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It is a pity that the contribution with boy sopranos is no longer possible.Voices are breaking too early and there is too little time.Also commercially is it a risk.I am willing to accept the imperfections of a young boy soprano,there are certainly very beautiful arias and if it is good it is beyond belief.The timbre of a young boy is something special and not replaceable by a soprano.
but you know I´ve noticed these imperfections since long ago, they ´haven´t bothered me very much since then as I took them as something authentic, somewhat of innate beauty. I even began to think that it must be exactly like that how it was performed in Bach´s era. Back then they didn´t have time to rehearse a lot, they had to perform often and most probably under stress ( Bach composed lots of cantatas on every occasion ) since it was the only way how listeners could listen to music. Although a discipline in a choir was very strict and I have no doubts boys did their best under such conditions, but still life is life and it couldn´t escape imperfections of any live performances....

So is an explanation of my overall judgement of Leonhardt´s recordings, that´s why I put more attention on a concept of performance , on orchestra, tempos than on a choir.
 
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I just found this and I think it is good even without boy sopranos.Is it the most beautiful music ever written? I am Always in absolute awe when I hear it.

 
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but you know I´ve noticed these imperfections since long ago, they ´haven´t bothered me very much since then as I took them as something authentic, somewhat of innate beauty. I even began to think that it must be exactly like that how it was performed in Bach´s era. Back then they didn´t have time to rehearse a lot, they had to perform often and most probably under stress ( Bach composed lots of cantatas on every occasion ) since it was the only way how listeners could listen to music. Although a discipline in a choir was very strict and I have no doubts boys did their best under such conditions, but still life is life and it couldn´t escape imperfections of any live performances....

So is an explanation of my overall judgement of Leonhardt´s recordings, that´s why I put more attention on a concept of performance , on orchestra, tempos than on a choir.
Using boys sopranos was surely part of the concept,the size of the choir and the use of rubato.
It is religious music and has to be approached as such.Meaning,to avoid glitter for the sake of the performers or to just entertain .
This is most certainly the case with Gustav Leonhardt.
The beauty is there but not in a theatrical manner.In a way less is more but some (performers) are pushing it too far.
 

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I just found this and I think it is good even without boy sopranos.Is it the most beautiful music ever written? I am Always in absolute awe when I hear it.

I guess you've read what Benjamin Britten said of it? That, with Winterreise, it is one of the twin peaks of Western civilisation.

I don't know whether I entirely agree, but who am I to argue with Britten?
 

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I've noticed that there have been several performances of Bach cantatas posted to YouTube by the Netherlands Bach Society as part of the "All of Bach" project. Today when I logged onto YouTube, the first recommended video was a new performance just posted today: Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, the cantata for Epiphany (which is today):


These performances are quite good. These are different than the Bach Stiftung (Bach Foundation), which is also traversing through all the cantatas, some of which have been posted to YouTube. One difference is that the Stiftung wants you to subscribe to get complete performances, whereas All of Bach posts complete performances without having to subscribe. The Stiftung probably has an edge on virtuosity and soloists, but not by much.
 

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I recommended Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourts versions, because generally I feel highly satisfied with the overall presentation: instrumentation, recording accoustics, orchestration, very good bass voices or countertenors, also strangely I feel good with the boy soprano. However, I would still look for other versions with the true sopranos, because only by listening to true soprano version Bachs cantatas can be heard in their true harmonic characters. It is true that somehow, I can not dismiss the versions by Gustav and Nikolaus, their versions are still highly enjoyable and high quality. I am not sure if the boy soprano is more suitable but maybe there are other reasons I currently can not figure out yet. In fact boy soprano is being more frequently used in early music performances now, I have 2 recordings from Rondeau label of Andreas Hammerschmidts(1611-1674) and Hans Hasslers(1564-1612) choral works, both use boy sopranos, I do not think the boy sopranos really stand out from true sopranos in those two discs.

As for Bachs cantatas, I also recommend recordings directed by Philippe Herreweghe, they are excellent too!but I have not heard from versions by Ton Koopman and Masaki Suzuki yet. They shall be excellent too, since they are so universally acclaimed as Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt as conductors.
Warner Classics has a new 7 CD Harnoncourt set for very cheap.
http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/r/Warner+Classics/9029597513
 

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I have two complete box sets, Suzuki and Gardiner. I like them both, but Suzuki is my go to set. I love the crisp and clear BIS sound.

When I discover singers I really like, I always try to find if they have recorded any of the cantatas. I they have, I buy them. Magdalena Kozena's recordings are one example. They are absolutely beautiful, and I return to them time and time again.

A few years ago, I bought a cardboard box full of classical music, and at the bottom of the box I found the full Bach box set from the dutch label Brilliant. I find many of them to be absolutely fine, but I am not no impressed with their cantatas.
 

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I find the Leonhardt more detailed, inherently dramatic and subtle. Both versions use a boy soprano, but the one for Leonhardt sounds like a little kid not ready for prime-time; since the soprano aria is not one of favorites, it's not a deal-breaker.
Overall, a strong advantage for Leonhardt.
Just a point. Not sure whether you are referring to BWV 51, "Jauchzet Gott in allen landen" but Leonhardt uses Marjanne Kweksilber as the soprano soloist, not a boy.
 

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Don’t know if anyone is interested, but I thought this might be of some help to anyone who wants to get into this incredible but admittedly daunting body of work. Throughout six months this year, I listened to all of the cantatas (sacred and secular), hearing most of them at least two or three times as I studied them, and made a three-tier system of what I consider to be the greatest cantatas, assigning them either 5, 4 1/2, or 4 stars. This does not include all the cantatas, only those that I think everyone absolutely needs to hear. There are certainly a few that are of lesser quality, but none that I would rank below 2 1/2 stars at the absolute minimum or would consider anything less than good.

