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Hermann Scherchen

Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

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BACH Cantatas cond. SCHERCHEN. 6 Westm LPs

Someone
wrote in eBay (May 29, 2000):
6 Bach Cantata LP’s cond. Scherchen

Hermann Scherchen conducts the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Akademiechor on 6 early Westminster LP mono records.

WL-5122. Cantata 32, "Lebster Jesu, mein verlangen"; 140, "Wachet Auf!"
Magda Laszlo, sop (32, 140); Waldemar Kmentt, tenor (140); Alfred Pöll, bass (32, 140); William Hübner, violin (32, 140); Hans Kamesch, oboe (32, 140)

WL-5123. Cantata 198, "Trauer Ode"
Magda Laszlo, sop; Hilde Rössel-Majdan, contralto; Waldemar Kmentt, ten; Alfred Poell, bass; Wilhelm Hübner, violin, Hans Kamesch, oboe

WL-5125. Cantatas 84, "Ich bin verngnügt"; 106, "Actus Tragicus"
Magda Laszlo, sop (84); Hilde Rössel-Majdan, contralto (84, 106); Waldemar Kmentt, ten (84); Alfred Pöll, bass (84, 106); Wilhelm Hübner, violin (84), Hans Kamesch, oboe (84, 106)

WL-5138. Cantata 210, "Hochzeits Kantate"
Magda Laszlo, soprano

WL-5197. Cantatas BWV 53, "Schlage doch"; BWV 54, "Widerstehe doch der Stunde"; BWV 170, "Vergnügte Ruh'"
Hilde Rössel-Majdan, contralto

WL-5201. Cantata BWV 76, "Die Himmerl erzaehlen"
Magda Laszlo, sop; Hilde Rössel-Majdan, contralto; Petre Monteanu, ten; Richard Standen, bass

To these ears, these are still the most vocal and musically satisfying series of Bach Cantatas on record, though the turbulance of musical scholarship, technological advances, marketing considerations and the nearly 50 year passage of time have moved these off the radar screen of most critics. Laszlo, Rössel-Majdan and Pöll all posessed beautiful voices that recorded well. For many years they sang second-level parts at the Wiener Staatsoper and starred in operetta at the Wiener Volksoper, Dr. Pöll being the house physician as well. Rössel-Majdan is a personal favorite - her Lieder recordings are phonographic treasures.

Inserted text sheets for all 6 discs are present. Jackets for the last 3 are divided internaly to separate the record and text.

The discs are unscratched. The covers show the usual signs of wear- an inked name and address (WL-5112), rubs, dirt, and some weak, split (WL-5197) or splitting seams.

None of these performances is listed in the Amazon.com CD data base.


Hermann Scherchen – Neglected Genius

Satoshi Akima wrote (April 25, 2001):
Whilst there are some on this list to whom he is a very well known, the name Scherchen may in general be largely unfamiliar to many. Especially now that Tahra have released a series of his recordings I hope that his time has come at last.

Hermann Scherchen was born in Berlin in 1891 and played as a violist under Nikisch, Mottl, Strauss, Oskar Fried and Weingartner and died in 1966. Although he certainly did conduct a lot of contemporary music he also left many fascinating recordings of Bach, Händel, Beethoven and Mahler. Even though a lot of people may still associate the name of Scherchen with Schoenberg, his repertoire was wide and also included Berlioz, Bartok, Berlioz, Wagner, Mozart, Tschaikovsky, Schumann and Mendelssohn. He conducted a lot of Mahler at a time his music was not widely accepted. His Beethoven cycle is important in that he anticipated more recent approaches by broadly observing the metronome markings.

Recently I have been kept busy catching up with a pile of Scherchen Recordings that had been arriving through the mail. It has turned out to be something of an embarrassment of riches.

The first big surprise came in the form of his mono 1950 recording with the Vienna Symphony of J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor (BWV 232). It is remarkable in that he uses a chamber choir with what appears to be a scaled down orchestral accompaniment. He achieves a textual clarity that compares quite favorably to the best period instrument conductors. The next big surprise is in the tempi, which are generally extremely close to John-Eliot Gardiner, except at certain points where he is either remarkably slower or faster than Gardiner. A good example is how Scherchen takes 15:53 to get through the opening Kyrie eleison compared to Gardiner's 9:29, whereas Scherchen takes 2:41 in the closing Dona nobis pacem compared to Gardiner's 3:20. No matter how extreme he may seem there always seems to be purpose behind his tempi. Still more important than any consideration of absolute timing is the fact that Scherchen always maintains a natural sense of forward flow such that he seems less static than Gardiner even when the two clock in at exactly the same tempi. This is especially telling in the Domine Deus duet where Scherchen is only marginally faster at 5:04 compared to Gardiner's 5:18 - yet it is Scherchen who achieves a disproportionately greater fluidity in the movement's forward momentum whereas Gardiner just seems too static by comparison. Most remarkable of all is Scherchen's superior ability to build up structured arguments to their inevitable climax. I had always used Gardiner's performance as a yard-stick for this work and I was totally gob smacked listening to a mono recording generally surpass the Gardiner, even if I did miss the unique sounds of the period winds.

