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Recordings of Bach Cantatas
General Discussions - Part 7: Year 2003

Continue from Part 6: Year 2002


Francine Renee Hall wrote (January 6, 2003):
I have two 4-CD cantata sets by Harnoncourt; two of Rifkin's; one by Jacobs (secular); one by Rilling (secular); Gardiner (both sacred and secular), but it's a start. What warms me so much to Bach's cantatas are that they are essentially operas but without the silly librettos that beset most baroque operatic composers. Since they are intensely and sincerely religious by nature, I am quite moved by Bach's cantatas. There's no silliness here. However, I also appreciate Bach's secular cantatas because they show that Bach is, after all, human, with good-natured fun and humor. And I find each conductor has something important to say albeit in his own style. For example, I just love the way Harnoncourt combines boy sopranos with adults which seems somewhat strange at first but, after all, it's over a 500 year tradition. Rifkin's OVPP, though questionable historically, makes one hear everything with astute clarity; Rilling, for his singers who really know and express the German text accurately and with excitement; and Gardiner for his all-around balance. I hope to discover the cantatas with everyone here. Thank you for teaching me so much thus far.

Barry Murray wrote (January 6, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] I am knew to the cantatas.

I have two sets by Herreweghe. One is a 5 CD box on Harmonia Mundi, with the title "The Most Beautiful Cantatas", the other is a 4 CD box on Virgin. This one has two discs of cantatas and two of the masses BWV 233-236. I don't have a comparison, but I am very fond of Herreweghe's interpretations. This might be a way of getting some good performances at good prices.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (January 6, 2003):
[To Barry Murray] Thanks for the Herreweghe suggestion. That reminds me: I have a 5-CD Leipzig Classic cantata set with the SMP conducted by Mauersberger, thanks to Aryeh, who directed me to a recording I couldn't put my finger on a long time ago! The Mauersberger was remastered using 24-bit remastering, so it's quite a gem!

Jane Newble wrote (January 6, 2003):
Barry Murray wrote:
< I don't have a comparison, but I am very fond of Herreweghe's interpretations. This might be a way of getting some good performances at good prices. >
I second that, as I am a Herreweghe fan, anyway. However, if you want some other beautiful and/or interesting interpretations, there is Suzuki, and Koopman, and of course Richter, who was himself a Lutheran and has some very moving recordings. Then there are all the others.... I am always amazed at how different recordings bring out different aspects of Bach's music and I often wonder how it would have sounded in reality 300 years ago!

Francine Renee Hall wrote (January 6, 2003):
[To Jane Newble] I have this sinking feeling that Bach's cantatas 300 years ago probably wouldn't sound as good as today's? Or perhaps at least a whole lot different? I'm sure with all those unruly boys Bach was chasing after all the time didn't help matters much! But, hey, what do I know? Harnoncourt said something to the effect that we can never know exactly, only by educated guesswork and commonsense we can merely approximate.

Jane Newble wrote (January 6, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] You are probably right. But being there in person might have made up for it a little. On the other hand, they could not listen and listen again to the same cantatas but had to make do with hearing it once. Just imagine hearing something like BWV 120, and coming away, knowing that you'll never hear it again... We are very blessed with our modern technology.

Robin Crag wrote (January 7, 2003):
Jane Newble wrote:
< We are very blessed with our modern technology. >
I agree in many ways, but in some ways we are cursed too...

Many people feel that they no longer have to make their own music, they just sit back and listen. There are some people who listen to lots of music, in some depth, but can't play (or even sing!) a note. Sometimes people are conditioned by CD’s etc to expect perfection, and cannot tolerate listening to begginers. If they had their way, we would end up with no musicians at all! What can we do, but play ourselves (however badly) to keep the music alive. Ah well,

Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 8, 2003):
[TO Robin Crag] I can relate to your sentiments, and agree that the bar is often too high at perfection in each recording. We are truly spoiled with all the great attempts at perfection. I for one also enjoy the not so perfect attempts at Bach and other fine composers by our local University choirs. I am often surprised to see how well a soloist progresses over many terms at University. One baritone soloist named Justin Plank seemed to have all the will to sing Bach but little talent to match the enthusiasm. Yet, this year he blossomed into a fine young baritone, and sang well with a very nice German accent Bach's Cantata BWV 58 "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid". I think he will now be able to sing on any stage, and his progress has been nothing less than remarkable over the last year. I would hate to think what would happen to Justin had he ran into one too many critics. I tolerated some bad performances by Justin, but I am very glad to see him progress so very well.

I have often thought I'd like to read some reviews of live concerts in BachCantatas group. While this would be difficult to co-ordinate with the weekly designated Cantata topic, it would be interesting, and doubtless members of this group do attend such performances from time to time.

