of the recent Savall release, I queried Virgin on why there were no notes included, and suggested they put them on the web site. I got a reply that they were considering it, and had
never thought of it...).

Peter Bright wrote (March 3, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I personally don't have difficulty with the type in the Suzuki series but do appreciate that it is very small - I know that some of my friends/relatives would not be able to read it without difficulty. Your suggestion of including the text on the website is a very good one - it should require very little work (they could just place a link to download the text if they preferred not to present the text itself on their pages). The only potential difficulty, I suppose, is the copyright to the essays but it would be a remarkable gesture if the author were not to give permission for this.

Barry Murray wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents worth on this, admittedly from a rather different perspective.

I know that many of the CDs I own have very good notes concerning composer, performer, works, style, instrumentation etc. This wealth of material is virtually inaccessible for me, as I am totally blind. I've tried running some of the booklets through a scanner, with generally poor results. This may be due to text size, colour, or even the glossy surface many booklets have. Add to this, the complete absence of early music fans in my family, well, you get the picture.

I've set out all f the above, so that I could make two points.
1. Kirk's idea of having notes posted on label websites would be a huge help for someone like me. In this respect, I believe that the folks at Naxos are to be commended for the enormous amount of information contained on their website. It may not be of so great importance for the expert, but a very good starting point for the beginner.
2. I think it is also important for me to mention the enormous benefit which I have received from this list, and similar lists dealing with other composers and styles of music. Without easy access to printed information, my own knowledge of composers, recordings etc, would never have got beyond the very basic.

Reading back over this, I see that I have been rambling somewhat, but I hope Kirk's efforts to persuade some of the labels to put their notes on the web meet with success.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] When you say you are blind, do you mean you use the computer with voice recognition software or do you have a Braille system that lets you read what's on-screen?

I wonder, are there many music-lovers in your situation? If so, what can we do to help?

Barry Murray wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I have a standard computer with a screen reader program, in other words, the program reads in a computer voice anything that appears on the computer screen. It handles e-mail very well, and most, though not all websites. I'm sure I wouldn't be the only music lover in this situation. Not all blind people have internet access, but it has been a marvellous tool for those of us lucky enough to be able to make use of it. The internet, and more particularly lists such as this one, have given me access to information, and incentive to buy new recordings. My musical experiences are so much richer as a result.

Francis Browne wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Excellent idea , Kirk. It is often hard to read the notes. But what is worse is when there are no texts included,let alone texts and translations. I note that the recent Virgin release of Parrott's B Minor Mass says that the texts are available on the website. ( I checked . They are. but not presnted vey helpfully: Latin and English separately, not combined.)Following the texts is a particular obsession of mine but a general campaign to persuade companies to make texts available would be very worthwhile.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] Well, I'm glad they at least put them on the web - my comments seem to have had an effect.

It makes sense - it costs them next to nothing, and can only give them good karma. If you feel they are not well presented, you should write them. Maybe they'll take that into account too.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] I must say, I am somewhat honored to be the moderator of a list that can help someone like you. I am very aware of the difficulty handicapped people have in accessing the world around them - I am not in that situation, but I do sympathize with those who are. To know that our discussions provide to you, and others, information that they could not get anywhere else is indeed a good thing.

Back to the question of CD notes, I have added a brief paragraph in my review of the Suzuki volume 16, mentioning the small notes. I sent an e-mail to Bis records, and will see what they say about it.

Craig Schweickert wrote (March 5, 2002):
Three birds with one stone: a reply to posts from Kirk, Robert Lindsay and Barry Murray about illegible liner notes.


It's a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes I'm forced to pull out a magnifying glass and have even considered buying a pair of magnifying reading glasses, since the eye strain can be enormous when reading, say, an opera libretto over a couple of hours.

I suspect part of the problem is that the people responsible for the booklets are either bean counters who don't read liner notes or graphics designers who, as much as they care how the booklet looks, don't read liner notes. BIS's preferred typeface--3-point condensed myopic, I believe—is one of the worst offenders in the former category. The booklet to Christie's otherwise excellent Erato recording of Entfurung aus dem Serail is a perfect example of the latter category: lots of white space on the page but the already hard-to-read typeface (6- or 8-point Helvetica narrow, I'd say) is printed not in black but pale grey. Add some glare from the glossy paper and, voilà!, it's virtually illegible even WITH a magnifying glass. Of course, it looks really cool...

The problem is compounded by the fact that when we listen to vocal music, we read the lyrics more intensely than we do, say, a novel. We jump back and forth between two or three different languages--four in the case of Juditha triumphans, where I find myself trying to follow the Latin original with glances to the English (a fairly good translation but not very useful for figuring out the Latin), the French (closer to the Latin) and the Italian (reclose to the Latin but I don't speak it well). We scan ahead to find where the disk has got to while we were distracted figuring out the Latin. We scan back to check some plot development we may have missed. We read and then reread lyrics because they're reprised in the opera but not on the page. We flip to the front for the cast list to see just who is massacring this aria. We flip to the track listing to see if Act II extends to disk 3. In an ideal world, librettos would be easier to read than regular books, not harder.

BTW, Classical Express (Harmonia Mundi's super-bargin label) posts not liner notes but track listings on its Web site ( This is good because the label has shoddy production values when it comes to booklets. For example, the track listing in the booklet for Lute Music Volume 2 (a reissue of Paul O'Dette's Dolcissima ed amorosa) starts at track 18. You can download the entire lisiting from the Web site but--here's the rub--it's a PDF file that prints exactly the same size as the original booklet!

