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Customer Review

91 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Go on, give it a go!, 26 Jan. 2011
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This review is from: Bach Complete Edition (157 CD, 2 DVD & CD Rom Box Set) (Audio CD)
Forty years ago I began buying Bach vocal scores. Kalmus miniature scores, as I wasn't made of money! I guess that I spent about 40 tanks of petrol on them. Forty years later, with older eyes that have a deal of trouble with miniature scores, I come across an offer of ALL of J S Bach's scores in an electronic, zoomable format for just under one tank of petrol! What is more, thrown in with the scores are 157 CDs and 2 DVDs containing performances of (just about) all of Bach's works.

I read some damning-with-faint-praise/sniffy (e.g. "good buy for a novice") reviews of the performances, but went ahead and purchased. I haven't listened and watched (yes, watched, as the two DVDs are videos of the St. Matthew and St. John 1725 version Passions) to all of the discs yet, but enough to say "Yes there are some indisputable faux pas in this set but so there are in the Haenssler and the Teldec sets". IMHO Helen Holton has a relatively weak, boyish, somewhat diction-less voice. If I dare say it - a rather Kathleen Ferrier-ish voice. Of course, for Bach, a boy soprano is not an unreasonable choice - the Teldec version uses boys, after all - although the demands made of the boys is one of the problems with the Teldec set. One can learn to live with Ms. Holton.

The instumentalists are really very good. The pleasure of owning and getting to know the various Complete Works is the way the different players bind together. You realise how good value Bach is as these different bindings come through and teach you something new - and they really do. Another marvellous thing here is that there is not enough ornamentation to drive you to distraction, but just enough novelty to give you real "gosh!" pleasure (Koopman - take note).

The technical side is a bit of a curate's egg. I can imagine that time and money were tight on this project. I understand that the sacred cantatas - which are all brand new recordings - were recorded in bits (loads of chorales one day, continuo recitatives on another) then spliced together. That that is not that obvious is a tribute but there are situations where for technical reasons another try should have been made - most obviously (so far!) at the start of BWV 6.

So, be green. Forgo that tank of petrol and set off on a journey with no end - and only a few bumps and swerves along the way!

Oh, and all of those Scores, too!!

Finally - and this might be just my luck - this is the first such 50+ set I've bought that has exactly the right discs. Others have been supplied with duplicates and missings - in the case of Teldec, even triplicates! These discs come in quality card (i.e. not paper) sleeves, well annotated and colour coded by genre. By the way, don't ask me to explain the groupings of the sacred cantata CDs. First CD is BWVs 80, 82 and 61, last CD is BWVs 41, 29 and 120. Any ideas why?
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Jan 2011, 14:55:22 GMT
John Adams says:
Incidentally, the "CD ROM" is actually a DVD-ROM with about 2 Gigabytes of Scores, Biographies, Lists, Scans of original pages of Bach's own Scores etc. etc. Marvellous stuff!

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2011, 00:39:07 BST
Gontroppo says:
Thanks for yoru review, John. Can you enlighten us about the scores provided? Are they the same as the ones accessed via the net on sites such as the petrucci Music Library or the Bach cantatas site?

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2011, 10:42:35 BST
John Adams says:
Hi Gontroppo,

Petrucci, IMSLP - which Petrucci redirects to - and the Brilliant Bach scores are the Bach Gesamtausgabe 1899 Scores. These Breitkopf & Haertel scores were sponsored by the Great and the Good - and the Brilliant set reproduces EVERYTHING - even the list of the subscribers - even the hardback cover - inside and out!

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2011, 10:50:38 BST
Gontroppo says:
Thanks a lot John! It does sound tempting. I paid $1500 for the teldec set in 2001, which is certainly several tanks of petrol! I then purchased the John Eliot Gardiner Pilgrimage cds and dvd and the Archiv 22 cd supplementary cds.

The Eliot Gardiner sets are so much better than the Harnoncourt cantatas.

But i am intrigued by the Brilliant set.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2011, 11:13:10 BST
John Adams says:
The Harnoncourt version is very strictly performed in accord with their interpretation or how it would have been performed in Bach's time. Well, it is just one of many approaches, but I guess that you and I find some of it a bit too academic at times! That said, I think that their BWV 150 is superb.

I have most of the Bach sets, plus many live recordings ranging from Communist-era East German recordings to the super performances from the 1970s by the New Irish Chamber Orchestra and Guinness Choir. Imagine Bach Cantatas with a strong Irish accent! They're all different and all have appealing, uplifting, aspects. How lucky we are to have so much affordable choice.

Posted on 20 Nov 2012, 11:19:58 GMT
Motte 1 says:
I, too, add my thanks for your VERY insightful information. Not only musically knowledgeable but what a namesake! I'm just coming to the end of a biography of John Adams, second president of the USA. Written by David MacCullough.

Posted on 20 Nov 2012, 17:55:41 GMT
A Reviewer says:
I'd guess that the grouping is entirely arbitrary, in order to find combinations which will fit into the 74-minute (or whatever it is) recording length of a CD.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2012, 09:51:46 GMT
John Adams says:
Yes I'd thought of optimised packing - but it doesn't seem to be. For instance, that first CD contains only 62 minutes of audio.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2012, 10:07:43 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Nov 2012, 10:14:01 GMT
John Adams says:
Thank you, I'm blushing! Actually, in retrospect, my review may have over-concentrated on the cantatas - but to me, the cantatas are the Crown Jewels of Bach's output. That they are so little known/appreciated and often prejudicially written off is a real shame. One of the other reviewers, John Ferngrove, records his response to first exposure as well as I've ever seen it put, viz.

" I have been dipping into the cantatas on a random basis and the first thing I have learned is that not only are none inferior, but that each is entirely different. I must have listened on coming up for two dozen by now, and there is no sense of them becoming samey. There are long ones, short ones, fat ones and thin ones, and an endless variety of moods, and of course, melodic invention. A wonderful thing I have discovered about the cantatas is that they are never inappropriate. Whatever mood I am in, whether too quiet for symphonies, or too alert for chamber music, these cantatas fit the mood perfectly at any time"

On a personal note, my father came over from America in WW2 and stayed, so my surname may have links to past US Presidents and present composers - but as Adams was, when I last checked, the 12th most common surname in the US - probably not!
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