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

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248

Conducted by John Eliot Gardiner

V-4

J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio · Weihnachsoratorium · Oratorio de Noël

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248/1-6

John Eliot Gardiner

Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists

Tenor [Evangelist]: Anthony Rolfe-Johnson; Soprano [Angel]: Ruth Holton; Soprano [Echo]: Katie Pringle; Bass [Herodes, arias]: Olaf Bär; Soprano: Nancy Argenta; Mezzo-soprano: Anne Sophie von Otter; Tenor: Hans Peter Blochwitz
Harpsichord: Paul Nicholson

Archiv Produktion

Jan 1987

2-CD / TT: 140:04

1st recording of Weihnachts-Oratorium by J.E. Gardiner. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, England.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com | Amazon.com (Highlights)

V-5

Christmas Oratorio - Bach at the Herdkirche in Weimar

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248/1-6

John Eliot Gardiner

Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists

Soprano: Claron McFadden; Alto: Bernarda Fink; Tenor: Christoph Genz; Bass: Dietrich Henschel

TDK Collection / ArtHaus

Dec 1999

2-DVD / TT: ~ 198:00

2nd recording of Weihnachts-Oratorium by J.E. Gardiner. Including Ducumentar: ‘Bach revisited - J.E. Gardiner in Saxony and Thuringia’.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Review: Bach Christmas Oratorio DVD

Kirk McElhearn (February 27, 2002):
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)

Christmas Oratoria [198 min.]

Claron McFadden, soprano
Bernarda Fink, alto
Christoph Genz, tenor
Dietrich Henschel, bass

Morteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner

Rec: 23 & 27 December, 1999, Herderkirche, Weimar, Germany.
TDK DVD-BACHHO [198 min.]

In the year 2000, John Eliot Gardiner set out on his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, with the goal of performing all of Bach¹s sacred cantatas in churches around Europe and in New York. Over a 52-week period, his orchestra, choir and soloists achieved this unique goal, with a fervour that was almost religious. Just before beginning his cantata performances, however, he performed the Christmas Oratorio in Weimar, in a beautiful church, on two days, as this work was originally performed.

Bach¹s Christmas Oratorio is among his most joyous music. Although not actually an oratorio - it is really a series of six cantatas - it was written for the 1734-1735 Christmas celebration in Leipzig. Curiously, to illustrate this, the most sacred of Christian celebrations, Bach chose to ³parody² many movements from secular cantatas. But he certainly made fine choices; this music is moving and unforgettable.

Gardiner has a special touch with Bach’s music. He chooses excellent musicians and singers, uses reasonably-sized forces, and his tempi have the right balance between élan and introspection. This recording uses about a dozen musicians and a choir of about twenty, giving the music a very intimate feeling - this is light years away from the heavier performances of this work where a large choir drowns out the musicians.

The musicians are all excellent - one is delighted to hear the excellent oboist Marcel Poncelle, and to recognize many other familiar faces from Gardiner¹s usual group of performers. The soloists are top-rate as well. Alto Bernarda Fink shines in her many solos, especially the long aria in the second part, Schlafe, mein liebster, where her voice shows incredible purity. Tenor Christoph Genz, who also serves as the evangelist, is also excellent - both in his arias and his recitatives. Soprano Claron McFadden has a very limited performance in this work; one can think that Bach did not have a very good soprano available at the time, and scored very few movement for soprano. Nevertheless, she has a beautiful voice; I would certainly like to here more of her. Bass Dietrich Henschel is very good, though he, too, has a much more limited role than the alto and tenor.

The choir is one of the high points in all of Gardiner¹s Bach recordings. With a choir close to the size that Bach probably used, Gardiner seems to use the choir as a soloist - the texture is always rich and lush, and the choir sounds as if it were singing with one, unique voice.

The 26-minute documentary on Gardiner’s Cantata Pilgrimage at the end of the first disc is excellent, and shows how Gardiner developed such a mad project, but also shows how invested the musicians were in this tour. The first documentary shows rehearsals for the performances on this DVD, and is a shorter version of a BBC documentary which also appears on Gardiner’s Bach Cantatas DVD. The second documentary, which is actually another section of the same BBC film, Bach Revisited, presents Gardiner as he visits Saxony and Thuringia, visiting Bach¹s school, the churches he performed in and other sites.

Gardiner is one of the finest interpreters of Bach’s vocal music, and this DVD shows this very well. Not only does the music come through with great subtlety and emotion, but the quality of each of the musicians and soloists is such that this performance is certainly one of the finest.

Tom Hens wrote (February 27, 2002):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< Just before beginning his cantata performances, however, he performed the Christmas Oratorio in Weimar, in a beautiful church, on two days, as this work was originally performed. >
The Christmas Oratoria was meant for performance on six different days, from Christmas to Epiphany.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 27, 2002):
[To Tom Hens] Oooppsss... Thanks.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (February 27, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Where can one order this?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 28, 2002):
[To Harry J. Steinman] Check Amazon - Amazon UK has it, so I would think they will have it in the US. It's a new release, so it may take some time.

 

Waiting

Bernard Nys wrote (July 14, 2002):
Three months ago, I ordered the X-mas Oratorium DVD by Gardiner ; I'm still waiting... I was so fed up that I bought... Charlotte Church in the Holy Land ! It's not so bad. Do you think she could sing Bach ? I'm not a specialist, but her soprano voice must be close to that of the boys of Bach's time.

I know it's holiday time, but my Bach DVD collection is still desperately small. Any advise ?

Donald Satz wrote (July 14, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] From what I've heard of her, Ms. Church does not have an appealing voice, and I end up puzzled as to why she is considered a special singer.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 15, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] I've heard the first few Charlotte Church albums and watched the "Just Wave Hello" video -- ugh. Overproduced nonsense. In those, young Miss Church doesn't show any clear understanding of the material, other than an ability to get the right syllables onto the right pitches with a pleasant sound. "Nice" is the extent of it. And in the second album I thought it sounded as if she's trying to sound a few years older than she is: adding a thickened vibrato that (in my opinion)does not make her tone more beautiful.

Charlotte Church in Bach? I don't think I'd care to hear it more than once.

This weekend I watched the recent film by the Coen brothers, "The Man Who Wasn't There." The enigmatic protagonist goes to visit a music teacher who has heard an audition of a young student, and the music teacher tells him that the playing was that of "a nice girl, a very nice girl," but "it stinks." The music teacher explains further, and the protagonist is unable to understand. "But did she make any mistakes?" And the music teacher explains that making music well is not about avoiding mistakes, it's about having the music inside and something to express with it.... But the protagonist still doesn't get it. Later he tries to explain this audition to the girl, but she already knows what the assessment probably was, and she isn't upset, and besides she'd rather be a veterinarian anyway. She didn't care one way or the other about this audition.

That's basically the same impression I get when listening to Charlotte Church: nice, no mistakes.

By the way, that film has a surprising soundtrack given the genre of film noir. The soundtrack is almost all excerpts of slow movements from Beethoven's piano sonatas, and played in the same "very nice" way that is condemned by the music teacher. I suspect that that performance style was a deliberate choice by the filmmakers, as they are clever and it fits in with the rest of the film: the nihilistic protagonist, the pacing of the action, etc. It reduces Beethoven's music to be pretty, pleasant, cleanly produced, and ultimately meaningless.

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 15, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< By the way, that film has a surprising soundtrack given the genre of film noir. The soundtrack is almost all excerpts of slow movements from Beethoven's piano sonatas, and played in the same "very nice" way that is condemned by the music teacher. I suspect that that performance style was a deliberate choice by the filmmakers, as they are clever and it fits in with the rest of the film: the nihilistic protagonist, the pacing of the action, etc. It reduces Beethoven's music to be pretty, pleasant, cleanly produced, and ultimately meaningless. >
Regardless of the performance in question, I think there is one proviso here: a matter of taste.

Here is what Prof. H. Neuhaus (a Soviet pianist) wrote about Gould playing Beethoven in the Soviet Union:
"I liked less his interpretation of the Beethoven sonata [in E Major, Op. 109]. It seemed to me overemphasized, even theatrical. It was as if the performer had dotted all the I's but had removed from the great Beethoven's music its touch of mystery."
And on an other occasion:
"it was my impression that he [Gould] was trying to simplify Beethoven's music (...) In my view, when playing Beethoven's music one should demonstrate its greatness and inaccessibility, rather than its simplicity".

If I'm not mistaken, Brad spoke well about Gould's Beethoven on the F-minor list (about certain performances perhaps?), but here another professional has another taste.

Bradley Lehman wrote (Jul;y 15, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Re the soundtrack of "The Man Who Wasn't There":

I don't know how we got to Glenn Gould on this one, but Gould's recorded performances of [most of] the Beethoven sonatas are a lot more interesting than the competent-but-bland renditions by Jonathan Feldman in the soundtrack of "The Man Who Wasn't There." (The music is occasionally cut in the film, too, ending abruptly in strange places, but that's another issue.)