One thing we should acknowledge is the space limitations imposed by the jewelbox format. In BIS's case, they have to squeeze sometimes lengthy track and performer listings (four pages in vol. 15), extensive liner notes and biographies in English, German and French (not Swedish!), and the libretto in German and English into a booklet that will still slide smoothly in and out of the jewelcase cover. It can't be easy, especially if you want liner notes that are more than fluff.


Boxed track numbers are another pet peeve. Usually tiny AND often printed on a dark background. A recent acquisition finally gets it right: the back cover of the CPO disk of two overtures and a cantata by Graupner prints only the starting track for each work and does so in BIG type. (Full track listings are given in the booklet, of course.)


Would it be useful if record labels had audio versions of liner notes available for downloading from their Web sites? Maybe it's something we could lobby for and that sighted music lovers with decent reading voices could volunteer for.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 5, 2002):
Craig Schweickert wrote:
< Would it be useful if record labels had audio versions of liner notes available for downloading from their Web sites? Maybe it's something we could lobby for and that sighted music lovers with decent reading voices could volunteer for. >
MusicaOmnia - - has done something like that. While the additional CD is not the exact text of the notes, it is often close. Let me repost my review of their violin and harpsichord sonatas so you can read what it is all about.
See: Review Bach Violin and Harpsichord Sonatas

Pierce Drew wrote (March 6, 2002):
Craig Schweickert wrote:
< It's a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes I'm forced to pull out a magnifying glass . . . >
Since we are on the subject of CD packaging (especially liner notes) and pet peeves, I thought I would share one of mine.

Maybe I'm just petty or even anal, but I find the jewel case "doors" (what are those thingamajigs called anyway?) that have two small, round / square knobs at the right end (to contain the notes) really irritating because they often tear or damage the end of the booklet. It seems half the recordings I order online have these, and matters are made worse because the booklet tends to shift in shipping.

It seems that these "doors" are especially common with classical music -- I rarely have seen them with jazz or pop / rock recordings (the "doors" that are typically used have two long edges / lines instead, which rarely do harm to the booklet).

Am I making any sense? Anyone feel my pain? Or am I making mountains out of molehills (holes)?

Barry Murray wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Craig Schweickert] The idea of having labels put an audio file on their website for track listings or liner notes is a good one. I would certainly use it. Personally, I'd be just as happy with a text version, because I could download it, and, if I wanted, print it out in braille. An opera libretto in braille would be quite big, and I doubt many braille readers could read quickly enough to follow it as the recording was playing, but at least it would be possible to read through and grasp the plot. Even a file in pdf format would be ok, as screen readers, at least the one I have, can handle acrobat reader.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (Maarch 6, 2002):
I got a reply from Bis this morning saying they were aware of the problem, and were considering ways to alleviate it. They agreed that putting texts on the web site would be better. I think we may see changes in a few months.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 6, 2002):
Pierce Drew wrote:
< but I find the jewel case "doors" (what are those thingamajigs called anyway?) that have two small, round / square knobs at the right end (to contain the notes) really irritating because they often tear or damage the end of the booklet. >
I agree, those knobs are really irritating.

Craig Schweickert wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I'd forgotten about that, Kirk. Of course, putting audio versions of the liner notes on the Web as opposed to an extra CD would be less costly and more ecological, especially as the extra CD probably wouldn't get played much. Whatever the delivery method, the idea of liner notes with musical examples is very appealing.

Craig Schweickert wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Pierce Drew] Me too, Pierce. Fortunately, the jewelcase appears destined for extinction. Even Universal has started issuing CDs in cardboard folders (e.g. Kozena's new recital disk, the individual disks of the Abbado-BPO Beethoven symphony cycle and Pletnev's intriguing CPE Bach recital on DG). Of course many smaller labels have been doing it for a while (e.g. Glossa, Naive, Alia Vox). Far nicer to handle and they don't shatter when you drop them.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 7, 2002)
[To Craig Schweickert] It's great - when you start getting a lot of CDs, you run out of space. The Entire Brilliant Classics set, in cardboard "wallets", as they call them, takes up less space than their 40-CD set of Händel, in jewel boxes, or less than the 60-CD set of H/L cantatas.

Death to the jewel box!

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 9, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Curiously, the more CDs I get, the more I appreciate the ones that come in jewelcases, instead of "wallets". They take just about the space needed to have writen spines, which let you to know what they contain with no need to get them out of their places to see the front of the "wallet".

Donald Satz wrote (March 9, 2002):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] Be it plastic or cardboard, the thinner the better.

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 10, 2002):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] Moreover, jewel cases get scratched and look ugly over time and also have "hinges" that tend to break if the CD is opened and closed often. :)

I have no label-CDs in paper wallets though (only CDRs), so I wonder where do they put the booklets. Do they stuff the booklet into the same paper wallet? What if the booklet is actually a book in 4 languages?


A question on Bach Cantatas!

Olle Hedström [Sweden] wrote (April 11, 2002):
I listen frequently to Bach in general and to his cantatas specifically. I love them all. They are simply masterpieces, which catch my attention more the more I listen to them. In a mysterious way they speak directly to something very deep inside of me, and note I am not a man of the faith, but they all the same affect me profoundly. I possess the entire Harnoncourt/Leonardt-issue, and a lot of Susuki and Gardiner CantataCD’s.

Now to my question:
I have recently tried to aquire Bachcantatas on DVD. It's a wonderful medium and it is a joyous feeling to hear AND SEE the cantatas being performed. Does anybody know if Gardiner's Cantata Pilgrimage was videotaped as well as soundrecorded?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 11, 2002):
[Olle Hedström] Yes, there is one DVD.