If that were not enough a boxed tribute set from Tahra seems to be packed full of the most remarkable treasures. The performances of the Bartok Music for String Percussion and Celeste, and the Schoenberg 1st Chamber Symphony were both the finest I have yet to hear. In the Bartok he surpasses famous performances by the likes of Fricsay and Reiner.The Tahra tribute set also contained a dress rehearsal of the Beethoven 9th in which he and the Lugano orchestra play through the whole symphony. Again I listened transfixed by one of the finest performances of this symphony I had every heard. In its choice of tempi it was similar in to 9th's by Hermann Abendroth and Oskar Fried, only much more urgently 'expressivo' with Scherchen pleading with the orchestra in Italian "canto! canto!", and at certain moments in the first movement demanding that they play "triste!" He gets exactly what he asks for as well. The sense of a genuine cantabile in the slow movement at a tempo close to Beethoven's metronome marking is truly remarkable. Equally remarkable in the Tahra tribute set is an inspired chamber ensemble arrangement of the Bach's "Ein Musikalisches Opfer" not too dissimilar in concept to that of the Trio Sonnerie. Tempi again never lack forward momentum, with tremendous concentration and unforced immediacy of expression. I prefer this performance to that of the Trio Sonnerie which just seems to lack that inner hush that Scherchen brings to Bach.

The Tahra Scherchen series can be purchased from Music and Arts on line: http://www.musicandarts.com/

The Scherchen Bach B Minor mass (BWV 232) appears to have been released by Millennium Classics but I am unable to find anyone locally who sells this particular release so I have purchased a Japanese transfer from HMV Japan: http://www.hmv.co.jp/product/detail.asp?sku=237937

Deryk Barker wrote (April 25, 2001):
< Satoshi Akima wrote: The first big surprise came in the form of his mono 1950 recording with the Vienna Symphony of J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor (BWV 232). It is remarkable in that he uses a chamber choir with what appears to be a scaled down orchestral accompaniment. >
In his mid-1930’s Paris set of the Brandenburgs he used a harpsichord. The only other complete 1930’s set I know was the Busch Ensemble, which still used a piano.

Walter Meyer wrote (April 25, 2001):
< Satoshi Akima wrote: Whilst there are some on this list to whom he is a very well known, the name Scherchen may in general be largely unfamiliar to many. Especially now that Tahra have released a series of his recordings I hope that his time has come at las. >
Scherchen was one of my favorite conductors when I was in college. I would look forward to his recording of major orchestral and choral works on the Westminster LP label, beginning w/ his Bach b minor Mass. I still have that LP album, but alas, I cannot find the recordings of Beethoven's Ninth, Mahler's 5th, or Händel's Messiah that I know I had. I can imagine having given away the Beethoven and Mahler, but I'd thought they'd have had to pry the Handel out of my dead hand!

Philip Peters wrote (April 25, 2001):
< Satoshi Akima wrote: The first big surprise came in the form of his mono 1950 recording with the Vienna Symphony of J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor (BWV 232). >
I take it that you are referring to the recording with Loose, Ceska, Burgsthaler, Dermota & Poell? I have another Scherchen B Minor Mass (BWV 232) on LP (I don’t know if it has been reissued on CD) with Alarie, Merriman, Simoneau, Neidlinger and the Orchestra of the Vienna Opera. I am quite sure you would find this one interesting as well. I have been listening a lot lately to the two recordings I have of Scherchens Art of the Fuge, the 1965 version with the Toronto Chamber Orchestra and the stunning 1949 one with the Orchestra of Radio Beromunster. The Art of the Fuge was a very important work to Scherchen and I know that he recorded it at least two more times but have never been able to locate them in whatever form. Any ideas? Instrumental versions of the AoF that I had gotten used to regard as the performances most relevant to us today (Goebel & Alessandrini) seem to pale compared to Scherchens....

Deryk Barker wrote (April 25, 2001):
< Philip Peters wrote: ... I have another Scherchen B Minor Mass (BWV 232) on LP (I don’t know if it has been reissued on CD) with Alarie, Merriman, Simoneau, Neidlinger and the Orchestra of the Vienna Opera. >
This one I'd like to hear. Pierette Alarie and Leopold Simoneau now live in Victoria. He is generally not robust enough to get out much, but I have met her at one or two musical events. (She must have been a real stunner in her day)

Satoshi Akima wrote (April 27, 2001):
< Deryk Barker writes in response to my remarks on Scherchen's Bach Mass in B Minor (BWV 232): It is remarkable in that he uses a chamber choir with what appears to be a scaled down orchestral accompaniment. In his mid-1930s Paris set of the Brandenburgs he used a harpsichord. The only other complete 1930s set I know was the Busch Ensemble, which still used a piano. >
It seems that Scherchen suffered from being too far ahead of his time in more ways than one. Listening again to the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) I was again astonished how he really makes the Et resurrexit dance. There is not just stifled academic pontification about how elements of stylized Renaissance dance forms can be found in Bach's music but a real jubilant moment of joyful apotheosis. He makes John-Eliot Gardiner sound too heavy and flat footed by comparison! The rhythmic lightness imparted by Scherchen gives the impression that his basic tempo might be faster, but in fact both he and Gardiner clock in at 3:47 - exactly. I can only speculate what people thought of this at the time the recording was made. In an age when thick, syrupy and heavy Bach was the norm, Scherchen must have stuck out like a sore thumb. Then again even today by way of comparison to Scherchen, Herrheweghe is left to seem too syrupy, heavy - in short too old fashioned.

I am certainly looking forward to acquiring Scherchen's Bach St Mathew Passion (BWV 244).

