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Recordings of Bach Cantatas
General Discussions - Part 11: Year 2007

Continue from Part 10: Year 2006

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Jean Laaninen wrote (April 28, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote [Re-writing Bach]:
< Wow, this excellent 2-CD set is now down below $7.00 these days?! Amazon.com
I paid a lot more for it, years ago.... >
...i.e. Amazon.com listings for various Bach works as mentioned by Brad and others... -

Thanks for giving the heads-up on finding some of these outstanding recordings at such reasonable prices. I have been looking for a copy of the Wedding Cantata for some time, and the price came in at under $ 7.00 after following the link given below and then exploring Amazon a bit more. I eventually want to learn this cantata, and still need to acquire the score.

I have been told that only about three percent of the world's sopranos are interested in singing the cantata material for soprano solo as such agility and focus is required. Then too, the best of the sopranos who sing this material also have such remarkable vocal qualities and fine recording environments. But to even be able to learn the pieces and sing them reasonably well for family and friends is a kind of soaring that celebrates being alive.

Last week I attended a recital where the Coffee Cantata was performed. With Bach as my favorite composer and coffee my favorite beverage I was in musical heaven. Such a richness.

I'm enjoying hearing the erudite discussions once again, now that I have returned to the group. It is an awesome thing to possess such considerable knowledge coupled with an awareness of all the variety Bach used throughout his works and nice to be aware of the meanings others find in each work. I also agree with something Brad said a few days ago about music sometimes just being music. A composer with the intellectual dexterity of Bach might simply have said to himself at some point that a flute would sound great in a given spot. I really enjoyed the comment about someone in the congregation slipping Bach some money to have a particular instrument played. That bespeaks humanity in the midst of genius.

 

Old performances for younger ears....

Richard A.A. Larraga wrote (August 17, 2007):
I'm working on an article for the Choral Journal about older recordings of Bach's works which would be of benefit to young conductors/musicians who have grown up only listening to HIP performances. My thesis is that there are many benefits to listening to these older performances despite the lack of proper ornamentation, slower tempi, and bigger overall sound.

I've used the Jochum CD, Richter DVD, and Karajan 1950 recordings of the b minor Mass (BWV 232) to bolster my argument.

I was wondering if anyone on the list would be interested in sharing their thoughts on this.
<>

Stephen Benson wrote (August 17, 2007):
Richard A.A. Larraga wrote:
< I'm working on an article for the Choral Journal about older recordings of Bach's works which would be of benefit to young conductors/musicians who have grown up only listening to HIP performances. My thesis is that there are many benefits to listening to these older performances despite the lack of proper ornamentation, slower tempi, and bigger overall sound. >
Back in March, another list member provided the following link to a review of the boxed set of Fritz Werner's recordings of the major Bach choral works. In that review, the reviewer, John Quinn said: "I love to hear Bach's music performed on period instruments but the finest interpreters of the previous generation, of which Fritz Werner is undoubtedly one of the foremost, have much to teach us about these masterpieces and we ignore recordings such as these at our peril."
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Apr05/Bach_Werner_2564614032.htm

< I've used the Jochum CD, Richter DVD, and Karajan 1950 recordings of the b minor Mass (BWV 232) to bolster my argument. >
Although I personally find Werner's B-minor Mass (BWV 232) a poor example of his work in general, I adhere firmly to Quinn's sentiment.

Uri Golomb wrote (August 17, 2007):
[To Richard A.A. Larraga] There have been several studies of earlier Bach recordings recently which you might be interested in looking at. Several of these are available online -- including my own doctoral dissertation on recordings of Bach's B minor Mass (BWV 232) (http://snipurl.com/ugphd_abs -- this links to the abstract of the dissertation, and that page also contains a link to the full dissertation on PDF), and an article by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood available on the Bach Cantatas website (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Passion-JFA.htm). Dorottya Fabian's Bach Performance Practice, 1945-1975 is also well worth examining -- see http://tinyurl.com/7wksd. and there are others, of course (many of them mentioned in the bibliography and discography of my dissertation...)

If you're looking specifically at recordings of Bach's vocal music, there is plenty to choose from: I could mention Mengelberg's 1939 St Matthew Passion (BWV 244); Fritz Werner's recently re-issued recordings of many of the cantatas (plus the Passions, Christmas Oratorios, Motets and Mass -- the latter is quite dreadful, in my view, but otherwise there are many fine performances in that set); and the "Bach from Leipzig" series by Berlin Classics, featuring recordings from the Thomaskirche conducted by 20th-century Thomaskantors (Günther Ramin, Kurt Thomas, Erhard Mauersberger, Hans-Joachim Rotzsch). All these recordings have their admirers and their detractors, and I can't say that I enjoy all of them myself; but I do think they all offer valuable lessons. Hermann Scherchen's erratic yet fascinating recordings of Bach's vocal music are also worth hearing, if you can get hold of them (which isn't easy; actually, I'm not sure about the current availibility of the Leipzig recordings either).

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2007):
[To Richard A.A. Larraga] I'd suggest also the St Matthew Passion recordings by Mengelberg (1939), Wöldike (1959), and Klemperer (1961).

And Scherchen's B Minor Mass (BWV 232) (1959).