Monte Garrett wrote (January 8, 2003):
[To Boyd Pehrson] I agree wholeheartedly with Boyd's thoughts. As a university choral director, I always strive for perfection with my choirs, but that truly is a high standard. At the very least, I hope that each concert is an exciting musical experience for each member of the choir. In addition, I strive to create a "musical memory" that the students will remember 5, 10, 15, 20, etc. years down the road when they have occasion to think of their college choral experience.

I admit that I am guilty of listening with a very critical ear to both recordings and live performances. Perhaps it's just human nature, but it seems always too easy to find faults in every performance. I know that my performances, too, have plenty of faults on their own and that I am my own worst critic (enemy?). However, I think it is extremely important for my students to have an experience that, at least in their own minds, was the "best ever." When they are excited about a performance that to my mind and ear had far too many flaws, it is imperative for me not to destroy their excitement.

My perspective is that as long as we are doing our absolute best, it's okay if we don't achieve exactly what we're aiming for. But if we are only giving a half-hearted effort, then we have every reason to be ashamed of ourselves. Perhaps we too often set others and ourselves up for failure when, in reality, we should encourage the positive aspects while continuing to strive for better when we fall short.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (January 8, 2003):
I agree with everyone here that performing a piece of music makes for a much stronger embedded memory than a mere listen to a disk (though I do jump for joy when I've waited for a CD to pop up I've been waiting a long time for!). And listening to classical LPs as children is also a strongly embedded memory. I really enjoyed singing at my university choir, Bach's motet Jesu Meine Freude. Afterwards, our teacher let a few of us sing up on a balcony at Marshall Field's madrigals and carols for the holidays. That was great-- and we got hot chocolate compliments of the Walnut Room too! I love the human element; perfection is an illusion because the latter is a value judgment anyway.

Jane Newble wrote (January 8, 2003):
Robin Crag wrote:
< I agree in many ways, but in some ways we are cursed
too... What can we do, but play ourselves (however badly) to keep thmusic alive. >
You are right, Robin. I get such a thrill out of playing Bach on the piano or organ, even though it is far from perfect! I still remember trying to play the first Fugue from the WTC, and although it was a struggle, I was totally overwhelmed by the intricate harmonies. And playing the first Prelude is infinitely more moving than hearing it! I suppose it's the best of both worlds when we can hear it as well.


Request for entry point into the cantatas

Peter Wennersten wrote (January 8, 2003):
I hope you don't mind me posting this request in your forum.

I would like to get into the world of the Bach cantatas but they are so many and I don' know how they differ from each other, so I don't know where to start. Maybe someone could send me a few lines of recommendations (cantatas / recordings).

From Bach I already have the Archiv boxed set containing the St Matthew and St John passions as well as the B-minor mass and the Xmas oratorio. Conducted by Karl Richter. I bought it two years ago but when listening to it at home I really did not like what I heard. It sounded very staccato and 'blurry' and my very layman ears even thought they detected false singing in the beginning of the Matthew passion. In fact, a friend - who used to sing in a choir was with me at the time and had been playing Gardiner's (Archiv) B-minor mass the evening before and thus prompting me to go out and buy it myself - started laughing after 3 minutes. I was a bit put off the whole Bach thing for a year as a result of this evening, even though I was sitting on a 10 CD box that cost me $80.

But then I gave it another chance a year ago and thank goodness I did. The Matthew passion is now one of the most cherished pieces of music I have in my collection. It has brought my appreciation of sacral music a new dimension. And I could almost say the same for the B-minor mass. I have no problems with Richter anymore. So I am very curious of what else Bach has to offer.

So where could I start? I would not mind beginning by buying a boxed set of 3,4,5 records (or a couple of double CDs) that are in more or less the same vein as the Matthew passion. However, I don't foresee eventually buying the full collection of cantatas so a 'greatest hits box' (please excuse the 'profanity') would also be interesting. Also, if it can be of any help, the only cantata I have knowingly heard was called something with 'Wake up.../ Wachen aus...'. I think it was a three-digit BWV number. I liked that one very much!

I am greatful for all help in this matter.

PS. (Warning: question is asked by an amateur) From the booklet of my Richter recording I understand that his treatment of Bach was indeed not appreciated by all and somewhat against the mainstream at the time. Would it be correct to summarise it like this?: Whereas other conductors (Gardiner?) carried through e.g. the Matteus passion with romantic sweeping tones sliding into each other and creating large musical structures rich in softness, Richter's emphasising of all tones in their singularity (almost in a one-after-the-other fashion) created more harsh and staccato musical structures which are harder to appreciate for the untrained ear. ???

