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General Discussions - Part 9: Year 2005-2

Continue from Part 9: Year 2005-1

BBC Radio 3 compares Gardiner, Ton Koopman

Thomas Shepherd wrote (February 19, 2005):
The Radio 3 review of Bach's cantatas this Saturday was a detailed analysis of Gardiner, Ton Koopman & Suzuki's CDs to date. Its worth the 40 minutes listening to the reflections of AndrewMcGregor and Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. I have recorded the discussion and it is possible to hear it at:
http://www.zen20101.zen.co.uk/Stuff/BBC%20Cantata%20review.mp3 .

I will leave that on that site for a couple of weeks.

Of course it is possible to go to the BBC's web site and for a week it should be possible to hear it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/index.shtml?logo "CD Review". When the programme is running through the BBC player, move on through the stream to 1hour 15mins to hear the bit about the Bach Cantatas.

(Incidentally there were not enough votes for BWV 196 Der Herr denket an uns CHANDOS CHAN 0715 and it was not broadcast - perhaps some other day?!)

Full discussion order as follows:

Consumer Slot: AndrewMcGregor and JonathanFreeman-Attwood discuss the recent harvest of Bach Cantatas:

BACH Cantatas Volume 8 - For the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity: Warum betrubst du dich, mein Herz? BWV 138; Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan II BWV 99; Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! BWV 51; Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan III BWV 100:
Malin Hartelius (soprano), William Towers (alto), James Gilchrist (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass), The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
For the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity: Komm, du suße Todesstunde BWV 161; Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende? BWV 27; Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben? BWV 8; Christus, der ist mein Leben BWV 95:
Katharine Fuge (soprano), Robin Tyson (alto), Mark Padmore (tenor), Thomas Guthrie (bass), The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
MONTEVERDI PRODUCTIONS SDG 104 (2-CD, mid-price)

BACH Cantatas Volume 1 - For the First Sunday after Trinity: Cantata No. 39 Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39; Cantata No. 20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20; Cantata No.75 Die Elenden sollen essen BWV 75 - For the Feast of St John the Baptist: Cantata No.167 Ihr Menschen, ruhmet Gottes Liebe BWV 167; Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam BWV 7; Freue dich, erloste Schar BWV 30:
Gillian Keith, Joanne Lunn (sopranos), Wilke te Brummelstroete (alto), Paul Agnew (tenor), Dietrich Henschel (bass), Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
MONTEVERDI PRODUCTIONS SDG 101 (2-CD, mid-price)

BACH Cantata No. 65 Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen BWV 65 (excerpt played; c/w Cantata No.81 Jesus schlaft, was soll och hoffen, BWV 81; Cantata No.83 Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde, BWV 83; Cantata No.190 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 190 [Complete Bach Cantatas Volume 21]:
Robin Blaze (countertenor), James Gilchrist (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass), Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (conductor)
BIS-CD-1311 (CD)

BACH Cantata No. 122 Das Neugeborne Kindelein', BWV 122; Cantata No.180 Schmucke dich, O liebe Seele BWV 180; Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn, BWV 96 [Complete Bach Cantatas Volume 26]:
Yukari Nonoshita (soprano), Timothy Kenworthy-Brown (countertenor), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass), Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (conductor)
BIS-CD-1401 (CD)

BACH Complete Bach Cantatas Volume 12 -Cantata No. 78 Jesu, der du meine Seele', BWV 78 (excerpt played):
Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra, Ton Koopman (conductor)
ANTOINE MARCHAND (CHALLENGE CLASSICS) CC72212 (3-CD, mid-price)

BACH Complete Bach Cantatas Volume 25- Cantata No. 78 Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78; Cantata No.99 Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV 99; Cantata No.114 Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost, BWV 114):
Yukari Nonoshita (soprano), Daniel Taylor (countertenor), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass), Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (conductor)
BIS-CD-1361 (CD)

BACH Complete Bach Cantatas Volume 16 - Cantata No. 49 Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen BWV 49 (excerpt played; c/w Cantata No.82 Ich habe genung BWV 82; Cantata No.27 Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende BWV 27; Herr Gott, dich loben wir, BWV 16; Cantata No.170 Vergnugte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust BWV 170; Cantata No.102 Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben BWV 102; Cantata No.79 Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild BWV 79; Cantata No.43 Gott fahret auf mit Jauchzen BWV 43; Cantata No.39 Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot BWV 39:
Johannette Zomer, Sandrine Piau, Sibylla Rubens (sopranos), Bogna Bartosz, Annette Markert (mezzo), James Gilchrist, Paul Agnew, Christoph Pregardien (tenors), Klaus Mertens (bass), Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra, Ton Koopman (conductor)
ANTOINE MARCHAND (CHALLENGE CLASSICS) CC72216 (3-CD, mid-price)

BACH Complete Bach Cantatas Volume 3 - Cantata No. 22 Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwolfe, BWV 22; Cantata No.23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23; Cantata No.163 Nur Jedem das Seine, BWV 163; Cantata No.165 O heilges Geist-und Wasserbad, BWV 165; Cantata No.54 Widerstehe doch der Sunde BWV 54; Cantata No.161 Komm, du susse Todesstunde, BWV 161; Cantata No.208 Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd BWV 208; Cantata No.63 Christen, atzet diesen Tag, BWV 63; Cantata No.162 Ach, ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe BWV 162 + appendix; Cantata No.155 Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange BWV 155; Cantata No.63 Christen, atzet diesen Tag BWV 63):
Barbara Schlick, Caroline Stam, Ruth Holton, Els Bongers (soprano), Elisabeth Von Magnus (mezzo), Andreas Scholl (countertenor), Paul Agnew (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass), Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra, Ton Koopman (conductor)
ANTOINE MARCHAND (CHALLENGE CLASSICS) CC72203 (3-CD, mid-price

Charles Francis wrote (February 20, 2005):
[To Thomas Shepherd] Thanks, very greatful for this! <snip>

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (February 20, 2005):
[To Thomas Shepherd] Thanks Thomas,

I hope you won't mind my dodging church this Sunday morning. Instead I listened to the fifth or maybe first evangelist. It was an interesting radio discussion. I was particularly moved by Gardiner's rendition of BWV 39 "Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot" and Koopman's "Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe", BWV 22 with Claus Mertens as Jesus.