Here's my review of it.
See: Bach Cantata Pilgrimage DVD

Olle Hedström [Sweden] wrote (April 11, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Thanks, but I already have that one. Do you know how many of Gardiner's other concerts during his pilgrimage that were videotaped and may therfore
be released some day in the DVD-format ?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 11, 2002):
[Olle Hedström] I think some have been filmed - when you look at the documentary on that DVD and the Christmas Oratorio (do you have that one?), you can see they must have filmed a bunch of them. But, as of now, I don't know of any releases planned.

Olle Hedström wrote (April 12, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Thanks for your information. Yes, I have the X-mas oratorio with Gardiner on DVD too. It is breathtaking. I have tried several times to e-mail the organisation around Gardiner regarding this matter, but they do not respond to my inquires.It really would be something to look forward too, wouldn't it, further cantatas on DVD, and perhaps in some distant future all of them? Let's keep in contact on this and other matters regarding the wonderful treasure called Bach's church cantatas.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 12, 2002):
[Olle Hedström] I review CDs and DVDs, and, whenever there is any Bach, I post my reviews either here and/or on the Bach Recordings mailing list. If you are not a member of that list, you might want to subscribe - there are more discussions about recordings, whereas here it is mostly about specific cantatas.

Michael Grover wrote (April 12, 2002):
[Olle Hedström] I think I remember reading that they were ALL videotaped. But as far as whether they will be released on DVD or not..... Heck, we're not even sure if regular CDs of the concerts are going to be released. I'm sure Gardiner would love to see some record company take the project, but it's all up in the air.

Olle Hedström wrote (April 12, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Thanks for your comment and I hope you observed rightly. If they were all videotaped, and that was what I hoped for, we can have hope that they will be eleased some day on DVD, at least some of them. I really look forward to that and humbly anticipate that it will take place in my lifetime. It is THAT important to me, really Sound AND picture is superior to sound only, don't you think ? And what picturequality you get from DVD. Amazing! I listen to Bach's church cantatas on a daily basis.A suggest that you do that too. They are inexhaustible.


Cantatas for a beginner

Barry Murray wrote (April 23, 2002):
I didn't know which of the lists would be more appropriate for this question, so decided to post to both.

I have a reasonable collection of recordings of Bach instrumental music, and would like to start to experience some of his cantatas. There are so many of them, and so many recordings to choose from. The question, where to start? I realise that this is an incredibly broad, non-specific enquiry, but I'd be interested in the suggestions of members as to what a good starting point for a collection might be. At the moment, I'm not in a position to buy a complete set, I'm aiming to get a few recordings to sample and go from there. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] I'm definitely no Cantata scholar, but the big 'hits' are BWV 80 (Ein Feste Burg) and BWV 140 (Wachet Auf!). His secular ones are nice too directed by Rene Jacobs (Hercules at the Crossroads BWV 213). But if I really wanted to "start" a collection, why not with G. Gardiner's Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) set on Archiv? These are really six cantatas, not oratorios, that have been parodied and are memorable and beautiful! I'm sure the more learned ones around here will help you even more!

Barry Murray wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Thanks so much for your very prompt reply. I had been considering the Gardiner Christmas Oratorio, so it's good to have support for one's first perhaps uninformed impressions.

Francis Browne wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] My experience with the cantatas is that wherever you begin you will come across music of astonishing beauty and power.

One way to sample some cantatas without cost is to visit the Naxos website ( where you can listen to generally good recordings of some of the better known cantatas online. You might try BWV 80 (catalogue no:8.550642) or BWV 82 :(8.550763). Use the numerical as well as the composer catalogue.

Otherwise your choice is wide. Many years ago I bought the Decca recording of Cantatas 170, 82 and 159 by the Academy ofSt.Martin in the Fields, Marriner and Janet Baker -traditional, but wonderful performances.

There is also a Virgin classics set of 4 CDs by Philippe Herreweghe which was very cheap -it includes good performances of six varied cantatas and Bach's Lutheran masses.

You could also take potluck with the sets of 5 CDs in the Brilliant Classsics.complete cycle. They are rather hit and miss performances sometimes but can be excellent and are a very cheap way of getting to know the cantatas.

Good listening - and let us know how you get on.

Craig Schweickert wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] A few of my faves (limiting myself to readily available single disks):

Herreweghe (on Harmonia Mundi):
- "Wir danken dir, Gott" (BWV 29, BWV 119 & BWV 120) with Deborah York, Ingeborg Danz, Mark Padmore, Peter Kooy
- "Mit Fried und Freud" (BWV 8, BWV 125 & BWV 138) with Deborah York, Ingeborg Danz, Mark Padmore, Peter Kooy
- Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) and "Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen" (BWV 66) with Barbara Schlick, Kay Wessel, James Taylor and Peter Kooy

Sigiswald Kuijken (on Accent):
- BWV 49, BWV 58 & BWV 82 with Nancy Argenta and Klaus Merte ns (the best recording I know of BWV 82 "Ich habe genug")

Suzuki (on BIS):
- Volume 15 (BWV 40, BWV 60, BWV 70 & BWV 90) with Yukari Nonoshita, Robin Blaze, Gerd Türk and Peter Kooy (volumes 13, 14 and 17 are nearly as good)

The most convincing case for one voice per part is probably Cantus Cölln's "Actus Tragicus" disk (BWV 4, BWV 12, BWV 106 & BWV 196) on Harmonia Mundi.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] Well, IMHO, the most balanced recordings, available at a nice price, are the two sets by Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi. One is the Most Beautiful Cantatas and the other Les Cantatas des fetes in French. Together, there are 9 CDs, covering some of the finest works with an excellent selection of singers.

