ACHTUNG! VERY LONG AND VERY BORING POST!!\r\n\r\nCANTATA (Italian; feminine past participle of Ã¢â‚¬Å“cantareÃ¢â‚¬Â (to sing)): (music): An extended composition for one or more voices and instrumental accompaniment Ã¢â‚¬Â¦. a choral work resembling a short oratorio (SOED). \r\n\r\nMy purpose here is not to give a detailed resumÃƒÂ© of such a large body of work. The unequalled guide to the cantatas is the Bach Cantatas website at \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.bach-cantatas.com/[/URL] \r\n\r\nIf you want to know something (just about anything) about the cantatas and the world in which they were composed and the people who have performed and recorded them, plus chat pages and reviews, apply here. I shall try to give some background for the newbie and give some thoughts on recordings, as a basis for further exploration. \r\n\r\nFor the joy of the Bach cantatas is just that; it is a journey of exploration and discovery. I am constantly surprised by musical gems Ã¢â‚¬â€œ beautiful chorales and arias, stunning instrumental work Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that pop up all over the place, in music to which scant attention is paid. My project is to collect them all Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I'm two-thirds of the way there (I have about 130) \r\n\r\nFor no apparent reason, the cantatas of J.S. Bach occupy pole position in his catalogue of works, the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Ã¢â‚¬Å“BWVÃ¢â‚¬Â). They start at BWV 1 (Christmas cantata Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wie schÃƒÂ¶n leuchtet der MorgensternÃ¢â‚¬Â (how beautifully shines the morning star)) and go on to just over BWV 200. 1-198 are the church cantatas, the rest are secular cantatas (Ã¢â‚¬Å“PeasantÃ¢â‚¬Â, Ã¢â‚¬Å“CoffeeÃ¢â‚¬Â (sending up the recently-arrived fashion of coffee drinking), Ã¢â‚¬Å“HuntÃ¢â‚¬Â and several Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeddingÃ¢â‚¬Â cantatas). By the way, Ã¢â‚¬Å“HuntÃ¢â‚¬Â (BWV 208) includes the famous, beautiful Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sheep may safely grazeÃ¢â‚¬Â (Ã¢â‚¬Å“SchÃƒÂ¤fe kÃƒÂ¶nnen sicher weidenÃ¢â‚¬Â), often played at weddings. \r\n\r\nAs cantor of Leipzig, with responsibility for the music used in the (Lutheran) churches of the town (mainly St. Thomas and St. Nicholas), Bach had to produce music for the particular Sundays and holy days of the church year, so Easter music for Easter, Christmas music for Christmas, etc. The Lutheran Church had its own strong ideas as to music, right from the very beginning, when its founder was the first man to say, Ã¢â‚¬Å“why should the Devil have all the good tunes?Ã¢â‚¬Â Luther unhesitatingly turned street songs into religious songs, an example later followed by the Wesleys and William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. One of the main features was the chorale, a simple tune sung and played in unison, sung by the congregation as well. Later, these were harmonised. By the time Bach came along, there was a considerable body of these, many of them with splendid tunes. Bach was to use them in his cantatas; not only did they make the work of production easier but they also provided a point of contact with the congregation, who knew them well. Bach had already written church cantatas at Weimar; he was to write many more in Leipzig, ending up with at least 4, probably 5, cycles of church cantatas of 52 weeks each (some have been lost). \r\n\r\nThe secular cantatas often have quite trivial words, but the church cantatas are usually the reverse, very profound. As a devout Christian (or as near to that ideal as any mortal can get in this life), Bach poured real meaning into them, carefully matching the music to the words. He was, I suppose, what one would today call Ã¢â‚¬Å“born againÃ¢â‚¬Â, real faith rather than lip service. He needed this faith to bear him through much tragedy, including the loss of his first wife and the half of his 20 children who died in infancy, and finally the loss of his sight, accelerated by the ministrations of an English quack (who was to do the same thing to Handel some years later). He may have had to produce the goods rapidly, but he meant every single word. \r\n\r\nIn spite of that rapid production rate, the overall quality of the cantatas is amazingly good. They're not all brilliant masterpieces, but I've yet to hear one that isn't at least listenable. One theory concerning the B Minor Mass is that it is was Bach's choral Ã¢â‚¬Å“Art of FugueÃ¢â‚¬Â, into which he poured the best of everything he knew about choral music. Many