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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
24 highlights from the complete edition on 2 CDs
CD 1 [50:09]
1. Chorus "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet.." (BWV 214)
2. Aria "Kron und Preis gekrönter Damen" (BWV 214)
3. Aria "Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo.. " (BWV 147)
4. Chorale "Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum.. " (BWV 147)
5. Recitative and Chorus "Vergiss es ferner nicht" Arioso "Halleluja, Stärk und Macht" (BWV 29)
6. Chorus "Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest" (BWV 194)
7. Konzertsatz in D "Sinfonia" (BWV 1045)
8. Aria "Streite, siege, starker Held!" (BWV 62)
9. Duet & Chor. "Er denket der Barmherzigkeit" (BWV 10)
10. Aria "Schafe können sicher weiden" (BWV 208)
11. Aria "So schnell ein rauschend Wasser..." (BWV 26)
12. Chorale "So wandelt froh auf Gottes..." (BWV 197)
CD 2 [48:44]
1. Sonatina (BWV 106)
2. Chorus "Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele" (BWV 180)
3. Aria "Ich lebe, mein Herze" (BWV 145)
4. Aria "Herr, du siehst statt gutter Werke" (BWV 9)
5. Sinfonia (BWV 146)
6. Chorale "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" (BWV 12)
7. Chorus "Die Katze lässt des Mausen nicht" (BWV 211)
8. Sinfonia and Aria "Mer hahn en neue.." (BWV 212)
9. Chorus "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (BWV 80)
10. Aria & Chor. "Alles, was von Gott geboren.." (BWV 80)
11. Chorale "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (BWV 140)
12. Chorale "Gloria sei dir gesungen" (BWV 140)
Various soloists including Annette Markert; Lisa Larsson; Bogna Bartosz; Paul Agnew; Klaus Mertens; Christoph Prégardien; Sandrine Piau; Anne Grimm
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman director;
rec. 1994-2005, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, Holland; no specifics given.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72337 [50:09 + 48:44] 


Experience Classicsonline

It is said that drug dealers give away the first dose for free, then make users pay full price once they are hooked. Challenge Classics, who are now selling the complete Bach cantatas recorded by Ton Koopman, and originally sold on his Antoine Marchand label - and some prior to that on Erato - seem to have adopted the same strategy. In order to get music fans to discover this series, they have released a bargain priced two-disc set of “highlights” from the cantatas. For a mere £6 or €7, you can get a bit more than an hour and a half of the “best bits” of this series, which, the label is hoping, is enough to entice you to buy some of the 22 three-disc sets of cantatas they are selling, at £38 each, which is relatively expensive for multi-disc sets these days given the propensity for classical labels to apply more aggressive pricing.

Performers on this set include Annette Markert, Lisa Larsson, Bogna Bartosz, Paul Agnew, Klaus Mertens, Christoph Prégardien, Sandrine Piau, and Anne Grimm though the skimpy booklet doesn’t specify each singer’s range, nor does it list recording dates or venue. Many of these singers are top-notch, and familiar with the repertoire. While the Challenge Classics’ website ( does not provide full track-lists for these releases, or even lists of which cantatas are in each set, more information about the entire set can be found on the excellent Bach Cantatas website. 

Challenge Classics could have filled the two CDs a bit more - most labels would have put from two to two-and-a-half-hours of music on such a sampler. That aside, this is 98 minutes of fine music by excellent performers. Koopman’s series is well performed and recorded throughout, and maintains a consistent level of quality. But with the glut of Bach cantata recordings on the market - complete series exist by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt (Warner), Rilling (Hänssler), and Leusink (Brilliant Classics), and series are currently being issued by Suzuki (Bis) and Gardiner (his own label SDG), as well as dozens of other recordings that appear occasionally, by such conductors as Herreweghe and Kuijken - it’s hard to provide a convincing argument for this series over another. If one examines the cost of the series - and that is a valid argument when buying some 60 CDs - the Koopman comes out at the high end, when compared to those that have been completed. 

Personally, I own three complete series (Leonhardt/Harnoncourt, Rilling and Leusink), and am purchasing, as they appear, John Eliot Gardiner’s live recordings from his Bach pilgrimages - which have been favorably reviewed here and elsewhere. I also have many of the Suzuki recordings - also favorably reviewed - but am waiting for that series to finish before buying what I hope will be a more affordable complete set. While I am a big fan of this music - one can never have enough recordings of Bach cantatas - I simply can’t justify the cost of the Koopman set, which would come to more than £800, or nearly €1100! To compare, the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt set can be found for less than €200, and the Rilling set for less than €600. And the less-than-stellar Leusink set is part of Brilliant Classics’ complete Bach box, which retails for less than €100. 

The only reason I’m focusing on price is because of Challenge Classics’ strategy of releasing a sampler at a very low price to get listeners “hooked” on this music and buy an expensive set. The days of full-price classical CDs are over; few labels attempt to sell what has become back catalog at this price, and Challenge would be better off selling these discs in, say, larger boxes - perhaps ten CDs each - at a nicer price. Koopman’s approach to the cantatas is interesting, his performers top-notch, his chorus excellent, and the sound impeccable. While some critics have found them unequal, this sampler presents a florilegium of the finest parts of the series, with rousing chorales and moving arias, with a few orchestral movements for variety. The music flows smoothly from one piece to the next, and is well organized for listening; putting one or both of these discs on will lighten your heart and please your ears. However, most listeners won’t see the need for 66 discs of this music; only true lovers of Bach cantatas will be likely to want to go further. For those who want to get just a few more discs of Bach cantatas, the two box sets of recordings by Philippe Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi are probably the best introduction to the genre. 

I love the Bach cantatas, and listen to them regularly; I would love to be able to hear more of Koopman’s work, but the price is simply prohibitive. However, the pittance that you’ll spend on this sampler is worth many times its value. Grab it if you don’t know Bach’s cantatas, or if you’re a fan; you won’t be disappointed.

Kirk McElhearn



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