In this film, this part of the story is about how the teenaged girl is able to play nicely...and the protagonist, listening to her, is unable to recognize the difference between this and really great playing. The film is about his own "not-there-ness," not about the music. He likes what he hears, it's good enough for him. This is the same character who's shown no feelings one way or another about the relationships in his life, or about the crimes he's committed, or his own roles in life, or really anything else. The nice-but-empty playing is good enough for him, because he's empty.

Either the filmmakers deliberately picked nice-but-empty performances from Feldman (i.e. asked him to play it that way), or they got lucky. :) If they had used, say, performances by Moravec or Richter, the soundtrack would have stolen the film....

-----

Re Gould's performances of the sonatas 30-32, have you read his own liner notes from the LP? They're reproduced in The Glenn Gould Reader as well. Gould's own essay there is his attempt to describe his approach, and he ends with the following: "These sonatas are a brief but an idyllic stopover in the itinerary of an intrepid voyageur. Perhaps they do not yield the apocalyptic disclosures that have been so graphically ascribed to them. Music is a malleable art, and it is no great task to mold it to one's want--but when, as in the works before us now, it transports us to a realm of such beatific felicity, it is the happier diversion not to try."

That is, young Gould (mid-20s when he recorded these three sonatas) admitted he was being a bad boy on purpose, in order to try a refreshing approach. And it worked that way.

 

X-mas (and deliberation of classical)

Bernard Nys wrote (July 29, 2002):
Finally, I could buy the DVD Christmas Oratorio by Gardiner that I ordered a few months ago. I can only agree with Kirk, when he told us that it's a "magnificent set". I didn't know it was the start of the Pilgrimage (23 & 27/12/1999). Nice start ! Although the forces are relatively small (16 people choir), it sounds great. The soloists are very fine : the black soprano Claron Mc Fadden, Bernarda Fink (who is always very emotional and giving everything she got), Christoph Genz (telling the story from the pulpit) and Dietrich Henschel (who has a perfect accent, of course – he looks like a German Jewish). There are 2 DVD's, probably because of the 2 documentaries (very interesting). The Herderkirche is a well chosen location. Fine pictures to illustrate the music. I can only recommend this set. And when we read that the classical music business has big problems, it's fine to know that classical DVD is one of the rare positive aspects of that business. Besides, as I told you before, it's not expensive : 28 euro for more than 200 minutes sheer delight for ear and eye.

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 29, 2002):
Bernard Nys wrote:
< set. And when we read that the classical music business has big problems, it's fine to know that classical DVD is one of the rare positive aspects of that business. Besides, as I told you before, it's not expensive : 28 euro for more than 200 minutes sheer delight for ear and eye. >
It seems classical music will have to take the path of pop and have videos produced for it. Of course, video does not increase the value of classical music but it's obvious that you can arouse a bigger interest with a well done picture.

But there is no tradition of classical video at all. Frankly, I can't think of anything sensible except for showing the choir or other performers as they are. That is, a pianist looking at the keyboard, the singers looking into nowhere. Boring? In pop videos you at least have the singer constantly looking at you or see a plot, animation art etc.

Also, what do you think about the new standard of the classical performer, "assuming a slithering position on a raft as the sun shines down upon her"? Why didn't the classical audience need this in "the Karajan era"? There were Beetles and Rolling Stones back then, that young people listened to. What changed?

What debilitated classical music commercial potential most, in your opinion?

Piotr Jaworski wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Two reasons - IMO - widening margin of possible choice for consumers on the one hand and unacceptable price level of new CDs - on the other. This cat simply bites it's own tail.

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Piotr Jaworski] Do you mean the high price of new classical CDs or the low price of empty CDs to use in CD-R?

PiJaworski wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Good point, Juozas!

I'm sure I intended to mean both ;-)

Olle Hedström wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] 28 Euro for Gardiner's X-mas Oratorio on DVD ? Where did you purchase the set ?

Pete Blue wrote (July 29, 2002):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
<What changed?
What debilitated classical music commercial potential most, in your opinion? >
In the United States, two interconnected developments seem to me to be responsible for the precipitous decline in interest in classical music:

(1) The disappearance, partly for economic reasons and partly for cultural ones, of music education as part of the elementary and secondary school curriculum. As a result, kids don't learn to appreciate ANY music except as dumbed-down consumers.

(2) Indiscriminate multiculturalism and the resultant denigration of our European cultural heritage throughout our society. Classical music is seen as just one more manifestation of the sin of Eurocentrism, which is equated with elitism, and even with
racism.

Unfortunately, I don't see sexy videos -- or anything else at the moment -- as a viable means of retarding these developments.

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 29, 2002):
Pete Blue wrote:
< (1) The disappearance, partly for economic reasons and partly for cultural ones, of music education as part of the elementary and secondary school curriculum. As a result, kids don't learn to appreciate ANY music except as dumbed-down consumers. >
I remember the music lessons I had to attend when I was in the secondary school (not so long ago, actually:) and, retrospectively, I cannot notice any positive effect of those lessons on the musical taste of my class. I imagine the lessons had the opposite effect, especially because of the obligation to sing even for those who seemed to have zero pitch. I myself started listening to classical only after the secondary school.

However, on a very large scale, like the number of all pupils in the US, I tend to agree that the notorious 3% of the classical music listeners are primarily accumulated by means of education.

< (2) Indiscriminate multiculturalism and the resultant denigration of our European cultural heritage throughout our society. Classical music is seen as just one more manifestation of the sin of Eurocentrism, which is equated with elitism, and even with racism. >
Indeed, I noticed classical music described online as the music by "dead white guys"...

Bernard Nys wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Olle Heldström] I bought the X-mas DVD by Gardiner at FNAC. It was not a special promotion; it was full price and special order.

An idea for the future of classical music is the musical movie. As far as I know, the opera houses knew some decline too and the opera-movie did attract some more people to the opera.

Examples : J. Losey' Don Giovanni, Zeffirelli's Carmen, Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana, Turandot in China, Madame Butterfly, La Bohème (with José Carreras & Barbara Hendrickx). Karajan's Don Giovanni is not really a movie, but it looks like a movie.

I would like to see a Matthew Passion (BWV 244) movie. The interview talks with nostalgy about Von Karajan ; I think that Von Karajan not only had a lot of charisma, but also knew very well the new technologies (more especially, the power of the picture, with the Legacy for video).

Donald Satz wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Why all the pessimism? Classical music has been a 'fringe' category at least as long as I've been around(over 50 years). Yes, there used to be some decent music education in the schools, but I never knew a soul who became a fan of classical music because of school experiences. I think the homefront has much more impact.

The advent of cd technology and its aftermath were handled poorly by the once-major classical record labels. All of this will find its natural position of equilibrium fairly soon, and we will still be able to attend concerts and buy recordings.

I must admit that the multi-culturalism aspect can be damaging. This eclectic and world focus has the potential to undercut even how classical music is defined unless we refuse to succumb to it. My advice - stay away from eclectic and cross-over stuff. Record companies such as Sony are betting that the eclectic/cross-over route will eventually overwhelm what we now know as classical music. Don't let it happen.

I'm probably sounding a little pessimistic myself, but it's all in our combined hands. Screw it up, and we will get what we deserve.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 29, 2002):
Donald Satz wrote:
< Why all the pessimism? Classical music has been a 'fringe' category at least as long as I've been around(over 50 years). Yes, there used to be some decent music education in the schools, but I never knew a soul who became a fan of classical music because of school experiences. I think the homefront has much more impact. >
In my case, what made me first discover classical music was the progressive rock of the 70s - Yes, ELP, Rennaissance, etc. Since these groups explored classical themes and even, in some cases (especially ELP), arranged the music, it came naturally to want to know more about it.

Donald Satz wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I discovered classical music through having it slammed down my throat by my dad who was a vocalist and violinist. He had me taking piano lessons, clarinet lessons, and music theory. When I entered my teenage years, I dumped that musical category likely more out of rebellion than anything else. In my late 30's and after my dad passed away, I got back into classical music.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] I apologize in advance if I seem excessively irritated, but this has struck a very sore spot with me.

I can't imagine anything LESS boring than watching the greatest classical performers in the world doing great performances of the world's greatest music.

Singers don't look into nowhere. Their eyes are outwardly on the conductor, with intense concentration. Their eyes are inwardly on the music and, when this can be seen and sensed by the audience, it adds immensely to the thrill of the performance.

A classical music performance consists of communication between the composer and the listener, with the performer and the instrument as transmission links. All the rest is irrelevant.

For may part, I can't watch a pop video. The obviously dubbed soundtrack, the attention-deficit-disorder rapid-fire cutting, and the pseudo-sex are somewhere between boring and nauseating.

