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Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244
General Discussions - Part 8

Continue from Part 7

Some older SMPs

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 9, 2004):
< I suppose this also means that you are not going to listen to musicians who have done things you strongly reject? Example: musicians collaborating with totalitarian regimes (someone like Peter Schreier comes to my mind here.) >
Speaking of that in the same breath as the St Matthew Passion: two of my favorite recordings of SMP are by Mengelberg (1939) and Furtwängler (1954--with Dermota and DFD). Sadly, both of these omit some of the movements; but what is there is ecstatic, tremendously focused and gripping.

That doesn't mean I agree with the basic premise (big chorus, big orchestra of modern instruments). And the performance styles have little to do with 18th century practices. But if that's what the premise is going to be, the results in these two cases are wonderful. Strong musicianship, communication through music, is about so much more than hardware and style!

Nor am I ever going to get rid of the Mogens Wöldike and Klemperer recordings. I got the Scherchen LPs off the shelf last year, once, and maybe will again this year, but not until going through all these others, plus four or five with period instruments. Grossmann's will probably stay on the shelf this year (other than shooting the cover art of this and two Furtwängler issues for Aryeh's page).

Other fans of Mengelberg and Furtwängler here?

Or, any thoughts about Spering's recording of the 1841 version arranged [and abbreviated] by Mendelssohn?

Donald Satz wrote (March 9, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] As much as I appreciate Mendelssohn's support of the SMP, he abbreviated the hell out of it through dumping quite a few of the arias. I have the Spering, but I wouldn't buy another one of its ilk.

Johan van Veen wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I have that recording, and - apart from being very interesting from a historical point of view - it is great to listen to.

When I heard Spering's recording it was the very first time I heard Mendelssohn's arrangement, and it struck me that it is much closer to the intentions of Bach than I had expected. Even so I believe one shouldn't listen to it as if it were Bach, but as a work in its own right.

If performed on period instruments, taking into account the performing habits of Mendelssohn's time (which is the the only way one can honestly assess Mendelssohn's efforts), one realises that the traditional performance practice of the 20th century is wrong in trying to make its case by referring to Mendelssohn.

The gap between Bach and Mendelssohn is much narrower in my opinion than that between Mendelssohn and some traditionalists of the 20th century.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 10, 2004):
A list member wrote:
>>Speaking of that in the same breath as the St Matthew Passion: two of my favorite recordings of SMP are by Mengelberg (1939) and Furtwängler (1954--with Dermota and DFD). Sadly, both of these omit some of the movements; but what is there is ecstatic, tremendously focused and gripping.
That doesn't mean I agree with the basic premise (big chorus, big orchestra of modern instruments). And the performance styles have little to do with 18th century practices. But if that's what the premise is going to be, the results in these two cases are wonderful. Strong musicianship, communication through music, is about so much more than hardware and style!<<

David Cairns in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003) wrote about Furtwängler:
>>He deliberately cultivated an imprecise beat, so as to achieve a large, unforced sonority, growing from the bass. (The improvement of the cello and bass section, with the consequent enrichment of the whole body of string tone, and the introduction of continuous vibrato into German and Austrian orchestras, were among his important contributions to the development of orchestral playing.)

The freedom of tempo that he allowed himself was the opposite pole from Toscanini’s insistence on the sanctity of the printed score as medium of the composer’s intentions (the interpretative tradition of Berlioz), in the light of which Furtwängler’s fluctuations of tempo struck many as arbitrary and unacceptable.<<

Yup, this sounds like something that this list member would admire: imprecision, continuous vibrato, freedom of tempo (read 'extremes' of tempo, etc.) Just about anything goes except reading the composer's intentions as indicated in the printed score which is immediately equated with dullness and boredom.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] What about the Mauersberger recording? What is your evaluation of it?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] He also altered some (if not all) of the Evangelist recitatives and
other secco recitatives.

Donald Satz wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I"ve never heard the Furtwängler SMP, so I would have to give it a few listenings before having any opinion of the 'freedoms' he takes. Quite often, my most memorable listening sessions are of interpretations that deviate significantly from the norm. Also, I tend to think of 'freedoms' as taking risks. As a listener, I'll decide if the risk was successful.

Donald Satz wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] I don't have any particular problem with alterations, but the arias are my favorite music in any Bach sacred choral work. Dumping arias is something I could never do, but Mendelssohn is an alien figure in my world.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 10, 2004):
< What about the Mauersberger recording? What is your evaluation of it? >
I haven't heard it. So that I may offer an opinion about it, perhaps I should go look him up in a general music dictionary, dream up some mental impression of what his work probably sounds like, and then decide whether he's worth actually listening to or not, based on a guess of how good he was at following composers' intentions.

No, wait; that prejudicial method of determining musicianship is not a valid way to evaluate an artist's work, even though it's been perpetrated against the great Furtwängler on this very day. As Vonnegut might say, "So it goes."

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] However, to me the whole work is entirely beautiful. One of my favorite sections in the Matthaeuspassion is the Rezitativ "Und siehe da, die Vorhang im Tempel zerriss in zwei Stueck' von oben an bis unten aus. Und die Erde erbebete und die Felsen zerrissen und die Graeber taeten sich auf..." and the final chorus "Wir setzen uns mit Traenen nieder und rufe dir im Grabe zu: Ruhet sanfte, sanfte Ruh'".

