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John Eliot Gardiner & Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 6

Continue from Part 5

Follow The Bouncing Bach

Teri Noel Towe wrote (January 2, 2001):
With my apologies for any duplications and cross postings!

Follow the Bouncing Bach
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/02/arts/02BROO.html

January 2, 2001
MUSIC REVIEW
By ALLAN KOZINN

The commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach's death brought many benefits to the concert world during 2000, the last and not least of which was a New Year's Eve in which Bach's sublimely involved counterpoint wrested the spotlight from the vacuous waltzes and polkas of the Strauss family.

On the East Side of Manhattan and on the airwaves, thanks to a live broadcast on WNYC-FM Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists brought their yearlong international Bach Cantata Pilgrimage to a close at St. Bartholomew's Church. Across town, the harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire competed gamely with that high-profile performance by presenting a concert that was more modest in some ways and grander in others. In the comparatively intimate confines of Merkin Concert Hall, Mr. Brookshire gave a warm, rhythmically fluid account of Bach's "Art of the Fugue" in a presentation that was meant to engage the eye as well as the ear.

In his program notes, Mr. Brookshire contended that listeners could not fully appreciate "The Art of the Fugue" unless they were reading the score while hearing the music. There is something to that.

This expansive compendium of contrapuntal techniques is more of a theoretical treatise than an entertainment, and if Bach envisioned an audience, it would not have been a hall full of passive listeners, but musicians, amateur or professional, who might marvel at the music's construction as it was played. Today score reading is regarded as an advanced specialty, but paradoxically it takes greater training to follow these fugue subjects and their permutations by ear than to read them on the page.

Mr. Brookshire's solution was to collaborate with James McElwaine, a music professor at Purchase College (where Mr. Brookshire is director of graduate studies) on a computerized version of the score that could be projected behind him during performances. As an aid to less experienced score readers, Mr. Brookshire and Mr. McElwaine engaged Pete Romano, a composition student at Purchase, to render the work's fugue subjects, countersubjects and decorative expansions in different colors.

The subjects were in red, second and third subjects were in blue and a difficult-to-read light green, and the expansions were in purple. Satoshi Arai, an instructor at Purchase, saw to the projection and electronic page turning.

It is an interesting and potentially useful approach, but it was not without its problems on Sunday. For one thing, it put considerable pressure on Mr. Brookshire, a superb Bach player who has been heard in better form on other nights. Momentary lapses that might hardly have been noticed were more painfully evident with a larger-than- life score testifying against them.

A second technical trick complicated things further: for the mirror fugues near the end of the set, Mr. Brookshire recorded some of the lines in advance, and then played live against his recording. Mostly it worked well enough, but it went awry in Contrapunctus XVI, when Mr. Brookshire appeared to have taken a wrong turn.

The projection undermined a point that Mr. Brookshire made in his preconcert talk, when he urged listeners to regard "The Art of Fugue" as a dramatic, passionate and even sexy work, not just a monument to form and structure. It is an inviting notion but a difficult one to bear in mind while following the color-coded score, which inevitably puts the stress on compositional technique.

Reading the giant score took some getting used to. Mr. Arai tended to change pages just before the final projected bar of music, which became the first bar on the next screen. Even in the slower fugues, that meant a bit of jumping; in the faster ones, a listener's eyes got to feel like Ping-Pong balls. No doubt a steadily scrolling score would have been unsettling in different ways. On balance, handing out pocket scores might have been a better idea.

Stripping away the projections, and overlooking the comparatively few performance flaws, what Mr. Brookshire offered was a stimulating view of this great work. Although it has been heard lately in many guises string quartet arrangements are currently in vogue Mr. Brookshire's harpsichord rendering had a certain rightness of spirit and texture.

 

JEG in NYC

Galina Kolomietz wrote (January 3, 2001):
John Eliot Gardinerís ambitious Bach Pilgrimage Tour came to a close in New York with three very strong performances on December 25, 27 & 31. I have only been to the final performance, but I heard good things about the other two concerts as well.

The concert on December 25 presented a program of cantatas for the Christmas Day:
- BWV 91 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ
- BWV 40 Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes
- BWV 121 Christum wir sollen loben schon
- BWV 110 Unser Mund sei voll Lachens

The program on December 27 consisted of cantatas for the Third Day of Christmas:
- BWV 64 Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget
- BWV 151 Susser Trost, mein Jesus kommt
- BWV 57 Selig ist der Mann
- BWV 133 Ich freue mich in dir

The final concert on December 31 featured motet BWV 225 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied! and cantatas for the First Sunday after Christmas:
- BWV 152 Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn
- BWV 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein
- BWV 28 Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende
- BWV 190 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied!