Unfortunately, most classical videos seem to be directed by morons who are not classical music performers. The camera wanders to architecture, painting, and other irrelevancies. In orchestral solos, it is more likely to focus on the instrument than the player. An otherwise fine video of Karl Richter et al doing the bm in the mid-seventies was raped at the end by the director who spent the entire Dona Nobis Pacem pulling back the camera with everything getting smaller and smaller., as if we were supposed to be leaving before the performance ended. Evidently he thought a Bach concert was like a football game where during the last quarter the exits are increasingly clogged with fans wanting to get to their cars so they don't get caught in traffice. The idea of listening raptly to a concert up to and including the last note evidently never occurred to this director. I suggest that such directors spend their time reading architecture books or looking around instrument shops, and turn the cameras over to musicians.

No doubt some will find it boring to watch a great pianist looking at the keyboard, or watch his hands on the keyboard. For those who find it more stimulating to watch a pop video or a Bugs Bunny cartoon, that is their business. I only ask that they don't pollute classical music.

Donald Satz wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] I feel just the opposite in that I have zero interest in watching the musicians or conductor. Come to think of it, I don't much interest in seeing scenery or architecture either. Overall, I don't want anything to do with the 'visual' compone. For me, it can only take my attention away from the music I am listening to; the same goes for Rock videos unless there are appealing women on the screen.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Donald Satz] Don, are you a classical performer yourself? I used to do a lot of performing, which probably explains why I think of music in terms of performers rather than notes on a page. But I strongly agree with your desire to have all attention on the music -- which we may define a little differently.

Just one final thought on "appealing women on the screen." To me, there is no more appealing woman than one who is making beautiful and intelligent sounds.

Pete Blue wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Donald Satz] I agree, but our protests appear futile. I'm thinking of Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's bizzarro 1982 movie of "Parsifal". It is attached to a superb audio representation of the opera conducted flowingly, Karl-Muck-like, by Armin Jordan, and with a great young cast -- an indispensable alternative to Kna and other Bayreuth versions. It was on Erato (LP, cassette and CD) for awhile, but has been OOP for some time, and will be maybe forever. Meanwhile, the inane Syberberg video is still in print and widely available!

BTW, in an earlier post I suggested that in the US the end of music education for the general public has affected the decline here of interest in classical music. I didn't mean to infer a direct cause-and-effect. I only meant that musical literacy, even a little, is desirable, maybe necessary, in appreciating all kinds of music on a level higher than visceral.

Donald Satz wrote (July 29, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] No, I'm not a performer. When my dad forced me to play in front of other people, I did a horrible job. The whole experience was like being in hell. Oh well, we all carry some garbage from the past.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 30, 2002):
Donald Satz wrote:
< I feel just the opposite in that I have zero interest in watching the musicians or conductor. Come to think of it, I don't much interest in seeing scenery or architecture either. Overall, I don't want anything to do with the 'visual' component. For me, it can only take my attention away from the music I am listening to; the same goes for Rock videos unless there are appealing women on the screen. >
What about classical videos with appealing women? There is a great DVD of Monteverdi with Emma Kirkby and a couple of other fine babes in diaphanous dresses...

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 30, 2002):
Robert Sherman wrote:
< I apologize in advance if I seem excessively irritated, but this has struck a very sore spot with me.
I can't imagine anything LESS boring than watching the greatest classical performers in the world doing great performances of the world's greatest music. >
Well, I put a question mark after "boring" because I do not find them always boring myself. It's fine that you find classical videos interesting enough but what about the customers as a whole? If even existing ones, like Don, do not find the picture to be adding to the experience of music, what about the possible new customers?

So my point is that the visual content of classical videos is naturally not flexible and videos cannot follow the pop way and be regarded as a powerful tool for attracting new customers as in pop.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Generally, I agree. For adults, adding video to classical music is probably most attractive to the more intense enthusiasts. But for children and young teen-agers who already have a beginning interest in classical, the reverse may be true. Seeing the actual performers may stimulate their interest more than is done by sound only. I remember when I was a young teen-ager in the 1950s I was thrilled by the few opportunities I had to see classical performers on TV.

Donald Satz wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Emma Kirby? Sorry, but her physical features couldn't keep me glued to the screen. My standards are very high.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 31, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] Right on, Bob.

I spoke about the "rapid-fire cutting' of pop videos some months back; and I am constantly irritated by TV cameramen focusing endlessly on close-ups of the fingers of performers on the strings of instruments, etc, in videos of classical music, not to mention the battery of other assorted techniques, including double images, wierd camera angles etc, all of which distract from the music.

But I must say I do enjoy a view, properly executed, of magnificent (church) architecture during, say, the opening chorus of the SJP, or the Sanctus from the B Minor Mass (or any brilliant music for that matter).

I suppose most cameramen are not musicians, and therefore feel impelled to try to impress with all the possible quirks of their own "art", forgetting that any video should be absolutely at the service of the music.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 31, 2002):
[To Neil] Thanks, Neil. I want nothing but the performers all the time. But otherwise we're in complete agreement about videocrap.

I actually had a mildly irritating personal experience with this last year. My son got married in June and I played at the wedding (the usual piccolo trumpet stuff in D). My son's a TV reporter and we were delighted when a cameraman friend of his offered to tape the wedding free, donating his expensive services and the use of his megabuck digital camera. But at the climaxes the cameraman zoomed in on – you guessed it -- my fingers on the valves, of all the boring things! I'm sure he meant well, and the layperson's view is that music is what people do with their fingers. Maybe someday video schools will include a course in musical performance appreciation, taught by musicians.

 

Another Beginner
Gardiner XO

Jack Botelho wrote (November 26, 2003):
[To S.W. Anandgyan] You are on a wonderful journey of discovery, and wait till you hear the Christmas Oratorio - an absolutely superb work (my personal favourite large-scale Bach work) but don't let me or anyone else prejudice your listening experience. As we all know, the first steps in discovering the music of a composer is to listen and appreciate for yourself without bias. Happy listening!

Barry Murray wrote (November 26, 2003):
[To S.W. Anandgyan & Jack Botelho] The Christmas Oratorio is, in my opinion, a very joyful, and enjoyable work. Also my opinion, you won't do much better re the Christmas Oratorio than Musaki Suzuki. I have this one and enjoy it a lot.

I've heard good things about the Gardiner version, but haven't heard it.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 26, 2003):
Barry Murray wrote:
< I've heard good things about the Gardiner version, but haven't heard it. >
The Gardiner has just been released in a budget box with the SMP, SJP and B-minor Mass. Great deal! I heard an excerpt of the XO and found it very lively (fast) and energetic. I'm a big fan of Gardiner, and will probably buy this set.

John Pike wrote (November 26, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I have all Gardiner's recordings of Bach oratorios, B minor mass and cantatas. All superb.

Javier Sarría wrote (November 26, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Gardiner XO is simply wonderful. I've hearing it for 6 years and each time I go back to it I feel really happy.

Jack Botelho wrote (November 27, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] The above seems like very good news. I was familiar with the Peter Schrier (sic?) box set "The Great Choral Masterpieces" of Bach (Philips digital) but was not too impressed with the performances (found them lacking in precise execution). Excuse my ignorance, but under the safe guise of being a beginner, is Gardiner known for fast tempi? It would seem from other member's opinions here and elsewhere that this is not at all an issue of criticism with Gardiner because he brings a precision of execution to performance which such works demand.(?)

Any further insight much appreciated.

Barry Murray wrote (November 27, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] In relation to Gardiner, and the Christmas Oratorio, Don Satz did a fairly comprehensive survey of available recordings. He liked the Gardiner set. Perhaps the easiest way to find these reviews is to visit: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/
Follow the links to the Christmas Oratorio, BWV248.

Jack Botelho wrote (November 27, 2003):
[To Barry Murray] I found the Don Satz reviews very helpful. Thanks for pointing this out. The Gardiner and Jacobs versions read very well.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to Piotr who has just joined this list. Welcome Piotr!!

[To S.W. Anandgyan] Your post celebrating the XO was a delight to read, and we all take heart when reading such personal celebrations of the music of Bach. Cheers!

Satofumi wrote (November 28, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] I have been considering for a while whether I should purchase Gardiner's Christmas Oratorio or not. I expect your review as well as other ones.

Satofumi wrote (November 28, 2003):
I have ordered Gardiner's Christmas Oratorio CD through Amazon.com. I already have a CD of Harnoncourt,N., but I feel I do not much favor the performance.

Jack Botelho wrote (November 28, 2003):
[To Satofumi] I look forward to your impressions of the Gardiner, and for my part will contribute a review of it in the next few days.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 28, 2003):
[To Satofumi] It's just out in a DG 9-CD box with his Mass, SMP and SJP. Very cheap price as well.

Satofumi wrote (Nbovember 28, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I have searched and found the following in a web site:

"J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio. St. Matthew Passion. St. John Passion. Mass in B minor - The London Oratory Junior Choir; The Monteverdi Choir; The English Baroque Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner
Label - Deutsche Grammophon
9 CD Set
Price: £49.99"

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 28, 2003):
[To Satofumi] It's even cheaper in France - only 50 EUR!

