Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

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
Conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt

V-8

Bach: Matthäus-Passion

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Boy Soprano Voices of Regensburger Domspatzen (Chorus Master: Christoph Lickleder) & Men's Voices of the King's College Choir Cambridge (Chorus Master: David Willcocks) / Concentus Musicus Wien

Tenor [Evangelist, Arias - Chorus One]: Kurt Equiluz; Bass [Jesus]: Karl Ridderbusch; Sopranos [Arias - Chorus One and Chorus Two]: Two anonymous boy soloists of the Wiener Sängerknaben (Chorus Master: Hans Gillesberger); Alto [Arias - Chorus One]: Paul Esswood; Alto [Arias - Chorus Two: Nos. 33, 77]: Tom Sutcliffe; Alto [Arias - Chorus Two]: James Bowman; Tenor [Arias - Chorus Two]: Nigel Rogers; Bass [Arias - Chorus One]: Max van Egmond; Bass [Arias - Chorus Two]: Michael Schopper

Telefunken 6.35047
Teldec

Sep 1970

4-LP / TT:
3-CD / TT: 174:27

Recorded at Casino Zögernitz, Vienna, Austria.
1st recording of Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 by N. Harnoncourt.
See: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Buy this album at:
3-CD: Amazon.com

V-21

J.S. Bach: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

 

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Koor van het Concertgebouworkest (Choir-master: Arthur Oldham); Jongenskoor van de St.-Bavo-Kathedraal, Haarlem (Choir-master: Jan Valkestijn) / Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam

Tenor [Evangelist]: Kurt Equiluz; Bass [Jesus]: Robert Holl; Soprano [Coro 1]: Nelly van der Spek; Soprano [Coro 2]: Roberta Alexander; Contralto [Coro 1]: Helrun Gardow; Contralto [Coro 2]: Carolyn Watkinson; Tenor: John Elwes; Bass [Coro 1]: Ruud van der Meer; Bass (Coro 2): Anton Scharinger
Soloists: Jan Visser & Cecilia Oomens [coro 1] (Recorder); Paul Verhey & Rien de Reede [Coro 2] (Flute); Michael Barker [Coro 1] (Recorder); Thera de Clerck [Coro 2] (Recorder); Jan Spronk & Rob Visser [Coro 1] (Oboe, Oboe d’amore, Oboe da caccia); Carlo Ravelli & Jan Kouwenhoven [Coro 2] (Oboe, Oboe d’amore, Oboe da caccia); Theo Olof [Coro 1] (Violin); Jean Louis Stuurop [Coro 2] (Violin); Christian Norde (Viola da gamba)
Continuo: Harro Ruysenaars [Coro 1] (Violoncello); Wim Straesser [Coro 2] (Violoncello); Tonny de Gruyter & Fred Nijenhuis [Coro 1] (Double bass); Cees van der Poel & Guibert Vrijens [Coro 2] (Double bass); Brian Pollard [Coro 1] (Bassoon); Kees Olthuis [Coro 2]: (Bassoon); Bernard Bartelink [Coro 1] (Organ); Kees de Wijs ]Coro 2] (Organ)

Luna LU-1026

Apr 12, 1981

3-CD / TT: 170:30

Recorded live at the Concergebouw, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
2nd recording of Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 by N. Harnoncourt.
See: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Buy this album at:
3-CD: Opera Club

V-9

J.S. Bach: Matthäus-Passion

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Chor des Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam (Direction: Jan Slothouwer) & Boys’ Choir of St Bavo’s Cathedral, Haarlem (Direction: Fons Ziekman) / Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam

Tenor [Evangelist]: Kurt Equiluz; Bass [Jesus]: Robert Holl; Soprano [Arias - Chorus One, 1st Maid, Pilate's Wife]: Arleen Augér; Soprano [Arias - Chorus Two]: Sheri Greenawald; Alto [Arias - Chorus One, 2nd Maid]: Jadwiga Rappé; Alto [Arias - Chorus Two, 1st Witness]: Jard van Nes; Tenor [Arias, 2nd Witness]: Neil Rosenshein; Bass [Arias - Chorus One, Peter, Judas, High Priest, Pilate, 1st Priest]: Ruud van der Meer; Bass [Arias - Chorus Two, 2nd Priest]: Anton Scharinger

Teldec

Mar 31, 1985

3-CD / TT: 166:42

Recorded live at the Concergebouw, Amsterdam, Holland.
3rd recording of Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 by N. Harnoncourt.
See: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt

V-11

Bach: Matthaüs Passion

 

Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Arnold Schoenberg Chor (Chorus Master: Erwin Ortner) / Concentus Musicus Wien

Tenor [Evangelist]: Christoph Prégardien; Bass [Jesus]: Matthias Goerne; Soprano: Christine Schäfer; Soprano: Dorothea Röschmann; Contralto: Bernarda Fink; Contralto: Elisabeth von Magnus; Tenor: Michael Schade; Tenor: Markus Schäfer; Bass: Dietrich Henschel; Bass: Oliver Widmer

Teldec

May 2000

3-CD / TT: 162:15

Recorded at Jesuitenkirche-Universitätskirche, Vienna, Austria.
4th recording of Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 by N. Harnoncourt.
See: Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Buy this album at:
3-CD: Amazon.com

Harnoncourt Mattheus Passion

Bach Kanner wrote (February 1, 2001):
Teldec Das Alte Werk will publish on the 6th of March the new recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt of the Mattheus Passion.An "All-Star Game" cast featuring Bernarda Fink, Matthias Goerne, Dietrich Henschel, Elisabeth von Magnus, Christoph Prégardien, Dorothea Roschmann, Micheal Schade, Christine Schäfer and Markus Schäfer. It will be released also on DVD-Audio.

Phillip Faulds wrote (February 1, 2001):
Is this with the Concentus Musicus or is he using modern instruments in Bach now, too?

Laurent Planchon wrote (February 2., 2001):
(To Phillip Faulds) This is with the concentus musicus of course, but for your information, he has been using modern instruments in Bach for years now (actually since the 1970's, with the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. He has even recorded a pretty good St Matthew with them during the 1980's).

Bach Kanner wrote (February 2, 2001):
He directs the Concentus Musicus Wien.

 

N. Harnoncourt’s new MP

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 12, 2001):
I am an Harnoncourt fan, so I was waiting for impatiently his new recording of the MP. After many listenings I can say that my expectations have been granted even if I feel a little like Cristoforo Colombo who reached America while he was trying to come to India. What's changed since the 1970, when the first legendary version was recorded? Nowadays Harnoncourt doesn't utilize anymore treble voices as sopranos-contraltos, but female voices who uses, with a lot of prudence, a little vibrato. Especially is the Concentus Musicus who play in a different way: if 30 years ago we had a dry, nervous and sharp sound with a chamber laying now we have a warm, winding and orchestral sound that seems to caress the soloists' and chorus voices, with sweetness or with resolution as requested by the narration. The recorders, in particular, are always in evidence even in the most animated choral moments. The "viola da gamba" isn't utilized in the two arias "Geduld!" and "Komm, susses Kreuz" where it is replaced by a "violone".Partially we can explain this choice referring to the personnel used who foresees a double "basso continuo" (violone, violoncello, organ), one for each orchestra-chorus. However in the autograph score (brightly reproduced on the third CD) the "viola da gamba" is excplicitly required by J.S.Bach for "Komm..." and the violone itself is the double-bass of the viola da gamba with a sound more round and less aggressive. As regards the soloists' interpretation we are in front of a cast very homogeneous who express themseves at a very high level. They seem to hit the mark the present Harnoncourt 's MP vision. I think that today this is the most important question : what Harnoncourt wants to tell us, 30 years after? He has replaced his previus vision (absorbed, afflicted, decorous, sealed by the awareness of the human sin and of the human responsabilities for the death of Jesus) with a new one where the man is more conscious of his role in the divine event. Of course there is still the pain but there is also man's ambiguity (Pilato and Petrus look so similar), the chor doesn't scream at the beginning when they ask Jesus'release, the "Turbae"appear not to realize to be implicated in the most fascinating event featuring man and God. The last chorus "Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder" is a paradigm of this new vision: paradoxically the 1970 chorus was composed by male voices only but it looked like a "prefiche"(italian word who indicates women paid for crying at obsequies, this was usual in the ancient Greece) chorus. Nowadays the Arnold Schoenberg Chor admonish the man and recall to him his faults, but, this last chorus is also conscious that, after the Passion, there will be the Resurrection. So now we have in this MP a continuous lights and shadows'alternation: all the players (the Evangelist, Petrus, etc..) seem to live the narration conscious that the event in question is not ended with Jesus'death even if they don't know yet with precison which will be their role in the future. C.Prégardien as the Evangelist conquers our attention non rhetorically speaking, but with a kind of acting where we can find a serie of emotions: pain, rage, calm. resignation, hope. With his differents emotions'alternation the MP is an ambiguous opera, because the man is ambiguous in front of God'mystery: when the music is over you can feel our weekness in front of God and in front of Art. But you can feel also that there is always hope. In the end I think that the 1970 version is still a great one: that was a recording touched by the Grace in every single note, but this new 2000 recording is "simply" the best one you can find today.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 12, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) I'm glad to hear that Harnoncourt himself is giving the world signals that put HIP just in it's place... a performing style, but no "heavenly", "revealed" truth. As I can see in some of your comments, it seem that he's returning to some "non HIP" elements, just to reach a state of "interpretation" rather than just "performance". I think it's a wise move, because in my opinion (not a scholastic one, I must say) the way music was transmited in Bach's time (written) made it completely normal for listeners to have as many readings as readers could be, for a given piece of music. So, even though I deeply respect people that like Harnoncourt (me myself being one), I laugh at the metronomic-jerks that banned Richter, Klemperer, Karajan, Gould, Casals, etc, etc, for being "romantic", and took Harnoncourt not like a musician, but as a Pope, and his interpretations as "the" truth. I love music analysis, and it helps to enjoy, but the day you forget that IT IS music, you are in a worse situation than people who just listen to a fugue and say "Oh, I love this concerto!". We must keep the act of listening as a profitable activity for our souls. From your words I sumise that this new version of SMP is worth the purchase.

 

St. Matthew Passion

Peter Bright wrote (March 22, 2001):
A few months ago, we were discussing different versions of the St Matthew Passion. At the time I felt that no recording comes close to the magnificent Klemperer version of 1961. Of the versions on original instruments that I have heard, I found the Suzuki to be beautifully played and warmly recorded, but it seemed to lack a real sense of drama found in the early recordings on modern instruments. I also find Herreweghe's recent offering very impressive but rather bland.