Since today is Sunday Sexagesima I listened to BWV 18, the fascinating "Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt", so appropriate for the presenweather conditions in Holland, though the sun has just come out.

To all of you out there, enjoy your weekend.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 21, 2005):
[To Thomas Shepherd] Thanks much Thomas. It was a very interesting program indeed and proved again how subjective musical judgement is. I only have four Suzuki volumes and three of Koopman's (so that's 9 CDs I guess). I certainly do agree that Suzuki somehow imparts an overt religiosity in the performance than any of the other conductors, but frankly attributed that to the liner notes and above all the acoustics. To my ears Koopman and Suzuki are more united by their similarities than differences. No criticism mind you - this is splendid music and I intend to continue collecting both as Ebay's whims direct. Gardiner's always been a "loose canon" and my guess is that the Pilgrimage recordings will do nothing to change that impression. But on a good day, he's as skilled as any conductor living today. (I'm a special fan of the ORR and think Gardiner's Beethoven and Schumann are terrific.)

I was a little disheartened to hear the critic Jonathan Freeman-Attwood refer, however fondly, to the Harnoncourt series as "old." Whatever one thinks of the boys and adult males that handle the vocals, the Harnoncourt series is certainly distinctive. Perhaps others on the list could do this, but I wouldn't bet anything of value on my ability to tell identify a Suzuki, Koopman or Gardiner performance that I was not extremely familiar with. (A quick tempo might be a Gardiner tip-off.) You can tell Harnoncourt is at the helm in a few seconds. Indeed when I am trying to learn a cantata I'll put Harnoncourt one and then one of the three "modern" versions and then an OVPP performance if I have it. (Leusink fills in for Harnoncourt if I don't have the right one.) The result is delightful - lovely Bach done differently. But I wish someone was going to follow in Harnoncourt's foot steps if his recordings are headed for the ash-can of recording history. And I don't see it happening.

Anyway, a great program.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 21, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote: < (I'm a special fan of the ORR and think Gardiner's Beethoven and Schumann are terrific.) >
Agree on the sets, esp. the Schumann. I would never touch his Alceste (a favorite opera of mine) because of his replacing the French of "Divitités du Styx" with a translation into French of the text of Italian Alceste (they are actually two different operas). He did worse in his recording of Beethoven's Leonore (the earlier version of Fidelio). The man is weird for an authenticist.

Francis Browne wrote (February 21, 2005):
JEG Bach Pilgrimage

The discussion about cantatas on Radio 3 evidently was of interest to many members. It might be worth noting that John Eliot Gardiner's new label has a website that has a link to extracts from the discussion, multiple reviews of the first discs - and not least among them what Aryeh said on this list and links to our website.

(My apologies if someone has already pointed this out - I have just started listening to JEG's cds and was delighted to find this): http://www.solideogloria.co.uk/

Thomas Shepherd wrote (February 21, 2005):
JEG Bach Pilgrimage/BBC review

[To Francis Browne] At http://www.solideogloria.co.uk/ it is certainly possible to hear and read reviews about the Pilgrmage, but the BBC review from Gardiner's web site deals only with his recordings as is only the first seventeen and a half minutes of a forty programme that explores other recent recordings and makes interesting and often unexpected comparisons.

To hear the programme in its entirety either go to the BBC web site until next Saturday or listen at: http://www.zen20101.zen.co.uk/Stuff/BBC%20Cantata%20review.mp3 for a couple of weeks.

Incidentally Jonathan Freeman-Attwood is Vice-Principal of the Royal College of Music ( http://www.ram.ac.uk/welcome/index.html ) and speaks with authority.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 21, 2005):
Prof Jonathan Freeman-Attwood [was: JEG Bach Pilgrimage/BBC review]

Thomas Shepherd wrote: < Incidentally Jonathan Freeman-Attwood is Vice-Principal of the Royal College of Music ( http://www.ram.ac.uk/welcome/index.html ) and speaks with authority. >
Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood has also contributed an article to the BCW, based on a lecture he gave about 3 years ago.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Passion-JFA.htm
The article includes music examples, to which you can listen:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/Play-Passion[JFA]-Mus.htm
I find this article illuminating and well-argued and tend to agree with most of JFA's views.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (February 21, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks for the link - I look forward to listening to the lecture. Before I get lynched, I'm sorry for the wrong institution in London. Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood is at the Royal ACADEMY of Music not the College.

Uri Golomb wrote (February 21, 2005):
First of all, let me take this opportunity to add my signature to the recent Ode to Aryeh. Bach-cantatas.com, and its lists, are indeed marvellous achievements!

And back to the subject: I just finished listening to the broadcast online -- thanks again, Thomas! Fascinating stuff, and I liked most of the excerpts -- particularly from the Gardiner series. I did disagree with JFA (Jonathan Freeman-Attwood) occasionally: for example, when he placed Suzuki and Koopman side-by-side in the opening movement of Cantata BWV 78, he and McGregor (I think) both agreed that the Koopman had more momentum. To me, it sounded exactly the other way around -- Suzuki had more thrust and momentum to my ears.