The soloists included:
- sopranos Katharine Fuge (all three nights); Gillian Keith (Dec. 27 & 31); & Joanne Lunn (also all three nights);
- altos Robin Tyson (Dec. 25 & 27); William Towers (Dec. 25 & 27); & Daniel Taylor (Dec. 31);
- tenor James Gilchrist (all three nights);
- bass Peter Harvey (also all three nights).

The performances were held at St. Bartholomewís Church in downtown Manhattan. The acoustic seemed to be quite good. While not as resonant as in many churches, it was warm and generous, coating the voices with a soft glow (although I found that the higher voices had a bit of a difficulty projecting in their lower range; and the chorale parts in the motet felt a bit disembodied). The mood on the final night was festive: the house was packed with an enthusiastic audience and the performers seemed very inspired. Their pride was felt: the pilgrimage may have been a mixed bag to the eyes and ears of an outsider, but the performers took a genuine pride in their symbolic accomplishment. The concert was followed by a reception with many heart-felt speeches, token prizes for the performers and administrators who put in the most effort into the tour (and even funny prizes, such as ďthe lamest excuse for being late to a rehearsalĒ award).

I was pleased with all of the soloists at the final concert, but the star of the concert was Peter Harvey. He had the most to sing and was a delight to hear in every aria and recitative he sang. Sometimes he was a little funny to look at because he gestured a bit like a French cook advertising a new dish, but this spontaneous gesturing only meant that he was giving his all to the performance. Tenor James Gilchrist was also very impressive, especially in the duet from BWV 190 he sang with Harvey. Annoyingly, the programs didnít include the German texts (only the tr, luckily in readable English) so I donít even know what this duet was called. It was rendered
in English as ďJesus shall be my all,Ē and itís the only TB duet in that cantata so it should be easy to find (which I certainly intend to do!). I was glad that the solo alto on the night I was there was Daniel Taylor because I much prefer him to either Robin Tyson or William Towers. Taylor was very good. His faster passages were a bit labored because, like I said earlier, the lower notes from sopranos and altos tended to be less audible that their higher notes, but he managed beautifully. Of the sopranos, all of whom were quite good (even Kathatine Fuge who didnít make much of an impression on me on disc), the best by far was Joanne Lunn. She also was not always audible in her lower range, but what a gorgeous voice! This is definitely the name to remember!

In addition to the strikingly beautiful TB duet from BWV 190 which I already mentioned, another revelation for me was an unusual rendition of the trio from BWV 122. I donít purport to be an expert and maybe I donít know what Iím talking about but Iíve never heard it done this way: with the alto chorale sung by the entire alto section instead of just one solo alto. I thought it was amazingly effective!

In sum, it was a wonderful concert, certainly not perfect, but very strong indeed. Iím glad the pilgrimage ended on such a high note.

P.S. I took some pictures, although many of them didnít turn out. The venue was dark, and the reception was even darker, so I could barely see anything through the viewfinder of my camera. For whatever itís worth, if you want to see them, please follow this link (there is also a picture of the church):
http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Stage/4715/JEG_NYC.html

Yöel L. Arbeitman wrote (January 3, 2001):
(To Galina Kolomietz) Thank you so much for the photos, Galina. I really appreciated them!

Matthew Westphal wrote (January 3, 2001):
(To Galina Kolomietz) Thanks to Galina for writing that review. I attended all three of those NYC concerts; I'm sorry that I don't have time to write a full report just now, but there is something I should say.

Another list member posted an article from the Independent (UK) saying, among other things, "When Gardiner mounts the podium before a packed New York audience on New Year's Eve..." I responded that I'd believe that (the packed audience bit) when I saw it. Well, I saw it. There were a few empty seats in St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue on New Year's Eve, but all the tickets sold out. On 27 December there were about 900 people (my rough count) and even on Christmas afternoon there were about 700 (again, my rough count).

The problems with inconsistent performance standards that seem to have plagued the series in Europe were no problem in NYC at all. All the performances were thoroughly polished; they didn't always catch fire (figuratively) but they certainly did sometimes. The occasional complaints about poor ensemble seem to have been due to the odd acoustics at St. Bartholomew's: the brick and marble surfaces and curved ceilings of the Byzantine-style church can cause sounds to ricochet disconcertingly - one's impressions depended a lot on where one happened to sit.