I picked up Harnoncourt's new offering of the SMP on Monday (I believe this was the day of release) and I am totally overwhelmed. It is an absolutely wonderful performance, the kind that one remembers hearing for the first time for many years to come. Like I find with the Klemperer it is emotionally draining, but with the new recording I am torn between feelings of despair and elation. I'm absolutely sure that this is the kind of response Bach would have aimed for - the religious message is, of course, one of supreme tragedy but it is also the story of hope and immortality through suffering. This balance between hope and despair is reflected most strongly during the final aria "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" – Dietrch Henschel is magnificent here. I was hugely impressed by Fischer-Dieskau singing this on the earlier Richter recording, but Henschel surpasses even that.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the pace is quite fast and buoyant, but also beautifully measured (try "Ebarme dich" - heartachingly beautiful). Well, I must stop my gushing now, but please try it. If I was forced to nitpick, I thought on the first hearing that the choirs were not quite as clear as on the Suzuki, but I think Harnoncourt uses more voices (although it's not a crowd on the scale of Richter, etc.). In any case, that reservation resolved on subsequent hearings.

Brief details are:

Christoph Prégardien, tenor
Matthias Goerne, bass
Christine Schäfer, soprano 1
Dorothea Roschmann, soprano 2
Bernarda Fink, contralto 1
Elisabeth von Magnus, contralto 2
Michael Schade, tenor 1
Markus Schäfer, tenor 2
Dietrich Henschel, bass 1
Oliver Widmer, bass 2

Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Concentus musicus Wien
Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Teldec 8573-81036-2

William D. Kasimer wrote (March 22, 2001):
By coincidence, I just finished listening to this about a half hour ago (I wasn't able to pick it up until Tuesday :-) ), and completely agree. The tempi are brisk but never rushed, stiff, or inexpressive, nor does anything seem perfunctory (as do Gardiner and Herreweghe 2 some of the time). None of the soloists is less than good, and several are outstanding. In addtion to Henschel, who Peter already mentioned (and I must add that he makes a great deal more out of Judas, Peter, and Pilate than is the norm), Prégardien is superb, even more dramatic than in his previous two recorded Evangelists. Ditto for Goerne's Jesus. I've not really noticed Bernarda Fink before, but she reminds me of a young Brigitte Fassbaender.

The packaging is interesting, and space-saving. The set is bound like a book, with the thick booklet in the center, and the set takes up only a bit more space than a single CD. Unfortunately, one has to slide out the CD's, and the second CD is, for some reason, a very snug fit and requires more effort for removal than I'd like. Check your copies immediately, too – on the first one I bought, the first CD hsome glue on it, presumably from insertion of the CD's before the binding glue had dried on the packaging.

In short, a superb SMP, and it'll probably be the first one off the shelf on those occasions when I want to hear the entire work (as opposed to a particular aria).

Donald Satz wrote (March 22, 2001):
(To Peter Bright) I just received yesterday in the mail the new Harnoncourt SMP. At this point, I've only had the opportunity to dig into the opening chorus. Although it is on the quick side, I feel it sounds very natural. Best of all, there's an urgency to his reading of the Chorus which I find irresistable. Concerning Chorus comparisons, I like the Harnoncourt more than Suzuki's or Klemperer's and as much as the Gardiner which is quite an uplifting performance. But, I most like both the Herreweghe openings.

Another recent SMP acquisition is from Jeffrey Thomas on Koch International. Although released within the past few months, it was recorded in 1996. From listening to the opening chorus, perhaps it should have stayed in the can. Thomas clocks in at only six minutes and has Jesus rushing all over the place as if the Romans gave him pep pills.

Donald Satz wrote (March 22, 2001):
(To William D. Kasimer) Yes, getting the CD's out of the sleeves is no easy matter. However, comparing the size of the newer Herreweghe package to the Harnoncourt is a stunning experience. Harnoncourt's even has the CD-rom CD as does the Herreweghe.

 

Armagan Ekici wrote (March 23, 2001):
(To Donald Satz) The CD-ROM is the copy of the entire score in Bach's autograph; you can browse the pages on the screen or it can play the music as it turns the pages automatically. It is a no-frills presentation, but who cares with that kind of content :-)

 

Harnoncourt’s new St Matthew Passion

Armagan Ekici wrote (March 30, 2001):
I see that the word is spreading slowly, but here is my reinforcement: This recording is very, very good. I have been listening to it since one week and I am very much impressed.

It has just the right dose of 'Harnoncourtisms' (like exaggerated accentuation of the phrases); the balance of sounds between the instrument groups and two orchestras is amazingly good; the sound quality is very impressive too--it is the recording that has the most 'body' in my collection, with the two groups almost tangible. No complaints whatsoever on the soloists (Prégardien as Evangelist and Goerne is Jesus). I have Gardiner, Klemperer, Herreweghe I and Sperring; new Harnoncourt is easily better than all of them.

The CD-Rom extra feature (full copy of the manuscript) is just the sort of thing I like :-)

 

St Matthew Passion Bach’s St. Matthew Passion from Harnoncourt

Donald Satz wrote (March 30, 2001):
See: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion from Harnoncourt [Comparative review of 9 recordings] [Articles]

 

ST. Matthew Passion

Santu de Silva (Archimedes) wrote (April 6, 2001):
Everyone seems to be talking about the new Harnoncourt St Matthew Passion. I just received my copy from Border's and I played the first CD the last 2 mornings (it's in my clock-CD-radio), and of course it stops at the same place each time! I won't have time to listen to the whole thing, until this evening.

So far it really is nice. Niklaus Harnoncourt was on the leading edge of authentic instrument controversy in the 1970’s, when he used boy trebles instead of women sopranos. Now he has moved on, and in this recording he uses a mixed chorus
(choruses, rather). His sound is also heavy on recorders or flutes - - the former, I think- -and to my ears the sound is quite wonderful. The boxed set (3 CD’s) also contains a CD ROM with, apparently, the whole autograph score. I say "apparently" because I haven't checked yet. That certainly would be wonderful. (The full printed score on CD-ROM would have been nice to get, too.)

I have some questions:

1. Does the music call for flutes or recorders? (Traverso or dolce?) In particular, the aria Buss und Reu ("Grief for sin") seems to have a flute accompaniment some of the time, and a recorder accompaniment some of the time! It's two of whichever, so I'm suspecting it's recorders. (He (Bach) uses two recorders in the famous Schafe koennen sicher weiden [Sheep may safely graze, Cantata BWV 208], but that doesn't have implications for the present instrumentation, I don't think.) I just realize that I can answer my own question as soon as I look at the "autograph score"...

2. Do list members dislike discussing the cantatas and other choral music? It's been so long since there was much action on the list that I have forgotten. Since next week is Holy Week (as well as the week of Passover, of course), the issue of whether to discuss the Passion(s) is bound to come up.

3. Does anyone know much about Matthias Goerne? He has a very expressive voice, but one that sounds a trifle too aristocratic. I'd hate to be asked to clarify that: why too aristocratic? Wasn't Jesus an aristocrat in his own way, etc etc. Howver, M.G. is a fine musician, and that's probably the bottom line.

4. Where is Niklaus Harnoncourt from? I happened to meet Tom Krause (a well-known operatic Bass) and talked about Harnoncourt, and he pronounced the name with the ending "t" silent, as with a French word. Is that how it's pronounced?

Charles Francis wrote (April 6, 2001):
My Eulenberg version is scored for Flauto traverso (4 of them).

The Hanoncourt's are apparently an aristocratic family from Graz, Austria, which is where Niklaus Harnoncourt grew up. But he was actually born in Germany, before his parents returned to Graz. I believe his first music studies were in Graz, but I as I recall he went to Vienna to study further. All this is from memory, but hopefully is correct.

Philip B. Walsh wrote (April 9, 2001):
Arch asks some good questions about the Saint Matthew Passion, to which I know none of the answers - but would love to learn them.

On a related matter he brings up, I would love to read more discussion of the Bach choral works in general.

I'd also like to hear more about recordings. Here's a question relating to both issues: What do people think about the Saint Matthew Passion on Naxos? (It's on sale this week in my local store, apparently as an Easter special.)

Thanks for any information.

Carl Burmeister wrote (April 9, 2001):
(To Santu De Silva (Archimedes)) I note that a couple of your questions remain unanswered. as follows:
< 1. Does the music call for flutes or recorders? (Traverso or dolce?) In particular, the aria Buss und Reu ("Grief for sin") seems to have a flute accompaniment some of the time, and a recorder accompaniment some of the time! It's two of whichever, so I'm suspecting it's recorders. (He (Bach) uses two recorders in the famous Schafe koennen sicher weiden [Sheep may safely graze, Cantata BWV 208], but that doesn't have implications for the present instrumentation, I don't think.) I just realize that I can answer my own question as soon as I look at the "autograph score"... >
I don't have access to the "autograph score" but I do have the BWV Kleine Ausgabe, an Eulenberg miniature score and a complete set of the wind parts for the Matthäus Passion from the Bärenreiter edition.

In all cases, Traverso is used except for a single instance, the recitive Nr. 19 "O Schmerz ..." which calls for "Flauto Dolce" not traverso. There is also a distinction between Flauto Dolce and Alto Blockflöte but I'm not sure what that distinction is and it's probably not meaningful here.

< 2. Do list members dislike discussing the cantatas and other choral music? It's been so long since there was much action on the list that I have forgotten. Since next week is Holy Week (as well as the week of Passover, of course), the issue of whether to discuss the Passion(s) is bound to come up. >
As to the usefulness of this list, I would point out that there are several lists devoted to discussing Bach recordings, so that function need not be duplicated here, but rather I suggest it is better suited to the amateur musician and musicologist?

The other lists often have a torrent postings and I haven't the time to even delete them unread, hence I no longer subscribe. The light traffic of this list suits me although I admit I am probably unique in that regard.

By all means, I welcome postings about any and all of Bach's work. Since so much is liturgical in content, it seems timeliness would be very appropriate.

Santu De Silva (Archimedes) wrote (April 9, 2001):
I had asked:
<< 1. Does the music call for flutes or recorders? (Traverso or dolce?) >>
Carl replies:
< I don't have access to the "autograph score" but I do have the BWV Kleine Ausgabe, an Eulenberg miniature score and a complete set of the wind parts for the Matthäus Passion from the Bärenreiter edition. In all cases, Traverso is used except for a single instance, the recitive Nr. 19 "O Schmerz ..." which calls for "Flauto Dolce" not traverso. >
Now that you mention it, by golly, I do think I can hear the difference in my head. Thanks!

I had said:
<< 2. Do list members dislike discussing the cantatas and other choral music? >>
Carl remarks:
< As to the usefulness of this list, I would point out that there are several lists devoted to discussing Bach recordings, so that function need not be duplicated here, but rather I suggest it is better suited to the amateur musician and musicologist? >
Carl, my understanding is that ,many members of this list (BACH-LIST) do not subscribe to those other lists, and would not enjoy the flavor of those discussions, even if they were interested in the content. (Too technical, and even theological at times. And numerological.)

< The other lists often have a torrent of postings and I haven't the time to even delete them unread, hence I no longer subscribe. The light traffic of this list suits me although I admit I am probably unique in that regard. >
No, I'm sort of the same. Fortunately my mail browser has some filtering capabilities that handle that kind of problem.

< By all means, I welcome postings about any and all of Bach's work. >
Wonderful to have you join the discussion again!

 

Harnoncouert’s new SMP

Santu se Silva (Archimedes) wrote (April 9, 2001):
In the notes of the new Harnoncourt SMP is the remark that the opening chorus is in the style of a French funeral march.