To me, if one is presenting the work of another, one should perform it as it is in the score and/or parts, not totally revise it to suit one's taste. Instruments might be all right to update, but the music itself is not up to change.

I think it would be interesting to see how Mendelssohn performed the Orgelwerke in the performance he made to support the funding for the Bach Monument at the Thomaskirche.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Bradley P Lehman] I just thought I'd ask since it seems that Ramin and Mauersberger and the other Thomaskantors and Thomasorgelspieler are totally ignored when discussing earlier recordings of Bach Vokalwerke. I have heard the Mauersberger recording and that of Ramin, and I favor the Mauersberger one. It would be interesting to find (if there is one available) a recording of Karl Straube performing the Passion Settings of Bach. Or Kurt Thomas.

Peter Bright wrote (March 10, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< I just thought I'd ask since it seems that Ramin and Mauersberger and the other Thomaskantors and Thomasorgelspieler are totally ignored when discussing earlier recordings of Bach Vokalwerke. I have heard the Mauersberger recording and that of Ramin, and I favor the Mauersberger one. It would be interesting to find (if there is one available) a recording of Karl Straube performing the Passion Settings of Bach. Or Kurt Thomas. >
[To Bradley Lehman] While on the subject of thegreat Karl Straube, here's something to lighten the tone, which I found somewhere on the web:

"The former choirmaster of the Thomaskirche, Karl Straube, has evidence in the form of a restaurant bill dated 28. April 1716 of what Bach and his two helpers ate to keep up their strength while they were assessing the organ in the Marktkirche in Halle: "1 side of beef à la mode, pike, 1 smoked ham, 1 plate of peas, 2 plates of spinach and sausages, 1 quarter of roast mutton, boiled pumpkin, warm asparagus salad, lettuce, radishes, fresh butter, roast veal, iced cake, preserved lemon peel, bottled cherries", in addition 44 jugs of Rhine wine and 4 jugs of Frankish wine were drunk. The Master was so exhausted by this performance that his trembling hand made a large blot, as he signed the bill for the food. ..."

Uri Golomb wrote (March 10, 2004):
<< I suppose this also means that you are not going to listen to musicians who have done things you strongly reject? Example: musicians collaborating with totalitarian regimes (someone like Peter Schreier comes to my mind here.) >>
< Speaking of that in the same breath as the St Matthew Passion: two of my favorite recordings of SMP are by Mengelberg (1939) and Furtwängler (1954--with Dermota and DFD). Sadly, both of these omit some of the movements; but what is there is ecstatic, tremendously focused and gripping. >
I have something of a soft spot for Mengleberg's interpretation -- though I don't like his frequent stop-and-go effect (he often gives the illusion that he has cut the movement short -- his cadences are so strong; and only a second later does it transpire that the movement does continue after all....) However, I never really warmed to the Furtwängler version -- I actually found his approach a bit stilted and monumental, compared to his much more lively and flexible approach to later repertoires (see my comparison of his SMP with Gardiner's on: http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/golomb1.htm -- about 3/4 of the way through that article). My favourite modern-instrument, big-choir reading of the SMP remains Eugen Jochum's performance, which I think is currently unavailable.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 10, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] Very interesting article Uri. Something that has always interested me is that composers from the mid-20th century Modernist camp (Boulez being one of the most vociferous) tend to be very anti-HIP, whereas composers that belong to what one might call a post-Modernist culture (Louis Andriessen, Steve Reich, Gavin Bryars etc.) tend to be very pro-HIP. (There are exceptions, of course, like the complexisist Richard Barrett, who is very interested in period performance, but that is probably a consequence of his preoccupation with the texture of sound.) In the case of Andriessen et al., of course, a straight, clear, vibrato-less sound is what they want in their own music so one can expect a preference for that kind of sound in older music. Or is it the other way round? Do they like that sound perhaps they enjoy it in older music? And of course many such composers work with 'Early Music' ensembles themselves.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 10, 2004):
< I have something of a soft spot for Mengleberg's interpretation -- though I don't like his frequent stop-and-go effect (he often gives the illusion that he has cut the movement short -- his cadences are so strong; and only a second later does it transpire that the movement does continue after all....) >
Yep, that plastic treatment of time does take some acclimatization. Whenever I listen to even half an hour of this performance, I feel both exhilarated and tired, it's been so intense and gripping with every moment pulled around. He has at least five different tempos going in "Buss und Reu", as every figure in all the parts has its own character; and it expresses the text very well, about being torn apart. And in the opening chorus, where "Seht", "Wohin?", and "auf unsre Schuld" all have their own tempos. Extraordinary.

In the arioso where Jesus sings "da ich's neu trinken werde mit euch in meines Vaters Reich"--the way Mengelberg has the strings and the singer underline those last words so heavily and grandly--one can only guess what effect this had on the 1939 audience, of various persuasions.

Has anybody figured out what he's using for a continuo instrument in this performance? It sounds to me like a piano with tacks in the hammers. (The thing Glenn Gould later called a "harpsipiano" in his own performances where he conducted Bach's music from the keyboard.)

=====

I wonder what the literalists of today think about the way Mengelberg handled the recitatives. People who don't already know this performance may be horrified (or maybe overjoyed!) to hear that Mengelberg has at least one cellist hold notes under the Evangelist, through several bars at a time, even in the passages where it is clearly written as quarter notes separated by rests. He interprets the rests as complete silence only when it's a change to a different character singing, or a different scene. An interesting approach. (And maybe a necessary one, at these extremely slow tempos, to keep up the intensity; it would be so much easier to sustain dramatic intensity, more naturally, if they just went through these recitatives at the speed of spoken language!)