The New Year's Eve concert probably caught fire the least often of the three, though the two encores in particular - the opening chorus and the tenor/bass duet with viola d'amore from "Singet dem herrn" BWV 190 - were stunning. The most impressive of the three concerts was Wednesday, 27 December: the highlights were soprano Gillian Keith's rendition (fabulous breath control over long phrases and intoxicatingly sweet tone) of "Süsser Trost," the opening aria of BWV 151; all of the soprano/bass duo cantata "Selig ist der Mann," BWV 57 (Joanne Lunn and Peter Harvey) and the Sanctus from the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) (originally composed as a freestanding Sanctus for Christmas services). In all three concerts, as impressive as the soloists were - especially Harvey, Keith, tenor James Gilchrist, and counter-tenor Robin Tyson - the performance really caught fire every time Joanne Lunn stepped forward and lit ip the church.

The Cantata Pilgrimage is evidently still not all paid for, but you have to give credit to Gardiner for pulling it off at all. And my earlier doubts were wrong - the New York concerts were, overall, a pleasure to hear.

PS - Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has a very interesting article about the project, written by a man I am proud to call my closest friend - David Patrick Stearns.
http://inq.philly.com/content/inquirer/2001/01/07/arts_and_entertainment/BACH07.htm

 

Gardiner in the New Archive Site

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 3, 2001):
John Eliot Gardiner (JEG) is the most discussed performer of the Bach Cantatas in the BCML (Bach Cantatas Mailing List) (as well as in some other Bach related Mailing List). I have collected all the messages I could find about JEG from the BCML and some from other Mailing List and arranged and edited them in the same method I used for the discussions about the Bach Cantatas. I have also compiled a list of all the published JEG's cantata recordings, that I am aware of, added pictures and put everything in the New Archive Site. The pages are linked between themselves and to the relevent pages of those cantatas, which have already been discussed in the BCML Enjoy reading (and looking) and do not forget also to listen. Although JEG's Bach Cantatas recodings are controversial, I always find them intriguing and almost always lively and original. I hope for JEG and for us that he will find the right sponsor to finance the printing and releasing of the Complete Bach Cantata Cycle, which was recorded during JEG's Pilgrimage in Year 2000.

P.S.
If you want to discuss JEG's recordings of the Bach Cantatas, or any other Performer of the Bach Cantatas, please send a message to Bach Cantatas Mailing List. The subject line should start with the name of the Performer. If you are not yet a member of the BCML, you are invited to join by entering the address: http://www.mcelhearn.com/bach.html, and follow the instructions.
If you have any corrections and/or additions to the details of the recordings in the New Archive Site, or suggestions for improvements, please send me a message.

 

JEG Bach Cantata Pilgrimage - finale in NYC

Matthew Westphal wrote (January 7, 2001):
I attended all three of the NYC concerts that completed the Cantata Pilgrimage; I'm sorry that I don't have time to write a full report just now, but there is something I should say.

Another list member posted an article from the Independent (UK) saying, among other things, "When Gardiner mounts the podium before a packed New York audience on New Year's Eve..." I responded that I'd believe that (the packed audience bit) when I saw it. Well, I saw it. There were a few empty seats in St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue on New Year's Eve, but all the tickets sold out. On 27 December there were about 900 people (my rough count) and even on Christmas afternoon there were about 700 (again, my rough count).

The problems with inconsistent performance standards that seem to have plagued the series in Europe were no problem in NYC at all. All the performances were thoroughly polished; they didn't always catch fire (figuratively) but they certainly did sometimes. The occasional complaints about poor ensemble seem to have been due to the odd acoustics at St. Bartholomew's: the brick and marble surfaces and curved ceilings of the Byzantine-style church can cause sounds to ricochet disconcertingly - one's impressions depended a lot on where one happened to sit.

The New Year's Eve concert probably caught fire the least often of the three, though the twoencores in particular - the opening chorus and the tenor/bass duet with viola d'amore from "Singet dem herrn" BWV 190 - were stunning. The most impressive of the three concerts was Wednesday, 27 December: the highlights were soprano Gillian Keith's rendition (fabulous breath control over long phrases and intoxicatingly sweet tone) of "Süsser Trost," the opening aria of BWV 151; all of the soprano/bass duo cantata "Selig ist der Mann," BWV 57 (Joanne Lunn and Peter Harvey) and the Sanctus from the Mass in B Minor (originally composed as a freestanding Sanctus for Christmas services). In all three concerts, as impressive as the soloists were - especially Harvey, Keith, tenor James Gilchrist, and countertenor Robin Tyson - the performance really caught fire every time Joanne Lunn stepped forward and lit ip the church.