I attended JFA's lecture -- the one that's re-printed on http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Passion-JFA.htm. I quite enjoyed it at the time, but my enjoyment diminished considerably on re-reading. I still find many of his claims in support of older Bach performances persuasive and eloquent; but his diatribes against period-instrument performances are gross exaggerations and occasionally completley unfounded -- and, indeed, contradicted by his own postiive reviews of such performances, in Gramophone and in the BBC broadcast. He did express something closer to the views in his lecture when he did a library choice on the SMP in Gramophone -- I don't have it, but I did read it at the time. IF I remember correctly, he only found one period-instrument version (the recent Harnoncourt) worthy of inclusion in his final four; and he claimed that the older recordings have a sense of humanity and expression that's missing from most period instrument readings. Again, my view is almost exactly the opposite: to me, the performances of Gardiner, Herreweghe, Harnoncourt (the 2000 version, which JFA did recommend) and Suzuki sound considerably MORE humane, MORE emotionally involved, than (say) Richter's and Klemperer's.

Uri Golomb wrote (February 21, 2005):
PS to my previous: Forgot to put Leonhardt on my list of humane, expressive readings of the SMP. Often McCreesh as well; but I do find his instruments a shade too passive, not sufficiently alive to the expressive import of the orchestra's contribution.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 21, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote: <"I did disagree with JFA (Jonathan Freeman-Attwood) occasionally: for example, when he placed Suzuki and Koopman side-by-side in the opening movement of Cantata BWV 78, he and McGregor (I think) both agreed that the Koopman had more momentum. To me, it sounded exactly the other way around -- Suzuki had more thrust and momentum to my ears".>
Exactly!. I remember thinking that as well; and slower tempo seemed to lend greater impact to the music.

But as far as the "humanity' of 'old' and 'new' performance styles is concerned, I would rather not comment on those generalisations.

John Pike wrote (March 10, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] I agree with all the comments below on the recordings I know.

JFA gave the latest Gardiner recordings only 3/5* in a recent BBC Music Magazine. He particularly commented on inadequate rehersal for some of the recordings (which may well be true and inevitable for many of the recordings, but I saw no evidence of it in these first releases) and tempi which he sometimes found far too fast (great emphasis on this last point). I strongly disagree with this last point. Gardiner is justifiably renowned for his fast tempi, but I rarely find them too fast. I think it helps to create a great sense of urgency, momentum and flow. We know from the obituary that JSB himself generally took "lively" tempi. There was one of the "Was Gott tut" recordings which I found a touch too fast but not too much. I think it's particularly important to keep the pace up here since, when the choir comes in, if the initial pace is too slow, the choir melody could sound painfully slow, without shape or form. That certainly doesn't happen with Gardiner, and I greatly enjoyed both recordings of the 2 "Was Gott tut" cantatas in this collection.

I don't have any Suzuki or Koopman recordings yet but am very tempted to splash out now!

 

Golden and leaden oldies - nos. 82, 122, 133, 54

Tom Dent wrote (March 10, 2005):
BBC Radio 3 was graced this morning with the Hans Hotter recording of Ich habe genug (BWV 82). The sheer timbre of the voice is superbly expressive and for a Wotan he sings with remarkable focus and legato. This was in about 1950, well before his 'wobble'-period. (Hotter's Winterreise is comparable.) Oboe playing is similarly accomplished, although not with such a distinctive tone. The long appoggiaturas (often resulting in much discord) are noticeable and add considerably to the effect. For a big band like the Philharmonia the strings are not as 'thick' as one might fear. The one fly in the ointment is the rather hideously noisy organ continuo during the recitative. Anyway, this recording has been praised enough before.

Out of my LP collection, Vanguard PVL 7061 (BWV 122 and BWV 133) with Gielen and Vienna Opera forces including Roessl-Majdan and Kmentt. Somewhat rough-and-ready, particularly concerning the continuo which has a harpsichord of the 'copulating-skeletons' variety and rather earthbound double-bass - noticeable in the bass aria of BWV 122 which is also vocally somewhat undistinguished.

The opening of BWV 122 is brisk in tempo and energetic but suffers from unclear soprano line (those Vienna opera chorus-members!). The gem of the cantata is the soprano recitative performed by the little-known Margit Opawsky, evidently a fine lyric-soprano, and 3 pleasantly vibrato-free flutes.

BWV 133 also starts energetically and joyfully (Gielen's Mahler is brisk too!), although with rather unfocused chorus. The ensuing alto aria with two oboes is charming and the oboes d'amore (who knows what they used in 1952 Vienna?) are again surprisingly pure in intonation and characterful of timbre. Roessl-Majdan is a little stereotypically operatic, but maintains a fine expressive legato.

The soprano aria is somewhat workaday in the instrumental department and it seems a bit of an effort now for the singer to get to the high notes while enunciating the words. However 'mein Jesus is ist geboren' is well put across. In the middle section 'Wer Jesu Namen' the soprano timbre has an unearthly quality which hardly exists today, but I get the impression that the singer was almost sightreading since there are 'scoops' and words are unclear.

Now to EMI CLP 1842, Cantatas BWV 4, BWV 54 and BWV 59 from the Thomaskirche with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and soloists Giebel, Höffgen, Rotzsch and Theo Adam (another Wotan) under Kurt Thomas. This disc falls mainly into the leaden category, particularly when the tenor of H-J Rotzsch is on display, a typical Germanic 'strangled' voice. It is of interest to hear the slightly raw trebles of the Thomaskirche (similar to the Vienna Boys Choir on the early Harnoncourt-Gillesberger records), but overall the choral sound is opaque and uninspiring. The main points of interest are the contributions of Adam and particularly Hoffgen who delivers a strong 'Wer Sunde tut' - indeed the whole of the solo cantata (BWV 54) is very listenable. In general the performances are somewhat dour and dismal.

Is this (no.54) the only cantata that begins on a discord?