This is quite the opposite of the literalists' problem of hating it when musicians play notes much shorter than they look on the page. I don't see how anybody who enjoys a sustained sound could object to this, here, because Mengelberg sustains things much longer than written...unless maybe the problem (at the root of it) has to do with restricting performers' choices, forbidding performers to think, expecting performers to be only automatons and follow instructions. (If it's a musical preference for hearing beautifully sustained sound, fine; if it's a self-righteousness telling performers how they must do their jobs in compliance with "composer's intentions", a set of thou-shalt-not commands spoken from an armchair against musicians who know what they're doing, NOT fine.)

=====

One thing I appreciate most about this Mengelberg performance, all around, is that nothing is EVER on autopilot. Every moment obviously has careful thought in it (even if it's eccentric thought sometimes), toward bringing out the text and drama as vividly as possible. That, to me, makes it outstanding musicianship. It forces the listener to participate and to think. If the six phrases of a chorale all have different character from one another (as "Ich bin's" does), so be it: it certainly focuses the listener's attention on what's happening in the drama, and forces reflection and personal reaction: what would I do if I were one of Jesus' disciples in that scene, what human reactions would I have? If part of that personal reaction is extreme discomfort, so be it; after all, this piece is about sending an innocent man to his death, and we should not be comfortable with that.

If I had a time machine, I would definitely want to visit one of the Pablo Casals performances of this piece (and take a tape recorder). He worked on it for such a long time before he felt at age 86 that he was ready to conduct it! "The more I work on it, the greater it becomes, and the more problems I find to render an honest and meaningful performance. I am so much in it that I cannot sleep at night with this wonderful music going through my head." [p152, Casals and the Art of Interpretation by David Blum]

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 11, 2004):
[To Peter Bright] I've seen it as well. My understanding, however, was that it was more around 6 or 8 people that ate that course (the number of people invited to assess the Liebfrauenkirche zu Halle Organ. BTW, that was the name of the church-the Liebfrauenkirche zu Halle.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 11, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Actually, Brad, that was a Recitative, not an Arioso.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"I wonder what the lof today think about the way Mengelberg handled the recitatives. People who don't already know this performance may be horrified (or maybe overjoyed!) to hear that Mengelberg has at least one cellist hold notes under the Evangelist, through several bars at a time"....
Hallelluja!

In case you had any doubts, I (like Mengelberg, apparently) would certainly have no qualms about "ignoring Bach's notation" in the secco recitatives of the SMP (and Thomas Braatz has already commented on possible reasons for the difference in notation between the SMP and the SJP), opting instead for Bach's style as notated in the SJP!

(This is why Richter's (as opposed to, say, Koopman's) SJP is so listenable from 1st note to last; whereas in most performances (except in special circumstances) of the SMP - HIP or non-HIP - I eventually begin to tire of the endless secco recitatives. (And BTW, I'm quite impressed by Koopman's SMP opening chorus, which is a marvellously sombre reading.)

2nd BTW, I note that 'literalist' Rilling, pre mid-1980's, dutifully followed the unusual recitative notation (ie short notes) in BWV 95, whereas I would have ignored it, preferring the same 'literalist' formula that Rilling used in all the other cantatas, that are, in fact, notated in long notes.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 11, 2004):
Correction: it's Koopman's SJP opening chorus I'm meant to refer to in my previous post, not his SMP, which I have not heard.

 

Bach's hideous music? [Was: Re: Fw: NYTimes.com Article: Connections

Uri Golomb wrote (Maarch 11, 2004):
Original Message
Here is my own take on "Komm, suses Kreuz": I think both sides in the debate have a point... I do not think this is by any means Bach's most tortuous or strained music. I mean, it's not his most blissful aria, but it's not "Erbarm es, Gott" or "Widerstehen doch der Sunden" either. I have heard live performances in which the aria definitely contained a lyrical element. Yes, there is a sense of strain and effort there -- and there should be: I agree that a smooth performance of this aria, which makes it sound as if the obbligato line is technically easy and unchallenging, probably misses an essential expressive point. But the way I hear it, what we should be hearing is musiciains trying hard to produce something beautiful, not simply musicians trying hard to get the right notes in the right order. AT least in some passages, the beauty and lyricism should come through: they should not sound as if they're easily achievable, but nor should they be erased altogether under the strain. For me, this is not hideous music: this beautiful music which has to overcome considerable resistance for its beauty to come across. The resistance and the beauty are both essential. And, I say again: I base this judgement, not just on cleaned-up recordings, but on my experience in live HIP performances.