< Philip Peters also asks which recording of the Bach Mass (BWV 232) I am listening to: I take it that you are referring to the recording with Loose, Ceska, Burgsthaler, Dermota & Poell? >
That's right recorded October, 1950 in the Mozartsaal, Vienna.

< The Art of the Fuge was a very important work to Scherchen and I know that he recorded it at least two more times but have never been able to locate them in whatever form. Any ideas? >
As a matter of coincidence I just received the Tahra transfer of the Beromuenster 'Kunst der Fuge' in the mail today. The booklet lists 6 recordings by Scherchen of this work:

1. Zurich 1949 with the Beromuenster Orchester for the Decca label (orchestrated Vuataz)

2. Vienna 1965 for the Westminster label (orch. Scherchen). Released on CD by Millennium label and Universal Victor Japan. Those interested might want to look in the HMV Australia site (www.hmv.com.au) which lists the Millennium 2 CD set recording for a little over US$5!

3. Lugano 1965 recorded for "Accord" label (orch. Scherchen)

4. CBC/ Toronto released by Tahra (Tah 108-109)

5&6. With Swiss Romande Orchestra 1950 (orch. Vuataz).

Incidentally I brought the Tahra Beromuenster Kunst der Fuge for the inspired coupling with the Schoenberg Variations for Orchestra. Just as the last four notes of the unfinished quadruple fugue in the KdF are B-A-C-h so too at the climax of the Schoenberg the same notes, B-A-C-h inherent in the tone row, emerge to ring out in glorious triumph. Almost predictably this is the finest recording of the Schoenberg I have ever heard. Never has the main theme sounded so beautifully and exquisitely lyrical, the hushed moments so deeply misterioso, and the finale so exalted. Yet again it illustrates that as an eloquent advocate of Schoenberg's music how Scherchen was way ahead of his time - and in fact still remains ahead of our own time. Maybe his time will come!

Walter Meyer wrote (April 27, 2001):
<< Satoshi Akima wrote: The first big surprise came in the form of his mono 1950 recording with the Vienna Symphony of J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor. It is remarkable in that he uses a chamber choir with what appears to be a scaled down orchestral accompaniment. >>
< Deryk Barker wrote: In his mid-1930’s Paris set of the Brandenburgs he used a harpsichord. The >only other complete 1930’s set I know was the Busch Ensemble, which still used a piano. >
Did the trumpeter in the 1930’s Scherchen Second Brandenburg play in tune?

Deryk Barker wrote (April 27, 2001):
< Satoshi Akima replied to me: It seems that Scherchen suffered from being too far ahead of his time in more ways than one. Listening again to the Mass in B Minor I was again astonished how he really makes the Et resurrexit dance. There is not just stifled academic pontification about how elements of stylized Renaissance dance forms can be found in Bach's music but a real jubilant moment of joyful apotheosis. He makes John-Elliot Gardiner sound too heavy and flat footed by comparison! >
And not just in Bach. Scherchen's Beethoven is often incredibly fast, the first movement of his 1958 Eroica, for example, is faster than all of the HIP conductors and only matched in my experience (for newcomers, I'm the lunatic who has lost count of the number of recordings of this piece that I own - it must be something around 150 by now) by Albert Coates - in 1926.

Not only does he beat the metronomists at their own game, he achieves the virtually unthinkable in the first movement of the Pastoral, being faster than just about everybody else, but still sounding relaxed.

< ... Yet again it illustrates that as an eloquent advocate of Schoenberg's >music how Scherchen was way ahead of his time - and in fact till remains ahead of our own time. Maybe his time will come! >
I read somewhere (probably in one of the Tahra notes) that Scherchen's musical education proceeded historically: he encountered Bach before Mozart and Haydn before Beethoven etc. I can't recall if this was by design, but what unique insights it must have given him.

Walter Meyer wrote (April 28, 2001):
< Satoshi Akima wrote, about BWV 232: In an age when thick, syrupy and heavy Bach was the norm, Scherchen must have stuck out like a sore thumb. Then again even today by way of comparito Scherchen, Herrheweghe is left to seem too syrupy, heavy - in short too old fashioned. >
I was around when it first appeared...at the same time as a Robert Shaw Chorale performance on RCA. Both were hailed at the time as refreshing departures from performances like that of Coates.

William Hong wrote (April 28, 2001):
< Walter Meyer wrote: I would look forward to his recording of major orchestral and choral works on the Westminster LP label, beginning w/ his Bach b minor Mass (BWV 232). I still have that LP album, but alas, I cannot find the recordings of Beethoven's Ninth, Mahler's 5th, or Handel's Messiah that I know I had. I can imagine having given away the Beethoven and Mahler, but I'd thought they'd have had to pry the Handel out of my dead hand! >
And I recall that Westminster also had a quite unique Scherchen interpretation of Händel's "Water Music", sometimes with the kinds of extremes in tempi that Dr. Akima briefly mentions in his original posting. It's been years since I've heard Scherchen's version, and would welcome the chance to give it another go.