The Cantata Pilgrimage is evidently still not all paid for, but you have to give credit to Gardiner for pulling it off at all. And my earlier doubts were wrong - the New York concerts were, overall, a pleasure to hear.

PS - Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has a very interesting article about the project, written by a man I am proud to call my closest friend - David Patrick Stearns.
http://inq.philly.com/content/inquirer/2001/01/07/arts_and_entertainment/BACH07.htm

Charles Francis wrote (January 7, 2001):
(To Matthew Westphal, regharding the PS paragraph abpve) "Plotless, mostly humorless and saddled with unsexy texts about miserable sinners groveling in the "yellow dung" of the earth, the cantatas are easy to put off until tomorrow, ..."

Good to have the DG-marketing view - sounds perfect for the US niche, though!

"Music lovers were inspired to follow Gardiner's pilgrimage through England, Germany and New York, thanks partly to his palatable performance standard - which has none of the squeaky, anemic sounds associated with authentic-instrument performances ..."

I see your friend is a man of taste!

Matthew Westphal wrote (January 10, 2001):
(To Charles Francis) Edited for space (but not for clarity), I'm afraid. It should read "none of the squeaky, anemic sounds that some listeners complain afflict authentic-instrument performances... "

Any regular reader of rec.music.classical.recordings will know that there's still a contingent that despises the sound of Baroque instruments.

DPS likes period instruments just fine (or I'd never let him hear the end of it! [-; ). He is also very fond of, say, the Busch Chamber Players (a fondness I do not share, though I do respect Busch & co.).

 

Bach Cantata Pilgrimage

Isabella de Sabata wrote (September 4, 2001):
I am new to the group, and haven't had much time to read through old messages, but would be interested to know if there are any members who attended any of John ELiot Gardiner's BCP concerts in 2000. Having been very involved in this project, and having lived a whole year with the Cantatas (and missing them!) I would love to hear form anybody who attended and to have their reactions.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Isabella de Sabata] Welcome aboard. Are you the 200th member in the BCML?

Sorry, but I did not have the opportunity to attend the Gardiner's Pilgrimage. His tour did not include any church in Israel. I wonder why. After all this is the place where it all began.

It would be very interesting to read about your personal involvement in this exciting project. Since AFAIK all the concerts were recorded, do you know if is there any chance that they will be available in CD form some day (apart from the 12 CD's issued by Archiv, which abandoned the project)?

Anyway, since nobody has answered your question yet, I thought that you should know that the Bach Cantatas Website includes many discussions about JEG and his Pilgrimage. These discussions are collected into 5 pages. The address of the first page is: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-Gen1.htm . Start with
this one and continue from there.

And you are invited to contribute to the weekly cantata discussions.

John Downes wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Isabella de Sabata] Well yes! I went to the concerts at Milan, Southwell, KC Cambridge, Walpole St Peter, Long Melton, St Mary's Warwick, St Davids, Leipzig, Metz, Rome, Winchester and Lüneburg. And perhaps one or two others, can't remember!

I thought at the time that perhaps I should strike a limited edition medal available to those who attended ten or more.

Among the many highlights for me were the wonderful performance at St. Davids (Padmore and Kozena outstanding), St Mary's Warwick, and also the moving moment when (at the end of the Leipzig performance) the choir assembled around the Bach memorial stone in the choir at St Thomas' to sing the chorale "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit."

I thought at the time how exhausting it must have been to organise and rehearse these concerts at weekly intervals especially while maintaining the high standards. I was told that the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir were organised into 3 teams rotating the events.

If a recording of this series ever comes out, and there are obviously contractual difficulties with this, put me down for a set!

Martin Bendler wrote (August 10, 2002):
[To Isabella De Sabata] I was with two friends at the concert at Velbert-Neviges (30 Sept 2000) where JEG and his outstanding ensembles celebrated the cantatas for St. Michael. It was my first concert with JEG.It was great! Before the concert I heard the recording of the cantata BWV 50 "Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft" wich is included in an older Motet-recording with the Erato-Label. It became my favourite cantata. The perfomance of this cantata closed the concert that evening as the last piece during the concert and than as an encore. To hear this cantata live and in this breathtaking tempi.....wonderful!!! Also great were the other cantatas and the concerto for two violins and orchestra. I never heard it so fast. But I also never heard it so exactly played. After the concert we had the chance to talk shortly with the maestro and also with James Gilchrist. It was fascinating how joyful they all were. Unfortunately I got no tickets for the concert one day later in Bonn wich is my hometown. But I heard that this concert was outstanding also. Now Iīm looking forward to the Missa Solemnis concert on 21.Sept. in Bonn and to the St. John=B4s Passion on Easter Monday in Frankfurt.