Thomas Shepherd wrote (March 11, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] Thanks Tom

I'd forgotten all about this broadcast. Fortunately the programme broadcast this morning is still on the "listen again" section of the BBC website (that's until tomorrow's programme replaces today's) So I've listened and think its wonderful - singer and oboist. In the best sort of way, lovely, big, sentimental and romantic sounds. Caressing the music and allowing it to speak without hurry. Fabulous - having never heard Hotter, now I realise why so many rave about him.

I've taken a recording of the BBC's stream over the internet, and have it for a few days on my web site: http://www.zen20101.zen.co.uk/Stuff/Hotter%252fBWV82.mp3

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 11, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote:
< Out of my LP collection, Vanguard PVL 7061 (
BWV 122 and BWV 133) with Gielen and Vienna Opera forces including Roessl-Majdan and Kmentt. Somewhat rough-and-ready, particularly concerning the continuo which has a harpsichord of the 'copulating-skeletons' variety and rather earthbound double-bass - noticeable in the bass aria of BWV 122 which is also vocally somewhat undistinguished. >
Why has the Gielen/ RM/ Kmentt stuff not been digitized? And ditto the CPE Bach Magnificat with RM? I cannot at this point comment on these recordings as, whilst I still keep my LPs as souvenirs, it's been years since I've listened. RM and Kmentt under Kubelik produced in my opinion the finest Mahler DLvdE I've heard. It's one of those recordings never released in any format at all. One always wonders why some of the greatest performances were never released even in the official pirate world.

 

New OVPP Cantata recordings

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 29, 2005):
Next month Atma Classique is releasing the long-awaited 1st album in a planned complete cantata cycle performed OVPP by Montreal Baroque.
Only 2 months ago Chandos released the 1st album in a mini-cycle of the early cantatas performed OVPP by Purcell Quartet.
The surprise in another OVPP recording of early cantatas (BWV 18, BWV 106, BWV 150) by Ricercar Consort from Mirare.

Some of the early cantatas are going to have multiple OVPP recordings available on the market, with 6 of Cantata BWV 106 (Rifkin, Ricercar x 2, Cantus Colln, D. Taylor, Purcell).

Does this blooming herald that OVPP is becoming the norm for new cantata recordings?

Uri Golomb wrote (April 29, 2005):
< Some of the early cantatas are going to have multiple OVPP recordings available on the market, with 6 of Cantata BWV 106 (Rifkin, Ricercar x 2, Cantus Colln, D. Taylor, Purcell).
Actually, it's at least 8. Jeffrey Thomas's recording, with the American Bach Soloists, is also OVPP; so is Leusink's version, even though the rest of his cycle is choral. (I can see his point: I have no objections to choral singing in Bach generally, but I find full choral sections intrusive and inappropriate in this particular ).

< Does this blooming herald that OVPP is becoming the norm for new cantata recordings? >
I doubt if it will become the norm -- except perhaps in early cantatas like BWV 106. (Jeffrey Thomas's policy, at least, is to do the early cantatas OVPP, and the Leipzig ones with a chamber chorus). But perhaps it will become a norm -- an increasingly frequent alternative to choral performances. At least, that's what I hope will happen. I find OVPP both historically and musically convincing, and would like to hear more of it; but I certainly don't want choirs to abandon Bach's cantatas! I do relish the possibility, however, that every cantata will have at least one OVPP recording, so I certainly hope that the Atma project will prove successful.

Gardiner, BTW, sometimes adopts the Wilhelm Ehmann solution -- use a choir, but perform many specific passages with soloists (in analogy to what Bach himself did in specific cantatas, such as BWV 21). Perhaps that example, too, will be followed by others. That way, we'll have a variety of options available to us -- from all-choral, to part-choral part-OVPP to all-OVPP. Then we'll have, in the words of Peter Schickele, "something for everyone and everyone for something".

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 29, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] Isn't Junghänel's BWV 106 OVPP or am I really growing deaf?

Joost wrote (April 29, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] No Eric, nothing wrong with your ears - but maybe something with your memory... :-)
Konrad Junghänel happens to be the director of Cantus Cölln!

 

Must-have Bach and Handel of the LP Era

John Smyth wrote (May 11, 2005):
It's very hard to find many reviews of the above in the pre-compact disc era.

Any performances, (other than the well-covered "legendary" ones that have withstood the test of time?

Karl Miller wrote (May 13, 2005):
[To John Smyth] For me, one of the most interesting...I know, "what do you mean by 'interesting?'" Well I am not quite sure how to label it, but it was the first substantive recording of the Messiah...done in the acoustic era. Much of it has been issued on CD, but not all of the sides...I just got a CD from a collector who was able to locate all of the sides. Not all of the singers are good...some seem almost bad, but it is fascinating to hear.

Also, as of late, I made a transfer, from a taped copy, of Koussevitzky's recording of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). It is unlike anything I have heard...and, being a true believer when it comes to Koussevitzky, I love it...is it historically correct...beats me, as I don't really know how Bach wanted it to be performed.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 17, 2005):
Karl Miller wrote:
< Also, as of late, I made a transfer, from a taped copy, of Koussevitzky's recording of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). It is unlike anything I have heard...and, being a true believer when it comes to Koussevitzky, I love it...is it historically correct...beats me, as I don't really know how Bach wanted it to be performed. >

http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/SMP-TNT.htm

Dear Karl and All, First I am fascinated and allured by the Händel and Bach recordings you mention. Concerning outrageously great Bach singing, I do wonder whether you can shed some light on the recording of the 1951 Perpignan Festival and what was recorded and what was released and what is attainable, etc.

I am very confused as I now see (I am a slow reader) that the "Erbarme dich, mein Gott" as noted in Teri Noel Towe's magisterial article, when one follows the link, was indeed released on a Columbia LP (or so appears to have been).