of the memorable parts of that masterpiece originated in the cantatas. For some years, the rate was a cantata a week Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which meant that not only had Bach to write the thing, but also rehearse his choir and orchestra, between one Sunday and the next. Naturally, not even Bach could write all of this from scratch, so he relied on libretti from other sources and existing church music. The libretti were a combination of material especially written for the occasion, the Scripture reading for that particular Sunday and the existing chorale words. \r\n\r\nThe chorale melody was generally sung at the end of the cantata. However, Bach would also take the melody as a basis, and many cantatas include the chorale melody transformed, sometimes out of all recognition as a sort of choral fantasia, or by adding a memorable accompaniment. The most famous example of the latter is Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesu bleibet meine FreudeÃ¢â‚¬Â (Jesu, joy of man's desiring) from BWV 147, which has a glorious lilting 9/8 time accompaniment that dominates the thing so much that people tend to forget the original chorale tune. The best example of the former is perhaps the Reformation Sunday cantata BWV 80 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ein' feste Burg ist unser GottÃ¢â‚¬Â (a mighty fortress is our God). This chorale, still sung in churches today, is the great battle hymn of the Lutheran church, written by Luther himself and sung by Luther and his followers as they marched into Wurms to confront the Diet (Council) that was to examine Luther's radical views on established Catholic doctrine. In the cantata, the melody turns up in all sorts of variations, including a marvellous chorale where the choir sing the melody unharmonised in unison as the orchestral play swirls around them, an arrangement that some see as depicting demons assaulting a divine fortress, matching the words. \r\n\r\nIn addition to using the existing chorale tunes as bases, there is some judicious recycling of material, both words and music. Moreover, the same cantata sometimes surfaces in an entirely suit of clothes. There are no less than three cantatas, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Was Gott tut, ist wohlgetanÃ¢â‚¬Â (what God does, He does well)., and the beautiful lilting accompaniments of the opening chorale of Ã¢â‚¬Å“Du Hirte Israel, hÃƒÂ¶reÃ¢â‚¬Â (BWV 104) and the aria Ã¢â‚¬Å“Seht, was die Liebe tutÃ¢â‚¬Â of Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ich bin ein guter HirtÃ¢â‚¬Â (BWV 85) sound like dummy runs for Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesu, joyÃ¢â‚¬Â. However, the surprising thing is just how much of it is not only original, but also of outstanding quality. Telemann, it was said, could set a laundry list to music. You just know that Bach could have made a cantata out of it (Ã¢â‚¬Å“Herz und MundÃ¢â‚¬Â recycled as Ã¢â‚¬Å“Seifen, waschen, trocknen, bÃƒÂ¼gelnÃ¢â‚¬Â (soaping, washing, drying, ironing)?) \r\n\r\nWe hear the cantatas as free-standing concert works, but in Bach's time they were part of the service. A Lutheran church service of the 18th century did not actually last forever, it merely seemed that way. 3-4 hours was typical, starting at 7.00 am, and the sermon would typically last an hour. The cantata for the day would be performed after the scripture reading and it could be performed in one piece (the way we hear it today) or it might be played in several pieces with other segments of the service taking place between these parts. Bach himself would provide the continuo (harpsichord or organ), the reference point of the music in those days before conductors. At his disposal, he had a small orchestra, the church choir and the boys from the choir school associated with St. Thomas's. Women weren't permitted in church choirs in those days, so there would have been counter-tenors for the alto parts, probably also from the school (where the oldest pupils would have been in their early 20s). Unlike Beethoven the artist, who wrote something and expected it to be performed just like that and didn't much care if the poor player or singer thought it was nearly impossible, Bach tailored his music to the talents of the available players and singers. The largish number of intricate trumpet parts in the cantatas indicates that he had a top-class virtuoso at his disposal Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and so he had, Gottfried Reiche, for whom the tricky trumpet part of Brandenburg Concerto No.2 was probably written. However, other