Thinking back to some discussions we had earlier about the fact that many Bach choruses and other sinfoniae were written as dances, I can see now some things clicking into place.

One is the Funeral Ode, BWV 198, the opening chorus: "Lass, Fuerstin" I had been wracking my brains to think what the rhythm could be (I have been listening to the Rilling version which I think is inspired, though in general I do not like Rilling's sound) it sounds as if the rhythm is just a slight variation on the same French funeral march meter.

How is it that these French funeral marches are so jolly in their rhythm, but so grave in their total effect? As a kid, I remember hearing the Kommt ihr Toechter chorus sung slow; the heaviness of heart, and indeed the confusion it evoked seemed just perfect.

But with Harnoncourt's 1975 (?) the confusion disappeared, but the heavy-heartedness
remained. I simply have to say once more that this work is a miracle in many ways, not least of which is the way different interpretations still give great satisfaction!

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 9, 2001):
(To Archimedes) Harnoncourt recorded for the first time the SMP in 1970.

Zachary Uram wrote (April 9, 2001):
Archimeds wrote:
< remained. I simply have to say once more that this work is a miracle in many ways, not least of which is the way different interpretations still give great satisfaction! >
And it a miracle for those of us who appreciate the theological content which is the heart of the work! I don't see the French funeral march. Bach was not just copying some style. He created a new and more wonderful style of his own.

Santu de Silva (Archimedes) wrote (April 10, 2001):
I guess the first question is: would you recognize a French funeral march if you heard one? :-)

I have to admit that certainly
(1) The opening choruses of BWV 198 and 244 have a common rhythm
(2) BWV 198 is certainly a funeral ode
(3) Harnoncourt's analyst suggests that the opening chorus of the SMP is in the style of a French funeral march;

I'm thinking: there's certainly enough evidence for me. personally, to believe that it is true: the opening chorus could be inspired by the cadences of a French funeral march. I regret that this idea might be repugnant :)

Philip Peters wrote (April 10, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) Indeed. But there was another one (I don´t know exactly when he recorded it) which he did with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Teldec. Harnoncourt distanced himself from this one soon afterwards and it´s been very much OOP for a long time and will probably never be reissued. I never heard it but would very much want to. Anybody have it around here?

Charles Francis wrote (April 10, 2001):
Archimedes wrote:
< And it a miracle for those of us who appreciate the theological content which is the heart of the work! >
Such is the genius of Bach that even the Tea Drinker may love the Coffee Cantata (BWV 211), the Vegetarian may enjoy the Hunt Cantata (BWV 208), the Aristocrat may listen with pleasure to the Peasant Cantata (BWV 212), the Christian may admire Hercules, the Puritan may revel in the "Pleasure Cantata", the Atheist may wallow in the conflict between Phoebius and Pan, and the Pagan may rejoice at the miracle of the Matthew Passion!

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 16, 2001):
(To Santu De Silva) As regards the SMP recorded with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra the story goes like this. The original set was released to support the restyling works of the Councertgebouw Theatre. Reissued on cd went out of print and the same Harnoncourt stopped a reissue because he is not satisfied with this recording. So this version is definitevely out of print. The same happened for the first SJP "co-directed" with Hans Gillesberger.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 16, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) I--for one--never having heard Harnoncourt SMP II, cannot worry about that. But the so-genannt co-directed with Gillesberger SJP is to me the great one. And now I come to a point in life without my LP’s more or less. I don't burn and, if I learn to burn, it will likely be a long time before I learn to burn from LP’s to CD’s. So I had best put this on my short list of items to save, the SJP directed by Gillesberger-Harnoncourt. I have previously taped it, but not in a professional way. I think all of us, if necessity arises, could fast make a short list of must saves. To me this goes on my very short list. There must be a service around for dumbies, a service to burn your LP’s onto CD’s.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 16, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) I'm a not an expert but I'm sure there are software programs able to transfer lp's to CD-R. Obviously you must have a Rewritable CD Player.

 

BWV 244 SMP new Teldec Recording with Harnoncourt conducting

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 5, 2001):
I just heard some excerpts from this new recording of the SMP on a new releases program on local FM WFMT. I tuned in while excerpts were playing such as Christine Schäfer in a soprano aria which was reasonably good. I had not heard the initial announcement, so I did not know who was playing or singing until afterward. But when the full chorus and orchestra were playing, I could easily guess whose rendition this was. Harnoncourt's,of course! It was better than his worst efforts in the Teldec cantata series, but all of his typical traits were there, if perhaps in this instance somewhat mellower than his usual stomping, heavily accenting, cutting-off-prematurely-the-note-values style that is his personal trademark in Bach interpretations. For those of you, who are expecting a new, very much improved Bach-interpreter after experiencing numerous frustrating hours listening to the cantata series, I fear that your hopes will be dashed, whyou hear some of the larger chorus+orchestra sections. It appears, however, that some of the arias may be worthwhile to listen to.

 

Harnoncourt: St. Matthew Passion

Francine Renee Hall wrote (October 23, 2001):
Thanks for telling us that Harnoncourt won a Gramophone award for his SMP. I have a book of his called "The Musical Dialogue: Thoughts on Monteverdi, Bach and Mozart", Amadeus Press, 1989 (translated from German by Mary O'Neill). In it he describes how the SMP was recorded the first time around, I believe in the '60's. It's listed in the back of the book as a 4-LP set: Soloists: Wiener Saengerknaben, Esswood, van Egmond, Schopper, King's College Choir, Cambridge, Concentus musicus Wien LP 6-35047. Is this considered the first 'HIP' recording of the SMP? Just curious. I consider Harnoncourt one of the guiding lights of the HIP movement....

Armagan Ekici wrote (October 23, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Yes, to the best of my knowledge it is the first historical instrument recording. In the book Harnoncourt writes how they were pleasantly surprised to see that the SMP actually can work with small forces, contrary to the expectations of the period.

I found the book very interesting and instructive; I managed to find another book of Harnoncourt in the same series ("Baroque Music Today: Music as speech") from second-hand bookstores.

 

Bach's St. Matthew Passion

Francine Renee Hall (November 29, 2001):
I'd much love it so if anyone could tell me which is 'better' or what the differences are between the great Harnoncourt's first revolutionary venture into the SMP and his new one that just came out? I'd like to buy one of his sets but just simply can't afford both! Many thanks!

Tom J. Brann wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] After the latest from whomever why don't you try this one.............it will be a bit different in it's approach to the SMP, but it is quite beautiful.
http://members.aol.com/tjbrann/TomsRecordLabels/philipsal00150-3.JPG

Francine Renee Hall (November 29, 2001):
[To Tom J. Brann] Thanks for the recommendation. So YOU'RE the one with the beautiful vinyl covers' website! I recognized a lot of them. I had a really nice 'Phase Linear' turntable but it kept breaking down on me! If one has a good stereo system, those vinyl records have a real warmth to them sound-wise, especially the digital ones! Well, those days are over. I sold all my records!

Peter Bright wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] My post probably won't be very relevant to you because I have to confess that I am not very familiar with Harnoncourt's first SMP. However, it would be a pity if you couln't get hold of his most recent recording. As one can expect, it is quite a muscular version but the recording is beautifully produced - the choir almost swings in some of the choruses! The sense of drama is present (curiously lacking in the Suzuki offering) and it sports some aria performances to die for, the standout being Mache dich... surpassed only by Fischer-Dieskau's on the 1958 Richter recording.

Francine Renee Hall (November 29, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] oh, Peter! Of course your post is very relevant to me! I trust your judgment!! I REALLY appreciate it!!! :) :)

Tom J. Brann wrote (November 29, 2001):
I enjoy listening to my Bach on those shiny little discs too. Being in love with the music magic of Sviatoslav Richter, I have no choice. His fantastic recording of the WTC in Innsbruk in the summer of 1973 can only be obtained on CD. However, I have his RCA/Melodiya recordings of the earlier recorded WTC on vinyl. I love both performances. It's nice to have options!!

Riccardo Nughes wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] When the 2000 recording of SMP by N.Harnoncourt was released I wrote a review where I also talked about the 1970 version. Here it is again, I hope it can be useful to you: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/441

Francine Renee Hall (November 29, 2001):
[To Riccardo Nughes] I read your review with great interest. You give great insights into the role of man in the face of, it seems at the end, faith alone because of Christ's uncertain resurrection as all-powerful savior. I have a strong hunch that it's the new Harnoncourt I'm going to look for! Thanks so much!

 

Grammy Nomination Time

Douglas Neslund wrote (January 12, 2002):
It is with mixed feelings that I report to you that the Wiener Sängerknaben have been honored to be the only boychoir included in a recording nominated for the 2002 Grammy Awards. (If I have overlooked any other boychoir or boy soloist in any classification, let me know, please!)

Mixed feelings, because the work in question is the Johann Sebastian Bach St. Matthew Passion, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (a conductor who thinks with his heart, and feels with his mind) on Teldec Classics International (catalogue 8573-81036-2) with the Concentus Musicus Wien (so far, so good, right?) but ... with female soloists and standard issue adult chorus of men and women. [Sigh.] A Grammy is a Grammy, so let's hope the WSK are successful. The competition is very good, though.

Norbert Balatsch is credited with being director of the WSK in this recording, which may reveal the date of recording to be a few years ago; the boys undoubtedly sing the ripieno choruses only, and so this is not a recording to get excited about; the major choral heft here is supplied by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir.

Perhaps a better recording of this masterpiece by this particular choir is the 1970 Matthäuspassion (St. Matthew Passion) BWV 244 on Teldec 2292-42509-2 (3 CDs) with Boy Soloists from the Vienna Choir Boys, Paul Esswood, Kurt Equiluz, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Regensburg Domspatzen, men from the King's College Choir, Cambridge, and the ever-present Concentus Musicus Wien.

 

DVD of SMP

Francine Renee Hall wrote (February 25, 2002):
Does anyone know if Harnoncourt put out the SMP on DVD? I thought Kirk mentioned something a long time ago. Thanks so much!

Riccardo Nughes wrote (February 25, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Teldec announced the release of the MP even on DVD-audio, but actually, until now I've never seen it in the shops or in the net. There is much confusion at WB recently... ;-)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 26, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] No, I mentioned a DVD with the Magnificat and two cantatas. I know he recorded it for video - I once saw it on tv - but don't know if it is available on DVD.

 

Grammy news

Michael Grover wrote (February 28, 2002):
Congratulations to Nikolaus Harnoncourt for winning the "Choral Performance Award" at the Grammy awards last night for his recording of the St. Matthew Passion with the Concentus Musicus Wien.
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/ap_en_mu/grammys_list

OT Non-Bach Side Note #1: A triumph for independent labels! Berlioz' "Les Troyens" won two awards, for best opera recording and best classical album overall. It's by Sir Colin Davis and the London SO, and was self-produced on the LSO's own label.

OT Non-Bach Side Note #2: Long live U2!

Pierce Drew wrote (February 28, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] Amen to that! Who would have thought that Harnoncourt would save some of his best Bach for later in his career (70 and going strong -- keep it up!).