In the Pilgrimage-DVD you were seen in a recording-room. What happened/will happen to all the cantata-recordings? Will they be in the shops sometime? Or is it possible to buy them over the Monteverdi Ltd.? Iīm espacially interested in the live-recordings of the Magnificat, the cantatas for Holy Trinity and the final concert in New York with the cantata "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied".

 

250 recordings by Gardiner?

Armagan Ekici wrote (October 26, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Yes, probably; he has been recording since 1969 or so. If you check the online catalogues of DG, Decca/Philips and Warner, minus double counts, plus deletions, 250 seems a sensible number.

Jim Morrison wrote (October 26, 2001):
[To Armagan Ekici] Yeah, I quick search at Gramofile for Gardiner as conductor gave me 126 hits, and that just goes back to the early 80s, and probably don't include everything he's recorded in that time frame. So 250 it is. Is that normal for a famous conductor with a long career?

Jim Morrison wrote (October 26, 2001):
[To Armagan Ekici] Sorry to be flooding the list this morning, but I just did a search for Karajan recordings at Gramofile and came back with 247 hits! Holly Oleo, Bat-bat! How many recordings did that man make in his career? He sure must have loved the sound of himself. Gardiner needs to quit being such a slacker if he wants to catch up.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 28, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Yes, Karajan and Gardiner have done a LOT of recordings. Some that come to mind are Fischer-Dieskau (singing just about every vocal piece written in the bass clef, whether it really fits him or not) and Ormandy (always reliable for middle-of-the-road interpretations). And Brendel. And three with large recorded repertoires as both conductors and pianists: Bernstein, Szell, and Barenboim.

I just saw Harnoncourt's new recording of "Aida" in a shop today. He seems to be recording just about everything, too. He has such a wide range: playing and conducting the repertoire from Monteverdi to the dawn of the 20th century. That's a good-sized chunk of 300 years in there, and he's excellent at differentiating many styles.

I like Fischer-Dieskau's singing. But there's one notoriously funny recording where he just didn't know the language well enough, and a producer slipped. In Barber's "Dover Beach" F-D sings "On the French toast the light gleams..." where it's supposed to be "coast." (I have a sound clip of that at my website.) The performance is beautiful in all other ways.... He did some decent recordings as a conductor, too.

 

Gardinerís concert

Uri Golomb wrote (August 10, 2002):
In response to Isabella's question: I found an e-mail I wrote in March 2000, shortly after Gardiner's Pilgrimage reached King's College Chapel, Cambridge (the place where Gardiner founded his Monteverdi Choir for a performance of Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine). Being a student at King's, I naturally attended it; though, by the time I got around to getting tickets, it was nearly sold out, and I had to settle for an "unsighted" ticket, behind the orchestran and choir. King's is not an ideal place for Bach -- there's too much reverberation, and polyphony tends to get smeared. The situation is even worse where I was sitting, and I also couldn't see anything.
Nonetheless, this was an intensely moving experience.

So here is what I wrote on March 6, 2000 -- a day after the concert:

The concert consisted of Bach's cantatas BWV 22 & BWV 23 (the pieces Bach presented at the audition to the Leipzig cantorate), BWV 127 and BWV 159, performed by the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir; the soloists were Ruth Holton (soprano), Claudia Schubert (alto), James Oxley (tenor) and Peter Harvey (bass). Gardiner also recruited the choirs of Clare and Trinity Colleges for a special purpose: doubling part of the violin line in cantata BWV 127. Here, Bach inserted a chorale tune into the accompaniment of the opening chorus; this melody -- and the text that goes with it -- would have been instantly recognised by his original audience (the congregation in Leipzig), but not by today's listeners. Gardiner therefore asked these extra singers to "join the violins and supply the words where they were once unnecessary".

The concert was part of part of Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage. As the aim of the series is to present the all of Bach's cantatas, each "on the appropriate [liturgical] day", this means that each concerts focuses on a similar theme. In this particular case, the common gospel for all the works was Luke 18: 31 -- Jesus' ascent to Jerusalem. I don't know much about the New Testament myself, but from the texts of the cantatas I
could gather that this event is treated as "the beginning of the end" -- a prelude to Jesus's confrontation with the Jewish elders, leading to his crucifixion; and the gospel verse (quoted in two of the four cantatas) makes it clear that he knew his ultimate fate. So naturally the cantata texts, glossing over the gospel, emphasise Jesus' sacrifice, the salvation it offers, and the Christians' duty to be worthy of Christ's sacrifice, and to emulate Christ by being willing to make their own sacrifices.