Now, a more general point on uglienss in Bach's music, taking up from earliert correspondence here:
>> Taruskin has the same take on some of Bach's music, but I think he has been listening to the wrong performers..... >>
< What leads to the assumption that Taruskin's position is from "listening to the wrong performers"? >

Probably because Taruskin (who wasn't talking about "Komm, susses Kreuz"
or any other aria with viola da-gamba obbligato, as far as I recall) made these comments in the conetxt of a record review ("Facing up, finally, to Bach's dark vision", reprinted in his book Text and Act). There, he explicitly stated that a specific style of performance realised Bach's hidesousness particularly well (and he had no problem acknowledging that the style he praises is not the only BAch style that you can produce on period instruments -- he acknowledge it as a choice, not an inevitable consequence of playing what Bach wrote on the instruments Bach had). And, to some extent, I think he did make the mistake of attributing the characteristics of specific performances to Bach. Writing about the soprano aria in Cantata 179, he praises Harnoncourt's soprano (Helmut Wittek) for his frail voice, which fully realises Bach's tortured word-painting ("I sink in deepest slime" and so forth). Having heard this performance (BTW -- and to pre-empt any inappropriate use of this message: by criticisng this performance, I do not mean to dismiss Harnoncourt, whom I generally admire!), I do not think that this performance tells us as much about the aria as Taruskin seems to think. To me (I'm basing this on listening notes I made about two years ago), Wittek didn't sound frail at all! In fact, his voice is quite stable and strong Wittek's main fault, for me, is a lack of ideas (which Taruskin does acknowledge) that makes it seem that he doesn't mean (maybe even doesn't understand) what he's saying. And the main problem with Taruskin is that he makes no mention of the music: he seems to suggest that anyone's setting of these words -- not just Bach's -- should be treated in this manner (he doesn't point to any specific word paintings in Bach's musical setting), and that any singer who supposedly "ignores" the words by injecting some degree of vocal security and musical sensitivity is contravening Bach's intentions by doing so.

Well, sorry, I don't buy it. The aria in question resurfaces as the "Qui tollis peccata mundi" in Bach's A major Mass (BWV 232). Arguably, this suggests that the key idea for Bach was the general affect of "erbarme dich", not the sordid imagery of "Eiter in Gebeinen" and "tiefer Schlamm". On the other hand, he did re-write the aria considerably, transpoing it upwards from A minor to B minor, replacing oboi da caccia (cantata) with flutes (mass), omitting the continuo (the bass line in the Mass is done by the violas, I think), and changing parts of the vocal line. The descent that accompanied "Ich versink in tiefer Schlamm", for instance, was altered when Bach turned it into "suscipe deprecationem nostram"; the line has more leaps, in place of the more consistent descent of the cantata. Perhaps these changes support Taruskin's view of the aria; but they do not support his view on its performance. A singer with no strong ideas about phrasing -- which Taruskin declares to be the basic requirement -- would make the two versions too similar to each other; the kind of undifferentiated, stiff singing that characterises many boy sopranos (and, admittedly, some adults as well...) would make it harder for listeners to appreciate the subtle shadings that differentiate the two versions.

I'm not saying Taruskin isn't "on to something", as it were: Bach did resort, sometimes, to deliberate ugliness to make a point. But I cannot accept his claim that the ugly Bach is "the essential Bach", that "Bach's dark vision" pervades or dominates Bach's cantatas, or that performances should strive to emphasise that aspect above all others.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 11, 2004):
< I'm not saying Taruskin isn't "on to something", as it were: Bach did resort, sometimes, to deliberate ugliness to make a point. But I cannot accept his claim that the ugly Bach is "the essential Bach", that "Bach's dark vision" pervades or dominates Bach's cantatas, or that performances should strive to emphasise that aspect above all others. >
Agreed--but in my reading of Taruskin's article (the one reviewing the whole Telefunken/dec series) I think he's simply calling for us to recognize the WHOLE range of Bach's music, including the deliberately dyspeptic side. Taruskin's article is polemic, as so many of his are, to get readers to pay attention to things they might not have noticed before. Hence the (possible) overemphasis on that dark side. So much of the 20th century went by with people trying to emphasize ONLY the beautiful side of Bach's music, this is a corrective call for more balance, to embrace the full range of Bach's expressivity instead of short-changing him. Nicht wahr?

Uri Golomb wrote (March 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< in my reading of Taruskin's article (the one reviewing the whole Telefunken/dec series) I think he's simply calling for us to recognize the WHOLE raof Bach's music, including the deliberately dyspeptic side. Taruskin's article is polemic, as so many of his are, to get readers to pay attention to things they might not have noticed before. Hence the (possible) overemphasis on that dark side. So much of the 20th century went by with people trying to emphasize ONLY the beautiful side of Bach's music, this is a corrective call for more balance, to embrace the full range of Bach's expressivity instead of short-changing him. Nicht wahr? >
Yes, I can accept that. Saying that someone overstates the case does entail an acknowledgment that they have a case to over-state. Taruskin does tone things down a bit in the PS to that review (in the Text and Act re-print). I find that this tendency to over-state the case -- to present a valid observation on some aspects of a phenomenon as if it tells the whole story -- is characteristic of Taruskin in general, not just in this review and indeed not just in the Text and Act essays. Which is why I'd always recommend reading his book alongside other texts on the Early Music Movement (most importantly -- Sherman's Inside Early Music and Butt's Playing with History); reading Taruskin on its own can create a somewhat misleading impression (see also: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Books/Book-Authentic[Golomb].htm).

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 11, 2004):
[Komm, suesses Kreuz]
< Yes, there is a sense of strain and effort there -- and there should be: I agree that a smooth performance of this aria, which makes it sound as if the obbligato line is technically easy and unchallenging, probably misses an essential expressive point. But the way I hear it, what we should be hearing is musiciains trying hard to produce something beautiful, not simply musicians trying hard to get the right notes in the right order. AT least in some passages, the beauty and lyricism should come through: they should not sound as if they're easily achievable, but nor should they be erased altogether under the strain. >
I agree, the beautiful side of it is important, too--not just a one-dimensional six minutes of unrelieved anguish.