I already had the Gardiner recording of SMP, was quite satisfied with it, and wasn't predisposed to buy another recording, especially given the expense ($50+). But I saw the Harnoncourt right after it was released last spring, and, on a whim, decided to go for it. I think it is a brilliant, inspired performance. On her <jsbach.org> site, Jan Hanford said the performance is "perfect," and I have to agree. It made me see the work in a whole new way (dark, yet with brilliantglimpses of light – the bass aria, "Mache dich, mein Herze rein," was especially revelatory in this way). Because of Harnoncourt's recording, I think I am beginning (I'm sure it will take a lifetime: Bach's music is just that profound) to appreciate / understand why this is called the "GREAT PASSION."

Wonderful to see that the people at Gramophone and the Grammies see something really special about it too.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (February 28, 2002):
[To Pierce Drew] I'm sooo happy for Harnoncourt too! It's about time! Harnoncourt is one of my 'gods'!!!! I'm not the type to meet musicians backstage, but I just HAD to meet him. He's a very nice person. We talked about his Monteverdi / Ponnelle productions, and I could see he was really pleased about them. After all, he built the groundwork for period performances of the great composers.

 

Harnoncourt / Harnoncourt SMP

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 3, 2002):
When I stated I admired Harnoncourt's evolution as an artist over the decades I was referring to all his musical output, not just cantatas. Just think of early SMP vs. Grammy Awarded SMP -- oh, which I'm soooo tempted to buy! Haven't yet.....

Peter Bright wrote (March 3, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] The recent Harnoncourt SMP is far and away my favourite HIP (-ish) performance of the work. Herreweghe and Suzuki produce exceptional (if widely disparate) accounts, but the Harnoncourt has the greater drive and involvement marred only by some inexpicably extended spaces between movements toward the final chorus. Whether co-listeners agree with the worth of this recording or not, if I was a gambling man I would lay a very fat cheque on it being seen as a classic and definitive recording in 10 or 20 years time.

Charles Francis wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I agree this "HIP(ish)"-recording may be a cut above some other HIP performances I've heard (Leonhard excluded). But at the end of the day, its just another mainstream recording and too similar to other realisations to merit purchase.

Peter Bright wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Charles Francis] How different does the realisation have to be to merit purchase? I'm still waiting to hear Uri Caine's and Jacques Loussier's interpretations, but, in the mean time, the Harnoncourt presents a well-recorded, sympathetic, focused and deeply impressive performance by some of the best instrumentalists and singers in the world. A more dramatic interpretation than offered by Suzuki and a fine complement to the awesome achievements of Richter ('58), Klemperer and other larger scale versions.

Donald Satz wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] Concerning the SMP on period instruments, I have both Herreweghe issues, Gardiner, Suzuki, and Harnoncourt. Each one was worthy of purchase - there are sufficient differences - keeping them all.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] In this case I'll add my own cheque to yours! ;-)

But I wouldn't like to live without those two mentioned ones - Herreweghe and Suzuki. Another words - the very special "trinity"... each one deserving it's special cheque.

Laurent Planchon wrote (March 5, 2002):
Peter Bright wrote:
< the Harnoncourt has the greater drive and involvement marred only by some inexpicably extended spaces between movements toward the final chorus. >
Coincidentally, those spaces (actually the problem is that ths musical signal is dropped and one hears a very disturbing blank, which ruins a big part of the experience) happen only on the third CD which is also the one containing all the info viewable on a PC/MAC, which I don't care at all for. I am convinced that this is not a mere coincidence and that those blanks are here because this CD has to be readable by a PC. I hope that teldec (or whatever is left of teldec) re-releases it one day on a musical-only form. Meantime, I just listen to the first 2 CDs.

Pierce Drew wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Laurent Planchon] Teldec, which apparently was following Harmonia Mundi's lead (i.e., the CD-ROM included with Herreweghe's 1999 recording of SMP), should have followed the competition's lead more closely, and put the CD-ROM features on a separate disc, instead of trying to squeeze it inti the third.

"But think of how much money we could save by using 3 discs instead of four?," I can hear some managerial say. But how much does a blank disc cost anyway -- I had paid less than $.50.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Laurent Planchon] Fortunately my copy works well, it's the first time I hear somethin'like that. Just as a curiosity is your cd-player a recent model or an older one?

Peter Bright wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Laurent Planchon] I don't hear dropout from the actual recording - just pauses that are extended relative to those between earlier movements. I think you should check out a different copy from your record store and if different, exchange it.

Laurent Planchon wrote (March 5, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] Maybe my description was a bit inaccurate, but I would be glad to know that this is just a problem with my copy. Here is what I hear : On discs 1 and 2, there is not spacing (blank) when one goes from on track to the other. The music just goes on ininterrupted. On disc 3, the musical signal just stops between tracks, and one has the impression that these tracks were recorded one by one separatly without any continuity. Am I the only one to hear this ?

Craig Schweickert wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Laurent Planchon] Just checked it out, Laurent, and you're right: the pauses between the tracks on disk 3 are longer than those on the first two disks and they include a momentary dropout (acoustic dead-space) not found on the other disks. I find the dropouts bothersome when listening on my rather good headphones but not on my rather mediocre speakers. For what it's worth, the Gramophone critic who reviewed the set complained bitterly about the dropouts, too.

One of the few black marks against a generally magnificent recording.

Peter Bright wrote (March 6, 2002):
[To Craig Schweickert] The Gramophone critic who reviewed the set was Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. He gave it an exceptional review apart from these gaps between numbers toward the end of disc 3. The relevant part of the review is pasted below (incidentally, as most will be aware, this recording also won the Gramophone album of the year within its category):
--
Given the way Bach builds the tension at the mid-point from 'O Mensch bewein', there is a degree of anti-climax as Harnoncourt (or his producer) sacrifices momentum by creating large gaps between sections. Are these really intended?

Finally, one should mention Concentus Musicus, grainy and luminous in ensemble, the obbligato wind a far cry from the softer-edged and rounded tonal world of almost all other 'period' groups (though some occasional brittle intonation is slightly disorienting). In short, this is the most culturally alert reading in years. A truly original and illuminating experience (not least, the bonus CD-Rom of the autograph score) blemished only by the shoddy editing of 'silence' between numbers in the last disc.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 7, 2002):
Peter Bright commented:
< The Gramophone critic who reviewed the set was Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. He gave it an exceptional review apart from these gaps between numbers toward the end of disc 3. The relevant part of the review is pasted below (incidentally, as most will be aware, this recording also won the Gramophone album of the year within its category):
--
Given the way Bach builds the tension at the mid-point from 'O Mensch bewein', there is a degree of anti-climax as Harnoncourt (or his producer) sacrifices momentum by creating large gaps between sections. Are these really intended? Finally, one should mention Concentus Musicus, grainy and luminous in ensemble, the obbligato wind a far cry from the softer-edged and rounded tonal world of almost all other 'period' groups (though some occasional brittle intonation is slightly disorienting). In short, this is the most culturally alert reading in years. >
If this recording still uses tsame oboists who played throughout the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series, then this critic was very kind indeed with his remarks. The word 'grainy' should be translated as a 'crude' manner of playing that seems to be a deliberate, intentional component of the Harnoncourt sound. The comment that "the obbligato wind" with "some occasional brittle intonation is slightly disorienting" can be better understood as an oboe that sound shrill and harsh while being unable to play in tune much of the time. Normally these are the typical features demonstrated by a beginner. It is very likely, based upon Bach's personal assessments of the musical abilities of some of the students in his charge, that Bach, having heard this oboist play his instrument, would probably have stated: "Der Herr (name of oboe player) spielt etwas auf der Oboe, nur fehlet es ihm in etwas am judicio aurium." [Mr. X knows how to play the oboe a bit, but he lacks the ability to use his ears to judge the sound that he is creating." But then this criticism may not be valid, if the conductor instructs the oboist to play in this manner. All we can do is judge the quality of sound production as it emanated unchanged from Harnoncourt's recordings with the Concentus Musicus for over 30 to 40 years now. There is little or no change, hence this unmusical treatment of the instrument is intentional and the oboist feels justified in creating this type of unmusical sound.

This Gramophone critic also emphasizes a division in the HIP recordings and performances between the rough, crude-sounding vs. the softer-edged, round-sounding ensembles. This applies to the voices as well as the instruments. Does this mean that rough and crude-sounding ensembles are equated with excitement and freedom, but the softer-, round-sounding ones with limitations that produce a subdued, boring approach to the music? Is rough and crude appropriate for the sacred music that Bach composed? Would Bach have preferred the former over the latter? Did Bach rely less on the superficial aspects of performance style and more on the projection of the inner spirit founded upon above-average musical ability dedicated to a religious purpose?

Peter Bright wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] I simply can't equate your comments with what I hear. It wasn't just Freeman-Attwood who gave this a great review - it was every music publication I read that covered it. Returning to the comments by Alan Blyth that accompanied the Gramophone award it received for Baroque vocal recording of the year, I paste them below, with a few comments in square brackets].
----
There have been many distinguished recordings of Bach's masterpiece over the past 50 years, including two by Nikolaus Harnoncourt himself (his first, also with the Concentus Musicus Wien was made in 1970 when he had just embarked on his mammoth cantata series for Telefunken, later Teldec), but few have been so satisfying on virtually every count as this one. Above all, it manages the miracle of balancing exactly classical restraint with emotional involvement [I don't think the reviewer means to equate emotional involvement with 'crude' or 'brittle']

It benefits hugely from the gently articulated, transparently beautiful singing of the choir and from the keenly accented, unexaggerated playing of the conductor's own Viennese orchestra, now - more than ever - wholly at one with their founder's intentions and so able to execute them with a natural, inevitable flow.

Then, in the choice of soloists, Harnoncourt happily eschews the extremes of big voices with excessive vibrato, as once favoured in Bach, and the kind of etiolated sound heard in far too many modern sets [by "etiolated" the reviewer's opinion is to be taken that he feels some recent approaches filter, pasteurise or otherwise make bland the drama inherent in the music, relative to this performance]. Christoph Pregardien and Matthias Goerne catch the essence of the relationship between Evangelist and Christ that lies at the heart of the work.

The singers chosen for the arias, especially Christine Schafer, Bernarda Fink, Markus Schafer and Dietrich Henschel, have voices of stature that are yet capable of the dignified restraint Bach calls for [agreed - DH, in particular seems to me to marry emotional projection and restraint particularly well]. Add a booklet of real artistic merit [not sure about this one], an enhanced CD capability complete with a full score [don't use it] and a typically natural Teldec recording and you have a set that will surely offer a lifetime's sustenance for the soul. [Obviously you will not agree with these points, but I hope you can appreciate that, by and large, the performance is extremely well suited to the tastes of a great many people, respected Bach scholars included].

Alan Blyth

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 7, 2002):
Peter Bright shared this commentary by Alan Blyth on the recent Harnoncourt SMP:
< It benefits hugely from the gently articulated, transparently beautiful singing of the choir and from the keenly accented, unexaggerated playing of the conductor's own Viennese orchestra, now - more than ever - wholly at one with their founder's intentions and so able to execute them with a natural, inevitable flow. >
After hearing all the Bach cantatas that Harnoncourt recorded for Teldec, I find this statement remarkable indeed. This is a 180-degree turnabout from the Harnoncourt that I have become so familiar with, particularly the statement about 'a natural, inevitable flow.' I do, however, suspect that 'gently articulated' singing still means less legato and more 'spaces between the notes' and that 'keenly accented' means that the appoggiaturas have an almost inaudible final note.