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 8,. 2003):
Peter Wennersten wrote:
< So where could I start? I would not mind beginning by buying a boxed set of 3,4,5 records (or a couple of double CDs) that are in more or less the same vein as the Matthew passion. However, I don't foresee eventually buying the full collection of cantatas so a 'greatest hits box' (please excuse the 'profanity') would also be interesting. Also, if it can be of any help, the only cantata I have knowingly heard was called something with 'Wake up.../ Wachen aus...'. I think it was a three-digit BWV number. I liked that one very much! >
My usual recommendation is the two boxes on Harmonia Mundi containing cantatas by Philippe Herreweghe. First, his versions are beautiful, with excellent soloists, fine musicality, and a great choir. Second, the selections contain some of the most popular cantatas.

I've got the French editions, called Les plus belles cantates and Les cantates de fetes. They are reasonably cheap, and are probably easy to find.

Jane Newble wrote (January 8, 2003):
[To Peter Wennersten] Although I am in danger of repeating myself - I fell in love with cantatas when I heard Herreweghe's 'Mit Fried und Freud' CD, with cantatas BWV 8, BWV 125 and BWV 138 on it. It was in HMV in London, and I bought it on the spot. It was the beginning of a complete Herreweghe collection, and loads of others. if you do get hooked on cantatas, there is no hope!

Another very good Herreweghe recording is 'Wir danken dir, Gott', with BWV 29, BWV 119 and BWV 120.

There are of course many other good recordings, i.e. the Japanese Suzuki, La Petite Bande, Koopman etc. If you like the Richter sound in the SMP, then you would like the Richter cantatas too, and perhaps Rilling.

The one you heard was BWV 140 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.' That is one of the 'hits.' Others in the 'must have' line are BWV 21, BWV 82, BWV 105, BWV 106, BWV 131, BWV 147, BWV 198, but of course this little list would vary because of personal taste.

Personally I do have the Brilliant Classics set because I wanted to hear all the cantatas, and could either not afford the other sets, or all the cantatas had not yet been recorded by my favourite performers.

Usually the difference between Richter and Gardiner is the difference between Historically Informed Performance (Gardiner, Herreweghe, Koopman, Suzuki, Leonhardt and Harnoncourt etc) and Non HIP (Richter, Rilling and others). I have to warn you that this is a minefield for discussions! Personally I just listen to what I like, when I like, whether it is HIP or not.

Hope this helps a bit. You can always ask any questions you like on this list. I have been greatly helped by others. It is quite a maze to start with, with more than 200 cantatas to go at!


Favorite Cantatas

Robert Chase wrote (February 4, 2003):
Would members with a broad knowledge of the Cantatas please post lists of their favorites? I have seen Simon Crouch's Listeners' Guide but I am interested in others' opinions. If Bach wrote it, it must be worthy of study, but I am trying to assemble a group of unfamiliar cantatas quickly. I have some acquaintance with BWV 1 - 23, 26, 30, 40, 50, 51, 54, 57, 61-63, 72, 78, 82, 90, 98-100, 104-106, 130, 140, 147, 150, 161, 170, 180, 198, 201, 205, 207, and 209. Please suggest some to add to this list or refer me to lists like that of Mr. Crouch.

Rene Pannecoek wrote (February 4, 2003):
[To Robert Chase] What is your goal in assembling this group?

Ignoring whatever reason you have for your request (:-)), I can heartily recommend listening to BWV 27, 29, 33, 34, 42, 49, 55, 56, 58, 60, 64, 65, 66, 67, 80, 103, 112, 115, 116, 119, 120, 121, 123, 124, 132, 135, 146, 148, 149, 193, 194, 195, 199, 204, 211.

I hope it is of any use. I think I know 75% of the cantatas sufficiently well.

Juozas Rimas wrote (February 4, 2003):
[To Robert Chase] I think you will eventually add 90% of the cantatas to this list of your favorite cantatas. It'd be faster to compile a list of "not favorite" cantatas :)

One important omission I noticed in your list is BWV 42 - an overall solid cantata (with exceptional sinfonia and alto aria). I also don't understand why Crouch gave only 1 to BWV 44 - it must have been 1* - the duetto aria is splendid. And the way the oboe line blends with the voice in the alto aria is also amazing. I base my opinion on the cantata only on Herreweghe's recording of this work though.

Anyway, it's worth remembering that performance matters so much in music that you may think that a cantata is boring at first but change your opinion abruptly when you hear another interpretation which reveals the cantata's beauty.

Hugo wrote (February 4, 2003):
[To Juozas Rimas] What means "broad knowledge of cantatas"?