"Although it is not of 78 RPM origin, one of the most transcendent accounts of this heavenly aria was recorded by the mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel at the 1951 Perpignan Festival, with Pablo Casals conducting [M-16]."

Yet TNT says "not of 78RPM origin". I hope to have some light shed on this matter.

Karl Miller wrote (May 18, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I find a listing of the recording on a Columbia LP ML 4640. According to the bibliographic citation, it was recorded in 1951. OCLC does not list a CD transfer of it, however, I would guess it could be obtained from dealers of second hand recordings.

As for the "not of 78rpm origin," it could have been recorded on tape. In the late years of the 78, Columbia, in some instances, would record on 16 inch lacquer discs, unlike Victor who would record a 78rpm side at a time. The obvious advantage of the 16 inch disc is that a conductor could record an entire movement in one take. The disadvantage would be a slight loss in fidelity resulting from having to cut a master from the 16 inch disc. By 1951, tape was being used by the major companies, but since those recordings were made outside of the studio, I don't know what technology they might have used.

Karl Miller wrote (May 20, 2005):
[To Karl Miller] I don't think I have ever responded to one of my own notes before, but I got a response to this posting from a friend of mine, who truly is an authority on the history of recording. He pointed out some facts that I did not know...

Namely, that in by 1944 Victor was using 16 inch lacquers to record the Boston Symphony. That accounts for the somewhat muffled sound of their recordings from that period. Also, the LPs issued of those performances were transferred from the lacquers, which accounts for the better sound on those transfers...and a good reason to collect them.

Subsequent issues have been made from the 78s as few of the original lacquers survive.

 

An evening with some Bach cantatas [BeginnersBach]

Jack Botelho wrote (June 2, 2005):
I don't usually spend much time listening to Bach's cantatas, but last evening I put some recordings on, and the listening session lasted until the very early hours of the morning. It was a most rewarding session, more than I've had in a long, long, time.

The program consisted of BWV 199, BWV 202 "Wedding", BWV 209 an "Italian", and BWV 211 "Coffee".

As is my usual practice in late night listening, the volume was set extremely low, so low that any lower and my right channel would have been silent and only half of stereo. It seems at such low levels (barely audible) the cerebral auditory function works harder to decipher the music.

In the typical pattern of recitative-aria, the arias usually began with a statement of the ritornello, which is a brief melodic motif, stated usually more than two times and modulated through either an ascending or descending succession of keys. After this follows an episode sung by the soloist(s), usually beginning with a restatement of the motif followed by variations of it. This is followed by a restatement of the ritornello in again, either descending or ascending modulation of key, which is then followed by another episode by the soloist. This pattern of ritornello-episode may continue several times before the closing of the piece, with a final statement of the ritornello. In Bach's more stylistically advanced cantatas, like BWV 209, the ritornello and episode influence each other in a more intense exchange and development of motifs. The bass line in these cantatas chugs along in close and intimate counterpoint to the melodic line, exhibiting quirky and exciting harmonies. In essence the arias, in broad structure, are miniature concertos in typically Vivaldian form, but in a much more concentrated style with regard to exchange of motifs between episode and ritornello with tight counterpoint. To use an automotive comparison, Bach's cantata form may be likened to a fine-tuned BMW, whereas Vivaldi's may be likened to a Ferrari that suffers from some structural anomalies.

Anyway, I finally fell asleep about 5:00 am, and woke up 3 hours later to cut the lawn.

Hope you've all had fun reading this. Apologies for any residerrors.

 

Complete Bach Works from Japan?

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 6, 2005):
While browsing the OCC, I came across the following paragraph (Reception and Revival - Japan, p. 395):
"…and a 15-volume anthology of writings on Bach together with recordings of his complete works on 158 CDs is scheduled for completion in 1999"

I can think of several viable options:

a. There is indeed a complete original set of Bach's works, which is (was) sold only in Japan.
b. The set is a Japanese printing of one of the complete European sets (Rilling or H&L).
c. The set is actually the ongoing series of Suzuki on BIS. However, it would take much longer time to finish than was originally planned.
d. The whole concept has never taken up and remained in limbo.

Does anybody know what are the actual facts? Our Japanese members, perhaps?

 

Passions & Motets [Bach_Cantatas]

Mustafa Yuksel wrote (June 16, 2005):
Could anyone recommend me the best interpretation of Bach passions and Motets. I have Klemperer, Rene Jacobs and Peter Seymour but I found them Unsatisfactory.

John Pike wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Mustafa Yuksel] For the St Matthew Passion, I would recommend Harnoncourt's 3rd recording, McCreesh, Herreweghe (either recording) or Gardiner.
For the St John Passion I would recommend Herreweghe or Gardiner or, sung in English, Benjamin Britten with Peter Pears.

For the motets, I would recommend Diego Fasolis' recording. Herreweghe is also good.

Helene Goldberg wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Mustafa Yuksel] I like John Eliot Gardiner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt or Leonhardt for the passions, but I like original instrument recordings.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Mustafa Yuksel] I'm ecstatic with Suzuki, happy enough with Gardiner.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Mustafa Yuksel]
Motets are easy: Thomanerchor Leipzig under either Biller or Thomas.

Passions are as follows:

1713 Markuspassion Passionpasticcio: Christian Brembeck
1724 Johannespassion: like the one on Channel Classics
1725 Johannespassion: Herreweghe
1727/1729 Matthaeuspassion: Heinz Henning
1730/1735/1745 Lukasspassion: Wolfgang Helbich
1731 Markuspassion: Roy Goodman (maybe Ton Koopman's too)
1739-1749 Johannespassion: Ramin or Richter
1742 Matthaeuspassion: Richter 1979
1743-1746 (Standard) Matthaeuspassion: Richter or Mauersberger
1749 Johannespassion: Max or Suzuki

John Pike wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Mustafa Yuksel] I forgot to say last night that, for those who like modern instrument performances, I think Richter's 1958 performance of the St Matthrew Passion is very good. I have also seen Lehmann 1949 and Jochum also recommended by reliable sources but don't have them myself.