Satoshi Akima wrote (April 28, 2001):
< Deryk Barker elaborates on something I alluded to in my original post: Scherchen's Beethoven is often incredibly fast, the first movement of his 1958 Eroica, for example, is faster than all of the HIP conductors... >
It is highly interesting that Scherchen was not the only performing musician close to, or influenced by, Schoenberg who took Beethoven at, or at least very close to, the prescribed metronome markings. The Kolisch String Quartet performed the Beethoven Quartets at Beethoven's metronome markings. Artur Schnabel (who as a composer wrote 12 note music) similarly frequently played the sonatas at, or at least took movements at the metronome tempo such as in the Hammerklavier. Here's what Schoenberg himself had to say about playing the Adagio of the Beethoven 9th Symphony:

In the Adagio of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven writes quarter-note=60. That's awkward. But fortunately people have discovered that all Beethoven's metronome markings are wrong. So nobody plays it at 60 quarter notes a minute, but, at the most, at 30. Obviously Beethoven's metronome marking is correct though. And only bunglers with no inkling of what is involved if one is to bring out the calm and the cantabile of this movement without such a slow tempo - only they, being bunglers, are forced to take a slower tempo; and even they are unable, when the tempo later quickens, to avoid an allegretto character. But I take it as a duty to adhere throughout to the given tempo and preserve the cantabile at all times, never falling into scherzando, as has been the case at most of the performances I have heard. About Metronome Markings, 1926 (quoted from "Style and Idea", trans Leo Black; University of California Press)

A flowing tempo accentuating the molto cantabile character, whilst avoiding falling into a scherzando character - that is Scherchen's approach to the Adagio in a nutshell. I couldn't have described it better. It also brutally highlights the shortcomings of the mechanically metronomic period instrument conductors who thoughtlessly follow the metronome marking: they all lack the 'e molto cantabile' demanded by Beethoven and degenerate into a choppy scherzando.

< Not only does he beat the metronomists at their own game, he achieves the virtually unthinkable in the first movement of the Pastoral, being faster than just about everybody else, but still sounding relaxed. >
Yes, spot on - Scherchen's ability to play movements either at, or even a shade faster than the prescribed marking is only remarkable in so far as he does it with such complete aplomb that the results sound utterly unforced. By way of comparison these Gardiners, Norringtons and the like just sound too busy, too effortful and worst of all - too metronomic! Now more than ever before Scherchen's Beethoven speaks to our age with an immediacy matched by few rivals.


Scherchen

John Thomas wrote:
For non-HIP Bach choral I prefer Scherchen over Richter, who's a bit too stodgy for my taste. Unfortunately, the Millenium reissues of the Scherchens have already gone out of print, but hopefully soon to be revived in the new Westminster line. By the way, Scherchen's great Mozart Requiem is among the first Westminster reissues and now available in record stores.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 20, 2001):
[To John Thomas] Agreed, that Scherchen Mozart Requiem blazes. I grabbed it in about 1988 when they had it on those cheapo MCA Classics Double Deckers (along with his B Minor Mass and St John Passion). My LP's were wearing out!

I wouldn't be surprised if Harnoncourt was still playing cello in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra for some or all of those.

Bob Sherman wrote (June 20, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Scherchen's 1954 (mono) Messiah is magnificent in many respects and I keep hoping it will be re-issued in CD. "Their Sound is Gone Out" gently soars like no other performance I've ever heard. William Herbert's tenor is especially fine, although he does absolutely no ornamenting. Richard Standen's awesomely slow "For Behold Darkness Shall Cover the Earth", while not vocally in the same league as Herincx with Mackerrras, is an experience not to be missed. And George Eskdale's trumpet is the best there is.

I'm less enthusiastic about his 1957 stereo recording. About the only memorable part is the opening of "Amen." The altos' full, radiant, and open low B, in particular, is worth the price of the recording. But otherwise there isn't much worth hearing on this one.


Hermann Scherchen

Trond Petersen [Berkeley, California] wrote (December 17, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] I read your review of Bach Cantata BWV 42 and all the good things you said about Scherchen. I was pleased to see someone praising Scherchen. I believe I have all the Bach recordings he made, with the exception of some "pirate" recording of Die Kunst der Fuge put out in Italy about 20 years ago. Most of the cantata ones are great, especially BWV 42, BWV 42, BWV 106, BWV 140, and BWV 198. BWV 42 with Hildegaard Rössel-Majdan, who also did some opera performances of smaller roles that are still in the catalogue, is stunning. St. Matthews Passion (BWV 248) was also great, with H. Krebs as the evangelist as I remember it, or perhaps the other light tenor Hugh Cuenod. Scherchen also did two recordings of Messiah and of entire op. 6. He did lots of other recordings, some very good, for example, of Haydn symphonies.

I think the main reason he is not so well known is that in about half or more of his recordings the orchestral forces were not as good as one could have hoped for. He also produced a number of recording himself, out of a studio in the town where he lived in Switzerland. The sound on those recordings is terrible.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 15, 2001):
[To Trond Petersen] Sorry for the late response, and thanks for your kind words.