Who's the player in the Paul Goodwin (Jonathan Miller production) recording? [I have the Brilliant Classics issue that has no booklet.] He/she emphasizes the beautiful side of it, to a degree that seems almost superhumanly impossible. I'd still like to hear more grit to it, here and there, but if they're going to shoot for the nice side of things I can hardly imagine it done better than here.

 

SMP Keys and Colouring

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< As I've pointed out in numerous cantatas, the first half of last year, there are plenty of spots where it looks very clear (to me) that Bach has modulated to horrible keys because it will sound terrible in the winds and organ (being based on meantone temperament), to illustrate horrible things in the sung texts. Have you ever heard what G#-minor sounds like on an organ tuned in meantone? Or what fully-diminished or half-diminished 7th chords sound like in meantone? I submit that there's no way to understand the impact of these dramatic strokes without playing through or listening through those passages in meantone temperaments. (Not that meantone delivers mere ugliness; its sweetness also far surpasses the sweetness of milder temperaments. There are extremes, and Bach made musical/theological use of them!) >
This is a very interesting suggestion, that mean-tone tuning gives certain keys a colouring which we don't hear today. I always assumed that Bach's choice of keys was primarily a cerebral symbolic exercise. Thus, E minor clearly has a "sad" affekt to Bach: both the opening of the SMP and the "Et misericordiae" in the Magnificat are in that key and share much melodic material.

If there is however a visceral quality to key choice, as Brad suggests, then the opening of the SMP with its flutes in their lowest register would have sounded different to Bach's listeners than to us (F Minor has the same conotation in Handel's music).

And here's a question that has never been answered to my satisfaction: why does the SMP begin in E minor and end in C minor?

 

"Trinket Alle daraus" arioso in the SMP

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 11, 2004):
<< In the arioso where Jesus sings "da ich's neu trinken werde mit euch in meines Vaters Reich"--the way Mengelberg has the strings and the singer underline those last words so heavily and grandly--one can only guess what effect this had on the 1939 audience, of various persuasions. >>
< Actually, Brad, that was a Recitative, not an Arioso. >
No, I meant what I said: that 6/4 page of music in that recitative is an arioso, whether the margin of the score says so or not. The margin also doesn't point out that this section begins in C major but ends in G; or that the penultimate bar has a hemiola; but it's true.

And I think Bach might be making several theological points in it, along the way.

"Trinket alle daraus; das ist mein Blut des neuen Testaments, welches vergossen wird für viele zur Vergebung der Sünden. Ich sage euch: Ich werde von nun an 'nicht mehr von diesem Gewächs des Weinstocks trinken bis an den Tag, da ich's neu trinken werde mit euch in meines Vaters Reich."

It starts in C major where he's giving them explicit instructions about how to institute communion. C is the plainest and most universal key, right in the middle of all usable keys: universality, the communion being for everyone. Very soon it modulates to D minor on "neuen Testaments"...a "new" and unexpected key for this context. Then on to A minor for the "Sünden" cadence...the relative minor of that common C major, the corruption of sin that must be rectified.

Then suddenly back to C major again as Jesus stops this tangent about the spiritual essences and gets back to immediate concerns for this group of people: they're all supposed to drink together in this communion as he said just a moment earlier, but he himself will not drink any more wine until he sees them in heaven. What does Jesus do at "Ich werde..."? He sings in unison with the basso continuo for the beginning of that phrase! (I don't recall any other places in the SMP where Jesus sings in unison with the b.c.--anyway, there is definitely one here.) This really is his last moment among them in the role where they've been accustomed to seeing him, before things get really stressful.

Then we modulate from C to G where this arioso ends. G major is where this drama started (movement 2 recitative, immediately after the opening E minor chorus) in media res with the words "When Jesus had finished explaining these things..." (i.e. the beginning of Matthew chapter 26). Jesus' ministry moves at the beginning of the SMP from his teaching about heavenly and earthly kingdoms, as he's been doing, into this action sequence of his death.

Movements 9A-9C come back to G major, where he's again teaching and they're asking questions back. But 9D, 9E, 10, and the beginning of 11 are in the extreme flat keys, really "down to earth" where the disciples are horrified as they realize what's going to happen and realize that one of them is going to have some culpability. He
reassures them in this communion scene 11 teaching them how they are to go on: the C major of this arioso moving again to the heavenly realms of G, as he's saying here with "mein Vaters Reich".

Aria 13 still has this G major positive outlook on things. Then, no more G major comes up until the last sentence of movement 26, where Jesus is taken away after Judas' kiss. There he goes.

Then, looking far ahead, if we treat that heavenly G major as a dominant, where would it resolve? C major or minor. Where does the SMP end? In C minor. An extreme flat key (for the 18th century), leaving everybody here in the trenches of earth.

And why was the opening chorus in E minor? The relative minor of G major? Again maybe the earthly and sinful side of things, the opposite of the heavenly kingdom that Jesus has been teaching (as is implied at the beginning of movement 2...and just looking back in thbiblical passages to see what comes before this passion sequence of Matthew 26).

Other interpretations are possible, of course; but that's a pattern I see here in the use of keys.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 12, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] That is actually a Recitative, not an Arioso. Jesus does not have Ariosos in the Matthaeuspassion, He has Recitatives. An Arioso would be like the movement "Ich will bei meinen Jesu wachen". True Jesus's Recitatives are accompanied, but they are not Ariosos.