< Then, in the choice of soloists, Harnoncourt happily eschews the extremes of big voices with excessive vibrato, as once favoured in Bach, and the kind of etiolated sound heard in far too many modern sets [by "etiolated" the reviewer's opinion is to be taken that he feels some recent approaches filter, pasteurise or otherwise make bland the drama inherent in the music, relative to this performance]. Christoph Pregardien and Matthias Goerne catch the essence of the relationship between Evangelist and Christ that lies at the heart of the work. >
This 'etiolating' comes as a natural result of using the half voices (voices with limited range and ability). Certainly these two artists are not in that category! I am however amazed that Blyth implies that Bach used 'big voices with excessive vibrato,' but then perhaps the sentence should read: "Then Harnoncourt, in choosing soloists of the type that Bach favoured, eschews the extremes of big voices with excessive vibrato." Pregardien and Goerne are 'big voices' and their vibratos are what you might expect from this category of voice, a category which allows the singer to do Wagner.

I have ordered Harnoncourt's new SMP in order to hear for myself this remarkable transformation which would be due to some of the following factors:

1) The Arnold Schönberg Choir has put out some outstanding recordings (I heard them do some Brahms choral works. They were truly excellent.)
2) These full voices, when properly controlled, have the capacity to convey the beauty and emotion of this musical masterpiece.
3) The Concentus Musicus will have finally proven that they can play with 'a natural flow' with proper intonation.

Although still somewhat skeptical at this point because I have not heard this recording, I am keeping an open mind (and ears) for what I hope will be a wonderful addition to my Bach recording collection.

Peter Bright wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] I hope that you find the recording good at least in part. I'd like to point out that I have avoided Harnoncourt's cantatas discs (not for any specific reason, except that I enjoy more recent offerings from Suzuki, Junghanel and Herreweghe to the extent that I simply lack the motivation to buy other performances on period instruments - what I have heard of the Har cantatas discs does sound relatively ugly). However, I will always return to some of Richter's efforts - a slap in the face in comparisonto the beautiful Suzuki discs, but mighty uplifting once I accept that they probably say more about Richter and his stubbornness not to conform to the HIP approach that was practiced at the time than they do about Bach. Perhaps he didn't conform because he shared your views on the worth of the unfolding Harnoncourt approach?! Whatever the case, his recent SMP is exceptional in my opinion.

Have you heard Harnoncourt's quite recent recordings of Dvorak's symphonies 8 and 9? - I DO like these...

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 7, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] Peter, you wrote:
<Have you heard Harnoncourt's quite recent recordings of Dvorak's symphonies 8 and 9? - I DO like these...>
Going a bit off topic here, I have not heard his performance of these symphonies by Dvorak, but I can imagine what they will sound like to me based on symphonies by Haydn, Schubert, Schumann that I have heard on the radio in performances conducted by Harnoncourt. My first impression was that the different sound and interpretation that Harnoncourt elicits from an orchestra make it worthwhile to listen to. These performances are novel and very different. These symphonies with Harnoncourt's attempts to reconstruct an authentic sound bring a surprising element into the listening experience. It allows one to discover new things in the music that had not been heard before, as these symphonies are in the standard repertoire and have been recorded countless times, but never in this way. The question remains whether this is only the 'flash in the pan' syndrome that the listener experiences, or whether Harnoncourt's interpretations will exhibit durability that will last through many re-hearings of the same unusual presentations. Another serious question is in regard to Harnoncourt's claim to authenticity which is undermined by the evidence provided in Bach's scores (here I am particularly referring to his Bach cantata interpretations.)

The comment below by David Hurwitz seems to confirm my experience with Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata series. These renditions do not wear well beyond the initial hearing, that is, the more you hear them, the more they lead to negative feelings and thoughts about the manner in which the music is presented. The more I investigated and compared the music with the score, the more I realized how much was missing, whether in terms of Bach's notation or in the ability to present a performance with enduring value beyond just being different from everything else that had preceded it.

From a critique on Amazon.com regarding Harnoncourt's recordings of various classic and romantic symphonies:

< Weird. Nikolaus Harnoncourt's ideas are almost always interesting and provocative, but over many hearings I find these performances do not wear all that well. The problem with being a critic is that you always crave the novelty of a fresh approach, and Harnoncourt certainly offers that. But there are just too many moments of uncomfortable sounding ensemble, strange phrasing, and most importantly, a blunting of the music's few really important climaxes. If you know the music well and want something different, then it's hard to deny Harnoncourt's conviction. It just leaves a very funny aftertaste. --David Hurwitz >

I wonder what this critic would have to say about the Harnoncourt Bach cantata recordings?

Donald Satz wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I don't know that I'd categorize Richter as being stubborn not to get on the HIP bandwagon. First, HIP wasn't exactly in vogue when Richter was making recordings. Second, any artist should remain true to the performance style he/she thinks best presents the music.

Peter Bright wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Donald Satz] I think I was referring to Nicholas Anderson's notes in the Oxford companion to Bach, where he implied that Richter died an embittered man because he felt that his approach, based on decades of personal study and performing tradition, was being pushed aside both critically and commercially in favour of the new HIP practice. He felt the later cantatas and SMP were unduly criticised because of what may have been, in his mind, an aesthetically inferior and backwards shift that was emerging with respect to Bach and other pre-19th century composers. Unfortunately I don't have the Anderson article to hand and perhaps somebody can correct me if I am in error.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] Wouldn't you believe it?! I went to Tower and they were all out of Harnoncourt's new SMP. So I picked other stuff instead, including H&L cantatas, Ockeghem masses, Harnoncourt's original SMP, Goode's Bach Partitas. I just received the Weckmann / Froberger Sony CD played by Leonhardt on harpsichord. Tomorrow I'll be receiving Robert Hill's Bach on lute harpsichord. So maybe next month? I'll be able to get the award-winning SMP by H. Now I won't be eating for awhile! But that's okay.I'd rather munch on Bach, right? So when I listen I'll be reporting to Bach list although I have very little musical vocabulary. I'll try though!

 

Tower Records - Bach: Matthäus-Passion /Harnoncourt, Goerne, Schaffer, et al

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 8, 2002):
There IS a DVD format available of Harnoncourt's new SMP! Grand, huh? One can get it on 'special order', i.e., 45-day waiting period it seems: http://www.towerrecords.com/product.asp?pfid=2323878

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] That's on TDK, right? It is not released yet. I have been following that.

Pierce Drew wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] I checked out the <towerrecords.com> link, but it only indicated something about DVD audio, which, if I'm not mistaken, is not a video format, but audio only designed for the enhanced audio features of a DVD player.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] No, it's a Teldec release and it is a DVD-Audio with no video, like the Dvorak's 9th symphony.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Pierce Drew] Thanks Drew! I guess it was too good to be true! (: (: I never knew that DVD audio is different from regular DVD....

Robert Sherman wrote (March 8, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Or in a sense this is better. DVD audio, at least in theory, should be much better quality sound than CD audio or DVD video. Wider frequency and dynamic range with less distortion.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 9, 2002):
It is not just theory. It is a fact. DVD-audio fulfills the dreams of those who embraced digital audio's cristal clear sound AND of those who criticised digital audio because of the lack of warmth, and body. Many (if not all) audiophiles welcomed digital audio some 15 years ago, with the hope of an ever lasting "perfect" sound. But it's been a fact that format restrictions (44.1 Khz sampling rate, and 16 bit resolution) had its price: Cds sound great, and always brand new...but they have "something" that makes them sound harsh and rather metallic. DVD audio makes room for that "almost inaudible" musical information that was droped out by the CD standard, info that in the end probed to be a "gourmet" ingredient of sound. Neither esencial, nor disposable...

 

Thanks for SMP recommendations

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 19, 2002):
I will have a very busy but enjoyable 'Bach' week listening away! I now own both Harnoncourt's 1970 SMP as well as his award-winning 2001 SMP. Thanks for all your in-put. I will also receive "The Early Music Revival" by Haskell in a few days. I'm excited about this also because I've always been curious about the evolution of PP and HIP.

A big thank you and lots of warm wishes,

 

Harnoncourt MP2

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (August 19, 2003):
Archived here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Harnoncourt.htm

are those comments:

Riccardo Nughes wrote (April 16, 2001):
(To Santu De Silva) As regards the SMP recorded with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra the story goes like this. The set was released to support the restyling works of the Councertgebouw Theatre. Reissued on cd went out of print and the same Harnoncourt stopped a reissue because he is not satisfied with this recording. So this version is definitevely out of print. The same happened for the first SJP "co-directed" with Hans Gillesberger.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 16, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) I--for one--never having heard Harnoncourt SMP II, cannot worry about that. But the so-genannt co-directed with Gillesberger SJP is to me the great one.....
============

I would like to share with you all the following. Not that long after this exchange I found a used CD copy of the Gillesberger Johannes whose primacy of course was no news to me. The other day I finally found a used copy of the Harnoncourt MP2 which indeed is really only a "Livemitschitt" of a very pedestrian performance and indeed one of the least interesting MPs I have ever had to endure.

While we must say, must we not?, it has its moments, they are hard to find. There we have a group of uninteresting singers led by a conductor not at his most inspired. It was rather dreadful.

 

MPs (Harnoncourt)

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 7, 2003):
Sw Anandgyan wrote:
< I can understand Yoel's comment about the Christophers' recording of the XO as being soporific; I have found it somehow subdued.

Thanks to Mr. Lebut's warning, I'll skip the Münchinger Christmas Oratorio acquisition and invest in the Pierre Cao rendition of the Motets instead.

I was glad to read someone considering the Harnoncourt XO belonging to his Top Five for I hold in high esteem what I have of this gentleman recorded output. ( Just the '80s Brandenburg Concertos, The Motets, SMP III and MBM I & II ) >
I know that I will feel "stupid" after I post this, but that doesn't bother me. MBM is what? As for the MP (I object for myself prefixing the S since that's not part of the German title), I guess that the Harnoncourt III is the best of his to have. His MP I was a good try in my opinion, but the boy soloists are simply not up to the job. Boys can be, but at least one of his wasn't. The Harnoncourt MP II is merely a pedestrian live performance in my opinion. For so long a time I was looking for a copy just for the sake of collecting (which is something other than music enjoying) and, when I found it, I was very dissapointed.

 

Figured bass

Fredrik Sandstrom wrote (February 22, 2004):
First let me introduce myself; I'm a computer science student from Finland and recently subscribed to this group and I have enjoyed following the discussions. I'm an amateur choir singer and play the piano a little bit.

Now for my question: I have been listening to Harnoncourt's wonderful 2001 recording of the SMP and looked at Bach's autograph score that is found on the 3rd CD, and noticed that the bass is not figured at all. Modern editions of the SMP's score of course have figured bass, but where do the figures come from if they are not in Bach's manuscript?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 22, 2004):
[To Fredrik Sandström] Which score?