And if some members do not have that, may be that is me. I am always humble, can I also vote?

Marie Jensen wrote (February 4, 2003):
[To Robert Chase]
4,12, 21*, 26, 27, 30, 32, 35, 36, 39, 42*, 49, 51, 58*, 61, 62, 67, 68*, 72, 76, 81, 105, 106, 110*, 114, 115, 127, 140, 147*, 152, 161, 166, 179, 182*, 198*, 202 ...but it could also be so many others. There are many splendid movements in cantatas not mentioned here.

*Don't miss the stars!

Robert Chase wrote (February 5, 2003):
Dear Rene, Juozas, and Hugo:

Thanks for your responses. Rene, my purpose is to plan which Cantatas to collect next. Juozas, your points are well taken; I'm just trying to find Cantatas I might find felicitous to my ear. Those of us with limited resources may find ourselves constrained as to the choice of performance; most I'm getting are Harnoncourt's. Hugo, my scholarship of Bach is quite limited myself -- I welcome any proffered list of Cantatas you've preferred over others. Anyone else have such a list?

Jane Newble wrote (February 5, 2003):
To the lists that Rene and Marie have already given, I would like to add a few, BWV 71, 79, 131*, 138, 156, 169*, 196.

There is always a personal element involved in listening, and some that speak to me straight away, may not have the same effect on others, but I think that the more you hear the cantatas, the more you will like them, even the ones that are not immediate favourites. So really I would like to say, try to get all of them! You won't regret it.

Hugo Saldias wrote (February 5, 2003):
[To Robet hase] Very good...Let's do this:

When we pick a particular one i suggest we also say WHY we did so.In other words why that particular cantata is nr one for you.



Markus v. Stein wrote (March 18, 2003):
I've a question to all memebers in this group: What's your fav cantata of J. S. Bach?

Takashi Tsushima wrote (March 18, 2003):
[To Markus v. Stein] Well, that's a hard question because I have so many.

First of all, BWV 80 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott' (I am a Lutheran as my e-maild indicates!), and of course BWV 147 (famous for that wonderful choral full of comfort, 'Wohl mir dass ich Jesum habe'), BWV 82 'Ich habe genung,' BWV 159 'Sehet, wir geh'n hinauf gen Jerusalem' (I do love that wonderful bass air 'Es ist vollbracht' and the last choral 'Jesu, deine Passionist mir lauter Freude.' This cantata, I personally think is the very expression of our Lutheran doctrine of justification.) Ah, once I start to name, there' s no end. Bach's cantatas are far beyond description!! (Oh, I must not forget BWV 68 'Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt.' I especially love the beginning choras!)

Douglas Neslund wrote (March 18, 2003):
[To Markus v. Stein] That question is like asking a father of 15 children, which child is your favorite!

There are so many favorites of mine, but immediately BWV 21 (Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis) and BWV 31 (Der Himmel lacht! die Erde jubiliert) come to mind. And who can leave off such a list BWV 51 (Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen)?

There will always be a special place in my heart for BWV 106 (Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit [Actus tragicus]) because of the incredibly beautiful and touching performance in Thomaskirche in June 2001 by the Tölzer Knabenchor. The memory of the dying soul solo by Thomas Timmer still causes such a great connection between Christian faith and human suffering in musical form, and the 14-year-old's heart pouring into that music - it was one of the deepest moments of my life - never to be forgotten, and certainly in itself worth the cost of the trip to Germany. I would do it again!

Und nun, mein Freund, was ist dir am Liebsten?

Johan van Veen wrote (March 18, 2003):
[To Markus v. Stein] Any Bach lover will say how difficult it is to pick just one. Sometimes it's just one recitative or aria which touches you and stays in your memory. Some of my favourites are BWV 39 (Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot), which has one wonderful moment after the other (the recitative 'Wie soll ich dir, o Herr' is one of the most moving, partly because of the string parts), BWV 61 (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, with that wonderful soprano aria 'Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze') or BWV 172 (Erschallet ihr Lieder, in particular because of the jubilant opening chorus). Another favourite is BWV 106 (Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit). And since I love chorales I have a special place for Cantata BWV 4 (Christ lag in Todesbanden, based on one of Luther's most beautiful chorales). These two last cantatas belong also to my favourites, because they are strongly rooted in the 17th century, a period which I particular like.

Douglas Neslund wrote (March 19, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] I second your appreciation for BWV 39 - it almost made list of top favorites! A wonderful cantata.

Toño Kolias wrote (March 19, 2003):
[To Markus v. Stein] Here are my fav. ones:

Without doubt cantata BWV 51 is so far my favourite, followed by cantata BWV 31, if I have to add a third one probably is BWV 1 the "start coro "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is "hermosisimo" (can not find a proper english word). Sure!, I have many more....