Jack Botelho wrote (December 3, 2003):
Following are some general impressions of John Eliot Gardiner's direction of J.S. Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" by The Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists, 1987 recording (Archiv 423 232-2) as promised:

In my opinion, this particular recording seriously questions the need for more versions of this work unless only to explore the some of the "down to earth" realities of performing this work in approximation to the musical resources with which Bach had at his disposal. By general accounts, such forces available to Bach would have been unequal to the task, which would have resulted in a very poor realization of this oratorio cycle under historical conditions.

The opening chorus "Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage" by The Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists under John Eliot Gardiner is in my opinion the single greatest realization of music by Bach, and the quality of this performance may simply be described by the word "magnificent". The execution of this piece here would equal Bach's greatest hopes for it's realization. The choir's delivery is swift, powerful and in precise unison, the orchestra always "swings" with the organ, and the recording values allows the panoramic swirl of musical detail to be discerned by the listener. The trumpets hit every note such as would have been almost impossible for the player of unaltered natural trumpet in Bach's time. This piece is a tour de force of contrapuntal grandeur and executed here with amazing skill, and is without doubt one of the greatest realizations on record of any of the music of Bach.

The above is only an amateur's celebration of this magnificent opening chorus for the Christmas season. More to follow later.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] I remember hearing that Gardiner recording when it was new: it was at a radio station where I worked, and I also borrowed a friend's copy for a while. I liked it. But, I have not bought it. As I remember (and it has been a long time, about 15 years, so I might be fuzzy on this), my impression at the time was that it is very slick and almost too polished; there could be a more rustic edge to the music, making it even more engaging than it sounds in that recording. I got the sense that the performance is so carefully edited from multiple takes, it has lost some spontaneity.

My favorites have been five other ones:
- Köln Chamber Choir & Collegium Cartusianum (conducted by Peter Neumann);
- The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra (conducted by Harry Christophers);
- Collegium Vocale (conducted by Philippe Herreweghe) (1989);
- Vokalensemble Frankfurt & Concerto Koeln (conducted by Ralf Otto);
- Concentus musicus Wien (conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt) (1972).

With those, I have not got around to buying the Gardiner, and perhaps I should give it another chance! But I do like Gardiner very much in Haydn's "Creation" and "Seasons."

Regardless of any historical accuracy about Bach's performances, one thing I especially like about the Christophers recording is that the alto lullaby "Schlafe, mein Liebster" (as Mary, rocking the baby Jesus) is sung by a woman. It always seems strange to me to hear that one elsewhere sung by a man. Not that I'm opposed to men singing lullabies; I do it every day for our child. But it's more comforting to a child to hear the singing down in chest voice than in head voice, as is done by a man singing in the alto range. It just seems more "authentic" that way to have that particular piece sung by a woman, gently and low, encouraging a baby to rest!

Jack Botelho wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Nice to read of a wider perspective on XO recordings and how Gardiner generally fits in with the others; also nice to read praise for the female voice in a Bach piece, aside from historical limitations.

Carol wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] One thing that impressed me most about Gardiner's recordings the first time I heard them, was the singers "sang". This, in comparison to some Bach interpretations by famous American divas, who are known mostly for their opera work. When they sang Bach, they "performed".

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 4, 2003):
[To Carol] I have not heard Gardiner's recording, but I can say Harry Christopher's recording put me to sleep. OTOH Gardiner's recording of Berlioz' L'Enfance du Christ moves me very much indeed. I am not sure about what American Divas are doing Bach.

Carol wrote (December 5, 2003):
Yoël responded to my post, saying,
"I am not sure about what American Divas are doing Bach."

Yoël, the singer who came to mind first, because I have the recordings, was Kathleen Battle, soprano. Wonderful voice, but I think she "performs".

List of Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works by Battle:
* Arias from BWV 21, BWV 68, BWV 208, BWV 248, BWV 508
* Arias from BWV 21, BWV 51 (w/ Wynton Marsalis)
* Arias from BWV 36, BWV 58, BWV 84, BWV 97, BWV 105, BWV 115, BWV 171, BWV 187, BWV 197, BWV 202, BWV 204, BWV 232 (w/ Itzhak Perlman)
* Aria(s) from BWV 202 (w/James Levine)

From the CD entitled "Christmas Adagios":
1. Marilyn Horn Mezzo, soprano,
'Schlafe, mein Liebster', Bach Christmas Oratorio with Vienna Cantata Orchestra/Henry Lewis
2. Leontyne Price, soprano, Ava Maria, Bach/Gounod
(Although I don't believe Horn and Price are necessarily "preforming" in a negative sense, they have an operatic quality unlike the performers Gardiner usually hires.)

However - the Gardiner/ Monteverdi Choir recording of Tavner's Christmas Carol, "The Lamb" in this Christmas collection (not, of course, written by Bach; forgive me for deviating from the subject of this website) - was more than worth the price of the entire 2 CD album. As it contains other beautiful selections, I recommend it.

I also had in mind, male counterparts of the diva:
I have the recording of Luciano Pavarotti's, "O Holy Night" I like the CD, but he definitely "performs".
Also, I believe José Carreras and Placido Domingo have performed, at the very least, Bach's "Ava Maria" (its popular title).

Now, friendly members of the new "Beginners Bach" group - please don't get technical as to these vocalists' countries of origin. You may, of course, disagree with me as to their performance qualities.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 5, 2003):
Carol wrote:
< From the CD entitled "Christmas Adagios":
1. Marilyn Horn Mezzo, soprano,
'Schlafe, mein Liebster', Bach Christmas Oratorio with Vienna Cantata Orchestra/Henry Lewis >
Yup, well you got some real opera singers there. And you have made quite a table (which I had to trim, sorry). I assume that this Horne with Lewis is about from 1970.

< However - the Gardiner/ Monteverdi Choir recording of Tavner's Christmas Carol, "The Lamb" in this Christmas collection (not, of course, written by Bach; forgive me for deviating from the subject of this website) - was more than worth the price of the entire 2 CD album. As it contains other beautiful selections, I recommend it. >
I have heard that this Tavener is related or claims to be related to Taverner of pre-Bach times. Are we talking about the same person?

< I also had in mind, male counterparts of the diva:
I have the recording of Luciano Pavarotti's, "O Holy Night" I like the CD, but he definitely "performs".
Also, I believe José Carreras and Placido Domingo have performed, at the very least, Bach's "Ava Maria" (its popular title). >
I call them the three stooges. I would not even discuss Pav. singing Oh Holy Night. I don't consider that classical music, but pop cross-over.

Der Bach singt voller Wohllaut durch das Dunkel.

Carol wrote (December 5, 2003):
Yoël stated:
"I have heard that this Tavener is related or claims to be related to Tavener of pre-Bach times. Are we talking about the same person?"
I don't know. The very limited information provided in the CD goes no further. I didn't know there was a pre-Bach Tavener, but "The Lamb" sounds Gregorian. It's a very simple melody; starts with the chorus singing in one voice and then in parts. It's under three minutes in length.

If you're interested, try to find the CD in a music store, listen to it if you can, and decide based on your knowledge of the first Tavener. I'd like to know, too, and to hear what you think of it. I'm agnostic/atheist, but am so taken with the whole Christmas thing mainly because of the traditional Carols I've loved since childhood, along with the story of Christ in the manger with the animals, the analogy of Jesus as the Lamb of God, and the outrageous story of the star.

I would assume the Horne/Lewis excerpt is from 1970, because it's an analogue/digital remaster. Again, that's the extent of the information provided.

Occasionally, I like listening to some music that I know is really bad, simply because the note combination grabs me. Frankly, It's a subject I'd love to discuss, in the appropriate forum. Pavarotti sings something called, "Pieta Signore" (attributed to Stradella), and other Christmas songs I like listening to in the "O Holy Night" (the title song is not one of them). So, I do like it. We play it at least once in the season. My kids groan.

Sw Anadgyan wrote (December 5, 2003):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I have not heard Gardiner's recording, but I can say Harry Christopher's recording put me to sleep. OTOH Gardiner's recording of Berlioz' L'Enfance du Christ moves me very much indeed. I am not sure about what American Divas are doing Bach. >
Yoel, as I'll pick up the Suzuki's XO next week and we have been commenting on this oeuvre, I did listen to the ones I have and the Gardiner version was my first acquisition and I find quite good.

I did listen to the Herreweghe I noticed the period-instruments playing as elegant and regal. Excuse my limited vocabulary and the lack of details but I'll get better with time ...

I'll listen to the Christophers once more, though I've been quite pleased with it, then I'll try to characterize Jacobs' one.

I have never heard Gardiner doing the Motets ... but that's another discussion !

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Weihnachts-Oratoriom BWV 248 - General Discussions Part 4

Satofumi wrote (December 8, 2003):
Jack Botelho wrote:
< I look forward to your impressions of the Gardiner, and for my part will contribute a review of it in the next few days. >
I listened through Gardiner's Christmas Oratorio today. It is nearly a miracle, I was not bored but excited with this rather lengthy piece. Especially, I love the trumpet of the last choral.