Peter Bright wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I would suggest the Virgin Veritas two CD set of cantatas with Ensemble Sonnerie - although this would not give any real idea of the sheer breadth and range of the cantatas, it's a beautiful place to start. I would supplement this with the Schwarzkopf and Fischer-Dieskau EMI references CDs, both providing selections from a range of cantatas, mainly recorded in 1950s I think (on modern instruments). While I usually avoid CDs that pick and choose particular movements rather than including the entire work, these CDs are never out of my player for long. Other than that, Kirk's suggestion is the best I can think of for recordings at reduced price.

Joost wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] Herreweghe is probably the best start - both the Virgin 4CD set and the harmonia Mundi collections mentioned by Kirk are excelle, and affordable as well.

I wouldn't recommend the Sonnerie set for starters. Not because of the quality, but because the cantatas on this set are for soprano only, and you should hear some with choir and several soloists before exploring the outskirts of the repertoire. If you want an OVVP disc as well, go for the Cantus Colln Actus Tragicus, it is one of my favourite single cantatas discs.

Bob Sherman wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] What is your taste? Do you prefer "historical" or modern instruments?

Barry Murray wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Bob Sherman] I prefer HIP recordings, although I'm not absolutely fanatically against modern instruments. I think my tastes are still developing..

Michael Grover [Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA] wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] Here is the text to a reply I posted last summer to a very similar set of questions.

Welcome to the world of Bach's cantatas.

The sheer number of cantatas that are available, with hundreds (if not thousands!) of different recordings, is definitely overwhelming to a newcomer. I have been there myself, very recently! Perhaps you are like me and don't want to spend the money on a complete set of the cantatas right off the bat. For better or for worse, here are some of the most well-known and beloved cantatas that you could start out with.

BWV 80, Ein Feste Burg -- based on the famous Reformation hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God"

BWV 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben -- contains the famous chorale, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"

BWV 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme -- contains the "Sleepers, Awake" melody in the 4th movement

BWV 106, Gottes Zeit... -- beautiful music throughout, including a wonderful flute/recorder duet in the opening sonatina

Some other common favorites are BWV 4, BWV 21, BWV 61, BWV 78... and many, many more!

As far as performance preference, it will be best to sample all the different styles at least once to find out what sounds best to you. Do you like big choirs and orchestras? Try Rilling or Richter. Do you like smaller, more intimate choirs? Try Gardiner, Leusink, Koopman, Suzuki, Harnoncourt, or Leonhardt. Do you like hearing individual singers rather than choirs? Try Parrott, Rifkin, Thomas, or Junghaenel. (These categories are, of course, not absolute - Thomas, for instance goes back and forth between using a choir of multiple singers and going one-voice-per-part (OVPP), but again, these are hopefully good general suggestions for the beginner.)

For more information, be sure and visit the Bach Cantatas Website at:

And for recommended reading, just check out any of Aryeh's weekly posts. He ususally references several books about the cantatas there.

I hope this post wasn't too lengthy and that it was helpful!

Pierce Drew wrote (April 23, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I enthusiastically second this recommendation! I bought these two box sets around the time I was beginning to delve into the cantatas, and they got me hooked for good. They are also the cantata recordings I go back to most.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 23, 2002):
Yeah, I'd recommend some Herreweghe as well.

That Cantus Colln Actus Tragicus set is fine too.

If you're pretty serious about investigating the cantatas for the first time though, I'd say get ready to buy at least ten discs from different conductors. Find which one is best for you. Dip into some Herreweghe, but also try to track down Rifkin's double disc set that includes BWV 147, BWV 80, BWV 140, BWV 8, BWV 51 and an out of this world performance of BWV 78, the best I've heard of it. (I've yet to hear Herreweghe's version which will almost certainly be so different from the Rifkin that it will be hard to compare the two.)

Also track down some Gardiner. He's kind of exciting in his own way. Maybe a single disc selection from the Christmas Oratorio.

Don't overlook Parrott either.

Berkshire (do you live in the states?) has most of Rilling's complete set for three dollars apiece. Decent recordings, though I rarely find anything in them that makes me say "ah! that's the one!"

I'd say avoid the Brilliant Classics discs. Maybe someone out on the list has good things to say about them, but I've been disappointed. I'd avoid the Harnoncourt if I were you as well, though perhaps you should pick up a disc to see what all the fuss is about.

Suzuki is another fine conductor I'd put on my list if I were you.

Have you heard the B Minor Mass or any of the Passions? They might be better single set recordings to purchase if you're looking to investigate Bach's vocal music for the first time. Herreweghe, Parrott, Rifkin: those three are my usual suspects, with secondary recommendations for Thomas, Gardiner and Rilling. I'm no real Bach vocal work expert though. What little expertise I have is mainly in the solo instrumental and concerto areas of Bach's compositions.

Jim (who recently got his hands on Apollo's Fire English language version of the Saint John Passion. Anybody heard it?)

Robert Sherman wrote (April 24, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] Try the finale to BWV 21.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 24, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] Finale of Rilling's BWV 21? Don't have it. Got a cart about ready to be ordered at Berkshire. I'll give it some consideration.

Also recommended, if you like this sort of thing, is the Rilling Auger selection disc from Hänssler.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 24, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] Thanks. Will get the Rilling Augér. Also recommend her Bach/Handel recital disk with Gerard Schwartz and the Mostly Mozart Orch. Her "Come Unto Him" is one of the most transcendently beautiful performances of anything I've heard anywhere. The best of the best of the best.

Barry Murray wrote (May 7, 2002):
Greetings. I would like to thank everyone for their suggestions. I'm going to sample some of the Herreweghe sets that were recommended. I'm also giving serious thought to the Christmas Oratorio, and the Christmas Cantatas CD by the Aradia Ensemble on Naxos. That should be more than enough to get me started. Thanks again.

