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Bach wrote a multitude of cantatas. Where to start? Here! This is a selection of favourite cantatas. Mine too!
Beautifully sung by a group of well-fitted soloists and instrumentalists using authentic baroque instruments.
The opening track puts well one of Bach's all-out statements of faith - 'Heart and voice and deed and life must give witness to Christ without fear or hypocrisy, proclaiming him God and Saviour.' These cantatas express the deep joy to be found in his faith. Within BWV 147 one of the most famous movements is to be found twice - a really dancing 'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring.'- CD 1 tracks 6 and 10. Joshua Rifkin's instrumentalists are well able to step into the limelight as and when required for solos on trumpet, oboe d'amore, oboe da caccia and wonderfully on flute. This flute is to be found in a unique magically evocative movement at the beginning of BWV 8. - CD 1 track 19. The rhythmic flow of these cantatas is maintained with some fine continuo playing. One of the world's most recorded soprano voices is that of Julianne Baird. She sings a marvellous virtuoso soprano solo in BWV 51. The final movement of this cantata is to be found on CD 2 track 12 - a tremendous Alleluja solo. In addition, there is a very informative booklet with these CDs and also the words of the cantatas well translated and easy to follow. If you want a share in all this joy these are the CDs for you.
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on 29 August 2011
I confess that I bought one of these recordings when they first came out and gave it away immediately. I simply couldn't stand hearing Bach's wonderful choruses reduced to this anaemic state. This is not to say that the voices aren't good or that Professor Rifkin's approach isn't dedicated and sincere. However, it became a bit like the original Telefunken "Das Alte Werke" recordings with "authentic" instruments, in which it was stated baldly that this was THE ONLY WAY to play baroque music. This is nonsense; Bach is glorious music for eternity and should not be stuck in a musical straitjacket, to be played or sung in one way and one way only.

To my ears, Bach's glorious choruses need, want, deserve, even DEMAND a bit of oomph. They need a proper chorus, not four soloists, no matter how good. This rules out my ever buying any more of these.

The guy to whom I gave the recording loved it. And therein lies the whole point. We are all different, with different likes and requirements. I have a preference for Gardiner and Suzuki (and the older recordings of Werner and Rilling), but that's just me. However, bearing in mind the disappointment I had, I'd advise anyone contemplating purchase to listen to the samples and compare them with others. You may be surprised (in one way or another).
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Joshua Rifkin leads The Bach Ensemble in this truly magnificent recording of some of the Cantatas by Bach. These recording date from the mid 1980s and the performance and digital sound are excellent.
Most of the sections are solo numbers. Rifkin has taken a refreshing look at the sources for these works. The resulting interpretational effort of the Cantata No 80 is different to other recordings. Rifkin gives the choruses to four voices only; and he applies the same practice to the instrumental parts.
Rifkin has chosen to use a female voice in the soprano register for the boy treble parts. This is a reasonable thing considering modern boy voices are unlikely to convey the expressive potential of Bach`s vocal writing.
For the alto register, Rifkin uses an adult male voice. This offers an expressive sensibility to do justice to the music.
The performance is lively and fresh. For example the brisk tempo of the chorale "Jesus bleibet meine Freude", more familiarly known to us as "Jesu, joy of man's desiring" from Cantata No. 147.
The fugal opening chorus also works well. In fact once again we get a rather unique interpretation of this part.
The instrumental playing is very enjoyable and the woodwind and brass players make strong contributions.

The whole recording is on authentic instruments. The oboe playing by Stephen Hammer, Virginia Brewer and Marc Schachman is very atractive. Jane Bryden is Soprono, Drew Minter is counter tenor, Jeffrey Thomas is Tenor and Jan Opalach is bass. In fact all that perform on this outstanding recording should be comended for their wonderful contribution. The resulting recording is one that shows off the beauty of Bach`s cantata output.

This is a very good release with strong performance and great sound engineering. It is a recording that should not be overlooked.
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VINE VOICEon 2 March 2008
If Bach had been asked to select Desert Island discs from his own work, he would probably have chosen some of his sacred cantatas. Including, perhaps, some of those recorded on this double CD.

Many of Bach's church cantatas provide solace for a Lutheran congregation forced to contemplate transience, suffering and death. The texts he set music to frequently allude to such themes. Bach's response in his cantatas is nothing if not varied - sometimes melancholic (BWV82) more often joyfully ebullient (78ii, 8i) and nearly always life-affirming.

A few of these tracks have found fame in one way or another. 140iv, for example, is instantly recognisable (as the Organ Chorale) thanks to the kind of exposure that no piece of music with a 'memorable tune' can ever hope to escape. Likewise 'Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring', 147vi & x. Fortunately, these same cantatas offer plenty of fresher delights, like 140's majestic opening movement or its lyrical third movement, where violin and voices combine in a way that clearly inspired Bach so much.