Satofumi wrote (December 8, 2003):
Jack Botelho wrote:
< I was very excited to read of your experience listening to Gardiner's XO - and I look forward to further discussion of it. >
Not only in the last chorale, I love the trumpet (Crispian Steele Perkins) in the performance (Gardiner's XO -1987-) very much. Could this be an example of triumphs of the period instruments?

Jack Botelho wrote (December 9, 2003):
[To Satofumi] I whole-heartedly agree with you with regard to Crispian Steele-Perkin's musicianship on this recording. From what I can guess he plays a baroque trumpet modified with small holes in the instrument to aid in performance. From what little I have gleaned from some discussions is that such a note-perfect delivery would have been impossible in Bach's time, but I stand to be corrected on this.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (December 9, 2003):
Trumpets

[To Jack Botelho] Yes, there was a debate about this over at the Händel list some time ago. Anyone who has heard Hervé Niquet's recording of the Water Music and Fireworks Music will know the difference in the sound of brass instruments without these modifications. Niquet says that the instruments he used were specially made for his performance using 18th century tuning/intonation, and claims that his is therefore the first truly "authentic" recording of these works. It certainly takes a bit of getting used to. I know this is a Bach list, but if anyone would like me to upload a sample, I can do so.

But having said that, I recently got the Robert King recordings of Purcell's complete odes and welcome songs, and I read in a review that King's instruments on these CDs are without the extra little holes, and the music sounds quite "normal" (unlike Niquet's Händel). So now I'm not so sure, and maybe it's down to the players as much as to the instruments. Can anyone shed any further light?

(Getting back on topic, my all-time favourite piece of Bach trumpet music is in the closing bars of the chorus "Cum Sancto Spiritu", from the B minor mass - in Gardiner's recording, I think the soloist is Crispian Steele-Perkins again. It's breath-taking to hear those very fast triplets played, and must be astonishingly difficult on a valveless instrument. One of those pieces which makes your spine tingle no matter how many times you hear it.)

Satofumi wrote (December 9, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] As I have been in the mailing list of BachCantatas website, I know there were discussions/debates about the "authenticity" of trumpet with finger holes similar to but not identical with a baroque trumpet. At this moment, I simply appreciate the splendid sound of the trumpet played.

Jack Botelho wrote (December 9, 2003):
[To Jeremy Thomas] Nice to have your expertise on this list Jeremy! And with you and SF, these trumpet parts are a marvel in my opinion of the Gardiner's XO; and nice to read of more of C.S.P. if so in the B Minor Mass recording!

Robert Sherman wrote (December 9, 2003):
[To Jeremy Thomas] Jeremy, I would like to hear the upload if you can take the trouble.

I haven't read the explanation to which you refer, but I have some trouble with the concept of "authentic" intonation as applied to trumpets playing baroque. Because of the limitations of valveless trumpets, baroque trumpet parts don't modulate more than adding one sharp or one flat to the primary key of the section.

Thus, trumpeters don't need to think about temperament. They try to play a true scale, based on the non-tempered frequency ratios of the harmonic series which haven't changed since the beginning of the universe. Some players and some instruments are just more successful at it than others. Generally, valve trumpets are more successful at it than valveless trumpets, which is one of the reasons I prefer them.

I am therefore a bit skeptical of any claim of "authentic" intonation. No doubt the trumpets Bach actually heasuffered from unavoidable deviations from the true harmonic-series scale. But these deviations would have varied widely from instrument to instrument. It would of course be possible to now make a valveless instrument that would duplicate the defects of any particular trumpet in Bach's orchestra. For that matter, a good player on a valve trumpet could probably mimic that defect set as well. But what would be an accurate reproduction of the intonation of one historical trumpet would be an inaccurate reproduction of even the next product of the same manufacturer. So I'm not sure of the purpose of a point-targeted reproduction. But I would like to hear what you have.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (December 10, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] Very informative and interesting post, thanks Bob.

Leave it with me and I'll upload some of the Händel a.s.a.p.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (December 10, 2003):
I uploaded a sample of the Händel - you will hear both trumpets and horns, equally "dissonant" to our ears which are of course more used to equal temperament (or something like it). I find myself that it takes some getting used to.

If anyone would like to hear more samples, just let me know.

Satofumi wrote (December 10, 2003):
[To Jeremy Thomas] Your sample is very interesting. I love this kind of material for learning.

BTW, Crispian Steele-Perkins' trumpet is also heard in Cantata BWV 51 ("Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen") performed by Gardiner (recorded Nov/1983), for instance.

Robert Sherman wrote (December 11, 2003):
[To Jeremy Thomas] Thanks for the upload, Jeremy. My reaction, for whatever it's worth:

1) The performance is thrilling. I can see how listeners at the time, hearing this in contrast to having no trumpets and horns at all, would be very happy.

2) The players are quite skilled and play intelligently.

3) Overall, I can imagine myself listening to this occasionally for fun.

4) But would I ever prefer it to good modern instruments playing true scales (the Canadian Brass, the Leuben brothers, Ludwig Guttler, Barry Tuckwell, Maurice Andre, et. all.)? No.

Robert Sherman wrote (Dcember 11, 2003):
[To Satofumi] That is a good performance. But I predict that if you listen to BWV 51 done by Hannes Lauben on a modern trumpet (with Arlene Auger who is at her best here) you will never look back.

Compare them and let us hear your reaction.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 11, 2003):
[To Jeremy Thomas] Thanks for that Bourree sample from Niquet's "Water Music." I'll have to get that recording! I enjoy hearing the brass play those natural intervals of the harmonic series, instead of trying to force compliance with any temperament (equal or meantone or circulating or otherwise)...vive le difference!

Sure, I'd enjoy hearing more samples from it....

Robert Sherman wrote (December 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, natural intervals aren't what they're doing. It's what they'd like to do. In practice, on this recording they have a lot of wide misses, although it's fun to listen to anyway.

In theory, every brass instrument will play pure natural intervals. In practice, I've never heard it from true natural brasses, but we do hear it with the best modern brasses. Using computer analysis, numeric control machining, etc., the best modern trumpets (and I assume horns, although I don't know that for a fact) use small expansions or contractions at nodal points in the tubing to create what nature intended but, for reasons nobody yet understands, didn't deliver.

You can hear brasses with terrific pure natural intervals on performances by the Canadian Brass, the Empire Brass, the Lueben Brothers, et. al. on modern instruments.

Gardiner Xmas Oratorio DVD

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 7, 2005):
Archiv is selling a just released Xmas Oratorio performed by Gardiner and company at Weimar in 1999 - a prequel to the cantata tour. It's on sale for the moment for $20.00 and includes two tour documentaries. I don't think the documentaries are the same as those on his cantata DVD. Subtitles in four languages including German and Japanese. Dolby ready natch. I really liked Gardiner's cantata DVD so I ordered this one on the spot. Of course Xmas Oratorio is also my favorite of the larger works, and there's always room for one more.

I also just picked up Lamento by Magdalena Kozena with Antiqua Köln/Goebel. It includes a really nice BWV 170 and BWV 200. And a Bach-American connection sort of: Die Amerikannerin by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach composed in 1776. (As one might expect, it sounds more like Gluck than JSB.) I've liked Kozena's singing with Gardiner and she's on form here.

 

Gardiner Weihnachtsoratorium

Santu de Silva wrote (September 26, 2006):
Oh Wow!

I just received this morning my very own copy of the Gardiner WO DVD. I'm just listening to the Bass Aria Grosser Herr O, starker Koenig.

The trumpet is so silky smooth! It appears to be a very old instrument, if the dents and the discoloring of the metal is any indication. It looks effortless, but I understand it is not easy to get good sound from these things.

Anyway, I have enjoyed the performance thus far -- the first section is just over, and we're into the pifa or pastorale.

Somehow in a DVD I don't expect the same kind of perfect performance that I would expect from a strictly audio recording, but this one seems close to perfect thus far. This second cantata, of course, is one of the most Christmassy parts of the WO. I will report at length later!

Santu de Silva wrote (September 26, 2006):
This is me again, having watched and listened to the whole Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio) on DVD, performed by John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists. This DVD has been satisfactorily reviewed earlier by other members of the list; I have just been inspired to add my own.

The soloists are excellent.
The Alto, Bernada Fink, has a nice, warm voice, perfect diction, and gives a beautiful, vehement performance. Sometimes just a little too dramatic for my tastes, actually.
The Soprano, Claren McFadden, is a lovely African-American woman whose voice suits the soprano part very well. She contributes a great deal to the atmosphere of the work (performed in a beautiful Baroque Weimar church), though she has to compete in my mind with some favorites that are well established: Ruth Zeisak, with Ralf Otto, and Lynda Russell with Harry Christophers.
The Tenor / Evangelist was Christoph Genz, a young man of great charm, who delivered a beautiful performance throughout, the Evangelist parts of it from the beautiful baroque pulpit. [He pronounced Jesu as "Djesu," rather than "Yesu," and I wonder whether that is common.]
The Bass, Dietrich Henschel, is fascinating to watch and listen to, but I rather prefer a less dramatic, more lyrical performance in the Bass department. Still, Herr Henschel's performance, personal preferences apart, is practically faultless.

