The sacred cantatas of J.S. Bach

Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by tones, Jun 19, 2003.

  1. tones

    tones compulsive cantater

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    I hate you, Jim. I had a look on Amazon Deutschland (no VAT, free postage) - and ordered. I'm trying not to outgrow my new CD cabinet before I've even finished building the thing!
     
    tones, Oct 31, 2008
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  2. tones

    Ascherjim

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    Since you've ordered your Werners and I haven't yet, you obviously will receive yours before I do. I still would appreciate your views on the sound quality of BWV 32. Many thanks, in advance. Regards.
     
    Ascherjim, Oct 31, 2008
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  3. tones

    Ascherjim

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    I've received my 60-CD boxed set of the Leusink versions, with which I am quite pleased and impressed. They are so far quite a bit better than I'd expected. I have been converting a good many of them to the bit-perfect (lossless) flac format for ready access and listening via my SqueezeBox, merging them with my multitude of other versions. However, I am puzzled over one aspect: The set is labeled the "Complete" Bach cantatas, yet the BWV numbers only go up to 199. What happened to the 200(+) BWV numbers. Are these not regarded as Bach cantatas?
     
    Ascherjim, Nov 8, 2008
  4. tones

    Marc

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    From 1-199: church cantatas (more or less; f.i. BWV 198 can be considered a secular cantata IMHO).
    The 'rest': secular.
    In the Brilliant Classics Edition the secular cantatas are performed by Peter Schreier cum suis.
     
    Marc, Nov 8, 2008
  5. tones

    Ascherjim

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    Marc: Thanks for the clarification. No real problem for me as I have most of the BWV 200 numbers covered in other versions.
     
    Ascherjim, Nov 8, 2008
  6. tones

    tones compulsive cantater

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    Jim, the sound quality is fine, but with one reservation (and this is something that seems to happen a lot with these Werner recordings). One (this one anyway) often gets the impression that these recordings are a sort of double mono, rather than stereo - the soloist comes out of one speaker, the accompaniment out of the other. There is nothing between the speakers. Now I generally don't bother a lot with "soundstage" (some people make quite a fetish out of it), but this I find slightly disconcerting. The ESL57s are generally good at imaging, once set in their proper positions, but they couldn't do anything with this.

    Apart from that, a very nice rendition of BWV32. Many of Werner's readings are slowish and even schmaltzy, but some of them really hit the mark.
     
    tones, Nov 16, 2008
  7. tones

    Ascherjim

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    Tones: Your current posting couldn't have been more timely, as I received Volume One of the Werner cantata recordings in the mail only yesterday. I immediately compared the CD version of cantata 32 with my LP version and found them quite comparable, but will of course now stick to the CD version as being more user-friendly. In fact, I've already converted it to flac for incorporation into my SqueezeBox-based system. One benefit of the CD version is that it includes and incorporates all of the individual track information as part of the flac conversion which of course didn't happen when I earlier converted the LP to flac.

    Your comment on the nature of the stereo sound was intriguing. Upon reading your posting I went back and listened to 32 again. You may recall that all of my music listening is on a headphone-based system. Listening with headphones, I wasn't aware of the degree (or any) of the "double-mono" separation that you experienced. In fact, the soloists (soprano and bass) were smack dab in the middle of the "sound stage."

    You yourself might try listening with headphones and seeing whether your experience of this separation is still there. Obviously different sections of the orchestral instrumentation are on different sides of the "sound stage," as is usual, but I didn't notice any obvious vacuum between.

    In any case, my brief listening so far to these Werner CD versions reinforces the rightness for me of my decision to acquire them. Many thanks again to your (and this thread's) having brought their existence to my attention. Regards, Jim
     
    Ascherjim, Nov 16, 2008
  8. tones

    tones compulsive cantater

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    You're right, Jim, the effect is indeed less noticeable with headphones, although to my ears there are still aspects that sound like double-mono (all violins clearly emanating from one side, some soloists clearly emanating completely from the other).

    I've also been listening to them, and while I now prefer the Gardiner/Suzuki approach, they remain immensely enjoyable listening.
     
    tones, Nov 24, 2008
  9. tones

    Ascherjim

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    Kuijken's New Series

    Tones: I have detected little (if any) assessment in this thread of Kuijken's cantata recordings with his La Petite Bande. His initial recordings years ago did not apparently garner much critical appreciation, but since he began recording in 2006 a new series for the Accent label, he seems to be either doing better or at least gaining better reviews. In his new series, now projected at being 20 discs (volumes), he's now up to volume 7 which I have just acquired. It contains cantatas BWV 20, 2, and 10. While I am aware that you yourself are not terribly enamored of the minimal Rifkin approach, I have found that even though Kuijken himself has gradually evolved in his performances over the years to this minimal strategy, there is a significant fullness to these performances which makes them to me sound not dissimilar to Gardiner's (and of comparable musical quality). I am quite impressed. Gramophone Magazine, which in the past has faulted Kuijken's cantata performances, gave a pretty rave review by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood this past summer (2008) of Kuijken's Volume 6. As it was buried in a review of a recording by Herreweghe and, for this apparent reason(?), does not come up in a search of the Gramophone archives, I will take the liberty of quoting it for you in full below.