players would have been very ordinary and the standards of performance would not always have been the best. \r\n\r\nBefore the mid-70s, cantata recordings were relatively thin on the ground, the more famous ones appearing occasionally in the catalogues. Solo singers would tackle the solo cantatas (for wexample, both Hans Hotter and Dame Janet Baker have recorded BWV82 "Ich habe genug". One of the few major exponents was the organist and conductor Karl Richter and his Munich Bach Orchestra, on the infant Archiv label of Deutsche Grammophon. However, he recorded only a relatively small number of the better-known cantatas. Another series was the Erato series, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Les grandes cantatas de J.S. BachÃ¢â‚¬Â, by the Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra under Fritz Werner, again recording only a small proportion. Both of these were on modern instruments, but in them you can see the beginnings of a move away from grand orchestration and bel canto operatic voices, neither of which Bach would have known. Both of these series are available today in collections Ã¢â‚¬â€œ see, for example: \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000001304/qid=1056289524/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2_2/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000026CPA/qid=1056289706/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_0_1/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\n(The latter is an especially good deal, for anyone wanting to hear cantatas on the cheap). \r\n\r\nRichter was a devoted Bachian, but his readings can sound old-fashioned these days (his BWV140 is VERY ponderous). However, he did have the services of some formidable talents, such as the young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and much of Richter's stuff remains highly listenable. The Erato series was uneven, some very good, some not so hot. The Heinrich Schutz choir of Werner sometimes lets the side down badly, as do some of the soloists (no star names at all). Morever, some of the Werner recordings date back to the early '60s, and they show their age; this isn't helped by some of the transfers to CD (Werner's BWV 147 has very boomy, intrusive bass). However, there are some that still sound very good Ã¢â‚¬â€œ for example, BWV 140.The series also benefitted from the presence of some of Erato's stable of top artists Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the trumpeter was often Maurice AndrÃƒÂ© and nobody, but nobody, could blow his own trumpet quite so well. \r\n\r\nThe first complete recording of all the cantatas was started in the 1970s by Helmuth Rilling, a lecturer at Stuttgart, who had given many live performances of the cantatas. With the GÃƒÂ¤chinger Kantorei that he had formed, he started recording cantatas in 1970, without the intention, as far as I'm aware, of doing the lot. Yet, 15 years later, that's what he'd done. He did this on a variety of labels, but eventually the complete set was issued by HÃƒÂ¤nssler, and it's still available. Rilling used modern instruments and voices (Arleen Auger is the soprano on many of them), but his readings changed over the years as research and the original instrument movement threw new light on how music was played in Bach's day. The initial packaging had the cantatas in random order (Rilling had started with relatively obscure cantatas), but a recent repackaging has put them in BWV numerical order. They were digitally remastered for this, but I can't hear any difference. As you'd imagine, the Richter, Rilling and Werner stuff have considerable similarities. On rehearing some of this material in writing this piece, I found that some Rilling recordings in particular sound over-rich. They're just TOO Ã¢â‚¬Å“modernÃ¢â‚¬Â. Recording quality is generally good. \r\n\r\nThe next complete recording was completely different. Telefunken set out to record all the cantatas on its Ã¢â‚¬Å“Das Alte WerkeÃ¢â‚¬Â label, using original instruments, boy sopranos and counter-tenors rather than contraltos, in other words, to be as near as possible to how they would have sounded to Bach. This mighty task was undertaken by two groups, one with Nickolaus Harnoncourt and his Concentus Musicus Wien with the Chorus Viennensis and the Wiener SÃƒÂ¤ngerknaben (Vienna Boys' Choir), the other by Gustav Leonhardt and his Ensemble with various choirs (including both the TÃƒÂ¶lzer Knabenchor and the choir of King's College Cambridge). Being a pioneer means that you blaze the trail and make all the mistakes, and the recordings are often somewhat