Remember that in Bach's lifetime he wrote 3 different Scores, one for each of the 3 performances. Not to mention the fact that each part had to have its own score. Then there is the one we have today, which is principally from the last version combined with some elements of the other two versions.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (February 22, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] He said "Bach's autograph score that is found on the 3rd CD" so whichever one that is, is what he's referring to. And each part does not have its own score, but its (his/her) own part!

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 22, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] In Bach's day, it was not only expected of the Composer to write out the score, but also the parts for the performers as well.

Not to mention that fact that anytime the 1736 version is mentioned, it is mentioned that not only the score has survived but also the parts.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (February 23, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< In Bach's day, it was not only expected of the Composer to write out the score, but also the parts for the performers as well. >
And.....?

 

SMP: Comparative review of Harnoncourt (1970), Leonhardt and Gardiner

Luke Hubbard wrote (April 1, 2007):
I've had the enormous pleasure of hearing Harnoncourt's 1970 SMP. It is performed at such high level of artistry that I find it odd and unjust how it tends to be overlooked. To balance these negative reviews, I've decided to add my own. In order to remain objective, I'll use recordings by Leonhardt and Gardiner as grounds for comparison.

First of all, the cast:
EVANGELIST: Kurt Equiluz
JESUS: Karl Ridderbusch
BASSO 1: Max van Egmond
BASSO 2: Michael Schopper
SOPRANO 1: (unnamed boy soloist)
SOPRANO 2: (unnamed boy soloist)
TENOR 1: Kurt Equiluz
TENOR 2: Nigel Rogers
ALTO 1: Paul Esswood (Tom Sutcliffe, aria 27)
ALTO 2: James Bowman
CHOIR 1: Regensburger Domspatzen
CONDUCTOR CHOIR 1: Christoph Lickleder
CHOIR 2: King's College Choir Cambridge
CONDUCTOR CHOIR 2: David Willcocks
ORCHESTRA: Concentus Musicus Wien
CONDUCTOR: Nikolaus Harnoncourt

TIMING & PACING
2:54:27 HARNONCOURT
2:52:22 LEONHARDT
2:37:24 GARDINER
Harnoncourt's and Leonhardt's timings are practically the same. They both sound right: neither rushed, nor sluggish. Music flows and remains long enough to be contemplated. It seems newer conductors have lost this innate sense of balance. I've noticed this in cantatas and oratorios as well. While criticized for substandard orchestral performance, Teldec cantatas have one big advantage over competitors: very good adult soloists and right tempi. In SMP, Gardiner is fully fifteen minutes shorter. In my opinion, he over-dramatizes the work. What results is pleasing to the ear but rather forgettable overall. It is like trying to paint edges over a Rembrandt painting. Leonhardt, in general, tends to be dogmatic and lifeless, although here that is less apparent. Harnoncourt offers the best pacing: it has life, it has verve without falling into theatricality. It is imbued with an implacable sense of music and driven by proper
devotion towards the score.

INSTRUMENTAL PLAYING
Here, as it has already been noticed, CMV is obviously the weaker link. It sounds rather primitive compared to the polished masterly performance of Leonhardt's or Gardiner's orchestra. La Petite Bande is perhaps the best of all the three, with Sigiswald Kuijken conducting and playing first violin. English Baroque Soloists are technically at least as good, only they never truly shine. Despite its shortcomings, CMV performance is far of being contemptible. Even by today's high standards, it is acceptable to say the least.

CHORAL PLAYING
Both Harnoncourt and Leonhardt stick to the score and retain the original cast of two choirs (the Church and the Faithful) and all male cast. Gardiner, on the other hand, is more modern: he uses one mixed choir (Monteverdi Choir), while soprano parts are sung by women instead of boys. In first and final choirs, however, he employs a second boy choir as well. Both choirs used by Harnoncourt have excelent expression, but, once again, they are technically problematic. I find the dialogue between male chorists of La Petite Bande and Tolzer Knabenchor as simply outstanding. Music is delivered with proper meaning and flawless expression. Here my choice for Leonhardt remains undeterred. Gardiner's choir is close behind, once again unimpeachable from a technical standpoint, but somewhat lacking in expression.

EVANGELIST
Equiluz (Harnoncourt) and Pregardien (Leonhardt) use a different approach with equally satisfying results. Pregardien narates his story perfectly. His superb voice meanders through the music in utter control. There is absolutely nothing to object and everything to admire about his exemplary performance. Equiluz however is on a class of his own. His tasteful dramatic reading, his gorgeous expression, his immersion into the score are simply breathtaking. His recitatives literally glow of beauty and become central parts of the work, as they were intended. One only has to hear "Undvon der sechsten Stunde" to get an experience of his stellar interpretation. This is perhaps the most dramatic part of the oratorio, when Jesus asks God why he leaved his Son to suffer such an ordeal. Bach paints this part exquisitely. In the first section, music expresses sorrow that culminates into Jesus' own cry and evangelist's translation, then it suddenly descends into the rest of naration. Even though there is sorrow, there is also hope. Jesus' sacrifice was an expiatory act and his death wasn't that of a mortal. This strange Christian belief (that through the sacrifice of the innocent one redeems the acts of the guilty) is perfectly portrayed in Equiluz's interpretation. His reading is a marvelous marriage of acting, perfect dicton, gorgeous voice and supreme expression. Among such accomplished evangelists, Anthony Rolfe Johnson has nothing interesting to say. In itself, his voice is weak and fails to deliver a proper meaning to the score.

JESUS
Karl Ridderbusch has a full profound voice. He was a supreme singer of Wagner and his voice indeed has an operatic quality not to everybody's liking. Yet, I find his delivery highly satisfying: he has weight and his expression is second to none. Perhaps it is the best Jesus ever recorded. Any comparison to modern bassi will only point out the latter problems. They simply lack the tool to deliver this music.

BASSO #1
Max van Egmond isn't in my liking. His voice is weak and unpleasant to hear. What compensates his vocal problems is good sense of music and excellent expression. Klaus Mertens' voice isn't strong either. He is technically a baritone, yet one with a beautiful voice and good expression. Olaf Bär (Gardiner) is a little behind. His voice is stronger, but it's less expressive.

BASSO #2
Michael Schopper was a very good choice. He has superb voice and excellent expression. His "Gerne will ich mich bequemen", with outstanding cello support by Harnoncourt, could hardly be bettered. Peter Lika (Leonhardt) and Cornelius Hauptmann (Gardiner) are both good, though they lack the quality of Schopper's voice.

SOPRANO #1
Many here have objected with boy soloists singing soprano parts, claiming they aren't prepared for the task. As a relative statement, this is right. Most boy soloists are vocally inferior to most women soloists. As an absolute statement, this is wrong. In many Teldec cantatas, boys have delivered their parts far better than their
female counterparts. It all depends on the boy. Harnoncourt's boy soprano is well equipped. He shines in contemplative parts, where purity of voice and clarity of tone are required, while being unsatisfactory in "So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen", where he sounds breathless and out of tune. Leonhardt's boy, Christian Fliegner, is more secure, but his voice leaves something to be desired. Be it the tone, or the lack of expression, it's hard to point out. Compared with the former, he sounds indifferent. Barbara Bonney (Gardiner), as expected, is the most technically secure of all three. She also has a good voice, though weak in the lower registers. Despite the rushed tempi, she delivers very well and there is little to be criticized about her. Still, I can't get past a "prejudice" against female sopranos in Bach's music. This music simply wasn't written for them and casting women instead of boys is like switching viola da gambas with cellos based on former's perceived unplayability (or inferiority).

SOPRANO #2
Harnoncourt's boy soprano, featured only in "Blute nur,du liebes Herz", is breathy, shaky, insecure and inappropriate for his part. Maximillian Kiener (Leonhardt) is a much better cast. He is in control of his voice, though quite indifferent to what he's singing. Ann Monoyios, like Barbara Booney, was well chosen. She is secure, she has expression, yet the rushed conducting and over-dramatization lower the end result.

TENOR #1
One must applaud Harnoncourt for his choice. Exemplary singing by Equiluz makes his recitative "O Schmerz" and aria "Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen" absolute musts for informed listeners. With such performances in view, competitors (Marcus Schaefer, Howard Crook) hardly merit mention.

TENOR #2
Nigel Rogers has a light but beautiful voice. His recitative "Mein Jesus schweigt zu falschen Luegen stille" and aria "Geduld" come off well, helped by sincere expression on performer's behalf and excellent dialogue with Harnoncourt performing on cello. John Elwes (Leonhardt) is a bad cast. He is light and uninteresting. Howard Crook (Gardiner) is certainly better, perhaps the best of all three. He has the right tool, yet all drama is superficial, painted over rather than within the score.

ALTO #1
I have seen many objections against Paul Esswood style. His voice does vibrate, but I find its tone gorgeous (in my opinion unsurpassed) and its power of delivery always there. His tasteful style of singing fits SMP like a glove. It's hard to imagine a better "Buss und Reu" or an equally intense "Ach Golgatha". In the duet "So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen", Tom Sutcliffe is used as alto along with a boy soloist. Both singers seem to lack basic control of their voices and the problematic orchestral playing doesn't help either. Rene Jacobs (Leonhardt) has an type of voice that falls counter to my liking. He sounds forced, insecure, definitely an overrated singer in my oppinion. He is dwarved by Gardiner's female soloists and functions like a heavy stone that drags an overall excellent performance by Leonhardt. Michael Chance, Gardiner's best alto, offers a very good reading, though I find his voice weak and his expression less than satisfying. The fact it doesn't vibrate is certainly a plus, but the lack of involvement is an even greater minus. I've heard Scholl singing these parts and I had similar impressions: he is in control of a voice better than Esswood's, yet he sounds like performing a vocal exercise.

ALTO #2
James Bowman is a legend among early countertenors. His voice is a bit dry, but it's nevertheless pleasant to hear. Unlike Esswood's, it doesn't vibrate but in the same time it lacks the power. Perhaps it is impossible to sing alto with a full voice without something unpleasant coming along. He is featured in two movements: "Erbarm es Gott!" and "Koennen Traenen meine Wangen", where he proves vocal mastery and commitment to the score. David Cordier is equally good, but Leonhardt's choice of super-fast tempi force him to struggle with the reading. On the other opposite, Harnoncourt makes the aria drag, fact worsened by clumsy orchestral playing. Gardiner has the best pacing choice, but he uses a female alto. They have never impressed me in Bach's music and certainly their usage makes claims for authenticity hardly believable, to an even greater degree than usage of female sopranos (which is understandable, given the rarity of good boy sopranos). This part had to be sung by a male countertenor.