Boyd Pehrson wrote (March 20, 2003):
[To Markus v. Stein] Thank you for your excellent question. Like other Bach fans I have many favorite Cantatas.However, there is one Cantata that is my favorite above all others: that is BWV 140 "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme." There are personal reasons. That was the first J.S. Bach Cantata I ever heard as we studied and sang this in our public school boys' choir, first performing it publicly on my 13th birthday.

It was the first time as a boy that I found the true genius of Bach, so it showed me how great music could be. I could hear all the parts so distinctly, and it was something I loved from the beginning. BWV 140 was interesting and it grew and connected to my soul, I don't know why. This Cantata also spoke to me on a spiritual level, and it was the first time as a boy that I sensed God in something, again, I don't know why. It seemed God wanted me to wake up from myself and look to him somehow. All of this was Bach speaking to me through his music and somehow his life and energy was coming through his music, like Bach was breathing through us, and speaking to us and others. Never before was music so alive to me.

Now as an adult I still love this Cantata. I think it has very beautiful long lines, simplicity in effect, and is leisurely in its pace- which is all very lovely. I am very pleased with the Teldec recording of this Cantata with Herr Harnoncourt directing. The solos (and duets) are beautifully sung, and the Tölzer Knabenchor soprano soloist (Alan Bergius) sounds better than any of the adult sopranos I've heard. He creates a much different effect all together than any of the opera ladies. These long lines are very difficult to sing with credibility. Also, that tenor solo chorale is the perfect piece for the great tenor Kurt Equiluz! Herr Equiluz was at the top of his form at his age for a tenor when he recorded this. Yes, BWV 140 is one special Cantata to me, it stands out among my favorites.

Joost wrote (March 20, 2003):
[To Markus v. Stein] The Actus tragicus BWV 106 is my top favourite cantata too. Among my other favourites are Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen BWV 12, Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig BWV 26, Ein Herz, das seinem Jesum lebend weiss BWV 134, and Aus der Tiefe BWV 131.

By the way, if you ever encounter a Bach cantata you do not like, you will probably dislike the performance, not the composition. All of Bach's cantatas are of high quality, although everyone has favourites of his/her own.

Andreas Burghardt wrote (March 24, 2003):
[To Markus v. Stein] It is fascinating how many different cantatas are already listed as favourites just from a few people. This fact can only be attributed to the diversity and extraordinary quality of the composition. As already mentioned by others, it is very difficult to point out one or even a few cantatas as 'favourites', because the choice is overwhelming. Nevertheless here is my try:

BWV 141, "Herz und Tat und Mund und Leben"
BWV 182, "Himmelskönig sei willkommen"
BWV 71, "Gott ist mein König"

Perhaps I also have to add BWV 172 "Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!", which was the first Bach cantata I ever heard in a live performance. I was visiting relatives in East Germany and we made a trip to Leipzig. We went to the service in the Thomaskirche on a day before Pentecost sometime in the 80s. I will never forget that ("first") impressing performance of the Thomanerchor under the direction of former Thomaskantor Hans-Joachim Rotzsch. Since that magic moment I am tied up with Bach cantatas.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 24, 2002):
To Andreas Burghardt & Markus v. Stein]
Andreas, Cantata BWV 141, although listed in the BWV, is not a Bach Cantata. It was composed by G.F. Telemann. AFAIK, it has not been recorded in its completeness. The only recording of individual movement from it is of the opening chorus. See:

Markus, regarding the general topic in question, I am not the one to answer it. For me the favourable cantata each week is the one which is discussed in the BCML (this week it happens to be BWV 58. Among its recordings you can find Harnoncourt with the excellent boy soprano Peter Jelosits). I have problems even choosing a favourite recording of each cantata, because almost every rendition reveals different aspects.


Favourite cantata: poll

Toño Kolias wrote (March 30, 2003):
BWV 106: (3 members) / BWV 31: (2 members) / BWV 39: (2 members) / BWV 51: (2 members) / BWV 172: (2 members) / BWV 1- BWV 4 - BWV 12BWV 21 - BWV 61 - BWV 68 - BWV 71- BWV 80 - BWV 82 - BWV 104 - BWV 131- BWV 134 -BWV 141- BWV 147 - BWV 159 -- BWV 182 - : (1 member).

Douglas Neslund wrote (March 30, 2003):
[To Toño Kolias] Thanks, Toño, for the compilation, which underscores what we all know, that Bach's music is rich in content and faith, satisfying to the musical literate as well as those untrained in compositional arts, has stood the test of time for all these years, and will endure until the world ends. I expect that Bach and his music will be present in Heaven, too!