I believe that my admiration for Hermann Scherchen's bach recordings is well documented in the various discussions which are compiled in the Bach Cantatas Website. The site includes also a short bio of him:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Scherchen-Hermann.htm
And a list of his recordings of Bach Cantatas and Other Vocal Works:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Scherchen.htm


“Recorder”

Thomas Radleff wrote (January 8, 2002):
< Philip Peters wrote: I totally agree, it's a bit lightweight maybe and certainly not the last word. But then I am very impressed with Scherchen's AoF's which are quite a
different cattle of fish, in the grand manner of the old days. >
Sure; Scherchen is a phenomenon. After having passed through the wild history of 20th century´s music, in his last year he turns almost completely to Ba´s KdF, but as a revived romantic! E.g., his idea of performing the end of the unfinished fugue as a composed final diminuendo is revolutionary, much closer to the endings of the Pathétique, or rather Mahler´s 9th or Lied von der Erde. If still Bach or not - a great symphonic work. (I´d say: IT IS always Bach.) But it depends: there are, as far as I know, three recordings of his own instrumentation. The Viennese from June ´65 I consider the best. One with the Toronto Chamber Orch. & Kenneth Gilbert is a good example of what can happen when an orchestra is not able to share the vision of the
director - especially not an easy one... If anyone knows more of Scherchen´s KdF-recordings, please tell me... [snip]

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 8, 2002):
[To Thomas Radleff] Actually I know 4 KDF directed by H.Scherchen :
1) 21-11-1949 (RB Orchestra, Mono, Tahra records) :
2) 8-12-1965 (CBC Symphony Orchestra featuring K.Gilbert on harpsichord, Tahra records);
3) june 1965 (Vienna Pro Musica Orchestra):
4) 14-5-1965 (Orchestra RAI di Torino featuring Luciano Sgrizzi on harpsichord, Stradivarius records, recorded live in Lugano, Switzerland).

Thomas Radleff wrote (January 8, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Many thanks, dear Ricardo - These are exactly those I have. The ´49 Radio Beromünster recording is R. Vuataz´ instrumentation; Scherchen presented his own version in 1965 – the concert which is documented on Stradivarius. Tahra announced to publish another one from 1966 in Paris, but don´t know when... In the last year of is life Scherchen has been travelling half of the world, directing "his" KdF with some 40 different orchestras, spreading his testament.

Charles Francis wrote (January 8, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Scherchen's '49 is the ultimate KdF AFAIC, but then I haven't heard any of his '65s !

Philip Peters wrote (January 9, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] I have nr.1 and nr.4 and would dearly like to acquire the other two as well.Can't find them however.

Philip Walsh wrote (January 9, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] There is a videotape called, I think, "Scherchen Rehearses Bach", featuring movements from the KDF. It was made by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 1960's and is probably related to the Tahra recording. It lasts about 60 minutes. (It shows up fairly often on the Canadian Bravo network.) You may be able to purchase it through the CBC. (Try WWW.CBC.CA) Well worth seeing.
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 9, 2002):
[To Philip Walsh] I have the Tahra set 108-109, 2 CDs. Scherchen and the CBC Toronto Chamber Orchestra with Kenneth Gilbert playing harpsichord.

The first 26'50" of disc one is of rehearsal excerpts. Then there are radio announcements before and after the performance (the rest of the set). The notes say the rehearsal and concert were recorded December 8 to 11, 1965.

The booklet has 60(!) pages, and three of those are a transcription of the rehearsal track. The rehearsal is in English, but Scherchen throws in bits of German, French, Italian, and Latin along the way.

I like the performance, but his idiosyncracy of augmenting some of the ending passages to double length (or longer!) does bother me. It seems affected and gratuitous; the music is making its point well enough already without these grand and sudden lurches into slow-motion. I have the same complaint about his Vienna Radio Orchestra/Vienna Symphony Orchestra recording (with Herbert Tachezi at the harpsichord...Westminster LP set 237 and then ABC Music Guild LP set 6209), and haven't heard the other ones that were mentioned.

Thomas Radleff wrote (January 10, 2002):
[To Philip Walsh & Bradley Lehman] Thanks a lot for your detailed informations - I have already all four of them. The Beromünster 1949 recording is the older instumentation by Roger Vuataz and not yet so immensely postromantic as the later versions. Though in mono, it has an audibly pulsing freshness. The other ones I would rather call an orchestral work by the director & composer Herrmann Scherchen, based on Bach, unfolding his musical visions at the end of his "most tormented life", where you can also hear a bit of his struggle for this vision. In the Toronto recording of course the slow motion endings are sounding even more forced than in the other two, almost as an emergency brake - it seems that he was not very happy with the orchestra, and they with him; the nervous tone during the rehearsals show a bit of the sources of what is audible in the concert: lack of motivation, maybe. Tahra has announced another of his late KdF-recordings, but without a release date...

There are more versions with big orchestra that evoke in my ears not much more than the question: Why? Many others (e.g. Max Pommer & Neues Bachisches Collegium, or Milan Munclinger & Ars Rediviva) have at least some great moments... Has anyone heard the new one with Bernard Labadie & Les Violons du Roi?


Scherchen

Michael Meacock wrote (March 13, 2003):
Jim Grayson told us when we had lunch with him in London - he stopped over on the way back from Vienna. It seems Scherchen had this idea to record the B-minor Mass (BWV 232) with the orchestra, soloists and choir in a complete circle with him conducting from a podium in the center, and one single stereo mike hanging over his head. Great. It was all set up. Everyone in place. Then when it came to doing some trial takes, of course HS discovered that with everyone in a circle around him, he could only face half of them, the rest being behind his back. Oh. Things came to a standstill. Then some bright technician got the idea of a revolving podium (yes really!) and managed to set it up. So HS conducted the whole of the Mass gently revolving on some kind of roundabout surrounded by choir, soloists and orch. It's a great story in itself, but there were/are problems. Knowing the story, I can hear parts where HS thinks the tempo is a bit slow and tries to speed things up - he speeds the choir up then as his podium revolves to face the orch, they speed up too! We can hear it happening! He was always one for innovation. In the days of mono he invented the frequency splitter. We had one. It split the sound into top and bass then fed into two speakers for early fake stereo. He was always very innovative at Beromunster too (early Art of Fugue for Decca), took a great interest in latest recording and mike techniques.