The instrumentalists are, as always with the English Baroque Soloists, brilliant. The brass was incredible, as stated earlier, both the first trumpet, as well as the three of them together. The violin duet in the Tenor aria in Cantata 4 was just perfect. (The notes explain that the long melismatic sections on the Liebe were the descendants of a phrase that described serpents in the original secular cantata of which this piece is a 'parody'.) The cello, the oboes, the baroque flutes (sounding very much like recorders), they were all just wonderful. In addition, they are delightful to watch.

Gardiner makes a special effort to bring each movement to a perfect close, and the final chord is always beautifully played and ended. Listen to this, when you watch the DVD. (Gardiner conducts with his
hands, without a baton, choirmaster-style.)

The choir -- it was fascinating to actually see the choir, or at least this manifestation of it. I had always imagined the choir consisting of a bunch of upper-middle-class, North European/British geeks. (As you can see, my prejudices are numerous and often inexplicabl!) But they looked perfectly ordinary people, of all shapes and sizes, not dominated by any one type, except that perhaps there were possibly a few more Germans there than there might have been in the usual Monteverdi Choir. Discipline was almost perfect, yet the choir clearly enjoyed their singing very much. (This was the first performance on their pilgrimage, and morale was still very high.)

Extras. (You can hardly sell a DVD without these, nowadays.) Each of the two disks has a documentary at the end, featuring Gardiner. On Disk 1, he talks about his motivation for the pilgrimage in general, and he talks about Bach (and Mozart and Beethoven). On Disk 2, we see actual visits to particular churches and locations in the Thuringia and Saxony areas, especially the Thomaskirche and a nearby fortified church of Posset, I believe, close to Leipzig (a "best-kept secret"). This little church has a functioning organ that appears to date several hundred years. Don't miss this segment!

Intangibles:
Gardiner is very persuasive in his enthusiasm for what he was doing, about Bach, and his pleasure in performing Bach. His team consists of people who really live the music, and this comes out strongly in the DVD. The reception from the Church live audience is at first a little laconic, but it was evidently recorded over at least a couple of days, and the later performances were received very well. Visually very satisfying, and auditorily also. I'm very thankful to the earlier reviewers who persuaded me to buy this DVD.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 26, 2006):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< Gardiner is very persuasive in his enthusiasm for what he was doing, about Bach, and his pleasure in performing Bach. His team consists of people who really live the music, and this comes out strongly in the DVD. >
Well said, as a general guide for all musicianship!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (September 27, 2006):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< The soloists are excellent.
The Alto, Bernada Fink, has a nice, warm voice, perfect diction, and gives a beautiful, vehement performance. Sometimes just a little too dramatic for my tastes, actually.
The Soprano, Claren McFadden, is a lovely African-American woman whose voice suits the soprano part very well. She contributes a great deal to the atmosphere of the work (performed in a beautiful Baroque Weimar church), though she has to compete in my mind with some favorites that are well established: Ruth Zeisak, with Ralf Otto, and Lynda Russell with Harry Christophers.
The Tenor / Evangelist was Christoph Genz, a young man of great charm, who delivered a beautiful performance throughout, the Evangelist parts of it from the beautiful baroque pulpit. [He pronounced Jesu as "Djesu," rather than "Yesu," and I wonder whether that is common.]
The Bass, Dietrich Henschel, is fascinating to watch and listen to, but I rather prefer a less dramatic, more lyrical performance in the Bass department. >
May I ask why you inform us only of the race of the one AA singer? Why not specify the race (and perhaps the religion and the sexual orientation and anything else) about EACH AND EVERY participant.

A while back I posted about what to me was a particularly awful performance of Les Troyens. In response I was told that the Didon was AA. I didn't know that and it didn't not change my evaluation of the interpretation. Now of course I am not implying racism only asking the relevance.

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 27, 2006):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< I'm very thankful to the earlier reviewers who persuaded me to buy this DVD. >
Reply:

Thanks for adding your enthusiasm in a very enjoyable review. I am not yet equipped to reproduce DVDs with quality sound, but will add this one to my list for the future.

Santu de Silva wrote (September 28, 2006):
Yoel Arbeitman asked why I mentioned the race of only one singer in the Gardiner Weihnachtsoratorium, and I really have no defense. I mentioned all the facts that seemed interesting to me, and took the risk of any implied judgements and prejudices that might have been inferred.

I understand that talking about race is frowned upon by the majority membership that exists on these lists :) I appreciate the embarrassment this causes --to whites-- and undertake to tone down such references. But I can't promise that I will remember to keep my posts completely race-blind.

(Those who suspect that my remarks may have been derogatory are welcome to re-read them. Perhaps their very positiveness could be interpreted as being defensive . . . Oh what a complicated web of guilt they weave, when first sociologists experiment with a little psychology :)

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (September 28, 2006):
Claron McFadden and race

The only place I know of Ms. McFadden is in the recording of Gluck's Paride ed Elena
Amazon quote:
"This is a very nice set. Michael Schneider has 4 excellent sopranos led by Alexander as Paris and McFadden as Helen. Libretto in Italian, French, German, and English. 2h10 playing time. Recorded 1992".
The Alexander referred to is Roberta Alexander althoght that last sentence is funny as "Alexander as Paris" just puts in mind that the alternate name of Homer's Paris is Alexander.

For a long time it was the only recording with females as both Paris and Helen. I never acquired it although I am a devoted lover of the six famed Gluck "reform" operas.

As I understand, Gluck wrote the hero (chief male) role for a soprano castrato. I have difficulty accepting females, esp. sopranos, as male leads..

Thus I stuck to the tenor recording with Bonisolli as Paris, conducted by Zagrosek,

Relatively recently the McCreesh recording with Kozena and Gritton in the leads came out. This features obviously a mezzo as the male lead.

Personally I still prefer the Bonisolli as (1) I enjoy his representation of the role of Paris and (2) that may be due to his being a male (tenor), something that my limited ability to accept females in male lead roles may contribute to (however I enjoy Bonisolli as Cellini as well).

I have rather found the McCreesh recording somewhat tepid. Many do rave about it however.

The relevance here is that this is the recording for which Ms. McFadden is best known, to the extent that she is known at all. The recordings of this opera are of course always discussed in the small Gluck circles. However Aryeh's bio., which I have just checked does not note it and indeed the two links given there to other sources don't work, either one of them.

Surprisingly all three recording of this opera are still in print.

Finally, for whatever reason, her being what we call today "African-American" seems to always be noted bc. otherwise I would not know that fact.

Happily we have progressed since the time (1956 I believe) when Marian Anderson was (well-past her prime) finally allowed to appear as Ulrica at the Metropolitan Opera.

When I see Jessye Norman in Les Troyens as Cassandre or in Die Walküre as Siegliende, I react to her performance and either do like it very much or do not (as Cassandre in the Met DVD I did like her tremendously; as Sieglinde in the Met DVD I did not particularly care for her). Her being non-white as the Trojan seer or as the incestuous twin had no relevance although I am sure that at one time it would have been a shock. Happily that time is gone and I have never heard anyone discuss Ms. Norman with respect to her being African-American or not.

I--for one--have no mental problem conceptualizing anyone of any race in any opera role. Perhaps Wagner would have been very surprised. I do have such problems believing a soprano or mezzo as either Paris or Nerone in Monteverdi's opera. The problem for opera is different from that for Bach. Operas have chararcters.

Obviously we all discuss Ms. Anderson with reference to the fact of her race and skin color, a fact which at that time in the USA severely inhibited her career.

Eric Bergerud wrote (September 29, 2006):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman]
Couple of things:

1. McCreesh simply has his fans. He has done some very daring stuff and people liked it or they didn't. I have all of his recordings and agree the Gluck is not at the top of my list, but like all of McCreesh efforts it is extremely well engineered. And you do get your money's worth with his CDs: look at the timings on the Bach Epiphany Mass: one of the CDs is so full I couldn't make an archive of it to bring to St. Paul. I do like his recent Mozart Mass in C. Ditto with his much earlier Magnificat and Easter Oratorio.

2. I suppose there's a silver lining in every cloud. No doubt Marion Anderson would have preferred a "color blind" career (to the extent such things exist). But she played a major role in preparing the way for the US Civil Rights earthquake that started in the late 40's. Black athletes were grudgingly accepted (in some sports anyway), but opera divas were a different matter. (I suppose one could argue things were actually tougher for athletes or actors simply because they were in the eye of a larger public - not necessarily good news for any non-Whites living in the era of Jim Crow, colonialism, social Darwinism and Hitler.) She might not played the Met early in her career but she performed with the NYP and did a concert at Carnegie Hall in the 20's. Her conflict with the DAR and the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt grabbed big headlines and led to the famous Lincoln Memorial concert on the eve of WWII. (Typical of FDR: keeping out of the spotlight and letting his wife do the heavy lifting on what we would now call social issues.) I do remember watching an interview she gave sometime in the early 70s and she seemed to be someone who had few regrets. BTW: I've only heard bits of her singing. Did she ever do Bach?