It is not surprising, therefore, that much of the music in these cantatas is in a very similar spirit to the two great Passions. Even the soprano aria in BWV 127, with its comforting text ("My soul rests in the hands of Jesus,/ When earth shall cover my body; Ah, call me soon, O funeral bells/ I am unafraid of dying,/ For my Jesus will wake me again" -- a death wish text quite typical of Lutheran cantatas) is treated by Bach in a subdued, pained, richly-dissonant manner. (The next aria, for bass singer and trumpet, is dramatic and openly triumphant -- but it represents a noteworthy exception to the rule in this respect).

Presenting such an intense series of cantatas in one sequence (there was no intermission) is obviously a great challenge, but Gardiner and his musicians rose to it superbly. The performances displayed acute sensitivity to the nuances within each movement, adding up to a richly expressive experience, varied and constantly compelling despite the overall similarity of the moods. The order of presentation also seemd highly apt, starting with the more restrained works, and leading up to a more dramatic climax with the aforementioned bass aria at the end of BWV 127, and the impassioned dialogue between "Jesus" and "The Soul" which commences cantata BWV 159.

There is little point in describing individual movements (I will just end up repeating the same superlatives), though there were still two pieces I remeber as highlights. The one is the soprano aria I already mentioned, where a musical symbol common in Bach's time (pizzicati and short notes on the recorders symbolising death-knells) was transformed by Bach into something quite unique -- vulnerable, nearly painful yet intensly beautiful. Ruth Holton's singing, and the accompainment, were extremly sensitive to this, presenting an almost fragile performance (and I mean that as a high compliment). The other highlight was the aria "est ist vollbracht" in cantata BWV 159, set for bass solo with a rich accompaiment -- rich both in its complex, shifting and beautifully-dissonant harmonies and in its texture, with strings and oboe conducting dialogues both with the bass and amongst themselves.

Gardiner and bass soloist Peter Harvey took this aria at what seemed to me a daringly slow tempo, but with their acute reponsiveness to the music's subtlelties held it together, remaining compellingly intense throughout. This charged atmosphere was retained in the wonderfully hushed performance of the concluding chorale (beautifully sung by the Monteverdi Choir, who were on top form throughout), which formed the evening's conclusion. All in all, a profoundly moving and refreshing experience.

(My only complaint was that, for all the performers' precision and incisiveness, there was still too much echo where we sitting -- at the back of the chapel, albeit close to the stage. This was especially disturbing in the more complex choruses and in the bass-and-trumpet aria. I am sure, however, that it sounded much better at the front side of the chapel, where most of the audience was sitting)

**********

I have also heard several other concerts in live broadcasts, and some of the CDs that came out of the series (not all of them actually recorded live, but some of them were). To judge by those, not all the concerts were as consistently satisfying as the one I just described: some featured more scrappy performance and/or hurried, over-driven interpretations. However, at least two of the CDs (nos. C-11 and C-12 on http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner.htm) document concerts which, in my view, were on par with the one I just described; one of these is also available on DVD (which I have not yet seen).

Incidentally, the whole series has been recorded, so there is a chance that some day it will all be made avaialble (though, under present circumstances, I wouldn't hold my breath for it hapenning in the immediate future). As I said, the overall result will probably be uneven -- but then, so is any other cycle by a single conductor.

 

Period Instruments

Ron Shaffer wrote (October 13, 2002):
I just pand was watching the Gardiner DVD "Bach Cantatas", what an enjoyable DVD! But I saw an instrument that I have never seen before: it was next to the bassoon, it is a reed instrument with a large downward curve with both holes and valves and appears to be made of dark wood. When it is shown on the DVD there is a distinctive oboe sound, but this instrument is totally different from the period instrument oboe used by, for example, the Freiberg Baroque on there Brandenburg DVD. Can anybody educate me?
Robert Sherman wrote (October 14, 2002):
[To Ron Shaffer] Are you sure you mean valves, as opposed to pads that cover holes by means of remote levers?

Valves -- rotary or piston -- were not invented until much later.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (October 14, 2002):
[To Ron Shaffer] It should be an oboe da caccia : see it at
http://mywebpages.comcast.net/cbrodersen/Oboedacaccia.html
I saw it in M.Ponseele's hands some months ago, playing in BWV 129.