    "The more compelling disc is from Sigiswald Kuijken. In fact, it's a profoundly impressive achievement. While I've previously demurred from the asceticism of Kuijken's one-to-a-part didacticism, these are liberating performances inhabiting a language of elevated perception and intimacy. Kuijken has the unenviable task of having to choose just one cantata per Sunday (as the raison d'être of the series) and each of these works suits La Petite Bande's close-knit chamber playing and natural rhetoricism.

    "Rarely can a single-voiced chorus have sounded so warm and integrated, both with each other and the instrumentalists, heard in the delectable textures of “Mein Seelenschatzâ€Â, the fine soprano aria of BWV18. Yet the triumph here is the slowly evolving grandeur of Du wahrer Gott (BWV23), whose supple blend affords a singularly arched contemplation which allows this intricately interweaved masterpiece a rare clarity and coherence. As an audition piece for St Thomas's, one wonders whether Bach's dense scriptural references were appreciated by the jury.

    "Wie schön leuchtet is another illuminating performance and captures the prime beauty of the raw material: there can be no more wonderful chorale to set and Bach exceeds himself. One could quibble with the prosaic gait of the tenor aria – certainly compared to the elevated Helmut Krebs for Fritz Lehmann – but this is still an exceptionally satisfying disc and the best in the series yet, by some distance."

    I myself have not yet acquired this specific disc but intend to in the future. I will also mention that the packaging of these Accent volumes is most impressive, with an additional booklet apparently included in all of them which is invaluable (to me, anyway) in which Kuijken gives in detail his thoughts on how best to approach listening to Bach's cantatas.
     
    Ascherjim, Dec 3, 2008
  10. tones

    tones compulsive cantater

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    Thanks, for that, Jim. I own a whole one of Kuijken's cantata recordings (so long since I've seen or heard it that I can't even remember which one it was). I must have liked it a lot to bury it so thoroughly! I think it fell into the "generally uninteresting" category, along with Christophe Coin and his Limoges group and a few other experimental purchases of that ilk. Must dig it out and have another listen.

    I once had a CD of Rifkin's cantatas, and while I appreciate the gent's musicianship, I got rid of it as quickly as possible. I just couldn't get on with it at all.
     
    tones, Dec 4, 2008
  11. tones

    Ascherjim

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    I assume that the Kuijken CD you have, from what you say, is one of his earlier, possibly less-well-regarded ones. His new Accent series, as I indicated, is considered in some quarters to represent a marked improvement in his interpretations and performance qualities. The only Rifkin's I know of are apparently limited now to two budget-priced (good value), double-CD packages. I owned one of these duos a number of years ago and inadvertently misplaced one of its two CD's. I've recently, however, purchased the other set and have just listened (a day or two ago) to his BWV 80, which I found most moving. In my cantata listening, I often flip between several (digitally-converted and -organized) versions of the same cantata using my wonderful Squeezebox. As I enjoy listening to many different styles of interpretation (i.e., Werner, Rilliing, Richter, Gardner, Suzuki, Koopan, Rifkin) I find such listening to several different styles in sequence for comparison and enjoyment purposes most satisfying. Therefore, as you can see, I'm not locked into one style of interpretation and performance, which I gather you're not either. Sometimes I feel like hearing a full orchestral and choral version, and sometimes a minimalist version. They're all conveniently at my fingertips (via hand-held Squeezebox remote). Regards, Jim
     
    Ascherjim, Dec 4, 2008
  12. tones

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    For my taste the most convincing record of Bach's cantatas using one singer per part (a theory in which I really do not believe) is Cantus Köln rendering of the early cantatas.

    But I agree that it is, as Tones said, experimental (I know he was referring to his buying habits, but the approach itself is experimental), and it does not really work very well with the later cantatas.

    I very much liked their Mass, but that is because they are a very musical group and has little to do with the 'one per part' option.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Dec 5, 2008
  13. tones

    Ascherjim

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    Rodrigo: I think you've gotten to the essence of my (our?) basis for appreciation of Bach cantatas, no matter which concept of interpretation is employed: Are the performances "musical" or not? That's why I'm currently enjoying the Werner recordings so much. For me most of them are impressively "musical" (as is the first of my new Kuijken recordings).
     