Ed Myskowski wrote (September 29, 2006):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< (Those who suspect that my remarks may have been derogatory are welcome to re-read them. Perhaps their very positiveness could be interpreted as being defensive . . . Oh what a complicated web of guilt they weave, when first sociologists experiment with a little psychology :) >
I thought it could be well-intentioned affirmative action. No harm done, in any case.

Eric Bergerud wrote (September 29, 2006):
[To Santu de Silva] The Gardiner XO is a nice work indeed. My favorite is Harnoncourt's early 80's version with the Tolzer with boy sopranos. I think they do a great job - but that's my preference. But it's the closest I'll ever get to seeing a boy/male choir version of Bach choral works I think. Should get another XO or maybe two. I go back and forth on whether I like the XO or the Mass in B best among the Bach biggies. More is better on such matters.

Sorry about the post about airplane movies: thought I was off list. I write about airplanes and Julian actually flies them. So one does get carried away. (I only write about airplanes with propellers. If the Lord wanted planes to fly without props he would have given us wings.)

Was looking at the BIS SACD propaganda that came with my Minnesota Beethoven CD. They've got a 5 disc edition of the complete Bach organ works that plays 20 hours: 4 hours per CD. (Not Audio DVD.) BIS claims it's priced as though it was two CDs. Only problem is that one needs a SACD player. In practice that means a DVD/CD player and receiver with SACD encoders. I think any modern player or multi-channel receiver would have them now. Why one wants surround sound with a single instrument, however, I'm not sure. Would it sound like you're inside the instrument? Anyway, a CD that holds data like a MP3 and sounds better than a CD might be appealing indeed. Now the question is whether record companies will try to sell a product that many people couldn't play.

Rick Canyon wrote (September 29, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< The Gardiner XO is a nice work indeed. My favorite is Harnoncourt's early 80's version with the Tolzer with boy sopranos. I think they do a great job - but that's my preference. But it's the closest I'll ever get to seeing a boy/male choir version of Bach choral works I think. Should get another XO or maybe two. I go back and forth on whether I like the XO or the Mass in B best among the Bach biggies. More is better on such matters. >
I, too, have the Harnoncourt. I've grown to like it more over time. However, it is a film rather than an actual performance. Indeed, it still drives me up the wall at the way both mens' and boys' choirs reconfigure depending on the camera angle. And, tho an original instrument performance with a choir of around 30, the 5.1 sound makes it all larger than life.

Curiously, my favorite Mass in b (BWV 232) is the Robert King recording, also with the Tölzers (is this a trend?) with the kids singing (imperfectly, but with a certain verve) the soprano and alto solos. (The Biller DVD in the Thomaskirche on the 250th anniversary of Bach's death is also quite exciting--and that is a live performance)

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (September 30, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Was looking at the BIS SACD propaganda that came with my Minnesota Beethoven CD. They've got a 5 disc edition of the complete Bach organ works [...] Why one wants surround sound with a single instrument, however, I'm not sure. Would it sound like you're inside the instrument? >
The organ is a funny instrument. Depending on its construction, it can even happen that the sound can come at you from all directions. One set of pipes here, one set of pipes there, and so on through all the corners of the space. And if the player is aware of this, then they may well take advantage of it, for example, to have those fugal entries come at you from different parts of the hall. I remember hearing a concert by a Curtis student once upon a time, and the organ in their hall was constructed this way, and it was just AMAZING. Never heard anything like it before, never (yet) heard anything like it again. So yeah, if the organ is really constructed in this manner, in a way I guess you are sitting inside the instrument when you listen... And I guess the SACD is intended to duplicate that effect for you.

Cara T (as opposed to Cara P - who, unlike me, can actually play the organ :> )

Rick Canyon wrote (September 30, 2006):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< So yeah, if the organ is really constructed in this manner, in a way I guess you are sitting inside the instrument when you listen... And I guess the SACD is intended to duplicate that effect for you. >
I'm not sure sitting "inside" is actually what you are tinking of. "Inside" makes me think of bellows treaders and I don't think the sound they would hear from the inside is anything at all like what is heard outside.

One of the most famous of all quad recordings made back in the 70s was E.Power Biggs playing 4 Toccatas in the Münster in Freiburg. The church has 4 large organs scattered around, and, if one wishes, they can all be played simultaneously from one console--as Biggs did: a separate organ coming out of each the 4 speakers.

Biggs liner notes for this recording raise an interesting debate which goes beyond the organ. He asserted Bach's great love of spatiality in music. Had Bach played in a church like the Münster, what fun he would have had with his organ music. Which sort of implies that he may well have done the same with his vocal music.

In the Christmas Oratorio, tho brief, he writes for an angel and an 'echo' soprano. There seems to be a view, 180 degrees the opposite of OVPP, which says the 1736 performance of the St. Matthew Passion was actually the first example of 5.1 Surround Sound. (Indeed one of the rectors in the Thomaskirche that day makes reference to "two organs").

PS...I've heard that sitting on the outermost edge of the ring in the Mormon Tabernacle, one hears the most phenomenal sound--and you don't have to be an LDSer to get in the Tabernacle.

Tom Hens wrote (October 4, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< One of the most famous of all quad recordings made back in the 70s was E.Power Biggs playing 4 Toccatas in the Münster in Freiburg. The church has 4 large organs scattered around, and, if one wishes, they can all be played simultaneously from one console--as Biggs did: a separate organ coming out of each the 4 speakers. >
I know the name E. Power Biggs from mentions by Americans, but have never heard him play anything. Reading , I'm rather glad about that.

Of course this kind of circus act is possible if those organs have electrical traction, a misguided twentieth-century idea that enjoyed a brief spell of popularity. These days, you could even link up organs in separate places through an internet link and play them from one keyboard if you wanted to. But why would anyone want to?

< Biggs liner notes for this recording raise an interesting debate which goes beyond the organ. He asserted Bach's great love of spatiality in music. Had Bach played in a church like the Münster, what fun he would have had with his organ music. Which sort of implies that he may well have done the same with his vocal music. >
What fun Leonardo, or Rembrandt, or Van Gogh, would have had if only they had had acrylic paints at their disposal! So let's paint over all their paintings in acrylics. It's what they would have wanted.

< In the Christmas Oratorio, tho brief, he writes for an angel and an 'echo' soprano. There seems to be a view, 180 degrees the opposite of OVPP, which says the 1736 performance of the St. Matthew Passion was actually the first example of 5.1 Surround Sound. >
I fail to see the connection between performing music with one singer or instrumentalist per part, and recording sound in a six channel format. All music before the advent of the phonograph was "surround sound", and all live music still is.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 4, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< I know the name E. Power Biggs from mentions by Americans, but have never heard him play anything. Reading this, I'm rather glad about that. >
E. Power Biggs was a popularizer and showman like Stokowski and brought much early music into the mainstream of concertgoers. His little collection of pre-Bach organ music is still a staple because no one has provided decent editions. We've all learned to ignore his editing and be thankful he gave us the notes.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 4, 2006):
Live or Not [was: Gardiner Weihnachtsoratorium]

Tom Hens wrote:
< All music before the advent of the phonograph was "surround sound", and all live music still is. >
Reply:

Cheers for live music, especially performances of Bach, et al, who wrote before the margins got blurred. No problem if you want to create a product designed to be played on my home system, iPod, or whatever. Actually, several problems, but let it slide for now, no Bach relevance.

As to recordings of Bach performances, wonderful, I am grateful. Just as I am grateful to have books of Van Gogh reproductions on the shelves. In both cases, I get out to enjoy the real thing at every opportunity. If I did not have the opportunity, I would be even more grateful for the reproductions. Acrylic reproductions (paint overs of prints)? Hmm, I would give it a try.

Paint overs of the original? Hope you didn't mean that. Capital crime (or life imprisonment), depending on the march of civilization in your neighborhood.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 4, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< E. Power Biggs was a popularizer and showman like Stokowski and brought much early music into the mainstream of concertgoers. His little collection of pre-Bach organ music is still a staple because no one has provided decent editions. We've all learned to ignore his editing and be thankful he gave us the notes. >
Reply:

An exemplary statement, gratitude for the contributions!

Rick Canyon wrote (October 4, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< I know the name E. Power Biggs from mentions by Americans, but have never heard him play anything. Reading this, I'm rather glad about that. >
I find it difficult to be hard on Biggs. He must have made100s of recordings and for two (there was a companion album to the Bach featuring Händel) to be made in this manner hardly seems worthy of scorn.

