Search - Johann Sebastian Bach, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt :: Bach: Sacred Cantatas

Bach: Sacred Cantatas
Johann Sebastian Bach, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Gustav Leonhardt
Bach: Sacred Cantatas
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (21) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (20) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (25) - Disc #4
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #5
  •  Track Listings (19) - Disc #6
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #7
  •  Track Listings (21) - Disc #8
  •  Track Listings (26) - Disc #9
  •  Track Listings (21) - Disc #10
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #11
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #12
  •  Track Listings (27) - Disc #13
  •  Track Listings (24) - Disc #14
  •  Track Listings (25) - Disc #15
  •  Track Listings (19) - Disc #16
  •  Track Listings (19) - Disc #17
  •  Track Listings (23) - Disc #18
  •  Track Listings (19) - Disc #19
  •  Track Listings (21) - Disc #20
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #21
  •  Track Listings (29) - Disc #22
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #23
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #24

There are certain musical monuments to Western civilization that no music lover should be without, at least in part. These include Haydn's symphonies and string quartets, Mozart's piano concertos, Handel's oratorios, Bee...  more »


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There are certain musical monuments to Western civilization that no music lover should be without, at least in part. These include Haydn's symphonies and string quartets, Mozart's piano concertos, Handel's oratorios, Beethoven's string quartets and piano sonatas, Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas, and this, perhaps the biggest monument of all, the Bach sacred cantatas. About 200 of them survive and at least 100 are lost. All of them consist of a series of arias, choruses, and hymns based on sacred texts. Bach had to compose a new one every week for several years, and what makes the music so amazing is not only its quantity, but its sheer quality. There is literally no such thing as "bad" Bach, and this series of performances not only stands as one of the great achievements in the history of recording, it introduced many listeners to the fascinating sound of "authentic instruments." Is this set too much of a good thing? Nah! --David Hurwitz