For me, though, the real highlight of this set is the opening movement of BWV8. It is the kind of music that, once in your head, refuses to leave. Bach scholar Philipp Spitta thought it evoked 'the sound of tolling bells, the fragrance of blossom [and] the sentiment of a churchyard in springtime'. Springtime, exactly. But the repeated flute semi-quavers are more suggestive of birdsong than of tolling bells. (And where does a musical fragrance come from? Spitta must have been a synaesthete!) Bach's talents as a melodist are obvious, as phrase as after phrase is prolonged almost to melting point. Life effortlessly transcends death in a cantata that shows what Bach might have written as an opera composer - ironically, much more vividly here than in his secular cantatas, which seem rather tedious and trivial compared to 'Liebster Gott'.

This double CD offers outstanding value. Rifkin's tempi are nearly always incontestable (the exception being 51i, which seems too ponderous). Soloists perform well - the exception here being counter-tenor Allan Fast, whose excessive vibrato is too attention-seeking for my liking. So four stars for the CD - but five for JSB.
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on 1 October 2015
As I get older, I get to appreciate Bach more and more, and especially the cantatas, which seem to me to outshine the larger-scale choral works, and indeed just about everything else he composed, in terms of subtlety, intricacy and inventiveness.
Each cantata is a unique gem, and my dream is to own recordings of them all. But until then, discs like this superb set conducted by Joshua Rifkin will keep me going.
I've never heard Bach played with such tenderness, delicacy and lightness of touch - in the hands of Rifkin and the Bach Ensemble they are simply exquisite.
If you only ever buy one record of Bach cantatas, make this one. The six included are among the very best
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It was Joshua Rifkin who first argued persuasively for the use of single voices per part in Bach's choruses, and that is the manner of performance he adopts here. Whatever reservations I or anyone may feel about this set in general, there can be no disputing Professor Rifkin's scholarship. Everything here is AAA authentic, and I wish that were all there is to the matter.

Unfortunately it's not. The dispute that Rifkin set in train between the single-voicers and multi-voicers has been the deadliest bore to afflict classical music since the onslaught of the repeats-are-compulsory enforcers 40 years ago. For my own part, I am entirely in favour of authenticity, but authenticity subject to a certain amount of discrimination and simple common sense. Just as in sonata-style compositions double-bar repeats mean that the section MAY be repeated, not that it has to be, so it involves a very limiting view of Bach's infinite musical genius to suppose that single-voice renderings are the only choral style possible. There is also the question how the requirement for authenticity affects phrasing, tempo, tone and general musicality. I recall first hearing Joshua Rifkin many years ago when he played the Scott Joplin soundtrack to The Sting, I own some of his other Scott Joplin rags, and I know what a marvellous natural sense of rhythm he has. What a pity then that he seems to feel that `classical' or `authentic' chastity compels him to deliver the melody of Jesu Joy in such a straitlaced and metronomic way. The same problem affects the famous melody of Wachet Auf, and although my growing collection of Bach cantata discs, currently around 50, does not include these famous works in other versions, nevertheless I own by now enough performances from Gardiner's great 2000-pilgrimage cantata series to appreciate in general that commitment to authenticity does not entail commitment to dryness.

As you would expect, much of this 2-disc set is very enjoyable. With music like this it would take genius of entirely the wrong kind to make that not so. Among the soloists I would say that the bass Jan Opalach is very good and the tenor Frank Kelley is even better. Sadly I can bestow no such encomium on the soprano who monopolises BWV 51. Still ringing in my ears is the wonderful performance that Malin Hartelius turns in for Gardiner. Indeed, the first chorus Jauchzet Gott is, for me, the low point of this entire set - slow, lumbering and leaden-footed in a piece that should be effervescent and brilliant as it is from Gardiner, Mme Hartelius and the trumpeter Nicklas Eklund. The final passage in BWV 140 is if anything worse, the only saving grace being that there is less to lose. The text is Des sind wir froh, io io, ewig in dulci jubilo, which being interpreted is `Thus are we joyful, hurrah hurrah, in everlasting sweet joy.' If you want to hear the most hangdog jubilation you ever heard, come this way. Surely nobody could spoil the celestial duet Wir eilen from BWV 78, nor does Rifkin spoil it, but I still prefer the way it was handled by Teresa Stich Randall and Dagmar Hermann (especially the latter) on the old Vanguard disc under the baton of Prohaska. There seems to be another minor issue of authenticity here - on the Vanguard disc the continuo introduction gives the melody in all its glory, whereas here we get a skeleton outline only.

The recording is now a quarter of a century old, and it is not bad at all in my own opinion, although I found myself turning down the volume which had last been set for the thunderous start of Handel's Dettingen Te Deum. Occasionally I wondered whether the voices were a little backward, but maybe not. In any case that is probably a good fault in Bach, whose inspiration is basically instrumental and not focused on the voices like Handel's. What is certainly true is that the acoustic does not suggest churches as Gardiner's, having been done in churches, unsurprisingly does. The liner note is rather humdrum and tells us nothing about the performers, but I can forgive it that and worse for sparing us any further discussion of the rights and wrongs of single voices in the choruses. I readily admit that I found the mighty chorus Ein' feste Burg a novel and interesting experience when treated in this way.
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on 14 March 2014
I bought this for someone else, who is a real Bach fan, and they say that it is very good!
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