Toño Kolias wrote (March 30, 2003):
[To Douglas Neslund] I expect that Bach and his music will be present in Heaven, too!...I have no doubt that He will be there with his music, so what I do expect is to win this battle to gain Heaven. To me Bach´s music is one of the best weapons to dethrone "it". How much I do envy Bach´s balance. I have not encountered any artist or "human" with such capacity to recreate what we call Heaven, me is (in between us ;-) ) Pure Love!. Many times listening His music I have desired to sit by his feet. What this man was feeling when composed Aus liebe will mein Heiland sterben?


Thanks to all!

Markus v. Stein wrote (April 2, 2003):
Thanks to all for answering my Question "your favourites in Bach cantatas". I think nobody of us can say which one is the best cantata. This kind of music is composed for the past, the present and for the future. The music of J. S. Bach lives on in all members of this group and in all peoples they like this music. In this music you can find belief, power, hope, joy and peace! This time we're in preparation the "Johannes-Passion" BWV 245 for some concerts at the Eastern time. So please forgive me that I can’t write so many articles for the group. Hope I can stay at the group for a long time. All the best for the Group-members!



Bart Stolzel wrote (April 18, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Myself, I would have bought the Leusink boxes as much as a year ago, but I was dissuaded by reading reviews from this discussion list (on the
web site). Those reviews are quite negative, giving the impression that Leusink is third-rate (or worse) in all areas.
I decided to buy a couple of the boxes to hear them for myself. It's worth it. I've had them for a month or two now, and really am enjoying thanks to the people who almost kept me from buying them at all! The Leusink performances are (IMO) MUCH, MUCH better than the reviews in this group had led me to believe. I'm glad I decided to listen to the recordings myself. >
What about this experience I had? In International Record Review, December 2000, I read this by Simon Heighes about the RILLING set:

'Never that warmly applauded at the time of their original release, I can see precious little reason for foisting them on us again, even at a modest price. Impotent choral singing, neurotic continuo realizations, a tendency towards expressive mannerism (especially in a recitatives) and dangerously torpid tempos are just some of the nightmares we encounter here....' And more in that vein, saying that he couldn't see why anyone would go and buy these CDs. He went on to give a warm recommendation of the LEUSINK set.

I had a few recordings by Rifkin, Richter and Gonnenwein, and a couple of Leusink boxes, but Bach cantatas had never been an obsession with me.

The other day I was in a CD shop rummaging in their junk tray and I found a Frank Martin CD I really wanted. But the deal was any two CDs from the tray for 10 euro, so I had to find another one. They had a few of the Rilling CDs; I remembered I'd read a seriously bad review of them somewhere, but there was nothing else in the tray I wanted, so I bought one.

I took it home and played it. The next day I went back to the shop and bought all the other Rillings left in the junk tray (four more). The next day I joined this Yahoo group. And today I ordered from the Berkshire people all the other Rillings still on offer there (about 20).

It seems a bit strong to say that you should ignore all reviews, but I'd certainly advise anyone to ignore all reviews by this Simon Heighes person.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] Bart, your story is another fine illustration that it's good to let one's
OWN ears be the judge. (Sort of like the "a picture is worth 1000 words" proverb.)

I've been a longtime subscriber to the two main American journals that review classical music. In each of those there are several reviewers that I know I disagree with: it's a pretty reliable bet that if X likes a recording I will hate it, and vice versa. That consistency is nice! And there are of course other reviewers whom I know I can trust in the opposite direction: if they like something, I probably will also. Reviews are helpful if they're (1) consistent, (2) from reviewer whose expectations are recognizable, and (3) from a reviewer who doesn't automatically rave about everything, or pan everything...a reviewer who is discerning, even if I don't agree with what is discerned.

Another case in point: occasionally I look at the Penguin Guides to see what they're recommending...not because I'd ever follow what they say, but because I *know* I disagree with almost everything they say, especially in 17th-18th century music. And I remind myself that a penguin is a flightless bird.... :)

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] I share your view of reading critics with caution. About three years ago I sent a message to the BCML (which was then at its early stages) titled 'An Annoying Criticism' about my view of Jim Svedja's chapter (?) on H&L recordings of the Bach Cantatas in his book 'The Insider's Guide to Classical Recordings'. You can read it at the page: (scroll down to about the middle of the page).

BTW, Dr. Simon Heighes did the reconstruction of Markus-Passion BWV 247, recorded by Roy Goodman and included in Brilliant Classics Bach Edition - Volume 10 [Passions]!

Welcome to the BCML and enjoy. I would like to see you participating in the weekly cantata discussions.