William Kasimer wrote (June 17, 2005):
[To Mustafa Yuksel] What did you find unsatisfactory about them? That'll help when recommending alternatives...

For the St. Matthew, if you're looking for something a bit faster than Klemperer with modern instruments, try Rilling's on Hänssler.

 

A few weekend acquirements

Chris Kern wrote (July 11, 2005):
I was up in Tokyo this weekend so I was actually able to visit a large music store (Tower Records in Shinjuku) and pick up some Bach. I got three recordings.

The first was the vol 2 of the Suzuki Cantatas. I'm very pleased with this recording; so far I especially like BWV 131. Midori Suzuki is probably the best soprano I've ever heard; she has a very clear, powerful voice with almost no vibrato. I also like that the booklet lists the names of all the performers including the choir and instrumental players; it doesn't seem like most do that.

A bigger disappointment was the first Suzuki recording of the SJP (BWV 245). I love the DVD recording, but the CD is an inferior product. I miss Suzuki's excellent harpsichord continuo playing (I know it's absent because they used the earlier version of the passion). Also, almost without exception the soloists are overpowered by the orchestra. Robin Blaze's powerful "Von den Stricken meinder Sunden" is much
better than the weak effort by Mera on the CD. The only exceptions to this are the tenor arias (I guess Turk?) and the second soprano aria, which must be Midori Suzuki. However, I was happy to hear the lute in the performance (absent in the DVD).

The third was the Leonhardt St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) which I'm listening to right now; my opinion is favorable so far. I like that he takes a slower and less jauntier approach to the initial chorus than most HIP performances (however, the best opening chorus for me still goes to Mauersberger). I also like the boy sopranos. But am I the only one who thinks René Jacobs sounds like a woman? With other countertenors like Blaze and Mera I can tell that they're males.

Boys Pehrson wrote (July 11, 2005):
[To Chris Kern] I agree with your comments regarding Rene Jacobs. His style of
singing is womanly. I prefer the Robin Blaze and David Daniels approach to counter-tenor. The counter-tenor sound is an engagingand ethereal sound, and great for spiritual music in providing anuminous effect. Rene Jacobs certainly has emmense talent, and it isn't that I dislike his performances, only that certain works benefit better from his unique sound... like Renassiance music, where melodic virtuosity is not a focus.

Continue of this discussion, see: René Jacobs - General Discussions [Performers]

 

Cantatas on DVD

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 7, 2005):
< Yea, I've got the same DVD and agree it's at the top of an unfortunately short list of DVD cantatas. I have all of the Archive Gardiner cantatas and there is something special about them: panache maybe. It sure would have been sweet if a half decent video had been made of more of the pilgrimage performances. I just counted and I've got well over 500 cantatas and collecting and entire cycle of Gardiner's CDs just isn't feasible. But if there were DVDs for sale, I might to into hock. >
I'd like to draw out a fine point that Thomas Braatz brought up sometime last year: the observation that in Bach's churches the congregation typically was not able to see the performers. The performance has to make its communicative way, without any visuals. The most the listeners would be looking at, if anything in particular, would have been a printed libretto. Certainly not a score, or any performer's physical mien.

So, I ask: what does a DVD contribute other than some entertainment that's not really part of the music?

And, doesn't this lack of visuals argue that the performers must be absolutely clear in the sound alone, where the intention of every phrase is unmistakeable, and all the flowing parts inevitably influence one another? And, that the strongest listening experience should include looking at nothing, except maybe a libretto? (I personally like to listen to Bach's music best in the dark, to lend it my full attention.... Otherwise, too many other distractions creep in. Of course, anyone is free to listen in any manner that is personally edifying.)

Don't get me wrong, I love the two Teldec DVDs "Great Conductors of the Past" and "The Golden Era of Conducting" (if I'm remembering those titles correctly). I've had them from our public library at least a dozen times already. To watch them is to see some great visual insights into the way conductors perform their craft, of getting musicians to respond and project, almost like magic sometimes. John Eliot Gardiner himself is interviewed in those, and points out that "conducting" is a very good word: because one is indeed conducting or transferring energy from some people to other people, during the process of music-making. But, at least to me, watching these DVDs is more a pedagogical exercise (to learn how to be a better conductor myself) than a straightforward appreciation of the resulting musicianship. If it ain't in the sound, and perceivable with eyes closed, it ain't happening strongly enough.

Example: Beecham's Haydn symphonies from the 1950s, no visuals necessary, utter clarity of compositions.

No, I haven't seen anyone's cantata performances on DVD. I haven't become convinced yet that I should want to. I don't really care what classical musicians look like while we're doing our jobs. Either the composition sounds transparently clear and vibrantly engaging, in the dark, or the performing job hasn't been done adequately. If a performance sounds dull, the musical syntax hasn't been addressed closely enough (and we've all heard performers who go on for pages of undifferentiated boredom). The listener's attention can be kept moving within a good performance, without a camera angle selecting for us what we should be concentrating on in the sound.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 7, 2005):
Invisible Choirs

Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I'd like to draw out a fine point that Thomas Braatz brought up sometime last year: the observation that in Bach's churches the congregation typically was not able to see the performers. The performance has to make its communicative way, without any visuals. The most the listeners would be looking at, if anything in particular, would have been a printed libretto. Certainly not a score, or any performer's physical mien. >
I have always thought that Wagner's use of an invisible orchestra in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus was suggested by the unseen musicians in a typical Lutheran choir gallery. "Parsifal" with its two invisible choirs and alto solo is certainly influenced by Lutheran practice. Wagner himself once quipped that, having invented the invisible orchestra, he wished he could have invisible opera divas.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 7, 2005):
< Wagner himself once quipped that, having invented the invisible orchestra, he wished he could have invisible opera divas. >
Heh, heh! Well, at least in Strauss that would take some of the immediacy out of "Salome".