Paul Farseth wrote (May 7, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] If you are going to try listening to the Christmas Oratorio, let me recommend the performance issued by Capriccio, # 60025-2, which I have found very satisfying. Ralf Otto directs the Vokalensemble Frankfurt and Concerto Köln with Ruth Ziesak as Soprano, Monica Groop as Alto, Christoph Prégardien as Tenor, and Klaus Mertens as the Bass. Wonderful energetic stuff.

Though these are not my favorite sections of the Oratorio, there are interesting uses in several of the Oratorio's Cantatas of Paul Gerhardt's Passion Chorale, "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" with a tune by Hans Leo Hassler, a hymn commonly sung on Good Friday. ("O sacred head now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down...") Indeed, the final section of the sixth and last cantata treats the tune as a march, announcing that sin, death, the devil and Hell have been repaid, weakened, their power over the fate and the future of simple faithful folk broken. When I first realized what was going on in the last Chorale, I went looking for the libretto. I found that text (not in Gerhardt's hymn) with its thoughts of revenge on devil and hell to be rather strange , though as an expression of simple piety the text may make sense: the Almighty handles the punishment of evil, leaving the faithful simply to be glad that God wins and not the great angel of futility. So you have this celebration of the birth of the Savior ending with Bach's prefiguring not only of the suffering by which the devil is beaten but also with the final triumph where Death itself is swallowed up and dies.

Barry Murray wrote (May 7, 2002):
[To Paul Farseth] Thanks very much for the recommendati. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Michael Grover wrote (May 7, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] I know you've already received lots of suggestions, but here's one more: in the past, Kirk and I (and others) have recommended Bach's Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) as performed by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen Choir and Orchestra. It's available from Berkshire Record Outlet ( for the measly price of $4 for the 2-disc set. Don't get confused, though. BRO offers the same set on the original Collins label for $14 and the re-issue on Brilliant Classics for $4. (Not sure about the cost of shipping to Australia.) Anyway, this is a very lively and invigorating performance, featuring one of my favorite tenors, Mark Padmore, and a wonderful opening "Jauchzet, frohlocket!"

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 7, 2002):
[To Barry Murray] Over the weekend I picked up the recent Herreweghe disc of cantatas BWV 29, BWV 119, and BWV 120 (Harmonia Mundi 2981690, midprice, 2001). I'm enjoying it, and BWV 120 and BWV 29 sound especially familiar as they have music that later got recast into the B Minor Mass (BWV 232). Hearing that first chorus of BWV 120 several times, I'm starting to wish Bach hadn't shortened it when he made it into the "Et expecto." I like hearing those trumpets and drums come around the extra times.

BWV 29's opening sinfonia is as much fun to play as it sounds: organ solo playing the E major violin partita's opening prelude. (Back when I was in college long ago, our conductor had me play that with the orchestra...a blast.) It chuckles along so joyfully for those 3.5 minutes, then vaults up to end on the highest note available on some organs. Thrilling music! Herreweghe and his band do well to make it sound like an especially energetic minuet: simultaneously exciting and graceful. I can't stay seated to listen to it. Then the "Wir danken dir" chorus that follows sends chills and thrills up my spine here, just as it does in the B Minor Mass. (Essentially the same text there, but translated from German to Latin, "Gratias agimus tibi".) If I had to pick just one cantata for a desert island, BWV 29 would probably be it.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (May 7, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Over the weekend I picked up the recent Herreweghe disc of cantatas BWV 29, BWV 119, and BWV 120 (Harmonia Mundi 2981690, midprice, 2001). >
BTW the next release from Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi will be a CD featuring the following Bach Cantatas: BWV 91, BWV 121 and BWV 133.

Barry Murray wrote (May 7, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Thanks for the recommendation, I'll keep an eye out for it. Berkshire, imo, is problematic for people living outside North America. For example, to get the 2 disc set, would cost me $10 US in postage. This, however, gets the discs sent by surface mail. To give you some idea, I had a book sent to me from the US by surface mail, posted 13th March, still hasn't arrived. This is unfortunate, as Berkshire have some very good bargains.


Fantasy Cantata Dreams…

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 23, 2002):
I was going over my Glenn Gould reader. Glenn Gould and Barbra Streisand were mutual admirers of each other; after all, they worked in the same Columbia Records studios. Gould's fantasy was for him to conduct Streisand for Bach's Cantata BWV 54. He also thought she'd be great for singing Dowland. Streisand has a "Classical" Album but the songs were chosen very carefully since she does not have the power of an operatic singer. It's nice! But can you imagine these two giants together?!


Favorite CD / Desert Island Discs

Bernard Nys wrote (May 11, 2002):
Thanks everybody for the answers about volume of boy singers and size of churches in Bach's time.

I can recommend you the DVD "Johann Sebastian Bach, Leben und Werk" with 6 masterworks of our maestro on location.
The churches, the castles,... East Germany looks so nice !

This item also inspired me an idea : it would be nice to organize a trip to Leipzig and to meet each other there !!!

I regret that few persons give their TOP 3 of their favorite Cantates. What about your TOP 3 Favorite CD's ?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 11, 2002):
Bernard Nys wrote:
< I regret that few persons give their TOP 3 of their favorite Cantates. What > about your TOP 3 Favorite CD's ? >
Choosing just 3 cantatas is hard, choosing 3 Bach CDs is even harder.

I'll try and mention a couple which are, for me, desert island discs.

Kenneth Gilbert's Goldbergs
Jordi Savall's MO
Parmentier's Partitas
Hill's AoF
Kuijken's first Sonatas and Partitas
Bylsma's first Cello Suites...

Arjen K. Gijssel wrote (May 11, 2002):
My TOP3 so far:
BWV 23
BWV 198
BWV 182

But I have selected out of a sample of cantatas performed myself.