CD Reviews

The complete recording of Bach's Sacred Cantatas
Manfred Mornhinweg | La Serena Chile | 12/19/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"For a long time I was in doubt I should buy this set of CDs. After all, you don't spend hundreds of dollars, for 60 CDs, just out of a moment's thought! But let me tell you: These CDs are worth every cent!This recording features all known sacred cantatas by Bach (about 200) in the best possible approximation to how they were performed in Bach's time: Baroque instruments, boy/men choirs, and almost all soprano solos are sung by boys, while alto solos are sometimes sung by boys, sometimes by countertenors. The recordings were made over a number of years. The earlier ones feature mostly the Vienna Boy's Choir, while the later ones mostly are done by the Tölzer Knabenchor and the Knabenchor Hannover. A good number of soloists appear (too many to list here), and they are all at least very good, some are stunningly good! You have to hear the treble Peter Jelosits or the boy alto Panito Iconomou! Or Sebastian Hennig, or Helmut Wittek, and so many more... Listening to these CDs is untroubled enjoyment!In my collection there are about 20 other recordings of Bach cantatas. Comparing them to the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set, in only ONE case did another recording win: a tenor cantata sung by Peter Schreier. In ALL OTHER cases the recording reviewed here was superior!I thought that it would be monotonous to listen to 200 Bach cantatas... Wrong! The genius of Bach, combined with this incredible performance, made me devour the 60 CDs at a stretch, over a full week, without loosing attention! This is first-class music, by one of the best composers of all time, marvelously performed and perfectly recorded. Buy it. Don't wait as long as I did!"
Recording's Greatest Achievement
Peter G. Watchorn | Cambridge, MA USA | 04/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Had this set not been made, then the history of performance practice in the last quarter of the 20th century and beyond would have proceeded very differently. Had this set not been made we would not have many of the current leading figures in the field of early music performance, nearly all of whom were in some way connected with the performance revolution which found its most profound expression in these recordings. For it was during the 14 or so years of this recording project (between 1971 and 1985) that three of the greatest musicians of our time, Gustav Leonhardt, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Frans Bruggen forever altered the public's perception of the surviving remnants of Bach's fabled, but rarely heard, "Jahrgaenge", or yearly cycles of church cantatas. For this reason alone, this recording is of profound importance.Leonhardt, with his consort in Amsterdam, and Harnoncourt, with his Concentus Musicus of Vienna shared the task of recording, with an unmatched team of vocal and instrumental soloists, Bach's roughly 200 surviving "concerti sacri", perhaps a further hundred being lost to us. It was a repertoire more honoured in the history books than experienced in performance. This enterprise changed that state of affairs for ever.The arguments which are now sometimes made (chiefly by those who are unaware of the extraordinary and revolutionary step which these performances represented), decrying the slightly "raw" (I prefer "vocal") sound of original instruments, or the occasional shakiness of a boy soprano soloist, miss the point of this enterprise, which was to present the music in a new way using Bach's own contemporary resources. Leonhardt and Harnoncourt are the first to insist that using "historical instruments" makes sense because those are simply the best tools for the job. Re-constituting something old has never been their aim. Rather, their idea was to break free of the mindless tradition of performance which took no account of the sounds that Bach actually had in his head when he created his "well-regulated" music for the churches of Saxony. And how does this work in practice? We are left to marvel at an extraordinary level of accomplishment on the part of nearly everyone associated with this project, vocally and instrumentally.Gustav Leonhardt was well aware (and hopeful) that subsequent generations would likely improve upon aspects of performance which still remained to be sorted out. But, as he said, it was a start. Indeed, when he and Harnoncourt were jointly awarded the Erasmus prize in the Netherlands in 1980, he remarked, with singular modesty and self-awareness: "It was not done well, but it is remarkable that it was done at all". This tells us more about Leonhardt's famous humility, than it does about the standards of these performances, which are usually (with few exceptions) very high indeed. In many instances they will never be surpassed. What we have here is a glimpse of one of music's "golden" ages captured forever on disc. What the listener will marvel at is the extraordinary assuredness of technique and style which is evident in every one of these cantata performances.The solo vocal contributions of Kurt Equiluz, Max van Egmond, Paul Esswood, Marjanne Kweksilber (BWV 51) are simply without equal, and the current generation of fine Bach singers would be the first to concede their enormous debt to the participants in this great enterprise (their teachers, in many cases). The choirs should also be singled out for attention: Wiener Sangerknaben, Tolzer Knabenchor, Hannover Knabenchor, Choir of Kings College, Cambridge as well as directors Heinz Hennig, Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, Philippe Herreweghe, David Willcocks and Hans Gillesberger. So Europe's finest were all involved in this.The instrumental soloists: Frans Bruggen, Walter van Hauwe, Kees Boeke, Anner Bylsma, Jurg Schaftlein, Lucy van Dael, Sigiswald, Wieland and Bart Kuijken, Ton Koopman, Bob van Asperen, Lidewij Schiefes, Alice Harnoncourt, Herbert and Herwig Tachezi, Erich Hobarth, Friedemann Immer - to list only the more familiar names - have created a whole world of intelligent and vital performance which has transformed musical thought in our time. No-one in any area of musical performance has remained untouched by the ideas which are so forcefully presented here (even those who'd be the last to admit it). The fundamental idea of treating each period's music as a vital and representative product of its time is one which now extends to music of all periods, signaling the fulfilment of one of Leonhardt's and Harnoncourt's chief aims: to eliminate the artificial distinction between mainstream and "early" music, and, instead, to treat all music with proper respect for its origins and context.What this recording continues to offer the listener is the experience of hearing the music for the first time, which the technical polish of subsequent surveys cannot quite match. For the young person wishing to learn about music, there is no better starting point than investing in this set, now available at a fraction of its original cost (unfortunately, minus the scores, which were one of the hallmarks of this series in its first incarnation on LP.It seems pointless to list highlights, but one might start with the following: BWV 1, 6, 8, 11, 13, 19, 23, 29 and so on. The list is endless. Better still, buy the set and begin a life-time's voyage of discovery instead. Bach, Leonhardt and Harnoncourt: you can't do better than that. Oh, and we should also acknowledge the contribution of the founder recording producer for this project, Wolf Erichson (even though he didn't stay with Teldec to the end of it). Without him, the revolution in informed and intelligent music performance on recordings would never have happened."
Teldec Set Still Holds Up After 30 Years
N. Chevalier | Regina, Sask. Canada | 04/11/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This set of almost 200 cantatas is, without a doubt, a milestone in recording history, and that alone makes it valuable. There are now at least two other competing sets on the market (Helmuth Rilling's complete set--on modern instruments, alas!--and Ton Koopman's period performance set still in the works), but this one, warts and all, still captivates and draws the listener into the world of Bach's cantatas like no other.I would argue that no one can really claim to know Bach without knowing both his organ works and his cantatas. After all, this is the music that occupied him for most of his professional life. Most of these cantatas were written as part of his duties at Leipzig, and while in the hands of any lesser composer that might have meant uninspired music cranked out week by week out of necessity, Bach rarely, if ever, had an off day. Each cantata is a little world unto itself, a place you can retreat to for 20 minutes and either reflect on their spiritual message (which, be warned, is sometimes grim indeed), or just lose yourself in the beauty and grace of the melodic lines. Harnoncourt and Leonhardt choose to keep these performances intimate; this is not the Bach of the concert hall; these are direct, personal expressions that work well in the private space of one's living room. Some of the playing sounds a bit shaky by today's standards--apparently some of the soloists were still discovering how to play period instruments that had not been heard in centuries--and the boy soloists seem to strain at their parts sometimes, especially in the earlier recordings, but that only adds to the charm: I much prefer the uncertain readings to letter-perfect performances offered by others. The performances actually draw the listener's attention away from the playing itself, forcing attention on the music and the text, which is entirely consistent with the nature of these pieces.For those who don't want to spend the 500+ dollars all at once, Teldec also offers these in six-CD sets at a great budget price. They're worth every penny. My only disappointment is that the CD package doesn't include the scores, as the old Telefunken vinyl sets did. But that's perfectly understandable. This set reminds us why Harnoncourt and Leonhardt were once at the forefront of the period-instrument movement. Let's hope that Teldec keeps these recordings in print for a long, long time."