My Opinions about the recordings in Bach 2000


January 13th, 2003

A while back, I posted some of my opinions to the website. Well, to say the least it wasn't a very sufficient post considering the sheer volume of Bach 2000. So I am elaborating on my opinions here.

First of all, I am familiar with about 20% of Bach's works. That is, I can recognize and place them from the playlist. This is an estimate, but I statistically verified this from a randomized playlist and discovered that my estimate was accurate.

The word I've heard to describe Teldec's Bach 2000 was "extreme". At first I didn't understand exactly what this meant, but now I do. The fact is that this collection is the most authentic performances of Bach's works available today, and possibly for a long, long time. For example, these guys (mostly German) not only played all of Bach's works on original authentic instruments that would be available in Bach's day, but even went so far as to recreate specific instruments not available today (but available in Bach's day). The organ music was recorded in Germany on organs from 1600s and early 1700s. The alto and soprano sections are sung by men, just like they usually were in Bach's day. The pieces were all played with that in-mind of how Bach himself might have played them, even if that may not be as pleasing to some. And I could go on...

These guys were definitely serious when they made these recordings, and that is something you do not find in the vast majority of Bach recordings out there. There is something to be said about recording on modern instruments though. I personally enjoy the music recorded on modern instruments more than the authentic instruments. For example I prefer a piano to a harpsichord, female altos/sopranos to male altos/sopranos, and the newer better classical guitars to the old lutes of Bach's time. But you can get those recordings anywhere. I believe Teldec is the only one who approached this project with this kind of hardcore seriousness and authenticity in mind.

Another thing that is extremely good is the quality of the recordings. Even the recordings that were made before 1980 (before digital microphones) sound very good. There are a few recordings that date from the 60s, but not many, and they too sound great.

So I started out liking the Bach 2000 collection. And I grew to love it. It was also a real eye-opener for me to actually type in all the information from the CD pamphlets into the computer. It wasn't until then that I was forced into reading and digesting just what it took to make these recordings.

That said, there are also some mistakes in the Bach 2000 collection, at least the version I got (there might be newer versions, but I don't know). First of all, when I first bought the set it was missing a CD. This was probably the fault of the record store, so I went back there and they opened another box to get me the CD I was missing. There are numerous mistakes in the CD pamphlets, but the thing that bothers me the most was that some of the information on recording dates and locations is missing. Also, one of the CDs (vol 5 disc 11) has its track positions mismarked, so all the pieces start exactly 5 seconds before their respective track markers. And a couple of the Cantatas (BWV 106 and 211) sometimes had two or more movements shoved into each track, so I had to separate out some of the movements, and correct all these other mistakes, in order to produce my all-perfect playlist.

Even though the price of this collection was steep (I paid US$800 for mine), I still feel that this was an excellent investment.

My comments about specific works within the Bach 2000 collection:

Cantatas 5, 8, 20, 36c, 93

These as well as a lot of the other Cantatas are the only version I am familiar with and I like their performances a lot. But, I have nothing really to compare them to. I think they are great though.

Cantata 87

Before I was familiar with more of the Cantatas, I would judge the collection of the Cantatas like this on what I thought of Cantata BWV 87. Well, I was familiar with Karl Richter's version and didn't think too highly of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's version. Perhaps it was the male alto. Perhaps it was that it seemed to go way too fast (especially the 3rd movement). However the performance is otherwise good. So perhaps I was biased by originally becoming familiar with Richter's version. I don't know.

But I still prefer Karl Richter's version.

Cantata 140

This famous Cantata is very well done here. I have heard a few other versions of this Cantata and although it is not my favorite, it is perhaps my 2nd favorite version.


This is my favorite recording of Bach's Motets (BWV 225-230). They are conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and they are very good.

I am also familiar with Frieder Bernius' recordings with the Kammerchor and the Barockorchester Stuttgart (on Sony Classical 7464-45859-2). They are also good but I prefer Nikolaus Harnoncourt's version.