Pierce Drew wrote (May 12, 2002):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< Choosing just 3 cantatas is hard, choosing 3 Bach CDs is even harder. >
I heartily agree -- either I've become too greedy, or just like multiple interpretations of the same work.

For me, here's a few (my two cents worth, although, unfortunately the discs cost much more):

Kenneth Gilbert, Well-Tempered Clavier
Yo Yo Ma, first Cello Suites
Herreweghe, "The Most Beautiful Cantatas" (5 discs)
Gardiner, Mass in B Minor
Harnoncourt, latest St. Matthew's Passion (BWV 244)
Van Dael, Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Colin Tilney, English Suites
Blandine Verlet, latest Partitas

Pete Blue wrote (May 12, 2002):
These desert island forays always are fun and offer irresistable opportunities for cheating. My list (non-vocal -- my list would be too long otherwise):

Goldbergs: Gould 1982
Violin/Oboe Concerto: Casals-Stern-Tabuteau
Organ Works: Walcha (latest remastering)
WTK: Book I Fischer (only on Pearl). Book II Dantone
Solo Violin S&P: Luca/Wallfisch/Gaehler (one S&P each!)
Cello Suites: Beschi
AoF: Koroliov
English Suites: Tilney (right on, Drew)
Flute/Harpsichord Sonatas: Solum & Kipnis (a real treasure, unfortunately known to few)

Reluctantly left onboard: Gould Partitas, Dart French Suites,
Savall MO, Menuhin & Malcolm Vln/Hpschd Sonatas, :La Petite
Bande Vln Concertos, Harnoncourt B'burgs & Suites.

Donald Satz wrote (May 12, 2002):
These are the ones I'd most want on the desert island:

Goldbergs – Tureck (DG) and Gilbert
WTK - Tureck, Gulda, & Gilbert
Partitas - Gould and Richter
F. Suites - Moroney
AoF - Gilbert and Leonhardt
Organ (set)- Walcha and Rogg
Mass in b - Leonhardt
SMP – Herreweghe (1st recording)

I'd also hate to be without the pedal harpsichord disc of the Trio Sonatas from Biggs on Sony and the pedal clavichord disc of organ works from Vogel on Loft Recordings.

Bernard Nys wrote (May 12, 2002):
I'm very surprised by the first results of the poll. When I said Favorite CD's, I wanted to say "Cantata" CD's. Anyway, your opinion and feelings are always interesting for me.

It's funny : I don't have any of the instrumental CD's you mention. It's interesting to see that most CD's you mention are quite old recordings (Tureck, Gulda, S. Richter, Walcha, Casals,...). Thanks.

Thanks to Tom for precious information about church performance practice !

Please, give us your 3 Favorite Cantatas (CD's) with the performer !

Someone froHolland gave an interesting Top 3 (BWV 23, BWV 198, BWV 182): I didn't know any of those 3 Cantatas. Before, there was already some doubt and discussion about BWV 67 (66 ?). Never mind: it's always a pleasure to give those Cantatas another chance. Indeed, who knows the 200 Cantatas all by heart ?

I have the complete Bach Edition on Brilliant Classics (budget !) and the Cantatas by Leusink. I don't like his boys Choir sound and that's why I ask you your favorite Cantata CD's. I want to buy some "Desert Island" Cantata CD's by another orchestra and choir. I see that a lot of people like my fellow-countryman Herreweghe. I have his 5 CD set "Most beautiful Cantatas".

Allow me to give my Top 3 Cantata C recordings :

1) Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) first cantata by Staatskapelle Dresden & Trompetenensemble Ludwig Güttler directed by Peter Schreier with Marjana Lipovsek, alto, Robert Holl, bass,... (sorry for those who hate non HIP performances) Nr 1, because of extremely joyfull Chor, delightful Aria "Bereite dich, Zion", divine Chorale "Wie soll ich dich empfangen", powerful Bass aria "Grosser Herr, o Starker König" and the magnificent lullaby Choral "Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein". Bach at his best, obviously very inspired by the Nativity theme

2) Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben by Harnoncourt on DVD Glorious Bach for the cheer joy of the opening chorus, the solo violin part in the soprano aria, the world famous chorale (2 times), the refreshing bass aria.

3) Ich habe genug BWV 82 by Max Van Egmond & Ricercar Consort for Marcel Ponseele, oboe, in the opening aria, the death lullaby "Schlummert ein" and the astonishing joy of the final aria.

In the Top 5 :
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis BWV 21 by Herreweghe, with Ponseele, oboe, in the Sinfonia, the conversation between the woman and Jesus himself, the mighty "Das Lamm"

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 61 by Harnoncourt DVD "Glorious Bach" because my 1-year old baby likes so much the striking beginning (it's the only JSB piece that calls his attention), the poetical "Ich stehe vor der Tür"

If we consider the Ascension and Easter Oratoria as Cantatas, they come into my Top 5. I have Gustav Leonhardt and his Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment.

Talking about non-vocal music:
1) Organ MasterPieces by Maria-Claire Alain (because those organ works are also "sacred" for me)

2) 4 Orchestral Suites & Brandenburg Concertos by Trevor Pinnock (because I can't miss those unique "world hits" like the Badinerie, Air,...)

3) Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations (1981) on CD and DVD because of his unique total involvement and extasy

Robert Sherman wrote (Maay 13, 2002):
b-minor Mass: Marriner
SJP, SMP, Cantata 4, Magnificat: Richter
Cantata BWV 21: Rilling
XO: still waiting for a fully satisfying recording
Cantata BWV 51: Stich-Randall/Wobitsch
Brandenburg 2: Maurice Andre et al

Francis Browne wrote (May 13, 2002):
I think I shall have to refuse the chance of a holiday on a desert island: the choice is too difficult.The best I can do is three of my current favourites - all as it happens recommended by list members

`Cantatas and Chorales Fischer Dieskau Tom Braatz recommended this duringthe discussion on BWV 159. If you have not heard this, Bernard, I strongly second the recommendation.