Ron Shaffer wrote (October 13, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] Yep, you're right .... not really valves like with a trumpet .... but pads covering holes, like you said ..... more like a modern day clarinet

Ron Shaffer wrote (October 13, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] That's it, Riccardo! thanks!

 

Gardiner Cantatas

Thierry van Bastelaar wrote (December 11, 2002):
I remembered reading that when DG decided not to > record all of Gardiner's 2000 "Pilgrimage" cantatas, he decided to record and release them on his own dime.

Does anybody know if this correct and, if so, when they are going to be released?

Drew Pierce wrote (December 11, 2002):
[To Thierry van Bastelaar] In one of the recent issues of Goldberg (#19 or 20, I believe) there is a very interesting interview with Gardiner, in which he says that he (at the time of the interview) is negotiating the release of all the Pilgrimage performances. But he did not disclose who that label might be.

 

Interview with John Eliot Gardiner

Peter Bright wrote (October 3, 2003):
At the risk of swamping you all this morning, here is an interesting article on John Eliot Gardiner and his approach to music (and farming!). This one's from the Telegraph (some months ago).
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Ploughing his own furrow

Whether conducting his own ensembles, writing books or farming his 800 organic acres on the Dorset-Wiltshire border, John Eliot Gardiner has plotted a singular course in his quest for quality. As he prepares for a Proms performance, he talks to Geoffrey Norris

Conductor, scholar - and farmer. Sir John Eliot Gardiner is a rare breed, dividing his time between performing in the major halls and opera houses of the world, writing a book on Bach, and dealing with the day-to-day business of an 800-acre farm on the Dorset-Wiltshire border. Nor is he just a dabbler in the art of husbandry. "I'm hands-on," says Gardiner, with whom a conversation is as likely to touch on nutrients
and anthelmintic wormers as it is on Bach and Berlioz.

The farm was where he was born. His father, who had studied forestry, came to this idyllic spot in 1927, at the instigation of Henry Balfour Gardiner, John Eliot's great uncle, a man of private means who had made a name as a composer in the early years of the 20th century but, becoming disillusioned, devoted the rest of his life to reafforestation of the countryside.

"This area," Gardiner explains, looking out of his study towards rolling hills and lush woods, "was originally Cranborne Chase, the great hunting chase of the kings, but it became progressively degraded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and ended up as chalk scree, very eroded and full of brambles and much else.

"Then in the 1920s Balfour and my dad started on this very ambitious project of reafforestation. They took incredible pains, adjusting species to the terrain and topography. I've got all their planting books and their notes on soil samples and pH tests."

Gardiner's father was a pioneer member of the Soil Association. The farm, which is mixed beef, sheep and arable, is still an organic one. So, no joy here for the local agro-chemical rep. Anthelmintic wormers are out. "To deal with parasites, you can't use a prophylactic drug like that; you have to use a clean grazing system so that you are alternating your pastures, one year cattle, one year sheep. In order to build up the fertility, you have to use legumes such as clover and vetches that actually fix nitrogen in the soil. And you have to use a topper to get rid of some of the surface weeds."

For all this fluency in rural matters, Gardiner never went to agricultural college. "I learnt by experience, from my mistakes," he says, "and also by observation." And his upbringing on the farm, if unconventional, was undoubtedly a musically formative one, if only in the sense that it drove him in a different direction. "Balfour Gardiner," he says, "was very much of the generation who thought that Beethoven was the beginning and Richard Strauss probably the end." But John Eliot's father, a keen amateur musician, "adored late-medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music. He thought things went downhill rapidly after that.

"He and my mother bought a converted mill house, and their vision was totally different from Balfour's. They wanted to rebuild the local community on DH Lawrence lines. They were part of that whole generation of English people with a nostalgia for the past, but very positive and creative about reinventing the wheel and adjusting education towards a knowledge of the pattern of the seasons, the rituals associated with the agricultural year, punctuated by folk music and folk dancing, with unaccompanied singing and polyphony - not terribly well done."

It was at this point that Gardiner rebelled. "I rebelled very much against the amateurism of what went on in my home with a sort of impatience of youth," he says, an impatience that some of his musical colleagues will tell you has survived well into middle age, though our chat is as amiable as could be.

"Thanks to my parents, I got a taste of something of higher quality through visits by such people as Imogen Holst and the conductors John Gardner and Roger Norrington." He also met the iconic Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger, with whom he later studied.

While up at King's College, Cambridge, in 1964, where he was reading history, Gardiner famously organised a performance of Monteverdi's Vespers, this time rebelling not so much against the home-knit music-making of Dorset but against the establishment as represented by King's College Chapel Choir. These were still very early days of discovery as regards performance on period instruments, but Gardiner assembled his own choir and group of modern-instrument players, which became the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra.

