- Audio CD (11 July 2014)
- Number of Discs: 26
- Format: Box set
- Label: Deutsche Grammophon
- ASIN: B00EYPQ4SY
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 38,088 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Karl Richter conducts the Bach Cantatas Box set
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Karl Richters Aufnahmen von den Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs kann man ohne weiteres als "legendär" bezeichnen. Der Leiter des renommierten Münchener Bach-Orchesters und des ebenso herausragenden Münchener Bach-Chores schuf mit seinen phänomenalen Bach-Kantaten Aufnahmen, die in ihrem spezifischen interpretatorischen Zugriff nicht übertroffen wurden. Frei von gewissen Manierismen der historischen Aufführungspraxis steht das Seelenvolle der Musik Bachs im Mittelpunkt. Das Zusammenwirken des Chores, des Orchesters und der Solisten ist bemerkenswert. Dabei dirigiert Richter zwar auf moderne Art und Weise, aber dennoch voller Respekt gegenüber dem architektonischen Aufbau, den Johann Sebastian Bach ihm vorgab.
In dieser einmaligen Edition sind 75 Kantaten auf 26 CDs enthalten. Als Solisten fungieren unter anderem Größen wie Edith Mathis, Maria Stader, Peter Schreier, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Theo Adam und Kurt Moll. Das Booklet enthält sämtliche Kantaten-Texte.
HiFi-Stereophonie: "Richters Trumpf ist sein opulenter, ungemein disziplinierter, auf seinen Interpretationsstil eingeschworener Bach-Chor, der das übliche Niveau weit hinter sich lässt, in allen Stimmen gleich präsent klingt und an Beweglichkeit und Direktheit des Zupackens keinen Wunsch offen lässt."
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Richter was considered to be somewhat of an old-school romantic by the auntentic instrumentation crowd back in the 70s and 80s. I thought similarly at the time, and even felt a little guilty for liking these recordings as much as I did. Now older (and presumably a little wiser), I've decided that Richter was, in many respects, ahead of his time. Gardiner's recordings over time have become more romanticized and are probably the closest to these stylisticly. The main difference is that Gardiner tends to conceive these as choral works with accompaniment, while Richter seems to place less emphasis on the choir, creating more of a balance between the orchestra and choir. I also have the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set, which can often be difficult to listen to because of the quirky performances and boy soprano soloists. Koopman's performances are listenable, but never seemed to grab me. Koopman's set is still very pricey.
Some of these performances have never been bettered. I am especially fond of BWV 78 "Jesu, der du meine Seele". The alto--soprano duet is typical of what Richter brings to the recordings. His continuo performance is playful and inventive. BWV 12 "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen" is hauntingly beautiful. Bach resurrected the eponymous choir in the B-minor mass, but I think it is even better here. Many of the performances have supperb soloists (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Edith Mathis, and Peter Schreier), albeit perhaps a little bit operatic for current tastes, but not too much so.
Ultimately, even though this is not a complete set, these are the recordings I end up going back to (along with some of the earlier Gardiner recordings). Considering the price (~$80) this is a great purchase.
Perhaps better than any of his (or our) contemporaries, Richter manages to present these works as muscio-theological unities; all of a piece, however many contrasting movements alternate before the closing chorale setting. Richter discerns the underlying theme (in a nonmusical sense) and rhetorical strategy of each of the cantatas presented here, so that each one presents the listener with a narrative unity, a trajectory from, say, penitence to absolution, grief to joy, terror to consolation--or sometimes, as in the case of BWV 26, from initial dismay to intensifying terror. Those who have heard Richter's classic recordings of the two Passions, the Christmas Oratorio and the B-Minor Mass, will know what to expect here--namely, an ever-present striving to get beyond the notes, and the technical challenges of performance (which are nevertheless surmounted with ease, given the professionalism of Richter's ensembles), to the heart of the theological message expressed in and through those notes. And that depth-meaning, which Richter seems almost uncannily to intuit time and again, may well contravene that of the text being sung: my favorite example is how St. Paul's sobering consideration that the kindness of God is meant to prompt repentance that forms the text of the bass arioso from BWV 102 is turned on its head by Bach's setting, which brings back the "kindness of God" motif as a brief recapitulation *without* the qualification about fear of divine judgment. So divine Grace prevails in the end over the Terror of the Law, though that good Lutheran point is somewhat at odds with the text itself. These deeper dimensions of Bach's settings of scriptural and pietistic texts are not lost on Karl Richter.
But many prospective listeners will not want to be detained by such considerations; they will want to know whether these readings are sufficiently worthy, from a purly musical point of view, to justify purchase. The answer is: emphatically so. Richter honed his vocal and instrumental forces toward an almost superhuman standard of refinement and responsiveness. The instrumental obbligatos, wind or string, are rendered with exquisite musicality, stylishness and technical virtuosity--though according to the musicological sensibilities of the pre-HIP era. The choral singing is incisive of attack, beautifully blended of tone, and transparent of texture. Their discipline is so complete that each section sings with the a unanimity and nimbleness equivalent to a single voice. Quite amazing. The solo singing is quite outstanding, too, as one would expect given the illustrious names on the rosters of these recordings (Mathis, Reynolds, Hamari, Töpper, Haefliger, Schreier, van Kesteren, Engen, Adam, Fischer-Dieskau among them). Occasionally Fischer-Dieskau succumbs to his habitual temptation to "chew up the scenery," and some of the others sport wide vibratos that could prove intrusive to some listeners. But, overall, no finer line-up of soloists can be found on any rival Bach cantata series.
Richter's tempos are mostly lively when compared to other Bach specialists of his generation. Some critics have complained of a certain rhythmic squareness and rigidity of phrasing in Richter's performances, but to my ears those liabilities are more the exception than the rule. Usually, Richter is alive to the complexities and tensions in Bach's music that rule out reductionistic interpretation (e.g., joy is always just joy; grief is always just grief). Thus festive choruses convey majesty as well as exuberance; penitential arias convey longing as well as sorrow.
Though these recordings were made over a fairly long span from the late 1950's through the late 1970's, the quality of the sound generally matches the high quality of the performances. Bach's complex textures generally emerge with striking clarity (except when the organ continuo obtrudes due to hefty registration--one of Richter's less convincing practices); the timbres of voices and instruments are eminently natural and pleasing to the ear.
For this bargain edition, annotations are not as ample as with the previous reissue of this material in five multiple-CD volumes (each devoted to cantatas for a particular season of the liturgical year), though German texts (without translations) are included. In sum, this is a splendid collection that should not be missed by open-minded Bach enthusiasts. Richter was at his best when conducting Bach's sacred music, and his interpretations of these cantatas are on a par with his justly celebrated renditions of the two Passions, Christmas Oratorio and Mass. If you have enjoyed any of these (they are all available in a previously issued bargain box), then you should add this set to your collection.
This is old school performance, relatively big modern orchestra and "all adult" choir (?). I have compared it to Gardiner's Archive set and Harnoncourt's complete set. I think all of them have their pros and cons. It's just a matter of your own taste. If you just start listening to Bach Cantatas, pick up this one or Gardiner's "incomplete" Archive set should serve the purpose.