St Matthew Passion

Nikolaus Harnoncourt's 1970 version of the St Matthew Passion is very good. When he errs (in tempo), he errs on the fast side so that is good. The performance itself is excellent, and the sound of the recording is good. I would say that the sound is excellent but as I've stated earlier, I usually prefer modern instruments and female altos/sopranos. I can hear the organ well, but it could be louder. I have nothing bad to say about the performance though; again, it is excellent.

It is worth mentioning that Nikolaus Harnoncourt also made a recording of the St Matthew Passion just recently (in 2002) and according to the critics it is the best thing since sliced bread. I have heard a few tracks from this piece and I personally liked the 1970s version better, however I am eager to hear the whole version of this sometime soon.

St John Passion

Again, very well done. But not so dramatic as Karl Richter's opening Corus. However I prefer this version's Arias (specifically verse 60 Aria (bass,coro) "Mein teurer Heiland"). I believe most of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's performances in Bach 2000 sound a lot cleaner than most other performances out there.

Tocatta and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565)

An extremely good performance. From the start it sounds a little different from most versions you hear out there (the openning trills are trilled a little more than usual), and the character of the performance is perhaps a lot like what I would imagine Bach played himself.

Concerto in A minor (BWV 593) (and the other Organ Concertos)

These pieces are awesome, perhaps the best of Bach's Organ works. They were originally by other composers such as Vivaldi and Duke Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar, so perhaps Bach picked some of the greatest pieces of his day to transcribe for the Organ to better entertain himself and others.

At any rate the performances are good, and they were played on an Organ not unlike what Bach himself would have played them on. According to the pictures I've seen of these Organs, they look pretty incredible, but they are old and sometimes don't sound quite as nice as a modern instrument (I have noticed a slight resonance in some of the notes played). But on the whole I think these recordings are pretty good.

Goldberg Variations

My all-time favorite recording of the Goldberg Variations is Glenn Gould's 1981 recording (on piano), so let that be a warning to some. I believe that this recording by Gustav Leonhardt is one of the best (if not the best) harpsichord version of the Goldberg Variations that I have heard.

By the way, I like to collect recordings of the Goldberg Variations because I think it's a good Artistic benchmark of a keyboardist in many ways. I prefer piano versions of this recording because there is an additional dynamic that a harpsichord doesn't have that can add dimension to the work if done right. I also think the tempo and timing of the different variations and how they tie-in together is important, which is why I like Glenn Gould's version the best (although I am annoyed by his singing and whining along).

This recording doesn't have any of that singing and whining, and is done in very good tempo and charisma on the originally-intended instrument: the harpsichord. So I consider this recording very valuable to my little "collection".

Cello Suites

These recordings are special because even though they date from 1965, they are the first time I believe these recordings have been released. They are of Nikolaus Harnoncourt (originally a cellist) himself playing the Bach Cello Suites, and they are done very well.

Brandenburg Concertos

I think these Brandenburg Concertos are great. For me, like many, The Brandenburg Concertos are some of the first pieces by Bach that I became familiar with. The version I was accustomed to hearing was Karl Richter's recordings from the 1960s, which were VERY good performances. I believe these performances are just as good and captures a lot of that sound, but were recorded in the 1990s.

Psalm 51 (BWV 1083)

I do not have enough good things to say about this piece, this performance, and the recording. It is AWESOME. The piece itself I think is one of Bach's more interesting pieces. It wasn't originally by him, so this is an arrangement. It seems that a lot of Bach's better works are merely arrangements of someone else's work. This makes sense because Bach must have liked the music a lot to have made his own arrangements.

Anyway this particular performance is what I think makes this recording so great. The conductor takes it slow. A piece like this is ruined if it goes too fast. My favorite aspect of his conducting here is how long he holds the fermatas. It gives just enough time to reflect on the music yet it seems to catch you off guard when he starts again.

I think this performance is brilliant and beautiful. I also think the recording is excellent. I like the way the piece sounds.

Related Links:

Bach 2000 playlist
crip software
Ogg Vorbis page home page

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