lacking. The sound of the original instruments is often thin and scrawny, the recordings sometimes leave a lot to be desired, and orchestras, choirs and soloists sometimes clearly found it tough going. Yet many find this element of Ã¢â‚¬Å“dangerÃ¢â‚¬Â attractive Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it's something you don't get with Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir, which you just know is capable of doing anything required of it. The complete set can be bought on Teldec. It has its share of flops, but it has also many gems. Telefunken deserves much credit for this daring enterprise, although it was done in kinder times. John Eliot Gardiner was to find that the times they are a-changin'. \r\n\r\nSince that time, two new sets are on the way. Erato started having another go with Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir. These are being released in 3 CD volumes. Erato then pulled out, but Koopman is continuing with private means. The other is, surprisingly, Japanese. Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan are working their way through the cantatas on the BIS label. Both of these are original instrument performances, and they demonstrate how much has been learned in the time since Harnoncourt went pioneering. I find Koopman's readings (those that I have) to be not particularly exciting. On the other hand, the Japanese have made an outstanding effort, and the volumes released by Suzuki that I've heard have been excellent, some of the best, spoiled a little sometimes by the slight Ã¢â‚¬Å“echoinessÃ¢â‚¬Â of the recording venue, the Chapel of Sholin Women's University, which the BIS engineers hadn't quite tamed at the beginning ((good in later recordings). \r\n\r\nOne can't leave complete sets without mentioning the set that never was. 2000 was the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, and John Eliot Gardiner decided that he would perform all the surviving church cantatas in the right liturgical order in churches all over Europe. It was intended to record all the cantatas at the same time, but somewhere along the way, Archiv got cold feet at the sheer size of the project and reduced the number and then reduced it again, to only 12 CDs Ã¢â‚¬â€œand some of them were repackaged recordings made 10 years earlier. The project was one of the factors that led to the cancellation of his Archiv contract, Archiv not wanting to pay out for yet another complete cantata recording for music that barely featured even on the classical hit parade. It has been said that Gardiner DID record them all in live performance, but whether the material is of sufficient quality for release must be moot Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the burden of travelling and then rehearsing and performing several cantatas a week doesn't promise consistently good quality. However, the ones that have been released have been good. There is a general perception that Gardiner excels in the festive cantatas, where his high energy approach and the ability of his marvellous choir to perform miracles on command produces red-blooded, exciting performances, but that he is not so convincing in the more reflective cantatas. I haven't found this, but some of his releases (ones I haven't got) have taken a mauling on the cantatas website. \r\n\r\nOne approach that I do NOT like (purely personal bias on my part) is Joshua Rifkin's. Rifkin has argued for one voice per part. In other words, there is no choir, just the soloists. To me, the result sounds pathetically thin, but I know people who enjoy the sparse sound and clarity of lines. Each to his or her own. \r\n\r\nThere are a couple of other good part-series of which I am aware. Philippe Herrweghe has produced some excellent cantata recordings, as has Christophe Coin with his Ensemble Baroque de Limoges. In addition, there are a number of part-series that are rarely seen outside Germany. Some of these feature the Thomanerchor, the choir of St. Thomas, Leipzig, the successor of the choir that Bach once conducted. \r\n\r\nI have not heard all the cantatas. My 130 are a very mixed bag. Most are Rilling, because they are often cheaply on sale in Switzerland (thank goodness for the limited appeal of cantatas), and I can augment the collection cheaply. However, I have bits of nearly everyone else. This piecemeal approach leads inevitably to duplication (and worse!), but this is useful for comparison. \r\n\r\nSo, which cantatas to buy? \r\n\r\nTo me, the best starting point for the cantatas are BWV 140 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wachet auf, ruft uns die StimmeÃ¢â‚¬Â (Awake! the voice calls to us, known in English as Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sleepers, awake!