***** (the best of the best, my favorite group of musical works in any genre, of all time)
4, 8, 12, 21, 23, 27, 36, 38, 42, 49, 56, 77, 80, 101, 105, 106, 109, 125, 127, 140, 147, 161

**** 1/2 (astoundingly good)
1, 3, 6, 9, 13, 20, 22, 24, 25, 29, 31, 43, 46, 51, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61, 63, 71, 72, 74, 75, 76, 78, 82, 95, 115, 135, 137, 139, 157, 167, 170, 172, 180, 197, 198, 199

**** (superb)
2, 7, 10, 11, 14, 19, 26, 30, 33, 34, 39, 40, 41, 50, 52, 55, 64, 65, 67, 70, 73, 84, 88, 93, 96, 99, 103, 104, 110, 113, 123, 129, 132, 146, 155, 159, 171, 177, 178, 179, 186, 207, 211, 214, 215

I may write another post (maybe under the blogs) here some time with brief descriptions and further explanation of the top tier cantatas just because I am so fascinated by them. This pilgrimage through the world of Bach throughout the last half-year has been the most eye-opening artistic experience of my life so far.
 

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Definitely interesting. Also it would be helpful to indicate which set you were listening to.
I noticed in the initial run from 1 to 14 you excluded 5 from your favorites. I'd instead swapped out the 3 which contains one hell of a sleep-inducing bass aria :)
 

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Don't know if anyone is interested, but I thought this might be of some help to anyone who wants to get into this incredible but admittedly daunting body of work. Throughout six months this year, I listened to all of the cantatas (sacred and secular), hearing most of them at least two or three times as I studied them, and made a three-tier system of what I consider to be the greatest cantatas, assigning them either 5, 4 1/2, or 4 stars. This does not include all the cantatas, only those that I think everyone absolutely needs to hear. There are certainly a few that are of lesser quality, but none that I would rank below 2 1/2 stars at the absolute minimum or would consider anything less than good.

***** (the best of the best, my favorite group of musical works in any genre, of all time)
4, 8, 12, 21, 23, 27, 36, 38, 42, 49, 56, 77, 80, 101, 105, 106, 109, 125, 127, 140, 147, 161

**** 1/2 (astoundingly good)
1, 3, 6, 9, 13, 20, 22, 24, 25, 29, 31, 43, 46, 51, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61, 63, 71, 72, 74, 75, 76, 78, 82, 95, 115, 135, 137, 139, 157, 167, 170, 172, 180, 197, 198, 199

**** (superb)
2, 7, 10, 11, 14, 19, 26, 30, 33, 34, 39, 40, 41, 50, 52, 55, 64, 65, 67, 70, 73, 84, 88, 93, 96, 99, 103, 104, 110, 113, 123, 129, 132, 146, 155, 159, 171, 177, 178, 179, 186, 207, 211, 214, 215

I may write another post (maybe under the blogs) here some time with brief descriptions and further explanation of the top tier cantatas just because I am so fascinated by them. This pilgrimage through the world of Bach throughout the last half-year has been the most eye-opening artistic experience of my life so far.
^ 82 not in the best of the best, come on! ;)

140 is good but I find it a little over rated personally.

Ok that said I haven't done as in depth of listening to the cantatas as yourself, respect!
 

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I’m embarking on reading Gardiner’s ‘Music in the Castle of Heaven’ which gives special attention to the cantatas. But as Bach said: “I was forced to be industrious. Anyone who is similarly industrious will produce the same results!” As you do!
 

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Definitely interesting. Also it would be helpful to indicate which set you were listening to.
I noticed in the initial run from 1 to 14 you excluded 5 from your favorites. I'd instead swapped out the 3 which contains one hell of a sleep-inducing bass aria :)
5 is definitely an omission; I would include it in the 4-star tier. The opening chorus and duet of 3 are two of my favorite such movements, but yes, that aria needs a really good performance to come off well. I listened to a variety of performers (I use streaming) - Suzuki, Gardiner, Rilling, Koopman for the most part with Suzuki probably taking precedence because I find his combination of singing/playing talent and sound quality irresistable. Harnoncourt/Leonhardt do some supreme versions of the solo cantatas (Esswood's 54, von Egmond/Equiluz's 157, Bonney's 199) but the boy soloists and the raggedy choral sound do me in with most of them.

tdc said:
^ 82 not in the best of the best, come on!
Yeah, a bit of a controversial opinion. It was more of a subconscious reaction to it being soooo popular as to overshadow so many other cantata gems - it's magnificent but there are at least 25 I would rank above it as evidenced. I prefer 56 as the greatest single-soloist cantata (that chorale is one of the most heart-rendingly beautiful things I've ever heard).
 
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I don't know how many former posters are still around to see this, but I wanted to thank all of you for drawing my attention to this wonderful work, and then helping me decide which version to start with through your thoughtful critiquing of the various conductors, recording quality, choirs and soloists, etc.

Without reading anything, I probably would have gone for the Suzuki, having enjoyed his rendition of Bach's Mass in B minor, but I was swayed by Koopman's use of actual women to sing the parts written for them. To be fair, had I not read that, I would probably never have noticed a thing listening to the Suzuki. I expect that I would enjoy the Suzuki very much, and will probably pick it up someday.

Thanks again.
 

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“ Without reading anything, I probably would have gone for the Suzuki, having enjoyed his rendition of Bach's Mass in B minor, but I was swayed by Koopman's use of actual women to sing the parts written for them. To be fair, had I not read that, I would probably never have noticed a thing listening to the Suzuki.”

Suzuki/ Bach collegium Japan also employ female singers in the choir, right?

Regardless they are a great all around choice if one is interested in a complete cycle from one group. Their lowest level is very very high.
 
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