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let alone enjoy. It seems clear that the underlying objective was ...
on 26 October 2014
This review IS ABOUT packaging and presentation NOT about performances. it is necessarily lengthly. If the marketing/production team's objective was to make the most appallingly incompetent packaging/presentation of this collection then they achieved it with distinction. Their achievement renders this set almost impossible to appreciate, let alone enjoy. It seems clear that the underlying objective was to produce the cheapest possible 'complete' cantatas set and let the purchaser bitterly regret the choice for the rest of his/her listening life. Taking the least objectionable, but nonetheless intensely irritating aspect of the presentation first: why such flimsy CD sleeves, but more importantly the absence of at least CD content/listings on the sleeves? This would have to some extent mitigated the most labyrinthine possible guide to the CDs and their content. This 'guide' is provided in three parts: two booklets and a CDROM. The shorter of the two booklets (62 pp, 4-27 of which are introductory) is in three substantive parts: 1st (pp28-37) - a numerical listing of CDs with the Cantatas (in German) and tracking on each, with their respective BWV number (which is also - helpfully! - in sequence; next, complementarily, (pp42-49) a listing of Cantatas in numerical order, German name, CD and tracks; finally (pp50-62), a listing of Cantatas by associated religious/liturgical occasion. This last aspect is, to the writer at any rate, particularly useful, although even here the production team show lack of user consideration. On the plus side it is a matter of finding the particular Feast Day to discover the relevent Cantatas. What is not at all helpful, is the spreading of relevant Cantatas across 2 or more CDs: for example, there are 4 Cantatas for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, found on CDs 3, 9, 30 and 49. This cannot by any consideration be the optimum arrangement for ease of use. The second booklet runs to 143 pages, all devoted to its pupose: CD-tracklisting, in BWV number order. So, taking my above example, one can go to BWV 8 for tracklisting for the first of the 4 Cantatas. The drawback is that, understandably perhaps, the print is small. The listings provide details of choral type (aria, recitative, etc), voice and key instrumentation but not performers. This assessment leads to consideration of the most horrendous aspect of the packaging/presentation: performance details and librettos. (For non-German speakers, following the translated text of Cantatas, or any work - including opera - in non-native language is, in the writer's view, essential for appreciation and enjoyment.) These are contained, as is nowadays the fashion, on a CDROM. The writer is highly IT literate and, if he may be permitted a boast, extremely resourceful in solving difficulties - across a wide range of disciplines. He has, however, little love for librettos on CD-ROMS. He has solved the almost insuperable challenge presented by the CD-ROM packaging, but at considerable cost in time and materials (printer ink and paper!). Anyone with less resourcefulness, determination, who buys this set would simply get rid of it or let it gather dust on their shelf. The set has been arranged in volumes of between 2 and 4 unrelated (except in numerical BWV order) Cantatas: 70 volumes. As a volume is in fact a CD, the benefit of this nomenclature is not clear. On the CD-ROM, each volume has: a cover sheet with volume number, the word cantatas in German and English and the appropriate BWV numbers, in white on a black (covering more than two-thirds of A4 page - thus extremely costly in printer ink) background; this is followed by 1 sheet of performance/recording details; next is a sheet with, for each Cantata in the volume, name (in 4 languages), singers and key instrumentalists, and below the details for the 2-4 Cantatas covered, the orchestral and choral (group) performers and conductor; next is the listings (a repetition of the content of the second booklet) by Cantata; there follows the libretto in the four languages and lastly; in each language, a fairly lengthy (fact not criticism) background note on composition of each Cantata and consideration of its style. It seems highly unlikely that anyone would follow the libretto on a PC whilst listening - whether these works or any choral/operatic works for which librettos are so provided (in any case not at all practical given the especially complex arrangement). This means printing! I have started on this enterprise, but not simply printing as presented: would be unhelpful and wasteful - I only want material in English. What I have done - and how the team responsible should have - is this: separated the librettos (which run continuously across pages) in a physical 'cut and paste'; associated the performance details to each Cantata (mindful that recorded over a 20 year period and the only constant is the conductor!); separated and associated the background note for each Cantata; packaged them in a logical order - 1) background note, 2) performers and listing and, 3) libretto. Not an easy undertaking by any means. To illustrate. The size (almost said 'volume') of the thus repackaged printed material for CD/Volume 1 - 3 Cantatas - amounts to 17pp. Assuming this to be average, the 70 CDs would amount to 1190pp. A HUGE UNDERTAKING. Clearly the production team did not have user convenience and enjoyment in mind. However worthy the performances, I cannot but wonder whether this is worthwhile. I shall certainly never again purchase anything from the company which produced this. You have been warned. Beware!