And if you can track down a copy, Alfred Deller singing cantatas BWV 54 and BWV 170 (1954), which also has Mr and Mrs Leonhardt and Mr and Mrs Harnoncourt performing...and the first album they ever did of anything using period instruments:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Deller.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54-D2.htm

Incidentally, one of the list members here (Dr Uri Golomb) wrote his dissertation on 20th century performance practices in the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) as reflected in recordings. Excellent work, well worth reading. It is linked from here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Golomb-Uri.htm

You might also bring in a recent example where they use a chamber orchestra of about 20 modern instruments, and a boys/men's choir of about 50 singers, but having blended in some good recent stylistic research as well. I'm thinking especially of the disc of cantatas BWV 34, BWV 93, and BWV 100 by the Windsbach boys' choir and German chamber soloists (Berlin), here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Windsbacher-Gen.htm

http://www.rondeau.de/
Pick the choir from the left side, and then scroll through their 18 recordings in the "Edition EUR 15.95" ... it's on page 2 of that. The recording was made in July 2000. Samples: Rondeau
Allegedly they also now sell that recording as an iTunes download!

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 17, 2007):
[To Richard A.A. Larraga] Welcome aboard. I hope to see you participating in the cantata discussions. I believe it would be interesting to get new insights from the perception of a conductor.

Regarding your question, it depend how old is old.
If the line is over 50 years ago (meaning before 1957), I suggest listening and learning the recordings of:
Günther Ramin: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Ramin.htm
Felix Prohaska: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Prohaska.htm
Hermann Scherchen: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Scherchen.htm

There is also an interesting article about this topic by Prof. Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Passion-JFA.htm
Including music examples: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/Play-Passion[JFA]-Mus.htm

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (August 17, 2007):
[To Richard A.A. Larraga] You can hear several old performances in my site: http://www.kantate.info/old_recordings.htm
Please try and enjoy.

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 18, 2007):
[To Richard A.A. Larraga]
The 3 articles by Teri Noel Towe should also be mentioned:
Mass in B minor: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/MBM-TNT.htm
Saint Matthew Passion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/SMP-TNT.htm
Saint John Passion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/SJP-TNT.htm

You can find, of course, a lot of material in the various pages of the BCW...

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (August 18, 2007):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu]
Your site is wonderful.
A bachlover from Paris, France

Neil Halliday wrote (August 18, 2007):
[To Jean-Pierre Grivois] Agreed - there are some wonderful performances there. Just to mention a few I have heard: Fritz Lehmann in Berlin in 1952 with the opening chorus of BWV 39, in a performance that is astounding for its clarity, transparency and expressiveness (scroll down a bit less than half way down the page); Kurt Thomas with a powerful BMM Kyrie (BWV 232) that seems to clip along and yet takes over 11 mins.; and the Alfred Deller performances of BWV's BWV 170 and BWV 54, with bright, attractive organ sound in BWV 170/3.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 18, 2007):
[To Neil Halliday] Fritz Lehmann conducting the Brahms German Requiem with the Berlin Phil, too. Powerful with its slow tempos. 1955.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] I still remain astonished by the Klemperer St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). He conducts it as if it's Parsifal and convinces you it is a Romantic work. Just listen to the opening chorus which is full of rubato and subito dynamics. The choir and orchestra must have rehearsed for decades to achieve such precision.

Julian Mincham wrote (August 19, 2007):
The Furtwangler performance of the 5th brandenbyrg is worth dusting off--he directs and plays the keyboard part on a modern piano.

Uri Golomb wrote (August 19, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] Yes, definitely. But my favourite Brandenburg 5th on the piano is actually Alfred Cortot's from the 1930s (availalbe on CD from EMI). It's a surprisingly "classical" performance, at least compared to what you'd stereotypically expect of Cortot; the "cadenza" alone is fascinating, revealing inner lines that are scarcely noticed in any other performance. (EMI had the good sense to give that part of the movement a separate track).

Julian Mincham wrote (August 19, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< But my favourite Brandenburg 5th on the piano is actually Alfred Cortot's from the 1930s (availalbe on CD from EMI). >
Yes in fact his whole set of the Brandenburgs has been reissued and is of great historic importance as it was the first complete set to be recorded (on 12 inch 78 records). The fifth also has the benefit of Jacques Thibaud, also
a legend in his day, playing the violin.

While on the topic of Cortot and old recordings, it's not Bach, but the reording Cortot made directing the Brahms double around 1930 is also a must for collectors. The soloists were Pablo Casals and again, Thibaud.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (August 21, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< "But my favourite Brandenburg 5th on the piano is actually Alfred Cortot's from the 1930s (availalbe on CD from EMI)." >
I would argue with no one about the historical and musical interest in knowing all the steps taken in Bach performance during the post-WWII boom in recording early music, Bach in particular. I began buying cantata recordings in 1957 and have never stopped. I have a real affection for some of the pioneers, Wöldike, Werner, Prohaska, and later, Richter.

That said, I must add that I rarely listen to any of the above. The reasons are complex indeed, but the outcome is, for me, a landslide in favor of [my selection] of modern performances.

Improvements in recording technology provide a solid first step, but in addition, today's conductors/performers are so much more inclined to give attention to all Bach's many voices in each piece. Once I was exposed to the opportunity to hear solo or paired flutes, oboes, violins, etc., along with solo singers and/or choruses, to be able to follow voice I wished at any moment, then my whole devotion to Bach was given a new realm to explore.

And today I am offered a variety of tempi from which to choose, and if some of today's conductors are given to frequent runaway racehorse tendencies, others can be found to provide tempi that I prefer to any of those exhibited by The Old Boys.

I guess all I am trying to say is, by all means educate yourself, know the past, but don't idealize those early practitioners into The True Prophets from which all deviation is heresy (Honest, gang, I know someone who takes this line, full on and no kidding . . .).

Sign me old, but not stuck in the past or present; I am at times, for example, a Rotzsch fan,

 

Continue on Part 12: Year 2008

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