Gergely Sarkozy plays Bach on viola bastarda, lute and lute harpsichord.Thomas Radleff recommended this : lute suites and viola da gamba sonatas played by a quirky Hungarian that only Thomas and I seem to have heard of.

Well-Tempered Clavier Bob van Asperen: I have forgotten who recommended this, but I am grateful for their enthusiasm, the performances are very enjoyable.

Peter Bright wrote (May 13, 2002):
I simply cannot choose between the multitude of magnificent cantatas, so excluding these, there are a few current favourites:

Well-Tempered Clavier: Tureck or Fischer
Goldbergs: Perahia or Hantai
Art of Fugue: Rosen
Musical Offering: Savall or Behringer et al. (Hanssler)
French Overture: Koroliov
Partitas: Pinnock or Hewitt
French suites: Hewitt
Cello suites: Bylsma (later set) or Thordein (spelling?) on BIS
Solo violin S&P: Grumiaux
Harps. & violin conc.: Grumiaux & Jaccottet (Philips Duo)

Mass in B minor: Richter (Archiv)
St Matthew: Richter or Harnoncourt
St John: Suzuki
Christmas Oratorio: Suzuki or Richter

Obviously I would have a large suitcase handcuffed to my arm when I was thrown overboard...

Michael Grover wrote (May 13, 2002):
I have a relatively small collection and so don't have many to choose from, but I'm happy with these that I have:

SMP: Gardiner
Cantatas BWV 78, BWV 80, BWV 140: Thomas
Organ works: Fagius
Goldbergs: Gould 1950s
Gamba sonatas: Pandolfo/Allesandrini (spelling?) (on harmonia mundi)
Violin & harpsichord sonatas: van Dael/van Asperen
Brandenburgs, Orchestral suites: Winschermann
Harpsichord concertos - Kipnis & Marriner

By the way, how are we going to listen to these discs on the desert island? We're going to have to have another suitcase full of batteries! ;-)

Santu De Silva wrote (May 13, 2002):
OK. In no particular order:

* Kathleen Ferrier: Bach and Handel Arias (Adrian Boult, cond., London)
* Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque: Complete Bach Cantatas Vol 2 (Erato)
* Magdalena Kozena, J.E. Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, Cantata No.199 etc (Archiv)
* Yehudi Menuhin, Bath Festival Orch: Orchestral Suites 1-4, Musical Offering (EMI)
* E Power Biggs: Toccata & Fugue (Sony/CBS)
* Harry Christophers, The Sixteen Choir: Christmas Oratorio (Collins/MHS)
* Rilling: Matthauspassion--arias+choruses (Sony)
* Aulos Ensemble: Eight Sonatas for Diverse Instruments (MHS)

These are among my desert island disks; I can't really rank them, or narrow them further!


Bach cantatas information

Ivan Lalis wrote (June 13, 2002):
I'm considering to buy Bach cantatas, either as a complete or as individual recordings. To buy it as a complete set is probably not a good idea, because I like when my Bach singers are at least competent, which is not possible to achieve consistently with such an amount of music. Can you recommend me any good guide to available recordings, online, or on paper? Or do you have any personal recommendation for good complete or outstanding single recordings I should have a look at - my basic requirements are HIP instruments and very good singers (I like Kirkby, Kozena, Mertens, von Otter, Scholl, Chance, to name a few). I do not mind if they are sung in one-singer-per-voice-type or more-singers-per-voice-type as far as it works. I like the way Gardiner, Parrott, or Harnoncourt play Bach, I do not like a "romantic" way a lot.

I already have Gardiner's Christmas Oratorio (both DVD and older CD) and few others with Kozena (with JEG on DVD).

Sybrand Bakker wrote (June 13, 2002):
[To Ivan Lalis] One should mention
as an excellent general resource
and of course
maintained by Aryeh Oron

Personally I've always disliked the way JEG performs Bach. Anything JEG does always has technical brilliance, and especially for the more somber parts of Bach's output, lack of emotional depth.

I would also seriously doubt whether Magdalena Kozena is specialising in early music, or has any expert knowledge of early music. More and more conductors seem to be hiring (or forced to be hired by their labels) 'great voices'

I would have to choose any complete edition I would choose the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt recordings, despite all the deficiencies and shortcomings, and despite the 'development' of Harnoncourt during the project. Ruud van der Meer and Thomas Hampson, some of the baritones employed by Harnoncourt, should stay away from Bach. But of course I have always loved and still love the voice of Max van Egmond (and he is a very sympathetic person too)

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 14, 2002):
[To Ivan Lalis] Are you a member of the Bach Cantatas Mailing List (BCML)? If you love the Bach Cantatas, I warmly recommend to you joining the BCML. The instructions how to join and how to contribute appear in the following page:

Ivan Lalis wrote (June 14, 2002):
Thanks to all for recommendations, I'll have a look on the websitet and mailing list, although I do not know if I can contribute, I'm just a beginner...
A few comments.

< Personally I've always disliked the way JEG performs Bach. Anything JEG does always has technical brilliance, and especially for the more somber parts of Bach's output, lack of emotional depth. >
I like JEG and Parrott, because they make dance rhythms in Bach's music more obvious than other conductors I know. E.g., till the moment I heard Parrott's h-moll Messe, I was not aware that the rhythms are there. All interpretations I heard tried to suppress them, to make them less obvious, like they found the dance connected to mass blasphemous or something... Lack of emotional depth, maybe, I do not know that much of him.