Enjoyed BWV 54 etc this a.m. Hilde R-M in BWV 54 is fabulous. In BWV 170 she is recorded farther away, so diction not so clear.


Scherchen’s B Minor Suite

Neil Halliday wrote (May 21, 2003):
Brad asked if I have heard a recording that is slower than this one.

The answer is - no, but if we agree that this performance (I am referring only to the overture because the discussion was about the French overture style) has attention grabbing qualities, one would have to conclude that any attempt to establish a 'correct' tempo for these works is doomed to failure.

In any case, I can see no reason why a new recording of this work, featuring an ensemble of modern instruments, and adopting the tempo chosen by Scherchen, should not be one of the possible options for a performance of this work in the early 21st century. I'm sure there are conductors out there who share Scherchen's conception of this music, and who could bring the commitment to it that Scherchen did.

Why limit the options to experience aesthetically pleasing music?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 21, 2003):
< Neil Halliday wrote: Brad asked if I have heard a recording that is slower than this one.
The answer is - no, but if we agree that this performance (I am referring only to the overture because the discussion was about the French overture style) has attention grabbing qualities, one would have to conclude that any attempt to establish a 'correct' tempo for these works is doomed to failure. >
Neil, here's a counter-question to yours: if some troupe staged a Shakespeare play, performed entirely in the nude and speaking through helium balloons, but stickinexactly to Shakespeare's words, that too would have attention grabbing qualities and be 'authentic' to some 20th or 21st century vision; but would you say it is 'correct'?

And if not, why not?

And would you say it focuses the audience's attention to THE WORK at center stage, or attention to the cleverness of the performers and production?

< In any case, I can see no reason why a new recording of this work, featuring an ensemble of modern instruments, and adopting the tempo chosen by Scherchen, should not be one of the possible options for a performance of this work in the early 21st century. I'm sure there are conductors out there who share Scherchen's conception of this music, and who could bring the commitment to it that Scherchen did.
Why limit the options to experience aesthetically pleasing music? >

Here's my posting from BCML, moved over here where it's more appropriate:

<< Neil Halliday wrote:
Re the Suites, I have Scherchen with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra performing the B minor Suite. The (French) overture section sounds utterly 'authentic', in the sense of that word which you recently defined for us (and I applaud you for this definition) ie, it's a living, breathing, engaging performance for present day listeners, not 18th century listeners. Tempo (speed)? About crotchet = 50. The middle section is about double that speed. >>
That's QUAVER = 50; see below....

And I wrote:
I dug out the LP this evening and listened to it. Yes, "authentic"...authentically reverential, and authentically sentimental. (If this suite had been attributed to, say, Graupner or Fasch, would Scherchen have stretched it out to its 27+ minutes without one of the first movement's repeats? Extraordinary!)

I rather like it for that bold approach, and they were clearly committed to the task; but several things really bothered me:

- The flautist spends that whole middle section of the first movement playing all the notes uniformly short; it sounds aimless.

- Throughout the suite everybody in the orchestra plays all the trills as fast as possible, regardless of the Affekt of the passage they're playing them in...it really breaks the mood.

- The Menuett is sooooooooooooo sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooow.........

- Nothing in the suite seemed to have anything to do with dancing. I feel that something is lost.

Then I listened to another recording from that same decade, Klemperer's 1954 recording. I have the same general complaints about the flute articulation and the trills; but the whole performance is so much more vigorous and forward-moving than Scherchen's! Not only faster--but also livelier. By comparison, it makes Scherchen's seem like an amorphous dream about the music, while this one by Klemperer is a wide-awake presentation of the music. And using the same repeat scheme as Scherchen, the suite lasts just under 23 minutes here.

Then I listened to one of the modern recordings, Parrott's from 1992. The character is gentle, relaxed, graceful, and the music flows easily. It is just as "beautiful" as Scherchen's in tone, and I'd say "more beautiful" in its naturalness and easygoing charm. And if we subtract out the time of the additional repeats so the repeat scheme is the same as Klemperer's and Scherchen's, the total time of the suite here is under 20 minutes.

In the opening section of the first movement, Parrott's performance is slightly more than twice as fast as Scherchen's in absolute speed (I checked by running both at once and switching the amplifier back and forth). But the beat is at the next higher level of the music: four beats to the bar, as opposed to Scherchen's lethargic eight. Therefore, the beat itself is not much faster, and the music doesn't seem fast. All the lines are clear, as melodic lines: by comparison, Scherchen's sounds like blocks of long slow chords...nothing is fast enough to be perceived clearly as a melody.

And, in the score, there's nothing that says this opening section should be in any way slow. Parrott's straightforward, moderate beat of four to the bar (crotchet = ~60) seems "just right" to me; and that same tempo of crotchet=~60 returns in the 3/4 "Lentement" section...and it's audible that we're in 3. Scherchen starts off at quaver=~50 (yes, quaver, not crotchet!) in both these sections, and then both of them drag even more slowly as they go along. Where's the motion? And the dotted figures don't have any forward-going snap to them, they just sit there.... Scherchen's performance is like a living creature that has no bones in it. :) Interesting to hear now and then, anyway.

Incidentally, Klemperer's stereo remake (1969) is slower than his 1954 performance, but it still has the bones.