Ã¢â‚¬Â) and BWV 147 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Herz und Mund und Tat und LebenÃ¢â‚¬Â (Heart and mouth and deed and life). \r\n\r\nBWV 140, the story of the wise and foolish virgins at the wedding feast (Matt. 25:1-13), is a gem, one of the very greatest. Curiously, none of it can be called Ã¢â‚¬Å“outstandingÃ¢â‚¬Â in the sense of having spectacular choruses or dazzling instrumental work, but if it can be described in a word, that word would be charm. It all hangs together beautifully. The second appearance of the chorale is accompanied by one of those wonderful Bach accompaniments, made slightly famous by Jacques Loussier, that make you forget the original chorale tune. It sounds like this: \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.sonyclassical.com/music/66511/index.html[/URL] \r\n\r\nThe duet Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mein Freund ist meinÃ¢â‚¬Â with oboe is also noteworthy. \r\n\r\nBWV 147 is for the Feast of the Visitation and remembers the visit of the pregnant Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant (with John the Baptist) (Luke 1:39-45). It's famous for one of the greatest of all Bach tunes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesu, joy of man's desiringÃ¢â‚¬Â, which occurs twice. Just in case someone out there DOESN'T know the tune, try here: \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.lib.virginia.edu/MusicLi...ds/Jesu_joy.aif[/URL] \r\n\r\nHowever, the magnificence doesn't stop there Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the opening chorale, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Herz und MundÃ¢â‚¬Â itself, is spectacular, with a wonderful trumpet obbligato. The trumpet returns for the bass aria Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ich will von Jesu Wundern singenÃ¢â‚¬Â. \r\n\r\nA good bet here is Gardiner, where the two are paired in a single CD (full-price and not particularly good value, time-wise). Although this is listed as part of the Cantata Pilgrimage of 2000, it is actually a repackaging of a 10 year-old recording. However, the performances are excellent, so good that you barely notice that they're on original instruments. See \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004XPU6/qid=1056289815/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_2_5/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\nBoth can also be had on a double Erato CD of the old Werner performances, AND you also get BWV 28, 85, 90 and 119! As I said, the recordings and performances are uneven, but the BWV 140 is good and the magic trumpet of The Mighty AndrÃƒÂ© in BWV 90 and 147 helps balance the disadvantages of a poor recording. See \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos...0673901-4287836[/URL] \r\n\r\nRifkin has a coupling of BWV 140 and 147 with 80, making it good value Ã¢â‚¬â€œ see \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000042HM/qid=1056290348/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_0_1/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\nbut you have to like your Bach micro-scale (I don't). And the Harnoncourt box set at \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000000SKV/qid=1056289998/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_0_1/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\nis perhaps too comprehensive for someone only wanting an initial taste. \r\n\r\nSo, what others for jumping-off points? \r\n\r\nBWV 1 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wie schÃƒÂ¶n leuchtet die MorgensternÃ¢â‚¬Â (How beautifully shines the morning star) A pleasant Christmas cantata that starts with a lovely chorale with two horns. Bach must have liked the chorale melody, because he used it six times in the cantatas (it also turns up several times in the organ preludes). Or perhaps he was desperate. \r\n\r\nBWV 4 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Christ lag in TodesbandenÃ¢â‚¬Â (Christ lay in the bonds of death). An Easter cantata (just in case you hadn't guessed) characterised by the Ã¢â‚¬Å“HallelujahÃ¢â‚¬Â that ends every chorale and aria. The entire text is taken from Luther's hymn of the same name. No particularly great numbers, but very intense and meaningful. \r\n\r\nBWV 11 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Lobet Gott in seinem ReichenÃ¢â‚¬Â (Praise God in His Kingdom), also known as the Ascension Oratorio, this is a triumphant work celebrating