Oct 09

Edition Bachakademie Hänssler, mostly featuring Helmut Rilling ?????

This is now my second hearing of this set of 172 CDs, consisting of all the known works of Johann Sebastian Bach. There exist two other collections of his works, one put out by Brilliant Records, and the other by Teldec. I do not have the Teldec set, but will probably purchase it when it becomes available again. This set, costing about $1600 (I paid much less for it), is now being offered for $300 on Amazon.com, which should be a total steal. The Hänssler edition is the only collection that utilizes adults and modern instrumentation for the productions of all the cantatas and other choral works. The only exception, of course, is the boys choir in the Mätthaus Passion. There are better performances many of Bach’s cantatas. I feel that Karl Richter’s cantatas are superior in terms of feeling and expressive content, though Richter offers less than half of all of Bach’s cantatas. Rilling is a most capable conductor, offering the complete cantatas and other vocal works of Bach, with more compelling performances than any of the other complete collections. The Brilliant and Teldec sets oftentimes uses boy performers, which can easily become quite wearisome to the ears. Rilling, like Richter, avoids period instruments, thus giving a brilliance and charm to the works that other performances do not possess. Regarding using modern vs. original instrumentation, the keyboard works for harpsichord are variously performed in this set, occasionally with a piano, occasionally with a clavecin, and usually with a harpsichord. I appreciate harpsichord music, but, much dynamics of performance appear to be missing with a harpsichord. Even when a piano is used instead of a harpsichord, the performer usually tends to plays the piano in a fashion like I was taught, to make it sound like a harpsichord. This ends up in a rather mechanical sound, that might be imitated by a piano roll. Perhaps, this is why I really appreciate the Bach performances of Glen Gould, who breaks out of the mold of original instrument thinking, and allows Bach to speak in a new and fresh fashion. Sometimes, an unusual array of instruments are used, such as in the Wohltemperte Klavier, where the harpsichord, organ and Clavicin are all variously utilized. The keyboard works were quite variable, though most with quite convincing and compelling performances, even though a number were more routinely and mechanically driven. In total, this set is an amazing compendium of mostly top notch, well performed Bach. The cantatas are the selling point of this set, though that should not diminish the attractiveness of the rest of the works on the set, whether they be keyboard, violin or cello sonatas, or any of the other plenteous compositions of the greatest of all composers of all time. Any lover of Bach must have this set: it will be treasured for many hearings.

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