Besides, Ariosos would involve more of the Orchestras than just the Strings and Continuo. Look at the majority of the Arien in the work and you would see also the Winds being used.

If you try to make that movement an Arioso, then you ought to make all Jesus's Recitatives Ariosos.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 12, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< That is actually a Recitative, not an Arioso. Jesus does not have Ariosos in the Matthaeuspassion, He has Recitatives. An Arioso would be like the movement "Ich will bei meinen Jesu wachen". True Jesus's Recitatives are accompanied, but they are not Ariosos. >
I disagree. Both of the Words of Institution are classic examples of arioso, and Bach underlines the liturgical significance of the text, which was recited every Sunday in the Lutheran mass, by heightening them within the accompanied recitative.

I've always been curious if the resemblance between the little bridge figure in "Trinket" and the principal figure of the following aria, "Ich will dir mein Herze schenken," is intentional and symbolic.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 12, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] If it makes you happy to call this a recitative (even though it's the most regularly measured and extended music Jesus has to sing anywhere in the SMP), fine. The comment about the use of winds is irrelevant; surely there are some strings-only ariosos in the cantatas.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 12, 2004):
< If it makes you happy to call this a recitative (even though it's the most regularly measured and extended music Jesus has to sing anywhere in the SMP), fine. The comment about the use of winds is irrelevant; surely there are some strings-only ariosos in the cantatas. >
and in the SMP itself ("Erbarm es Gott/Können Tränen").

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 12, 2004):
On pp. 34-35 of Alfred Dürr’s “Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kantaten” (Bärenreiter, 1971-2000) he distinguishes between the following types of recitative:

1) ‘Secco’

2) a. ‘Accompagnato’ (Simple type with only held notes in the strings)

b. ‘Accompagnato’ (Complicated type ‘Motivgeprätes Accompagnato’ [SMP “Du lieber Heiland, du” etc.] strings and/or winds involved in more complicated, repeated figures

3) ‘Arioso’ (partakes of features that can be associated with recitative but also with arias – there can be motivic exchanges between the voice and the instruments, but it lacks a fully developed theme with its development (ritornelli etc.) This often occurs as only a part (usually final) of a 'secco' recitative (marked or unmarked) where the tempo becomes strict, the accompaniment has greater movement, and there may be imitation between voice and continuo with the simple beginnings of motivic construction.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 12, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 3) ‘Arioso’ (partakes of features that can be associated with recitative but also with arias ­ there can be motivic exchanges between the voice and the instruments, but it lacks a fully developed theme with its development (ritornelli etc.) This often occurs as only a part (usually final) of a 'secco' recitative (marked or unmarked) where the tempo becomes strict, the accompaniment has greater movement, and there may be imitation between voice and continuo with the simple beginnings of motivic construction. >
A comparable example would be the Recitative "Emmanuel" (No. 37) in the Christmas Oratorio (Part IV) where the accompanied bass recitative shifts into an 8-bar arioso (albeit a duet). In fact, this movement has much of the ethos of the string "halo" in the SMP.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 13, 2004):
[To Bradley P Lehman] Look at all the other Jesus Recitatives. They are exactly the same as in the Abendmahl Recitatives.

As to the Ariosos, they might not in the Kantaten, but here we are not dealing with Kantaten, but with his larger Vokalwerke. All the Ariosos that I have seen in the larger Vokalwerke have all instruments, not just Strings and Continuo.

Keep in mind that what might be true for Bach doing in the Kantaten might not be true for the larger Vokalwerke, the Latin Figural Music, the Motteten, or the Choraele and Gesaenge.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 12, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Look at all the other Jesus Recitatives. They are exactly the same as in the Abendmahl Recitatives. >
* This is simply not true. The two Abendmahl passages are distinctly aria-like even thought they are not rhyming poetry. The fact that the texts are set as ariosos attests to their theological significance.

< As to the Ariosos, they might not in the Kantaten, but here we are not dealing with Kantaten, but with his larger Vokalwerke. All the Ariosos that I have seen in the larger Vokalwerke have all instruments, not just Strings and Continuo >
There are plenty of arioso passages in the cantatas which are for strings alone. One of the best known is the "Siehe, ich stehe" with its pizzicato "knocking" figure in the the strings.

 

St Matthew passion

John Pike wrote (March 16, 2004):
Gramophone magazine has a review this month of all the St MP recordings since 1928. The top recommendations are:
Jochum 1965
Richter (1958)
Werner 1958
(Gottsche 1960s)
Harnoncourt's latest (2002)
Koopman 1992
Suzuki 1999

Jeremy Thomas wrote (March 16, 2004):
[To John Pike] Thanks for this info., John.

There seems to be a preference developing in some areas for older recordings. The majority of these recommendations (which I don't know) look pretty dated. They are well before the "HIP" period, and whatever we think of the performances, surely the quality of the recorded sound here will be well below what we've come to expect in more recent years. I struggle therefore to see how some of these recordings could be recommended as a first choice, especially to listeners who may want only one good recording in their collection.

I've noticed the same trend on some radio stations. Is the personal preference of the reviewer being allowed too much weight? Or has taste genuinely gone full circle, against HIP performance, original instruments etc?

Views welcome!

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 16, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< Gramophone magazine has a review this month of all the St MP recordings since 1928. >
Anybody here heard the Fasolis recording of the Mendelssohn arrangement? I already have Spering's recording of that arrangement but might pick this one up as well.