the Ascension of Christ. Ã¢â‚¬Å“TriumphantÃ¢â‚¬Â for Bach means three trumpets soaring into the stratosphere. \r\n\r\nBWV 29 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wir danken dir, GottÃ¢â‚¬Â (We thank you, God). Bach is known to have written at least 12 cantatas for the installation of new town councils in Leipzig. This is one of only 4 that have survived. This one starts off with a symphonia, made (relatively) famous by being the first number in Walter Carlos's (as she then was) Ã¢â‚¬Å“Switched-on BachÃ¢â‚¬Â. It then features a chorale whose melody was to end up twice in the B Minor Mass, including the great concluding chorale of that masterpiece. Three of the town council cantatas have been recorded by Philippe Herreweghe Ã¢â‚¬â€œ see \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004SDHT/qid%3D1056290072/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\nThis CD also includes BWV 119 (see below). \r\n\r\nBWV 31 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Die Himmel lacht, die Erde jubiliertÃ¢â‚¬Â (The heavens laugh, the earth rejoices) Another great festive work, celebrating the Resurrection, with a marvellous opening chorale and a beautiful final chorale. The glorious solo trumpet part in the final chorale is played particularly beautifully by Maurice AndrÃƒÂ© in the old Erato Ã¢â‚¬Å“Les grandes CantatesÃ¢â‚¬Â version in a burnished golden smoooooooth tone that the natural trumpeters could only dream about. \r\n\r\nBWV 51 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jauczhet Gott in allen LÃƒÂ¤ndernÃ¢â‚¬Â (Rejoice unto God in all lands) A solo cantata for soprano. A good version with its spectacular soprano and equally spectacular soaring trumpet obbligato is a knockout. A good one is an old half-price Gardiner Erato one with Emma Kirkby on vocal cords and Crispian Steele-Perkins on trumpet: see \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000051YD4/qid=1056290138/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2_2/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\nThis includes an excellent version of the Magnificat, one of Bach's most joyful works. \r\n\r\nBWV 80 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ein' feste Burg ist unser GottÃ¢â‚¬Â (A mighty fortress is our God) For the Feast of the Reformation. Eldest son Wilhelm Friedmann decided (after the old boy had shuffled off this mortal coil, of course) to tart it up a bit, so he added the trumpets and drums that are now routine. Bach's ingenuity and Luther's warlike hymn go well together. If you want to hear the famous tune cornily rendered, and see the English words, apply here: \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/m/i/mightyfo.htm[/URL] \r\n\r\nI have a number of versions, but the one I like best is Herreweghe's Ã¢â‚¬â€œ see \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000027O4P/qid=1056290204/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_0_1/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\nThis is an unusually lively performance Ã¢â‚¬â€œ many performances are relatively slow and sombre, as if weighed down by the effort of all that Satanic warfare; Herreweghe, clearly regarding Old Nick as a pushover, takes it at an enjoyably brisk clip. Unfortunately, this is also coupled with the Magnificat. How many Magnificats can you have? If you're me, lots, as it's one of my favourites. \r\n\r\nSome versions (e.g., Rilling, Leusink) omit the trumpets and drums, and the cantata doesn't sound any worse for their omission.\r\n\r\nBWV 82 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ich habe genugÃ¢â‚¬Â (I have enough) A greater contrast with the previous would be hard to imagine. A solo cantata for bass for the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, it is a quiet, reflective work of resignation of the believer who accepts the coming of death. It features a meltingly beautiful aria Ã¢â‚¬Å“Schlummert ein, ihr matten AugenÃ¢â‚¬Â. \r\n\r\nBWV 85 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ich bin ein guter HirtÃ¢â‚¬Â (I am a good shepherd) A quiet, reflective cantata, whose chief glory is the gentle Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesu joyÃ¢â‚¬Â-like aria Ã¢â‚¬Å“Seht, was die Liebe tutÃ¢â‚¬Â. \r\n\r\nBWV 119 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Preise, Jerusalem, den HerrnÃ¢â‚¬Â (Praise thy God, O Jerusalem) Another of the Leipzig council inauguration cantatas. It has an almost militaristic air, with four trumpets and drums. These come to the fore in the aria Ã¢â‚¬Å“Der Herr hat Guts an uns getanÃ¢â‚¬Â, which must have nearly