Neil Halliday wrote (Maay 21, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] While not wishing to consider an analogy between Scherchen's aesthetics and performing Shakespeare in the nude(!), I concede that his performance of the dotted rhytmn sections might have you conjuring up a picture of a live animal without a backbone. At least you concede the animal is alive.

I conceive Scherchen's approach as a symphonic adagio, legitimate because of the unusual stature of this Overture, which embodies a 'timelessness' stretching way beyond the 18th century. (The minor key is perhaps another factor).

Scherchen's tempo (speed), in the opening of the B minor Suite, is indeed crotchet = c.25.

His speed, in the corressponding sections of the 1st Suite, is likewise slow at crotchet = c.30.

This C major Suite is also very effective , because of the richness of his orchestra, which, with the timbre of the bassoon powerfully evident from the very beginning in the long-held C major chord, is a delight to hear. The picture is one of nobility and serene majesty.

I have Menuhin's recording of the 3rd and 4th Suites. The dotted thythm sections of both Suites time in at crotchet = 60. ie, the same as that which you gave for Parrot in the 2nd Suite. Menhuhin 'sounds right' in the 3rd and 4th.

Question: in view of the more festive nature of Suites 3 and 4 (which feature trumpets and timpani), is it not reasonable to consider a more lively speed for these, in comparison with the first two? Or, to put it the other way, a slower tempo for the first two? Another point, demisemiquavers abound in the first two, are rare in the 3rd, and absent in the 4th, so there is more to 'explore', at a slower tempo, in the first two. (Trills abound in all parts of the 2nd.)

I hesitate to rush off and buy Parrot's version (of the 2nd Suite) that you speak highly of, because I have already been put off by the violin section of the Taverner Players, in their performance of the Messiah - specifically, the precise and delicate character, lacking passion, of this section of his orchestra.

In conclusion, I am sure we have all heard versions of the 2nd Suite that are much faster than Parrot's; eg, those that 'bounce' along in a jerky fashion. What does Parrot make of the 3rd and 4th Suites? I would not be surprised if his tempo is a good deal faster than Menhuhin's at crotchet = 60.


Rössl-Majdan /Scherchen & bonus

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 20, 2004):
Finally somebody brought out in CD my personal favorite LP of my life and the CD is
a great job. I have had many copies of the LP which I wore out over the years. These are the three solo contralto cantatas BWV 53, BWV 54, and BWV 170. The contralto is R-M and the conductor is Scherchen. BWV 53 is no longer by Bach, but nowadays for a while by Georg Melchior Hoffmann. It remains my favorite. The transfer on Archipel is superb. The transfers of the non-Scherchen cantatas with R-M on Vanguard were disappointing to me. They were not mispitched or anything, but simply lacking the presence I was used to. The Scherchen cantatas (only the above and BWV 198 with R-M, Laszlo, Kmentt, and Poell have been issued) have everything in a transfer I could hope for. I've only dipped into the solo contralto cantatas CD, but es war genug. I never cared for Scherchen's reading of cantata BWV 198 (the "Trauer-Ode"), but that was no reason not to get the CD mastering whilst it is around. I happen to be enamored these days of Parrott's reading of this work on his SONY CD Heart's Solace, so much a better reading than Scherchen's. The Scherchen BWV 198 on Archipel has a bonus of a number of tracks from a 1944 Vienna MP (BWV 244) under Clemens Krauss, supposedly the first release. Soloists are Klose, Eipperle, Patzak, and Weber. The tracks are (1) Buß und Reu', (2) Blute nur, (3) Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen, (4) Gibt mir meinen Jesum wieder, (5) Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden, (6) Und siehe da, der Vorhang der Tempel, (7) Wahrlich dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen, (8) Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder. I have only seen these items in one odd out of the way small place while searching the web. I have not yet seen them in the regular places yet.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Yoel L. Arbeitman] Yoel, that's good news!

Have they got rid of the fake stereo remixing and put it out in good honest mono this time? If so, I might have to pick this one up...presently I have only the fake stereo LP. (I don't think it's possible to have too many recordings of cantata BWV 54! <grin>)

But I have to admit, I still like Deller/Leonhardt/Harnoncourt a lot better in BWV 54 and BWV 170, with similar vintage.

And in BWV 53 here, the bells disappoint me: just sounding like standard orchestral tubular bells, not much character. I like the one by Ledroit with the Ricercar Consort: such an elegant flow that still doesn't seem fast (whole piece takes 5'59"), excellent dynamic shaping, and the bells have more rounded tone...hit with softer mallets, for one thing.

What if G M Hoffmann had lived past his 30s?!

Aryeh, on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV53.htm you'll probably want to adjust the composition date from 1730 down to the early 17teens, as Hoffmann died in 1715. I'll send you a scan of the different cover art I have of the Ledroit/Ricercar recording. This same cover can be added also on the page for BWV 54. There's no director credited either on the packaging or on your page, but the concertmaster is Francois Fernandez and organist is Bernard Foccroulle.

Ledroit's BWV 54 is marred by his mispronunciation of "doch" as "do" all the way through, unfortunately. Consonants are important! Deller's German pronunciation wasn't so hot either, but at least he made it clear what the words are.