Bart Stolzel wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] When you see a review going over the top; eg about H&L:
`mauling the luckless pieces beyond recognition' and `bizarre contest as to who can conjure up the most screechy and etiolated instrumental sound and the most feeble choral outbursts'

or about Rilling:
`precious little reason for foisting them on us again'
and `nightmares'.

you can assume the reviewer is enjoying himself by showing how clever he is at thinking up insults, and he is no longer trying to give a fair assessment. The recording might still be bad of course, but you shouldn't assume so without at least reading some other more thoughtful review.

Perhaps the point about an irresponsible negative review perhaps depriving people of much pleasure applies above all to the Bach cantatas, which are simultaneously great in a very special way, and not as mainstream as, say, the main works of Beethoven or Brahms.

I'm working on trying to find something useful to say about BWV 79.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] I totally agree. As a reviewer myself, I rarely bother to review something if it is bad enough that it will force me to come up with creative insults. I'd rather leave it unreviewed, and hopefully ignored.


Richter-Harnoncourt scale

Bart Stolzel wrote (April 21, 2003):
I was trying to get my ideas straight about the different ways of performing Bach cantatas, so that I could explain them to non-musical friends. What about this idea? A Richter-Harnoncourt scale.

If you put a thoroughly traditional performance at 1 on the scale, then the most radically different performance would be 9. You could then locate other performance styles along the scale.

Here is what I have so far, based on my own (currently) modest collection of recorded music.

1 Richter, Mauersberger
2 Gonnenwein
4 Rilling
7 Rifkin
8 Leusink
9 (Harnoncourt/Leonhardt - though I haven't got any yet)

Not yet classified: Coin, Gardiner, Herreweghe, Koopman, Schreier, Suzuki, Thomas J, Werner, Winschermann

I'd say that what counts is how radically different the actual sound turns out, and not how radical the theories behind it.

Anyone care to join in with this harmless pastime?

Hugo Saldias wrote (April 21, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] Thanks a lot for this. I agree wihth you. Just one thing: together with Richter, and Thomaskantor Mauersberger, please also include the other great Thomaskantor: Profes.Gunther Ramin. And may be the present Thomaskantor Georg Christoph Biller. So all the Leipzig Bach tradition (that makes the organ too loud for our scholar Mr Thomas Braatz) are together.

Thanks and best regards on this glorious Easter Monday.

Bob Henderson wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] I have also had the recent experience (as well catalogued by a recent List contributor ), of reviewing my Richter LPs. If one is of a certain age and was not a music student and did not live in a major city, yet had the desire to explore serious music, one can\me down to the recordings available at the local music store. What was available was Richter and his recordings of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) and the SMP (BWV 244) 1958 was what we got. Richter drew us into the world of Bach. I remember as a young person thinking after hearing the Gloria for the first time that that is what Bach is all about. I had the good fortune to be present at two performances of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) with Richter on tour, one at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia,about 1969 to a half filled house and then to an overflow house (on stage as well as in the house-a chorister almost fell off the too small stage) in Hanover, New Hampshire.c. 1970.

Today Richter does sound "square" to me. His Sleepers Awake encourages me to sleep on. But seeds of the original fascination linger. The last hour of his SMP 1958 have yet to be challenged in terms of devotional intensity, drama, Lutheran truth or even willingness to stretch the music. (address "Warlich......). Richter one of the greats to whom we might return.......

Please excuse the ramblings.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] I was thinking about this some last night...but I don't think it really works. It's not a simple linear scale. I can think of at least half a dozen musical attributes (dimensions) that could be laid out like a Cartesian system (but in six-dimensional space, at least), and Harnoncourt and Richter wouldn't be opposites on some of them. They'd be on some diagonal in this multi-dimensional space, but the other people wouldn't be on that same line.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] When I first heard Richter, he was considered radical. "Traditional" was Karajan, Stokowski, Klemperer, Ormandy -- the big names whose main thing was the big romantics, and who tried to fit Bach into that mold.

How times change.

Granting Brad's point that the thing is multidimensional, if I were to set up a unidimensional scale, the romantics listed above would be zero and Richter would be about 5.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] I remember listening to the LP set of Ormandy's B minor mass once (at the radio station where I worked; I don't own a copy of it). There's a tremendously exciting place where the Temple University choir rushes, and they get almost a whole bar ahead of the orchestra.....

Robert Sherman wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Not necessarily the choir's fault. I've never understood how anybody could follow Ormandy's conducting. He always wanted to be a beat -- or maybe two or three -- ahead of the music. I would have found it impossible to operate under those conditions, and maybe the Temple U choir did too.