blown the old boys' wigs off. Herreweghe does a particularly good job (see above, under BWV 29) as does Suzuki, although I think the former just shades the latter Ã¢â‚¬â€œ for Suzuki, see \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005U8HZ/qid%3D1056290287/026-2626155-9674023[/URL]\r\n\r\nBWV 129 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gelobet sei der HerrÃ¢â‚¬Â (Praised be the Lord) is an unusual work, in that the beginning and end chorales sound as if they belong to something entirely different from the three arias sandwiched between them. The Rilling version features the three trumpeting LÃƒÂ¤ubin brothers blowing up a storm in the chorales. \r\n\r\nBWV 137 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Lobe den Herren, den mÃƒÂ¤chtigen KÃƒÂ¶nig der EhrenÃ¢â‚¬Â (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation) Not many Lutheran hymn tunes have become well known to English church-goers (the two or three that are left anyway), but this famous hymn of Joachim Neander is one of them. It goes like this (with gritted teeth): \r\n\r\n[URL]http://www.kirchenweb.at/sound/xs/kirchenlieder/038.htm[/URL] \r\n\r\nThe famous melody (which was slightly different in those days) is heard in all movements in different guises, starting with a fantasia and ending with a beautiful unison singing. \r\n\r\nBWV 169 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gott soll allein mein Herze habenÃ¢â‚¬Â (God alone shall have my heart) This is famous for its longish, tuneful opening symphonia (strings and organ), with material pinched from a Bach keyboard concerto. The rest of the cantata is enjoyable. \r\n\r\nBWV 190 "Singet den Herrn ein neues Lied" A magnificent New Year cantata with a wonderful rousing final chorale (the last cantata performed by Gardiner on his pilgrimage, as can be seen on his cantata DVD). However, it has come down to us incomplete (the orchestral parts for the first two movements are incomplete or missing completely). As a result, some intrepeters have chosen to omit it (e.g., Harnoncourt, Leusink). WHich is a pity, because it's a gem. Both Rilling and Suzuki (and Gardiner) have reconstructed the first two movemwents, and they sound perfectly in character.\r\n\r\nNaturally, these are personal favourites and other folk will have different opinions, but they'll give you the flavour of a marvellous body of music. Overall, I like Gardiner and Suzuki best, but the others (Harnoncourt, Koopman, Herreweghe, Rilling) do good stuff and can't be ignored, and again, others will have other opinions. For example, Eisenach is very partial to the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Das Alte WerkeÃ¢â‚¬Â set for his own good reasons (come and tell us all about it, Eisenach!!). But do try some cantatas; they constitute one of the most extraordinary bodies of work ever written, and some belong in every serious music lover's collection. Happy listening!\r\n\r\n(Added 30 June 2003)\r\n\r\nSeeing that the Leusink complete Bach cantatas set was being offered by a German mail order firm for EUR78 (for 60 CDs!), I couldn't resist. They arrived on Saturday. \r\n\r\nBy way of introduction, I wasn't aware of these when I wrote my previous piece, because they weren't available in Switzerland - it was a query on the Mana Forum that made me aware of their existence (see? it has its uses!). A visit to the cantata website told me everything else I needed to know. Pieter Jan Leusink and his Dutch groups recorded all the cantatas in an apparently breakneck 15 months. They couldn't be any good, said many critics (naturally without ever having heard them). But I sampled a volume and liked what I heard, so I took the plunge.\r\n\r\nMy first reaction was disappointment Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Ã¢â‚¬Å“Where's the rest?Ã¢â‚¬Â Surely this improbably small packet couldn't be everything. Oh, but yes it was Ã¢â‚¬â€œ by packing the CDs in individual cardboard sleeves and housing the lot in an attractive flip-top box, Brilliant Classics have come up with a package that is only 17.5cm (6.9Ã¢â‚¬Â) wide. By way of comparison, the complete organ works of Bach, by Marie-Claire Alain, 14 CDs in individual jewel cases in a cardboard slip case, is just over 15cm wide. I was worried about the problem of housing 60 new CDs Ã¢â‚¬â€œ answer, no problem. \r\n\r\nDetails of the cantatas are given in a booklet that slots in with the CDs. The booklet gives details of the individual CDs and has a concordance in BWV number order, so that you can find your favourites easily. The texts of the cantatas are only in German, but this is no great hassle for a fan, who can go to the Cantatas website for a translation.