I enjoyed reading about this one, and a 1958 live recording conducted by Vaughan Williams (!--not the Mendelssohn arrangement). Those are in the free online reviews "GramoFile" at: http://www.gramophone.co.uk

Is that survey also available in the GramoFile archive? I haven't found it there yet, or anywhere else in the free portion of their web site.

Donald Satz wrote (March 17, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] An older recording can be a top choice if the sound is decent enough and the performance is outstanding. However, Herreweghe I is my favored version.

John Pike wrote (March 17, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] The reviewer, in summing up, quotes Leonard Bernstein, and his comments about this great masterpiece being so profound that no-one can ever hope to master all its depths. The reviewer says that all the performances are flawed in some respect. His criticisms fall into several categories:
Technical ability of performers
Quality of singing
Tempi etc
Lack of depth. This is the most frequent criticism. Many of those performances with high quality singing fall down on musicality. There is a general feeling that much of the passion in the music has gone by the board in some performances. Some of my own favourites (and thof other members of the group) are criticised in this respect. I don't think the reviewer has anything against HIP performances per se, but his feeling is that, with the exception of Harnoncourt's latest recording, none of the other HIP performances are top notch. That is not to say that he doesn't find anything good to say about the other HIP performances; on the contrary. For example, he says plenty of good things about Harnoncourt's first recording. However, few of the HIP performances find their way into his desert island 4, which I forgot to mention yesterday. These
Werner
Jochum
Richter 1958
Harnoncourt III (2002)

Bob Henderson wrote (March 17, 2004):
Having just received my Grammophone and read the review, I can only add, and agree with the finding that the last hour of the Richter 1958 is in a class by itself, never equaled in depth and spiritual intensity. There is a kind of relinquishment not found elsewhere. And DFD's contribution might be his life achievement.

Donald Satz wrote (March 17, 2004):
[To John Pike] I can't get worked up over the Grammophone recommendations. This is the same magazine that gushes over every Bach/Perahia disc, so I'm naturally skeptical.

Sw Anandgyan wrote (March 17, 2004):
[To John Pike] I'm listening to one of those 'older' recordings ( Forster's SJP ) and they are ... modern; as different than HIP but it's the singing quality that remains, among other things at times.

I'm glad for the digitally remastered sound !

Where did I read that the Koopman's SJP and SJP on Erato will be reissued together on a five-CD set as was the Suzuki's at one point ?

Thanks John and everyone

Bob Henderson wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] That Grammophone has chosen Richter's early SMP as a 'great' does not mean that it is not. Don.

Donald Satz wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Bob Henderson] Come on, Bob. I never indicated that any particular version of the SMP recommended by Gramophone isn't great. Just simply stated that I'm skeptical of their Bach conclusions. This isn't an 'all or nothing' scenario.

John Pike wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] I have now looked up the recommendations in the BBC Radio 3 Building a Library database. Top recording was Harnoncourt's 2000 version. Other top recordings in their classes were: Richter 1958, Koopman 1992, Hermann 1995 and Vaughan Williams 1958.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 18, 2004):
< I have now looked up the recommendations in the BBC Radio 3 Building a Library database. Top recording was Harnoncourt's 2000 version. Other top recordings in their classes were: Richter 1958, Koopman 1992, Hermann 1995 >
Hermann MAX ?
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Rec6.htm
I haven't heard that one yet, but Max' recording of Telemann's St Matthew Passion (1746) is very good....

< and Vaughan Williams 1958. >
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Rec2.htm
Yes, I was reading about that at Gramophone's "GramoFile" reviews a few days ago, looks intriguing. Anybody here heard it?

I'm still fond of Mengelberg (1939), Furtwangler (1954), and Woldike (1959) among the older recordings with big orch & chorus. I have a fond memory, as a teenager, of traveling up to Chicago and Rose Records to seek an LP copy of the Woldike set, after I had liked a library's excerpt disc so much. I still have it, and picked up the CD much later. That LP set was missing its booklet (a fluke, I think) so I went and copied the whole libretto from another library book. I've picked up many others since then but I have an imprint on that one.

John Pike wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Sorry. Quite correct. Hermann MAX.

Philip Peters wrote (March 19, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< I have now looked up the recommendations in the BBC Radio 3 Building a Library database. Top recording was Harnoncourt's 2000 version. Other top recordings in their classes were: Richter 1958, Koopman 1992, Hermann 1995 and Vaughan Williams 1958. >
Hermann? Who is he? (Or do you mean Hermann Max who recorded a very good SMP indeed?)

Philip Peters wrote (March 19, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< and Vaughan Williams 1958. >>
<
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Rec2.htm
Yes, I was reading about that at Gramophone's "GramoFile" reviews a few days ago, looks intriguing. Anybody here heard it? >
I have it but should listen to it again as it's some time since I last did. From what I remember the soloists were rather undistinguished, there may be some cuts and although historically interesting because it's VW it didn't make much of an impression on me as an interpretation one couldn't be without.

< I'm still fond of Mengelberg (1939), Furtwangler (1954), and Woldike (1959) >
Mengelberg is impressive for Mengelberg lovers like me (although one should really also hear Van der Horst's, a proto-HIP recording which explicitly wanted to be an alternative to Mengelberg's), Furtwaengler is far from complete like Mengelberg but to these ears without M's magic and Woldike is a classic IMO.

 

SMP - Anyone interested in recording quality?