"I suppose as a historian and also intuitively," says Gardiner, "I was always drawn to the sounds of period instruments, but I couldn't take the exaggeration and mannerisms. A lot of people were self-taught, and there weren't any kind of standards or benchmarks for performance practice in those days. I had a crack modern-instrument chamber orchestra, and I reckon we went as far as we could go using modern instruments."

Then, says Gardiner, he came up against a stylistic wall. "You simply cannot do justice to the palette of 18th-century French music, particularly Rameau, using modern instruments. They don't have that refinement of colour and the sensuality that is implicit in Rameau's music." So, with the honing of standards in period-instrument playing, Gardiner began to adopt them, as in the worldwide Bach Pilgrimage of all the church cantatas that he led in 2000 with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. "Using period instruments wasn't ever in my case an antiquarian aim. It was more a question of what clothes the music needs to wear in order to make it current and attractive to today's audience."

By extension, for his performance of Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ at the Proms next Monday, and also for the production of The Trojans opening in Paris in October, Gardiner will be conducting the Orchestre Revolutionnaire eRomantique, the period ensemble he formed in 1990 specially to perform music of the Classical and Romantic eras. Whether on period instruments or modern ones, Gardiner's aim is to find the right sound quality for the music he is performing, but he has never specialised in any particular area, with a repertoire ranging from before Bach to Berlioz and beyond.

"I find that that's where replenishment exists," he says. "I thrive on it. I love the diversity of music-making and the different opportunities it affords. In that respect, it's a bit like farming."

 

Greetings

Cesare Zambelloni wrote (January 5, 2004):
Hi to everybody; my name is Cesare Zambelloni and leave in Cremona, Italy; I am a new member since few days.

Does anybody knows what about the magnificent J.E. Gardiner's recordings of 2000 Pilgrimage? I know he recorded all cantatas during his tour, but there's not yet a label that would publish them.

Thanks

Matthew Negebauer wrote (January 5, 2004):
[To Cesare Zambelloni] Cesare-welcome to the group!

As you may or may not know, Archiv Production recorded and published a few CDs of Gardiner and his gang doing a few cantatas. I only have the Ascension set, which, like absolutely everything Gardiner has done, is fantastic.

Cesare Zambelloni wrote (January 5, 2004):
[To Cesare Zambelloni] Thanks for welcoming; yes, of course I know of archiv CD, and I've all of them; but gardiner recorded oll cantatas, not with dg engineers, but with polhymnia, nederland; I hope they will find a label for publication.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 9, 2004):
[To Cesare Zambelloni] Nice to hear from someone that lives in the home of the great Violinmakers (namely Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivarius). I, too, have Italian blood in me. My mother's grandparents on her father's side came from Chieti, Abruzzi (or Abruzzo) and her grandparents on her mother's side came from Savignano (and possibly at some point back in their ancestry, Napoli). My mother's maiden name is Ceritelli and her mother's maiden name is Marinaccio. We also have Volpe, di Roberto, and Abazia in our ancestry.

By the way, out of curiosity, do you know of where Savignano is? The last we heard was that there was one (Savignano sul Rubicone) that was SW of Bologna, but we are not sure if there is another one, one possibly closer to Napoli. The reason for this is that my grandmother always claimed that her family was Napolitan, but we are not sure of that.

 

Continue on Part 7

John Eliot Gardiner: Short Biography | Monteverdi Choir | English Baroque Soloists
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Videos | Recordings of Instrumental Works
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Newsletters
Cantatas:
Cantatas BWV 106, 118b, 198 | Cantatas BWV 140, 147 | Cantatas BWV 11, 37, 43, 128 | Cantatas BWV 6, 66 | Cantatas BWV 72, 73, 111, 156 | Cantatas BWV 82, 83, 125, 200
Bach Cantata Pilgrimage:
BCP - Vols 1&8 | BCP - Vol. 6 | BCP - Vol. 9 | BCP - Vol. 13 | BCP - Vol. 14 | BCP - Vol. 15 | BCP - Vol. 21 | BCP - Vol. 22 | BCP - Vol. 23 | BCP - Vol. 24 | BCP - Vol. 26 | Bach Cantata Pilgrimage DVD | DVD John Eliot Gardiner in Rehearsal
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 244 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 245 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 248 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 1127 - J.E. Gardiner
Table of recordings by BWV Number

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Last update: żMay 31, 2010 ż01:13:03