\r\n\r\nSo, what are they like? In a word (two actually), very good. I started off by spinning two favourites, BWV140 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wachet auf, ruft uns die StimmeÃ¢â‚¬Â and BWV147 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Herz und Mund und Tat und LebenÃ¢â‚¬Â. Leusink opts generally for safe middle ground when it comes to interpretation and tempi, but no harm in that. The textures of the choruses are clean and clear and trumpeter Susan Williams handles the obbligato in the opening chorus of BWV147 very nicely. Soprano Ruth Holton has an almost boyish tone, which I like a lot. So I had to try the virtuoso solo cantata BWV51 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jauchet Gott in allen LandenÃ¢â‚¬Â, and she carried it off very well Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not the polish of the virtuoso singer, but a nice performance. Indeed, somehow the fact that the singing is NOT absolute top-drawer is one of the appeals. It's just as my friend Eisenach (fellow cantata collector) over in Hi-Fi Choice said Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the Ã¢â‚¬Å“element of dangerÃ¢â‚¬Â adds something to it. And, given that Bach had to write, rehearse and perform the cantata in a week, and generally without virtuoso performers, he clarly lived very dangerously indeed.\r\n\r\nCD1 has a great lineup, the great Lutheran battle hymn BWV80 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ein feste Burg ist unser GottÃ¢â‚¬Â, the reflective BWV82 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ich habe genugÃ¢â‚¬Â and the Advent cantata BWV61 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nun komm, der Heiden HeilandÃ¢â‚¬Â. It was here that I had my first surprise Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the familiar trumpets and drums of BWV80 (added by eldest son Wilhelm Friedmann) were gone! Yet so convincingly was it done that their absence didn't detract from the performance. \r\n\r\nThe bass aria of BWV82, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Schlummert ein, ihr matten AugenÃ¢â‚¬Â is one of the most beautiful Bach wrote Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it made me go all misty-eyed the first time I ever heard it, and back then I hadn't the faintest idea what the words meant! Here it is given a nice treatment. I must say that the recordings do catch the solo voices very nicely. Just listen to that boyish soprano of Ruth Holton in BWV61's Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ãƒâ€“ffne dich, mein ganzes HerzeÃ¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€œ lovely!\r\n\r\nSo, how do they compare with the others? I've only had time to do one A/B comparison, with Gardiner in the short Whitsun cantata BWV34 Ã¢â‚¬Å“O ewiges Feuer, O Ursprung der LiebeÃ¢â‚¬Â. Gardiner, who seems at his best with the festive cantatas, gives a bright, polished, professional performance that Leusink's forces have no hope of matching Ã¢â‚¬â€œ after all, who can match the Monteverdi Choir? However, Leusink and Co. are not THAT far behind, and there's something endearing to the slightly less competent, rougher performance. It's back to Eisenach's element of danger again Ã¢â‚¬â€œ you just know that Gardiner's folk can perform miracles on command. I can imagine the cantatas performed in Bach's day sounding very much like Leusink's. They would certainly NOT have sounded like Gardiner's. \r\n\r\nMy goal of collecting all the cantatas has finally been achieved. Mind you, if Gardiner ever releases his complete Cantata Pilgrimage performances, I'd be sorely tempted. I worry myself Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I find myself already trying to justify it. Perhaps I'll be able to do so by the time they come Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if ever; after all, how many complete cantata sets can the market stand? Already we have Rilling and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt and now Leusink, with Suzuki on the way, and presumably still Koopmann (privately, as Erato has stopped its involvement). \r\n\r\nSo, overall, a very good buy. The original instruments have a nice Ã¢â‚¬Å“edgeÃ¢â‚¬Â to them and are well played, the voices are pleasant and not overly virtuosic, and the textures are crisp and clear. At EUR 77.57, this set is a giveaway. And I've barely scratched the surface! Soooooooo much good listening to go! I shall now go and give myself the audio equivalent of square eyeballs.