Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bach to Stravinsky

Two years after buying it, I have finally finished listening to the Brilliant Classics 155-CD box set of all the music written by J.S. Bach. The recordings are not only a major achievement, but they're also endlessly enjoyable, particularly the 60 CDs of the cantatas which were recorded in Holland over the course of two years.

According to a MusicWeb review of the set (click here for the whole thing):
In October 1999, the first boxes of these cantatas, each containing 5 CDs, appeared on the shelves of the Krudivat drug store chain in the Netherlands. Some 500 stores started selling Bach cantatas next to aspirin and film; on the surface, this can seem ridiculous. But, at the unprecedented price of DFL 14.95 per box - roughly $1.25 per CD - Dutch people became fans of Bach's cantatas. More than 100,000 copies of each box were sold in two years in the Netherlands alone, far more than most classical discs sell in the entire world. An amazing feat for such "obscure" music.

Pieter Jan Leusink, conductor of Holland Boys Choir and Netherlands Bach Collegium and artistic director of the Cantatas project, managed somehow, against all odds, to create a true best-seller out of what is arguably some of the finest music in the western world, but music which is generally considered to be "difficult".

So, after lending the Bach to my friend Ellen Toomey, it's time to listen to Stravinsky conducting all his music himself. Say what you want about cheap digital reproduction, but it certainly does allow for the distribution of amazing collections of music at insanely low prices. In that sense, we're in a new world.


Immanuel Gilen said...

When I was just a little kid, my dad bought this exact same collection for me, indeed at the local "Kruidvat (the d and i are switched)", a name which inexplicably refers to the part of a gun that holds gunpowder. the name is quite bizarre. The point being that it's cool how this unlikely success has taken on a life of its own worldwide...really a commendable effort by, initially, a drug store.

Axel Feldheim said...

I am all in favor of Bach for the masses! I bought this set last year, mainly for the cantatas, which are an incredible achievement. The performances are a mixed bag, some fine & some very uneven, but it's great to have it all in one package. It's like having the complete works of Shakespeare on your shelf.

I don't know why, but there does seem to be this mania for "the complete X" in classical music right now, both in recordings & performances.