< I would also seriously doubt whether Magdalena Kozena is specialising in early music, or has any expert knowledge of early music. More and more >
I love Kirkby and Argenta, I think they are repulsively perfect. They sing Bach in a way I call "sweet & dull". Not that there is anything wrong with it, it works very well when coupled with vocal perfection. On the other hand, I think that Kozena (despite the hype) is vocally excellent, but she uses more "earthly" approach to Bach, she gives more expressions and colours to it. I do not know if it is idiomatic, but it works well for me. Do you know the recording with JEG and herself of BWV 199 Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut? It's on DVD. I find it very moving, despite it's JEG :-)

Sybrand Bakker wrote (June 14, 2002):
[To Ivan Laalis] I am aware of the DVD and I believe it was broadcasted in the Netherlands. At least I saw a documentary featuring JEG and Magdalena Kozena. I believe they performed the BWV 199 at the end of the documentary.

However at that point I was already feeling frustrated as the comments JEG was making to his musicians were quite often historically incorrect, and -how do you say that- of a descriptive emotional nature, reading things into it, which according to the text definitely weren't there. It looked like JEG looks at the Bach cantatas as the -recently deceased - Dutch writer Martin van Amerongen as 'beautiful music with horrid texts' and doesn't do much to understand those texts truly (in a Christian sense).

As to the BWV 199, apart from the fact that musicologists don't attribute it to Bach anymore (IIRC it's by Gottfried Heinrich Stoelzel, a very much underestimated contemporary of Bach), I turned the television off. I simply couldn't stand the vibrato of Kozena (If you are acquainted with Dutch popular music, popular singers from Amsterdam, like Willy Alberti, Johnny Jordaan, and Andre Hazes, all use a kind of vibrato which is called 'a tear in the voice'. I do like that in those singers, as their rendition of the text is usually sincere), generally speaking I'm not very fond of continuous and uncontrolled vibrato, which I seemed to hear here.

Alain Naigeon wrote (June 14, 2002):
Sybrand Bakker wrote:
< Personally I've always disliked the way JEG performs Bach. Anything JEG does always has technical brilliance, and especially for the more somber parts of Bach's output, lack of emotional depth. [...] >
I have nothing to say about versions of Bach cantatas, I have just to small a listening experience. But I'm very interested in reading your comment about Gardiner, since I've always exactly been feeling the same as you! 'Technical brillance", that's it. For instance, that's exactly my souvenir about an excerpt of Monteverdi's Vespers by him. I like the Savall's version I have, and also a very old one one (black records) by Corboz. I'm sure, Sybrand, you'll hate the latter one for musicologic reasons, but you'll perhaps admit that religious feeling is quite beautiful in this version - ok, cornetto tuning isn't quite perfect, but that's because of the original sin :-)

For a long time I've been afraid to write this publically, since Gardiner is very famous, and there are certainly good reasons for that; I suppose his conducting style is "working" for some of us, and is not for some others...

Sybrand Bakker wrote (June 14, 2002):
[To Alain Naigeon] At last a kindred soul. You know, there is a type of musicianship, which seems to be prominent in England, whatever music they play, it sounds technically perfect, and often brilliant, and when you hear it a second time, the spell of the brilliance is over. This seems to work in Mozart, but I'm already not quite sure about JEG's Beethoven. When I was studying musicology, we used describe recordings of Schumann conducted by von Karajan, as 'The symphonies of Herbert von Karajan, as composed by Robert Schumann'. We did a close reading of the score , listening to a recording by von Karajan, and he ignored almost all markings.

I have the Savall, along with the JEG San Marco performance (which sounds awful due to the reverberation), and Rene Jacobs, and Garrido and Parrott (I've always loved the Maria Vespers by Monteverdi), and Cantus Coelln. I only heard a few minutes of Corboz, I couldn't stand it. I'm not sure about the Savall anymore. I quite liked it, but I haven't heard the Vespers in ages.

Charles Francis wrote (June 15, 2002):
[To Alain Naigeon] I find when Gardiner achieves technical excellence, he often produces something quite remarkable. Take his rendition of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri, for example - an unmatched performance IMO. The problem for me, however, is that I sometimes find his recordings are under-rehearsed. Take the much acclaimed Bach' St. Matthew Passion, for example, and note the mistake in bar 6 of the opening or the more blatant error in bar 39 of the aria "Blute nur, du liebes Herz". A less known conductor would do a retake and spend more time on preparation, but I guess Gardiner has an overloaded conducting schedule.

Tom Hens wrote (June 15, 2002):
Sybrand Bakker wrote...
<snip> < However at that point I was already feeling frustrated as the comments JEG was making to his musicians were quite often historically incorrect, and -how do you say that- of a descriptive emotional nature, reading things into it, which according to the text definitely weren't there. It looked like JEG looks at the Bach cantatas as the recently deceased - Dutch writer Martin van Amerongen as 'beautiful music with horrid texts' and doesn't do much to understand those texts truly (in a Christian sense). >
I'd just like to point out that it's quite possible to agree with Van Amerongen that Bach's cantatas are "beautiful music with horrid texts", as well as agree that Gardiner's Bach performances are superficial and extremely overrated in some circles.

Mark Slater wrote (June 16, 2002):
[To Tom Hens] On the other hand, I recently purchased JEG's stylish performance of Don Giovanni. I believe it is a very good recording.

Tom Hens wrote (June 15, 2002):
[To Mark Slater] He's made a lot of very good recordings, of composers other than Bach.


Continue on Part 7: Year 2003

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