Russell Oberlin with Glenn Gould, now there's some bad German pronunciation, with his American vowels and punching the weak syllables...although (to me) Gould's tack-piano and logy orchestra are more problematic than Oberlin's singing is. So are Gould's sudden and bizarre tempo changes, and his penchant to pound out other people's melodic lines with his own right hand. He really should have got around to the dream album he wanted to make: playing this cantata with Barbra Streisand(!). In his own words, "...providing she'll pick up a handbook or two on baroque ornamentation..." [Hello, Kettle? "You're black!" - the Pot.] (Aryeh, I'll send a scan of the Music & Arts cover of this, too. Yes, it's the same performance as on the video. Total time is 13'06", April 8th 1962.)

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 22, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Yoel, that's good news! >
To me more than good!

< Have they got rid of the fake stereo remixing and put it out in good honest mono this time? If so, I might have to pick this one up...presently I have only the fake stereo LP. (I don't think it's possible to have too many recordings of cantata BWV 54! <grin>) >
I don't recall any faux stereo. I had (and still actually have), both the original Westminster XWN 18392 (with the church window angel blowing a trumpet on the cover). The jacket back says: "THIS IS A MONOPHONIC RECORDING". And the Westminster "Collectors" reprint W-9629 (18392) (with the "mandala" on the cover). The jacket says: "MONO". As to the <grin>, we all love BWV 54, I guess.

< But I have to admit, I still like Deller/Leonhardt/Harnoncourt a lot better in BWV 54 and BWV 170, with similar vintage. >
I did pick up the Vanguard of the Deller to replace my LP about a year ago, but haven't taken the shrink wrap off it yet and I guess that means something, although I was always very fond of that one too. Long before the internet, I think my first musical flame was during a concert in AFH (don't recall the concert) c.1968 when I ran into a workmate. We got into a discussion of BWV 53 and he asserted: "If you have to listen to that thing, at least the Helen Watts". Oh well.

< And in BWV 53 here, the bells disappoint me: just sounding like standard orchestral tubular bells, not much character. >
Maybe they could do a meld-in of the Parsifal bells from the Muck recording, now on Naxos Historical.

< I like the one by Ledroit with the Ricercar Consort: such an elegant flow that still doesn't seem fast (whole piece takes 5'59"), excellent dynamic shaping, and the bells have more rounded tone...hit with softer mallets, for one thing. >
Ended up ordering it from amazon.co.uk and look forward to it.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2004):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote: < I don't recall any faux stereo. I had (and still actually have), both the original Westminster XWN 18392 (with the church window angel blowing a trumpet on the cover). The jacket back says: "THIS IS A MONOPHONIC RECORDING". And the Westminster "Collectors" reprint W-9629 (18392) (with the "mandala" on the cover). The jacket says: "MONO". >
I've sent the scan of the fake-stereo LP's cover to Aryeh; it's now on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54.htm
along with scans of the Deller LP cover and the Ledroit and Oberlin/Gould CDs. Closer details can be seen by clicking on them; Aryeh has coded the page so they pop up bigger.

<< And in BWV 53 here, the bells disappoint me: just sounding like standard orchestral tubular bells, not much character. >>
< Maybe they could do a meld-in of the Parsifal bells from the Muck recording, now on Naxos Historical. >
Or hell's bells from the Ansermet recording of the Symphonie Fantastique...an eerie, ominous sound. That would be an inappropriate Affekt here, though.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 22, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: "I've sent the scan of the fake-stereo LP's cover to Aryeh; it's now on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54.htm along with scans of the Deller LP cover and the Ledroit and Oberlin/Gould CDs. Closer details can be seen by clicking on them; Aryeh has coded the page so they pop up bigger".
Thanks Brad and Aryeh. The resolution bigger or smaller is not really adequate for my eyes. I believe I detect on the one we are interested in, the only R-M that pops up larger, "electonically recorded....". I can't read the rest. At all events I have never seen this release and why such things were ever done defies the imagination. I assure you that the new Archipels have no such idiocy. They say on them: "Remastered with 24 bit. Issued from superb source". And indeed they do so sound. FYI the R-M solo
contralto cantatas has a "bonus" or to me a "malus" of a Schwarzkopf/Jochum 1951 "Jauchzet Gott" attached. I played it once and promise never to again:-).


Scherchen BWV 198/106

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 14, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote: < Yesterday, I had intended to send a message regarding Scherchen's 1952 recording of BWV 198, which is on a disc you referred to recently; and in any case I have doubts about recommending old mono recordings, especially when it seems eve member of the choir, in the opening movement, is singing with a pronounced vibrato. >
Of course old recordings follow an old performance practice but also of course each old conductor with his choirs and his soloists forms a unique complex of specifications as indeed does each modern performance under its conductor and his choirs and his soloists. Some are fetching and some are off-putting and that all depends not on abstruse academic and scholarly criteria but rather on our ears and what is important to us.The only one of the Scherchen cantatas that I had in my LP days a very negative reaction to was NOT BWV 198 but BWV 106 The jacket of my LP copy is filled with negative scribbling and none of these quasi-illegible notes is a positive one. However I have not yet acquired the two new Scherchen cantata CDs which include this Actus Tragicus and thus I cannot address my current reaction to it. My present reaction to Scherchen's Trauerode (BWV 198) is a very positive one and always has been. Obviously the stereo/mono problem for me and for some others is not a problem. Obviously today most persons would ALSO want some modern recording in addition to his favorite old recordings but then again some might not. My current reaction to Parrott's BWV 198 is a very positive one indeed.


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Last update: ýOctober 14, 2004 ý09:22:08