Robert Sherman wrote (October 7, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Like Brad, I prefer to listen to recorded music in the dark, to have all other considerations disappear.

At the same time, a properly done video can add a concert-like new dimension to the music. Bergman' Magic Flute is pretty good in that respect although he ignores the orchestra entirely. Unfortunately, most video directors are so blatantly musically ignorant that all they add is irritation.

All that said, when I go to a concert I want to watch the performers very closely. If Bach's congregations couldn't, that's regrettable. But it's one part of the historical experience I have no interest in repeating.

Chris Kern wrote (October 7, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< So, I ask: what does a DVD contribute other than some entertainment that's not really part of the music? >
For me the main contribution is subtitles. I find that subtitles are easier to follow than having a German text with the English alongside it, because with the latter you have to continually switch back and forth between the German and English so that you can keep your place.

David Hitchin wrote (October 7, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< ..... The listener's attention can be kept moving within a good performance, without a camera angle selecting for us what we should be concentrating on in the sound. >
Many DVD's and most televised musical performances become fatiguing because the visual perspective (which dodges around to be "interesting") is quite incompatible with the aural perspective. In a live performance I can (if lucky) both see and hear - and the perspectives are consistent all of the way through.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 7, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Heh, heh! Well, at least in Strauss that would take some of the immediacy out of "Salome". >
Birgit Nilsson had the good sense to retire from the stage and let a dancer do the Seven Veils, although Edith Wiens danced it herself and ended with full frontall nudity which certainly inspired the tenor singing Herod, "Ah! Herrlich!" Atom Egoyan's brilliant production of the opera in Toronto introduced a film during the dance which suggested that Salome had been abused as a child by Herod.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 7, 2005):
Pumping for Bach

Bradley Lehman wrote:
< In the music I care to play, if I can't do all or most of it without stop-assistance from a device or a deputy >
A friend once pulled stops for Marie Madeleine Duruflé and he was terrified because she kept calling out the stops in French even though they all had German names.

I often wonder what it was like to assist Bach at the organ in something like the "St Anne" Prelude and Fugue where changing registrations is part of its genre as a showpiece.

And where were the bellows-pumpers in St. Thomas, Leipzig? Was it all manual labour or were there weights and hydraulics involved?

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 8, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] If you don't mind a rhetorical question, if Gardiner came to your home town and gave a free concert of your favorite cantatas would you go? And if you did, would you wear a blind fold? Of course you're right that most of the good worshipers at Leipzig wouldn't have been looking at Bach and his players but authenticity is hardly a cutting edge issue in a field where "HIP" means "performed by professional singers, sopranos most welcome but no boys allowed, and brought to perfection by modern engineering." Not exactly what the good folks at Leipzig would have heard either.

Personally I get a big kick out of seeing players play the singers sing and the conductors conduct. (I also like watching the crowd.) I really regret that there are so few live Bach cantatas performed where I live. And I think I like the live performance every bit as much for the visuals as the sound. So bring on more DVD cantatas says I. And DVD's have another advantage if you've got a good sound system attached to your DVD player/TV and you're listening to something long like a passion or an opera - you can leave the TV off and listen to the whole thing start to finish with no switching CDs or fighting with an unruly changer. And a DVD may well be less expensive than a multi-CD set.

John Pike wrote (October 10, 2005):
[To Robert Sherman] I've never bought a music DVD myself though I do have the Bergman Magic Flute on Video, and love it. Some friends recently gave me a BBC Archives DVD for my birthday of Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Igor Oistrakh and Rostropovich playing the Bach concerto for 2 violins in D minor, the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante and the Brahms Double Concerto, with 2 movements of Bach's 3rd Cello suite as a bonus. Very enjoyable to see these great artists (mainly dead) playing. It's partly the thought that they are sadly no longer with us that adds so much poignancy to the recording, more so I think than just listening to a CD equivalent. That said, I generally agree with Brad's comments.

John Pike wrote (October 10, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] I certainly want to get the DVD of Gardiner doing BWV 199 in St Davids cathedral with Magdalena Kozena. I have the CD but I think the DVD would definitely add something here. I would also love it if one were produced of BWV 106 in the abbey on Iona.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (October 10, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
< I certainly want to get the DVD of Gardiner doing BWV 199 in St Davids cathedral with Magdalena Kozena. I have the CD but I think the DVD would definitely add something here. I would also love it if one were produced of BWV 106 in the abbey on Iona. >
Yes, that's the one I have - very moving...

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 10, 2005):
< I've never bought a music DVD myself though I do have the Bergman Magic Flute on Video, and love it. Some friends recently gave me a BBC Archives DVD for my birthday of Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Igor Oistrakh and Rostropovich playing the Bach concerto for 2 violins in D minor, the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante and the Brahms Double Concerto, with 2 movements of Bach's 3rd Cellosuite as a bonus. Very enjoyable to see these great artists (mainly dead) playing. It's partly the thought that they are sadly no longer with us that adds so much poignancy to the recording, more so I think than just listening to a CD equivalent. >
I guess there's some distinction, at least for me, between my expectations for concert music vs liturgical music. In liturgical music we're supposedly not there to be entertained or to focus on the performers, because we're supposed to be focusing on the musical message. So, I don't see any necessity to look at the performers there unless it helps me be more attentive; and sometimes the music really does come through more clearly if I close my eyes to listen.