    Ascherjim, Dec 5, 2008
  14. tones

    pe-zulu

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    What is wrong with the one-per-part concept? I actually prefer it (or at least some as-few-as-possible-per-part concept), and as much as I BTW enjoy Werners recordings, I have to say, that I think the music in hands like Richter's often turns into some kind of unwanted "mass movement".:)
     
    pe-zulu, Dec 7, 2008
  15. tones

    Ascherjim

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    I have now made yet another purchase of Bach cantata recordings which may cause some of you guys to think I'm running a bit amok. I have just learned of the recent (last month's) release (or re-release) by Berlin Classics of a 12-disc set of Ramin's circa-1950 mono recordings. Actually, nine of the discs apparently comprise his entire cantata output, with two discs devoted to the St. John Passion, and the last disc to his recording of organ performances. I was able to purchase these in an ostensibly "used" condition for $40 from an Amazon Marketplace seller. I made this purchase not only because of the pleasure I'm currently experiencing with the Werner recordings, but also with the Prohaska Bach Guild CD's I bought well over ten years ago. I'm looking forward with some trepidation to their arrival. I do not anticipate that the sound quality will prove much of a problem for me as I listen with a fairly high-end headphone set-up, which I have found greatly enhances (or overcomes) the reduced musical quality of older recordings. On speakers, these would probably sound awful.
     
    Ascherjim, Dec 7, 2008
  16. tones

    tones compulsive cantater

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    In my case, personal prejudice! I like choruses with a bit of weight - not masses of weight, like the old Huddersfield Choral Society-type versions of "Messiah" (with a cast of thousands), but, like Rolls-Royce horsepower, "adequate".
     
    tones, Dec 7, 2008
  17. tones

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Dear pe-zulu (I'm glad you are back :) )

    There is really nothing wrong with the one per part as far as my taste goes. I do not believe that Bach usually had only one singer per part, though. The argument (as by Rifkin) goes that there are only one set of parts, but then it is very likely that two singers or players used the same sheets of music. Bach's memo to the Leipzig council suggests he would like to have more than one voice per part.

    That said, I now try to judge music by results alone and not by conceptual considerations. The way I see it, there is no possibility whatever of bringing back the way the 'original' thing, so we would rather appreciate the music without too much thinking about how it was played.

    Nowadays there are so many schools of interpretation of old music that I find I can only find my way through the score itself. For this, historic knowledge is important. But music is too much alive to be put into a kind of museum. I am stating nothing new, as I already said all this before, in this forum.

    For Bach choral works, I find it that the only works which definitely require a bigger chorus are the passions, because of the turbae effects. But in the latter cantatas and perhaps also in the great mass, I think a more historically correct version would include perhaps two singers per part (in the rippieno).

    The Dona nobis pacem in the Mass is a very good example: ought we to play it majestically as both Richter and Gardiner do? Or as a rapturous moment, as the Cantus Köln musicians do? Both approaches are fine by me. It is true that Richter smacks too much of romanticism, but that doesn't really bother me: I like Bruckner and Brahms. And the Cantus Köln smacks too much of the urgency of contemporary living, which I really do not think existed in Bach's time (it may have been fast, but it was extremely curvaceous and quite unlike the almost abstract way of contemporary living – the machine-like abruptness of Rinaldo Alessandrini's interpretations is, I think, completely wrong even if it works very well). Anyway, we cannot possibly know.

    In truth, I find it it all depends on what one wants to convey... The one voice per part is clearer and more intimate, and also more expressive. The bigger choir is more impressive and majestic.

    So I am becoming less and less fussy about rules for interpretation. The only think I truly do not like is the Bernstein watch Me approach or the appalling nothingness I found in a set of Bach organ DCs by Wolfgang Stockmeier I purchased some weeks ago.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Dec 8, 2008
  18. tones

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Dear Jim:

    I think we agree. We might not think the same things musical (I usually do not like Kuijken, but then I did not listen to the record you mention), but the openness of the approach is the same.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Dec 8, 2008
  19. tones

    Marc

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    To me it's also important that the voices in a choir mingle, no matter what size. With OVPP, my personal choice would be Cantus Cölln. But I only know Kuijken's first OVPP approach, and I'm not that fond of tenor Knut Schoch, who is involved in that recording (BWV 9, 94 & 187). Still, from what I've heard so far, I prefer the OVPP performances of both Junghänel and Kuijken to f.i. McCreesh and Butt in their Matthäus-Passion recordings (although I like Butt [far] more than McCreesh). Junghänel & Kuijken seem to be able to make their small ensembles sound more like a unity.
     
    Marc, Dec 8, 2008
  20. tones

    tones compulsive cantater

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    That sums it up nicely, Rodrigo. I am a sucker for majestic, impressive when it comes to choral parts. I can't conceive of Bach's B Minor Hosanna sounding properly without a reasonable weight of choir, especially with the trumpets and drums. This is not intimate music, this is loud, rejoicing music, and it needs the necessary degree of oomph. It doesn't need a big choir - a friend who heard a Bach cantata performance in an East German church said he was amazed at how a relatively small choir with orchestra filled the church with sound - but four soloists wouldn't do the job at all for me.
     
    tones, Dec 9, 2008
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