CONCLUSION
Out of all three recordings, Gardiner is good in all movements without shining. His drama is all on the surface. Singers are all good, save Rolfe Johnson, who unfortunately features as Evangelist. Orchestral and choir playing is flawless, without being exceptional either. Leonhardt has by far the best chorists and instrumentalists, yet some of his soloists such as Jacobs and Elwes are painful to hear, totally unenjoyable, depriving us of a fulfilling enjoyment of their parts. His first and final choirs are simply outstanding. Then there is Harnoncourt. He has excellent singers (Equiluz and Ridderbusch best in their fields) and all of his problems are technical: instrumentists and chorists lack the polish the future generation has made us accustomed to. Commitment to the score is always there, good musical sense is always there. What lacks is technical mastery. Unfortunately, this is most apparent in first and final choirs. His "Kommt,ihr Tochter,helft mir klagen" suffers of strange plodding rhythms (typical of late Harnoncourt) and clumsy choral performance. It is hard to understand what they are singing about and instrumental support is equally uninspired. In "Wir setzen uns mit Traenen nieder", these problems are less but a simple comparison with Leonhardt's performance makes it clear much could be improved.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 1, 2007):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< I've had the enormous pleasure of hearing Harnoncourt's 1970 SMP. It is performed at such high level of artistry that I find it odd and unjust how it tends to be overlooked. To balance these negative reviews, I've decided to add my own. In order to remain objective, I'll use recordings by Leonhardt and Gardiner as grounds for comparison. >
Thank you Luke for posting this.

On the Bach cantata pilgrimage DVD, J.E. Gardiner made a rather snide remark, and at the time I wondered if this was meant as a jab at Maestro Harnoncourt. In passing, Gardiner commented that it was impossible to capture the sound of Bach's time using boys' because the aging process is different now (voices change much earlier now). Gardiner called such attempts at performing Bach's cantatas "fakery."

Honestly I was really disappointed to hear someone so connected to the early music movemen and period instruments, so critical of another conductor's attempt to recreate Bach's performances. It's ironic too because on the same DVD, Gardiner takes also takes swipes at the German approach (less dramatic readings e.g. Richter) of Bach cantatas, and swipes at the "large ensembles with big orchestras" approach as well. And with the same breath, Gardiner will whine that Joshus Rifkin is impossible to talk with about the issue of one voice per part. Very amusing to me.

Great post again! Thank you.

Luke Hubbard wrote (April 1, 2007):
Seems to me like a typical marketing approach. I've heard this "aging" argument ad nauseam. Perhaps the reason it's so frequently repeated is a vain hope noone will notice the logical nonsense behind. It is like saying in the good old times, apples were redder than in our days, so let us eat pears. The assumption boys in Bach's days changed their voices later cannot be an argument for using women instead. Don't get me wrong, I am not against women in Bach, but for those who claim to be historically informed, how on earth can they attribute pieces written for males to females. I find this a much greater liberty than, for instance, swapping a baroque violin with a Stradivarius. Boy voices have completely different tonality and there is no ground of similarity to swap the two. Ditto for male altos, frequently swapped by some of the new hotshots (Gardiner, Koopman) with female altos. What's next? A historically informed performance of WTK on a string quartet?

Then how does Gardiner's cycle of cantatas compare to the one that employed "fakery"? His soloists, with Kozena's exception, are always weaker. Everything is rushed, theatrical and devoid of substance. Choirs better? Yes! Orchestra better? Yes! For what end? Music needs to act like a vehicle of communication and for better or worse, Harnoncourt and Leonhardt gave their readings weight and substance. So forget the "blaring oboes", "booming bassi", "muddy choir". What matters is how their message reaches your heart, while the sanitized academic performances of say Koopman, Suzuki or Gardiner will make you admire their technical perfection and nothing more. Are boys really bad? Listen to the one who sings in BWV 137, mvt. 3. He was the one that drove me into the realm of cantatas. When I've first heard this I was mesmerized by the beauty of music and the quality of his delivery.

Chris Kern wrote (April 1, 2007):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< Don't get me wrong, I am not against women in Bach, but for those who claim to be historically informed, how on earth can they attribute pieces written for males to females. >
Historically Informed is not a term often used by the conductors themselves (in my experience); they prefer other terms like "period instruments" and then let everything else stand as it may whether it matches what we know about Bach or not. "informed" means just that -- you find out what you can about the way Bach performed his cantatas and then use that knowledge to guide your conducting. It does not mean slavish devotion to everything.

If HIP must use boy sopranos, then why musn't they also perform their cantatas as part of a church service, do very few rehearsals, etc.? Bach's performance situation is not recreatable in its entirety.

< What matters is how their message reaches your heart, while the sanitized academic performances of say Koopman, Suzuki or Gardiner will make you admire their technical perfection and nothing more. >
I prefer Suzuki to Harnoncourt in pretty much any cantata I've heard (BWV 4 is the only exception I can think of offhand). Just today I listened to Gardiner's BWV 36 and BWV 62, and I found them both very moving. I'm sorry that you don't find them the same way.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 1, 2007):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< Still, I can't get past a "prejudice" against female sopranos in Bach's music. This music simply wasn't written for them and casting women instead of boys is like switching viola da gambas with cellos based on former's perceived unplayability (or inferiority). >

Howdy, Luke,
I have a question for you and for all:
My first exposure to any Bach with boys was the Gillesberger Johannes-Passion. Notice that he employed boy Soprano and boy alto soloists (as does Harnoncourt on the DVD which I have not yet seen). Why are boy sopranos employed in the Matthäus-Passions you reference (Harnoncourt1 and Leonhardt) while counter-tenor altos are employed and where and when did this practice begin? It is no more authentic than female soloists.

It seems like a British choir thing, nicht wahr? It is certainly an odd combination for me. Counter-tenors are inappropriate unless one only wants to exclude females from church music on moral grounds (they are tempters after all). Musical grounds do not approbate boy sopranos as Bachian with counter-tenors as more in line with Bach than female mezzos/altos.

Thank you,

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 1, 2007):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< Gardiner, on the other hand, is more modern: he uses one mixed choir (Monteverdi Choir), while soprano parts are sung by women instead of boys. In first and final choirs, however, he employs a second boy choir as well. >
I wish conductors would stop this "tradition" of the "Boys' Choir" for the Ripieno. It's really a Romantic intrusion from Wagner's "Parsifal" and Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand. I'd rather hear Mendelsohn's version where the the soloist quartet sings the chorale in unison.

Luke Hubbard wrote (April 2, 2007):
That's a fair point, if your premise (Musical grounds do not approbate boy sopranos as Bachian with counter-tenors as more in line with Bach than female mezzos/altos) proves to be correct. Do you have anything to substantiate?

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2007):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< That's a fair point, if your premise (Musical grounds do not approbate boy sopranos as Bachian with counter-tenors as more in line with Bach than female mezzos/altos) proves to be correct. Do you have anything to substantiate? >
I first saw this issue raised a while back in a post from Yoel, and I believe he raised it again recently. I believe that is your reference?

The issue is simple: Bach used boy altos. Is there reason to disagree?

If not, then an adult male counter-tenor is no more authentic than a female alto/mezzo.

Either way, authentic (or HIP) or not, nobody ever sang a Bach alto part better than Hilde Rössl-Majdan (HRM). On that point, Yoel and I agree.

Luke Hubbard wrote (April 2, 2007):
Using the instruments or the type of soloists Bach required is hardly "slavish devotion". I understand all of your objections against boy soloists. The problem, however, isn't with their voices in general, but with insufficient training and a general decay of boy ensembles during 19th and 20th century, when hardly any music has been written for them. Boys are capable of exceptionally good performances and the way Peter Jelositz sings is proof for that. The problem is the RARITY of good boy sopranos vs. much grnumbers (and proportions) of decent or good female sopranos.

I like performances by Suzuki, but I dislike his soloists. None of them stands high compared to the past generation used by Romantic conductors. As many have noticed, they are incapable to sing with a full voice. Even Kooy, a very good baritone, hardly compares with the omnious, deep and powerful Ridderbusch. Gerd Turk has a pleasant but very light voice (akin Rogers, see in my review of Harnoncourt 1970). On all accounts, he is dwarved by Equiluz. His male altos, no matter how tonally pure, are inferior in terms of voice and expression compared to Esswood. His sopranos are pleasant, but very light. In 90% of cases, they are better than H/L boys, only because these boys were poorly chosen. His performances are generally well judged, but
frequently he ruins movements by choosing for fast tempi (like he does with soprano aria of BWV 25). I hate that! It all becomes a virtuoso exercise.

Chris Kern wrote (April 2, 2007):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< As many have noticed, they are incapable to sing with a full voice. >
No, one person notes this over and over again, and is repeatedly told how insulting and presumptuous it is.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 2, 2007):
SMP: Symbolic bass voices

Luke Hubbard wrote:
< Even Kooy, a very good baritone, hardly compares with the omnious, deep and powerful Ridderbusch. >
Harnoncourt chose Riddersbusch so that the bass characters in the Passion narrative had voice types rising from Jesus (deepest bass) through Pilate, Priests, Officers, Peter to Judas (highest baritone). He argued that this was a tradition going back to before the Reformation.

Riddersbusch will always have my admiration as the giant Fafner in Solti's epic recording of "Das Rheingold".

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 2, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Harnoncourt chose Riddersbusch so that the bass characters in the Passion narrative had voice types rising from Jesus (deepest bass) through Pilate, Priests, Officers, Peter to Judas (highest baritone). He argued that this was a tradition going back to before the Reformation. >
I always find it disconcerting when older, historical recordings of either passion simply give no information as to who sings the smaller parts. Sometimes it is simply either the bass arias person or the Jesus person but not always. Ditto with small parts of other voices. Generally (always?) on older recordings there simply is no information and I myself often cannot tell.Happily the day of these older CUT, amputated, and de-aria-ed (bass and alto arias) is over. All the time I have spent listening to de-aria-ed MPs is almost something I regret.

In my naivety I once believed that it was a Mengelberg thing since Mengelberg abhorred opera and sought to have it removed where he had power. How odd for a close friend a great advocate of Mahler's. Yes it was not a Mengelberg thing; it was the way of most old performances to de-aria this work.Furtwängler suggested that the length made the work intolerable to "modern" audiences. Of course Koussevitsky did it complete way back when.

Let's face it: the Matthäus-Passion is aria after glorious aria and to de-aria it, it to "emasculate" it.

Benedikt Hager wrote (April 2, 2007):
I'd like to mention that it's not only about technical aspects when Gardiner says that he prefers adult singers. It's about mental maturity, too. And I second that: there is difference between a 14 year old soprano and a 19 year old one.

I've been a choir boy myself and I have to say that I think this tradition is just over, at least where I live (Austria). Only a few boys were really interested in singing. And as the times have been changing -- forunately -- you can't force them to sing in the ways you could force them 20 or 30 years ago.

I -- for my experiences as a choir boy -- listening to boys choirs just can't get rid of the feeling that the children singing just don't care about what they are singing. They don't seem to be personally involved and I think that's natural. How would a 12 year old boy today get really involved with a 500 years old protestant text? (And I have to admit that I don't even wish a child to get emotionally involved with this often hostile poetry.)

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 2, 2007):
Benedikt Hager wrote:
< (And I have to admit that I don't even wish a child to get emotionally involved with this often hostile poetry.) >
A key point, for which you are likely to be chastised. It is one thing to say that understanding the poetry helps to better appreciate Bach, in the context of his culture and theology. To me, it is quite a different thing to say that believing it in the 21st C. gives one a better understanding.

