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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata BWV 63 [approx. 30:00]
Eva Oltiványi (soprano); Jan Börner (alto); Julius Pfeifer (tenor); Markus Volpert (bass)
Choir, orchestra and soloists of the J. S. Bach Foundation/Rudolf Lutz
rec. 19 December 2008, evangelische Kirche Trogen, Switzerland
Sound format: PCM stereo
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Region code: 0
J. S. BACH STIFTUNG DVD A496 [approx. 110:00]


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata BWV 161 [approx. 21:00]
Alex Potter (alto); Daniel Johannsen (tenor)
Choir, orchestra and soloists of the J. S. Bach Foundation/Rudolf Lutz
rec. 25 September 2009, evangelische Kirche Trogen, Switzerland
Sound format: PCM stereo
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Region code: 0
J. S. BACH STIFTUNG DVD A631 [approx. 94:00]


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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata BWV 180 [approx. 27:00]
Maria Cristina Kiehr (soprano); Jan Börner (alto); Julius Pfeifer (tenor); Fabrice Hayoz (bass)
Choir, orchestra and soloists of the J. S. Bach Foundation/Rudolf Lutz
rec. 23 October 2009, evangelische Kirche Trogen, Switzerland
Sound format: PCM stereo
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Region code: 0
J. S. BACH STIFTUNG DVD A632 [approx. 102:00]

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A bit off the radar, a conductor in Switzerland, under the auspices of the J. S. Bach-Stiftung (Foundation), is performing and filming all of Bach’s sacred cantatas, and releasing them, individually, on DVD. There are more than thirty available at this time. I received three of them for review. Unfortunately, the group’s web site is only available in German, so I wasn’t able to find much more information about this project. Suffice to say, however, that this noble effort seems to be resulting in a fine collection, and will certainly be the only complete set of Bach’s sacred cantatas that have been filmed. Even now, this group has probably released more cantatas on DVD than any other.
These performances are filmed in a medium-sized church in Trogen, Switzerland. The forces used are not overly large - around twenty musicians and a dozen choristers at most, but fewer than a dozen musicians in BWV 161. Many of the musicians play standing up: the violins and violas, when playing, some instrumental soloists (such as, in BWV 63, an oboist), and, of course, the singers.
The filming is excellent; as good as any major label DVD I’ve seen, in fact. The recordings are very good, with a well judged balance among the musicians, soloists and choir. The audio is, alas, only available in stereo; a 5.1 track would have been nice.
Lutz’s musicians use what seem to be original instruments, and their tempi and style are relatively HIP (historically-informed performances). The ensemble has a very tight sound, and the choir is admirable. Some of the soloists are very good; tenor Julius Pfeifer, in BWV 180, has a delightful tone, and seems to be enjoying himself a great deal. Alto Alex Potter, in BWV 161, has a pleasingly clear tone. Soprano Eva Oltiványi and bass Markus Volpert sing a fine duet in BWV 63, together with an obbligato by a very good oboist. Overall, these cantatas are performed with a great deal of care, and musically are up there with some of the better ensembles. There are no world-class soloists, but the musicians seem to be bonded, and to greatly enjoy what they are doing.
Information is lacking, both in the individual DVDs and on the group’s web site. The name of the ensemble is not given on the packaging, though each musician is credited. There are no track-lists, no timings, no hint that, in addition to the performances, there are also other elements included. Each disc features a “Workshop”, where Rudolf Lutz and Carl Graf discuss the cantata with members of the audience; it’s not clear if this is held before or after the concerts. These lectures, which last about 45 minutes each, are in German with no subtitles, so I’m not exactly sure what they are saying. It looks as though the themes of the cantatas are presented both in lecture and with some musical examples played on an electronic keyboard. There is also a “Reflexion”, which is a lecture by a person who has something to say. This person may be a writer, Bach specialist, theologian, musician or other, and their lectures must in some way be related to the cantata. Again, this is in German only, with no subtitles.
All in all, these are very good performances, but the “extras” will only be accessible to German speakers. Given the cost of each DVD, this makes them fairly expensive if you are just buying them for the music. I hope that, in the future, they will offer subtitles, at least for the “Workshop” sections, or, perhaps, release DVDs containing only the musical performances.
This project is laudable, and the cantata performances I have seen here are certainly worth having in any collection of Bach cantatas.
Kirk McElhearn






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