Bart Stolzel wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I know, Brad. Perfectly true.

My idea was that the net effect of each conductor's attributes produces a total sound, which could be located on a scale - an instrument which, though crude, would be better than no overview at all.

It would be great for tyros like me if you or anyone wanted to sketch a matrix with a row for each important attribute, and columns for each of the main conductors - and at least some of the cells filled in of course.

Or does anyone know of any article that gives some overview of that kind?

Bart Stolzel wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] OK, but it's the people whose CDs one mainly wants to buy now (Suzuki, Gardiner etc) that are most interesting to locate on a scale between Richter and Harnoncourt.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Bart Stolzel] I still think it's more importo do YOUR OWN listening (and decide what you expect and find meaningful), rather than relying on anyone's overview. You're the one who has to live with your own choices..... :)

All any bloke on the internet (or anywhere else) can say is: hey, this one over here moves me, check it out, you might like it too.

Bart Stolzel wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Hey wait a minute. You're talking about value judgements. I've been careful to leave them out of the discussion. This isn't about being moved, or liking one more than another, or finding one more meaningful than another. Of course, that kind of thing is up to the listener.

I'm talkng about getting an overview based on objective facts like: this conductor produces a different sound from this other one, and it's no wonder because he's using boys'voices while the other is using women's voices, albeit without much vibrato.

The question of whether I or you like one approach more than another is quite separate. I wasn't thinking of putting that kind of value judgement on a scale or matrix or any other kind of overview.


Recordings of Bach Secular Cantatas and incomplete sacred cantatas

John Pike wrote (November 12, 2003):
Some months ago, I ordered Volume 5 in the Bach 2000 Edition, Teldec. It has just arrived. It is a very handy box set of 11 CDs covering all the secular cantatas and various incomplete sacred cantatas which were not included in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt "Complete" Cantata cycle in 10 volumes....very useful to those who have the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt cycle but are missing the secular cantatas and the incomplete secular ones. I have listened to 2 CDs so far, and initial impressions are very good.


Complete Cantatas

Bart O’Brien wrote (November 22, 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.

Satofumi 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.

Bart O’Brien wrote (November 24, 2003):
[To Satofumi] It must have been a very special holiday, Satofumi. If that works for you, fine.

The issue I am trying to tackle is this: I'd like to give each cantata its own identity in my mind (eg if you mention, say, cantata 39, I'd think automatically: Ah, that's the one with that marvellous opening chorale about feeding the hungry) - just as a school-teacher might put a face to the names of each of 200 pupils.

I find that the only way to get near that is to get to know the cantatas gradually and listen to lots of other great music (Puccini, Bruckner, Stravinsky etc etc) in between.

Does anyone have another technique for tackling this issue? Or maybe doubts about the issue itself?

Satofumi wrote (November 24, 2003):
[To Bart O’Brien] It was a vacation time, which is generally and personally afforded in April-May in Japan.

< It must have been a very special holiday, Satofumi. If that works for you, fine. >
And listing through volumes is something like a ritual obtaining new (sets) of CD's. I identify each piece and performance later after the ceremony.

Bart O’Brien wrote (November 25, 2003):
[To Satofumi] So, ideas for next spring ritual:
complete sonatas of Scarlatti, complete Handel operas and oratorios (smile symbol)

Satofumi wrote (November 25, 2003):
[To Bart O’Brien] Thanks for your idea. Next spring I will be playing Goldberg variations.

Bart O’Brien wrote (November 25, 2003):
[To Satofumi] All the available 100+ recordings I trust.

Satofumi wrote (November 25, 2003):

[To Bart O’Brien] I mean I will be playing the piano.

BTW, I have Tureck's 1998 recording of Goldberg (BWV988) and love it very much, but do not have the earlier ones by her. Could someone strongly recommend the earliear ones, and give the reason for that?

Barry Murray wrote (November 25, 2003):
[To Bart O’Brien] Perhaps if you're looking for complete sets, you should consider Bach's complete Organ Works. This won't keep you busy for as long as the Cantatas, but there's plenty of wonderful material there.

Otherwise, why not branch out into Vivaldi? I don't think there are many genres of his output in which you can get a truly complete set anyway. You would have fun trying.

Barry Murray wrote (November 25, 2003):
[To Satofumi] If you go back to the archives of the Bach Recordings List, you will find that Don Satz reviewed, I think, 40 odd recordings. I'm sure his posts will give you a very good handle on available recordings.

Satofumi wrote (November 25, 2003):
[To Barry Murray] Thanks, Barry.

I have read the summary part of the post in BRL by D.Satz on Tureck (1957) and Tureck (1998). I would like opinions from different points of view for a beginner.


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