Bart O’Brien wrote (March 18, 2004):
I was wondering about the Richter SMP that is so highly praised. 1958? From that date it could be either mono or stereo. I thought that the Gramophone article would tell me that basic fact. But nope.

Curious, I checked the whole article carefully and there isn't a single word about recording quality. Very likely, I suppose, the McCreesh of 2002 has better sound than the Mengelberg of 1939 - but you couldn't know that from the article.

The Gramophone article is exclusively a comparison of performances. Fair enough; there is plainly a market for such a treatment. No complaint from me - except that I think the author of such an article really ought to say explicitly that he is ignoring sound quality, rather than leaving us to deduce it.

But it does mean that the reader who wants to give at least SOME weight to sound quality has to find that information somewhere else.

Anybody care to contribute some input on this?

Bob Henderson wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Bart O’Brien] Its Archiv stereo. I have found the early Archiv stereo recordings to be of excellent quality The clarity (and placement) of the boychoir for example stands out. It is the peer of the McCreesh in terms of the sound quality.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Bart O’Brien] Only that you put into words what I was trying to say in an earlier message. I honestly feel that the consumer deserves some comment on recording quality, and that this is something that reviewers at places like Gramophone don't appreciate as much as they might.

John Pike wrote (March 21, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] I have been listening to Harnoncourt's 2000 recording of the SMP, including a third "enhanced CD". Excellent performance and recording quality. The 3rd CD has the last 30 mins of music on it, and also includes the complete autograph manuscript with a "second" complete recording. As you listen to this "second recording" (which somehow fits onto the 3rd disc), the pages of the manuscript move on in perfect synchronization, and the movement playing is visible, the music for neighbouring music is "whited-out"...BRILLIANT! It will work on Windows 98 or higher or Mac OS 8.0 or higher. The "Quick Time" software you need to see the autograph is also included on the CD. Does anyone know how they fit the last 30 mins. of the main recording, the autograph manuscript, the Quick Time software and a second complete recording all on the 3rd CD?

Fredrik Sandström wrote (March 21, 2004):
John Pike writes:
< Does anyone know how they fit the last 30 mins. of the main recording, the autograph manuscript, the Quick Time software and a second complete recording all on the 3rd CD? >
The software and the manuscript simply don't take up much space, and using a lossy audio compression scheme (such as mp3) one can easily fit the recording in (say) 1/10th of the space required space for uncompressed audio. The dis a slight loss in sound quality and that it is not playable on a standard CD player.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 22, 2004):
[To John Pike] Which Autograph is it? The 1727/1729, the 1736, or the 1742
Autograph?

John Pike wrote (March 22, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lenut Jr.] 1736.

 

Continue on Part 9

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244: Details
Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | BWV 244a | BWV 244b
Systemetic Discussions:
Part 1: Mvts. 1-8 | Part 2: Mvts. 9-20 | Part 3: Mvts. 21-29 | Part 4: Mvts. 30-40 | Part 5: Mvts. 41-50 | Part 6: Mvts. 51-57 | Part 7: Mvts. 58-63b | Part 8: Mvts. 63c-68 | Part 9: Role of the Evangelist
Individual Recordings:
BWV 244 - L. Bernstein | BWV 244 - F. Brüggen | BWV 244 - J. Butt | BWV 244 - R. Chailly | BWV 244 - S. Cleobury | BWV 244 - J. Daus | BWV 244 - D. Fasolis | BWV 244 - W. Furtwängler | BWV 244 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 244 - W. Gönnenwein | BWV 244 - P. Goodwin | BWV 244 - E.z. Guttenberg | BWV 244 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 244 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 244 - R. Jacques | BWV 244 - H.v. Karajan | BWV 244 - O. Klemperer | BWV 244 - T. Koopman | BWV 244 - S. Koussevitzky | BWV 244 - S. Kuijken | BWV 244 - F. Lehmann | BWV 244 - G. Leonhardt | BWV 244 - P.J. Leusink | BWV 244 - E.&R. Mauersberger | BWV 244 - H. Max | BWV 244 - P. McCreesh | BWV 244 - W. Mengelberg | BWV 244 - K. Münchinger | BWV 244 - R. Norrington | BWV 244 - G. Oberfrank | BWV 244 - S. Ozawa | BWV 244 - A. Parrott | BWV 244 - G. Ramin | BWV 244 - S. Rattlr | BWV 244 - K. Richter | BWV 244 - H. Rilling | BWV 244 - H.J. Rotzsch | BWV 244 - H. Scherchen | BWV 244 - G. Solti | BWV 244 - C. Spering | BWV 244 - M. Suzuki | BWV 244 - J.v. Veldhoven | BWV 244 - B. Walter | BWV 244 - F. Werner | BWV 244 - M. Wöldike
Articles:
Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 [T.N. Towe] | Two Easter St. Matthew Passions (Plus One) [U. Golomb] | St. Matthew Passion from Harnoncourt [D. Satz] | The Passion according to Saint Matthew BWV 244 [J. Rifkin] | The Relationship between BWV 244a (Trauermusik) and BWV 244b (SMP Frühfassung) [T. Braatz] | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Early History (A Selective, Annotated Bibliography) [W. Hoffman] | Spiritual Sources of Bach's St. Matthew Passion [W. Hoffman] | Bach and the "Great Passion" [D.G. Lebut Jr.] | The Genesis of Bach's `Great Passion': 1724-29 [W. Hoffman] | Early Performances of Bach's SMP [T. Braatz]

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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