Likewise I close my eyes to listen sometimes at concerts, and it gives a different impression of the music...but at least the visuals are arguably part of the program too. With abstract music there's no definitely separate message to focus on. Might as well watch the performers, unless it distracts from the sound. I'm not impressed by any showmanship that seems more calculated for effect, than derived naturally from the physical process of playing the music. (Music videos with lip-synching...yecch!)

And I will not give up my video copy of Jackie du Pre playing the Elgar cello concerto, with Danny Barenboim conducting the New Philharmonia from memory. The looks on their faces during the slow movement especially! Whether it's about the music, or each other, or about just putting on an amazing stage presence, it's there.

I saw another inspiring example of stage presence this weekend, in an unexpected place. The Disney DVD of "Cinderella" has a TV segment from the early 1960s featuring Perry Como and some of the studio performers from the film. Dubbing a film, the only thing that counts is the resulting sound...and those performers don't look especially comfortable doing this promo footage, although they sound great. But Como, what a visual presence to his hosting, plus the singing! That look of being so at-ease about the whole thing, Adagio, sprezzatura. Did he read Castiglione (1478-1529) about acting the perfect gentleman? Or was it picked up on the job, being a barber? :) "Wearing a cardigan sweater and showing a winning smile on television, he appeared so relaxed that his critics believed he lacked ambition. (...) Nobody else was so intensely relaxed."

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 11, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] I think Brad puts a pretty high bar for musical appreciation of baroque religious music. As many have observed throughout the 20th century it is very difficult if not impossible to replicate the liturgical context of the 18th century for the modern listener. Indeed, many modern Bach fans wouldn't be Bach fans if they couldn't dispense with the liturgical context completely.

For myself, it's true that I sometimes put full concentration into a cantata, sometimes concentrating on the text/sound, sometimes just the sound. It has been and will continue to be a very fulfilling experience. Although, to be honest, when I think of matters of importance and depth, I have found that silence has much to recommend itself. Luther once said "we can't let the devil have all of the good tunes." His love of music itself is well documented. I'm sure everyone here is glad for this because Bach grew from the tradition spawned by this outlook. But personally I can certainly understand why Pietists were very suspicious of concerted liturgical music. One might find it very difficult to meditate on sin and redemption when the message is wrapped in music of astounding beauty.

Perhaps it's the philistine in me, but music and its technology are completely inseparable in my experience. One difference between yours truly and one of Bach's lucky parishioners is that I can put a cantata on the CD player any time I want. And I do. If I didn't it would be nuts to have built the music collection that I own. I write for living and thus there's music - 99.9% classical - going five or six hours a day. It's not all Bach but when I load my 5 CD changer, there is almost always at least one cantata CD, usually two. Does this mean I'm treating Bach cantatas like muzak? I don't think so. It's my understanding that most experts in the field doubt that the brain can literally multi-task. It can, however, move pretty quickly. All I can say is that listening to Bach makes me feel good in a variety of circumstances. (Actually I might have another book or two under my belt if I burned my CD collection or had melted my vinyls. Every few minutes I'll time out and dwell on some particularly lovely bit of music that intrudes. Actually this process has let me catch wonderful nuggets that I hadn't noticed before and will lead to a "full press" listening of the work when the mood strikes.) In any case, I don't think music of any type has to move the soul every time out. Countless hours of enjoyment are worth more than a little in my view. And those hours don't prevent the special times when things come together and move one deeply.

Johan van Veen wrote (October 11, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< But personally I can certainly understand why Pietists were very suspicious of concerted liturgical music. One might find it very difficult to meditate on sin and redemption when the message is wrapped in music of astounding beauty. >

The question is whether the audience of his time considered his music only as something of 'astounding beauty'.

Liturgical music in church wasn't meant to be enjoyed first because of its beauty, and the role of music in liturgy was such that the congregation possibly listened to it with an attitude which is quite different from ours.

And many people of today perhaps won't be shocked by harmonic peculiarities and dissonances which Bach made use of, but I can imagine that to his audience they had a much stronger, sometimes even upsetting
effect.

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 12, 2005):
[To Johan van Veen] Well, I think the Pietists were pretty clear on why they didn't like anything in the service beyond the simple communal hymn - the "danger" existed that the message would be overwhelmed by music. (The same logic created the spare Protestant churches of the period. I've seen dozens of churches of that style throughout the American Midwest and find them charming. But when compared to Chartres, it's pretty clear that there was a different message intended.) Let's not forget that the mature Bach cantatas had operatic elements - a characteristic that even had some Catholics grumbling at the spectacles associated with the baroque Church. I don't doubt that the good 18th century Lutheran in Leipzig heard things in the cantatas that most of us don't. But I think it very likely that the musically inclined among them (no small number in a university town) would have realized they were hearing something of beauty: beauty in the name of the Lord, but beauty nevertheless.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 12, 2005):
Puritanism

Eric Bergerud wrote:
< But I think it very likely that the musically inclined among them (no small number in a university town) would have realized they were hearing something of beauty: beauty in the name of the Lord, but beauty nevertheless. >
Puritanism, in which sensual delights are avoided, recurs cyclically in all religious traditions. The iconolclastic controversory in Orthodoxy banned all figural representations. Cistercian austerity was a reaction to the splendours of Cluny. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote an extraordinarily appreciative description of the sculptures of cluny and then rejected them for a theological preference for white-washed chapels. The various Lutheran churches vary widely across the spectrum of puritanism. The Swedish church to this day retains its medieval art, elaborate vestments and lavish musical tradition, whereas other German churches have reduced these elements to a minimum. Bach's churches were very much Baroque establishments in their elaborate decoration, vestments and ceremonial. Figural music was part of that tradition. Bach's music was also an essential component in municipal magnificence. The burgers expecthe four trumpets of "Gott ist mein König". That was civic pride.

 

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