Luke Hubbard wrote (April 3, 2007):
I agree. The fundamental reason for this lack of interest, apart of childishness, is the type of non-restrictive society modern children live in. In Bach's time, training was extremely rigurous, harsh and inhumane by today's standards. Parents and trainers squeezed the best out of them. It is impossible to recreate these conditions in our days. Art itself is no longer seens as worthy for someone to devote his life to. It has become no more than a hobby or a way among others to earn a living from.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 3, 2007):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< I agree. The fundamental reason for this lack of interest, apart of childishness, is the type of non-restrictive society modern children live in. In Bach's time, training was extremely rigurous, harsh and inhumane by today's standards. Parents and trainers squeezed the best out of them. It is impossible to recreate these conditions in our days. Art itself is no longer seens as worthy for someone to devote his life to. It has become no more than a hobby or a way among others to earn a living from. >
Rote memorization, endless dictation and corporal punishment were certainly features of 18th century school life which we find distasteful in various degrees, but I remain unconvinced that the experience was necessarily
traumatic. The fact that university students were drawn to sing and play with Bach tells us that making music with him was both enjoyable and inspiring. I disagree also that modern children are lazy free spirits. I have always found that young people can take music very seriously and work hard at it. I rehearsed a 17 yr old last evening who took on the musical challenge with a spirit and dedication that I wish some of my adult singers could muster.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 4, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The fact that university students were drawn to sing and play with Bach tells us that making music with him was both enjoyable and inspiring. >
Or at least preferable to toiling in the fields, etc.?

< I disagree also that modern children are lazy free spirits. I have always found that young people can take music very seriously and work hard at it. >
And at many other things as well. Some of them. Same as it ever was. Local folk hero Tom Rush had a song, 'Kids These Days'. I can vouch for that, as I have the recording.

Reportedly, one of the earliest Egyptian hieroglyphs has been translated as complaining about 'kids these days'. I cannot vouch for that, perhaps it was just some scholarly wag having a bit of fun, but it is credible.

 

still SMP - Harnoncourt's violinist/s?

Tom Dent wrote (April 27, 2009):
- Does anyone know who played the violin solos (Erbarme / Gebt mir) on the first Harnoncourt SMP?
http://bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Harnoncourt.htm

The players in each Coro are listed but the soloists are not indicated explicitly. S. Kuijken is among the violinists, as is A. Harnoncourt, and a few other well-known names.
Both movements are for me quite successful.

Another more speculative question: in BWV 4, why are the two violin parts in unison for the tenor aria? It is well known that two violins playing the same part are the worst possible number, as any discrepancies in tuning are shown up mercilessly. Particularly in such a fast tempo. Better have either one, or several, ie a violin section...

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 27, 2009):
Tom Dent wrote:
< - Does anyone know who played the violin solos (Erbarme / Gebt mir) on the first Harnoncourt SMP?
http://bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Harnoncourt.htm >
* Alice Harnoncourt was his concertmaster and I think soloist in his recordings of the violin concertos.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 28, 2009):
Tom Dent wrote:
>Another more speculative question: in BWV 4, why are the two violin parts in unison for the tenor aria?<
Bach probably had two 1st violins and two 2nd violins in the ensemble, giving a strong unison line. (BTW, Gardiner uses the choir tenors in this movement.)

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 28, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Bach probably had two 1st violins and two 2nd violins in the ensemble, giving a strong unison line. (BTW, Gardiner uses the choir tenors in this movement.) >
This is a rather old=fashioned appproach, like choral tenors in "Zion hört" in 'Wachet Auf". Does he provide a rationale?

Neil Halliday wrote (April 28, 2009):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>This is a rather old=fashioned appproach, like choral tenors in "Zion hört" in 'Wachet Auf". Does he provide a rationale?<
Not that I know of; probably artistic choice. Koopman also regularly uses the requisite choir section on a chorale line; in general I agree with this approach.

Chorale lines tend to sound awfully skinny when sung by a solo voice, which is why I don't like solo "Wachet auf"'s.

 

Matthaus-Passion - Harnoncourt - #2 of three recordings

Randy Lane wrote (April 11, 2012):
Three recordings of the Matthaus Passion BWV 244 conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt have been released over the years.

The first was recorded in 1970 has seen many reissues and continues to be a stand out recordings (as long the listener will tolerate the boy sopranos).

The second was a live recording with Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra released ON CD in 1985; there has never to my finding been a reissue of this recording.

The third recording, for which the recording team returned to the studio and the Concentus Musicus Wien but without the use of boy soloists, was released in 2000 and saw a reduced price reissue just a few years ago.

Reviews I've read of the third recording make comparisons to the first recording from 1970 but hardly ever mention the second recording form 1985. Combined with the lack of reisuance, I surmise (without seeking reviews from the 1985 release) that the general opinion is that the 1985 recording is a "dud" that shuld be banished to obscurity and forgotten about. Is that really the case? I find Harnoncourt's other recordings from that era and a few years thereafter with the Concertgebouw quite fine, especially those of music by Mozart and Haydn, so I find it hard to believe teh 1985 Matthaus Passion can be so bad as to justify it being continually ignored by reviewers and passed over for reissuance. Are there any other opinions, especially from anyone familiar with the recording (which I have, BTW, never heard).
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Harnoncourt.htm

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 11, 2012):
Randy Lane wrote:
< The first was recorded in 1970 has seen many reissues and continues to be a stand out recordings (as long the listener will tolerate the boy sopranos). >
I find the boy soloists in Harnoncourt1 poor whereas the boy soloists in Leonhardt (as noted many times) are superb.

< The second was a live recording with Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra released ON CD in 1985; there has never to my finding been a reissue of this recording. >
I happened to pick up years ago a used copy of this live performance. As you say, it was only available for a short time.

Today there are so many live performances uploaded on other lists that one might say that the classical discographies including Aryeh's only indicate things officially released.Any live concert performance can be released but today are mostly simply uploaded.

< The third recording, for which the recording team returned to the studio and the Concentus Musicus Wien but without the use of boy soloists, was released in 2000 and saw a reduced price reissue just a few years ago. >
it is simply to my ears a modern "operatic" performance with major voices.

anyway, it's been years since I have listened to any of the three.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 11, 2012):
Randy Lane wrote:
< Combined with the lack of reisuance, I surmise (without seeking reviews from the 1985 release) that the general opinion is that the 1985 recording is a "dud" that shuld be banished to obscurity and forgotten about. Is that really the case? >
I am interested to hear opinions. Does the 1985 version have specific virtues?

Re the logic that lack of reissuance indicates a dud, compare the entire Cantate series of LPs: not a weak moment in those that I have heard (alas, not yet all). Indeed, many remain as candidates for top performance, despite the early vintage of scholarly input (lack of HIPness?).

Perhaps the scarcity adds to the charm?

Randy Lane wrote (April 11, 2012):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] The Leonhardt, by the way, is part of a forthcoming super-budget reissue form Sony/DHM: Amazon.com

Once released, other issues in this series typically are available form Amazon Marketplace resellers for $15-17 + the $2.98 S&H. Look for it that way sometime in May.

Laurent Planchon wrote (April 11, 2012):
My understanding (but I don't have a clear recollection where I got this information from) is that Harnoncourt himself doesn't want this second recording to be reissued. It probably confirms your "dud" theory although I remember liking it when it was first released.

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 11, 2012):
Discographies on the BCW [was: Matthaus-Passion - Harnoncourt - #2 of three recordings]

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
"Today there are so many live performances uploaded on other lists that one might say that the classical discographies including Aryeh's only indicate things officially released. Any live concert performance can be released but today are mostly simply uploaded."
The discographies on the BCW includes all known officially released recordings, as well as many unofficial, private and recordings which are available only on the web (for listening/watching online and/or download).

Naturally, although I am doing constant search for new/unkown recordings, I might have missed many.

So, if any of you is aware of a recording not presented on the BCW, please inform me off-list with all the usual details. If the recording is available only on the web, please include also the URL.

Philip Peters wrote (April 11, 2012):
Randy Lane wrote:
< Three recordings of the Matthaus Passion BWV 244 conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt have been released over the years.
The first was recorded in 1970 has seen many reissues and continues to be a stand out recordings (as long the listener will tolerate the boy sopranos).
The second was a live recording with Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra released ON CD in 1985; there has never to my finding been a reissue of this recording. >
Years ago I read (but don't ask me where, IIRC it was a reliable source) that Harnoncourt has renunciated the 1985 MP and that's why it was never reissued. I have the LP and he was right IMO.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 12, 2012):
Philip Peters wrote:
< Years ago I read (but don't ask me where, IIRC it was a reliable source) that Harnoncourt has renunciated the 1985 MP and that's why it was never reissued. I have the LP and he was right IMO. >
In the CD issue booklet it says:
"All the artists involved in this issue have agreed to give their services free of charge: the proceeds from the sale of this recording will go to the "Save the Concertgebouw Fund", as a contribution towards restoration work urgently neto save this concert hall so rich in tradition".

At all events this was only one of many annual performances of the MP which Harnoncourt gave.

One has to wonder now how patched and from multiple sessions his studio recordings are and whether he simply doesn't like actual representation of a concert.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 12, 2012):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< At all events this was only one of many annual performances of the MP which Harnoncourt gave.
One has to wonder now how patched and from multiple sessions his studio recordings are and whether he simply doesn't like actual representation of a concert. >
One has to wonder no such thing. Harnoncourt he simply didn't like the actual representation of that particular concert (and with good reason, as far as I recall: I heard that recording once, in a library, and remember it as being distinctly unimpressive). His discography does include live recordings, both on CD and on video, so he certainly has no aversion with live concert recordings per se; he just didn't like this particular live recording.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 13, 2012):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< One has to wonder no such thing. Harnoncourt he simply didn't like the actual representation of that particular concert (and with good reason, as far as I recall: I heard that recording once, in a library, and remember it as being distinctly unimpressive). His discography does include live recordings, both on CD and on video, so he certainly has no aversion with live concert recordings per se; he just didn't like this particular live recording. >
There is a classical but generally considered by scholars of Irianan mis-representing translation of the Rubiyah of Omar Kayyam.at all events it says in one well-known line:

The moving finger having write, not all thy whatever... (sorry, I never can quote poetry).

With the internet any broadcast performance is there irrespective of whether an artist wishes to withdraw it. no, broadcast and now many in-house performances cannot be withdrawn. I believe that this is to the good.
Cheers and thanks to all for a good conversation.

 

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 | Part 17 | 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 - G.C. Biller | 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]

Nikolaus Harnoncourt: Short Biography | Concentus Musicus Wien
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Discussions of Vocal Recordings:
Harnoncourt - Glorious Bach! (DVD) | Motets - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 244 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 245 - N. Harnoncourt-H. Gillesberger | BWV 248 - N. Harnoncourt
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8
Discussions of Instrumental Recordings:
Brandeburg Concertos - N. Harnoncourt
Table of recordings by BWV Number

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

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ýAugust 20, 2012 ý22:43:37