There was no one in the USA who brought quallity organ playing into American living rooms in such a manner (until, arguably, Diane Bish and her little travelogues on TBN). (as a further note, if one is looking for an organist to trash for blatant showmanship, try Virgil Fox)

< These days, you could even link up organs in separate places through an internet link and play them from one keyboard if you wanted to. But why would anyone want to? >
That actually sounds like a grand idea!

< What fun Leonardo, or Rembrandt, or Van Gogh, would have had if only they had had acrylic paints at their disposal! So let's paint over all their paintings in acrylics. It's what they would have wanted. >
I'll bet they would have had fun painting ORIGINALS with acryllics. I even wonder what they would have done with the Liquify tool in PhotoShop. But, your allegory is rather lame.

< I fail to see the connection between performing music with one singer or instrumentalist per part, and recording sound in a six channel format. All music before the advent of the phonograph was "surround sound", and all live music still is. >
Well, then, to parody Orwell, 'some music is more 'Surround Sound' than others". If Bach, indeed (and I'll agree it's not certain that he did, tho I don't rule it out either) decided to arrange his singers and musicians for the 1736 SMP around the Thomaskirche according to some sort of 4 cornered spatial map or plan--correct me if I'm wrong--this would have been outside (probably well outsidfe) the norm for church music of that time. Would even the opera have offered anything like this? Isn't Gabrielli alleged to have something similar with brass and vocal choirs in San Marco?

Julian Mincham wrote (October 4, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< As to recordings of Bach performances, wonderful, I am grateful. Just as I am grateful to have books of Van Gogh reproductions on the shelves. In both cases, I get out to enjoy the real thing at every opportunity. >
I did a rough count and wroked out that in my lifetime I have heard less than 25 cantatas live in church or cathedral conditions--and this is despite making efforts to do so.

On the other hand I have heard over 200, and by a range of performers, through the loud speakers.Re accessability, no contest.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 4, 2006):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< E. Power Biggs was a popularizer and showman like Stokowski and brought much early music into the mainstream of concertgoers. >
As a student my introduction to several Bach cantata movements was through E Power Biggs' arrangements for organ or small combinations---e.g. organ and two trumpets.

I know it is fashionable for some on this list, to trash reputations of past musicians who are largely forgotten by younger generations but a lot of them had great positive influence in making music more widely availble to people in the earlier days of the C 20. Biggs was one of these.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 4, 2006):
Ricjk Canyon wrote:
< Isn't Gabrielli alleged to have something similar with brass and vocal choirs in San Marco? >
Yep, not only the Gabriellis but also Monteverdi. Experiments with spatial effects of this sort pre-dated Bach by a good century. The issue is, what did Bach know if them ? (I raised this issue recently and Thomas dug up some
interesting background)

Julian Mincham wrote (October 4, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< I know the name E. Power Biggs from mentions by Americans, but have never heard him play anything. Reading this, I'm rather glad about that. >
Maybe instead of making judgments based upon reading a few general comments about the guy it would be better to hear some of his work and try to find out a little about his wide and (generally positive) influences some half century ago.

His performances were certainly not 'authentic' in any sense of the word used today--something which may be said of a great many fine performers of the time. But they were powerful and commanding and introduced a very wide audience to music they might not otherwise have heard.

Santu de Silva wrote (October 4, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
>> I know the name E. Power Biggs from mentions by Americans, but have never heard him play anything. Reading this, I'm rather glad about that. <<

Canyon Rick wrote:
< I find it difficult to be hard on Biggs. He must have made100s of recordings and for two (there was a companion alto the Bach featuring Händel) to be made in this manner hardly seems worthy of scorn. >
E.P.Biggs was not as much a showman as all that. (Compared to his possibly more famous fellow-countryman, friend and contemporary Virgil Fox, he was the soul of restraint.)

He played on the --new at that time-- Flentrop organ in the Busch-Reisinger Museum attached to Harvard (I could be wrong about that). This was, I believe, a direct-action with the sort of stops that Bach would have favored, particularly suitable for authentic performances of Bach works.

At the time Biggs performed, the best scholarship on authentic performance of Bach organ music was yet to be established. (Consider the controversies surrounding authentic performance of Bach with orchestras and chorus.) Biggs was one of the early pioneers who suggested that at Bach's time, organ performance was not based on a solid wall of diapason tone (as probably was the style in Victorian era "worshipful" performances of Bach), but that more pungent sounds were possible with the judicious use of mixture stops, and were probably likely to have been favored by Bach himself. On the other hand, he was content to perform on small organs a far remove from the enormous monsters that were common around the early 20th century (in contrast to Virgil Fox / Riverside Church, NY). The quadraphonic recording mentioned on the list must be associated with the euphoria associated with a tour of Europe Biggs undertook in the early seventies, I believe. Many organists are delighted by the sheer pleasure of being surrounded by the sound of a powerful organ, and it is no wonder that he was persuaded to use the experimental technology to record the antiphonal organs he encountered on the tour.

Personally, it was Biggs who tipped the scales in my enjoyment of Bach in my teens. I feel a great affection for the man and his music. It has taken time for me to adjust to the fast tempi he favored (made possible by the tracker action of the Bush-Reisinger organ), but once I heard his A minor fugue (BWV 542), I was sold (though I still prefer slower recordings, e.g. Schweitzer). I have to confess his recording of the Aria "Schafe koenner sicher weider" is dreadful ("The Biggs Bach Book").

Thirty years later, I heard a recording of him playing the C major fugue (BWV 545) on Pipe Dreams, and it was time to swoon all over again .... I had to go out and buy "Prelude and Fugue" by E.Power Biggs (Sony Classical), an excellent mid-price recording.

No matter how busy people are -- I myself lead a life of idleness, and it is hard to appreciate the need others have to narrow their aural experiences using criteria of questionable value -- you should try to listen to E.P.Biggs playing one of the above pieces. Simple, restrained, but with somewhat unvarying tempo. This works for me; the slight variations he uses are just enough to give the phrases some shape.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 4, 2006):
Santu de Silva (Archimedes) wrote:
< No matter how busy people are -- I myself lead a life of idleness, and it is hard to appreciate the need others have to narrow their aural experiences using criteria of questionable value -- you should try to listen to E.P.Biggs playing one of the above pieces. Simple, restrained, but with somewhat unvarying tempo. This works for me; the slight variations he uses are just enough to give the phrases some shape. >
Arch just to say how much I agree with your comments, speaking as another whose early musical tastes were, in part, fashioned by Biggs. His range and influence was enormous.

Incidentally, everyone thinks he was American --- of course much of his work was done there where he had settled--but in fact he was English--another triumph for the Brits taken over by the Yanks!

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 4, 2006):
Santu de Silva (Archimedes) wrote:
>> He [E.P. Biggs] played on the --new at that time--Flentrop organ in the Busch-Reisinger Museum attached to Harvard (I could be wrong about that). This was, Ibelieve, a direct-action with the sort of stops that Bach would have favored, particularly suitable forauthentic performances of Bach works.. Personally, it was Biggs who tipped the scales in myenjoyment of Bach in my teens. I feel a great affection for the man and his music. It has takentime for me to adjust to the fast tempi he favored (made possible by the tracker action of the Bush-Reisinger organ), but once I heard his A minor fugue (BWV 542), I was sold (though I still prefer slower recordings, e.g. Schweitzer). <<
As a boy, I was fortunate enough to hear some of Biggs' Sunday morning radio broadcasts of Bach's organ music played on the Flentrop organ of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. This was my first introduction to an authentic Bach organ sound after hearing some of Schweitzer's Bach recordings and Biggs' performances helped to fuel my life-long interest in Bach's music.

From my own experience in playing tracker action organs, I would have to disagree with the statement that this type of action makes fast tempi more possible. On the contrary, this type of action, particularly when playing with more than one stop per manual, will tend to slow organists down, making them work even harder to depress deliberately each key all the way down. Pneumatic organs and those using electrical connections from the key to the organ pipe are certainly able to facilitate fast playing more than tracker-action organs would.

Lew George wrote (October 5, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< His performances were certainly not 'authentic' in any sense of the word used today--something which may be said of a great many fine performers of the time. But they were powerful and commanding and introduced a very
wide audience to music they might not otherwise have heard. >
They were sometimes authentic for the times. A few weeks ago a friend prevailed on me to listen to Biggs playing some Händel organ concertos with Boult conducting the LPO. I sneered and carried on but my friend persisted, and to my surprise I found the performances not only highly musical, but also historically informed. Biggs played the organ in the private chapel of the Aylesford estate at Great Packington, which Händel had designed for Charles Jennens, his friend and Messiah librettist. The LPO strings were cut right down to a small group, and the oboe and bassoon balanced and blended as well as one could desire. Boult's conducting was wholly in sympathy, and of the highest artistic standard. In a Gramophone review (March 1974), Malcolm MacDonald commented "The sound is not...quite as it would have been for Händel...as great effort went into bringing the organ up a tone to modern pitch; the same effort directed instead to getting the orchestra down to Händel pitch would obviously have served history better, but the idea was rejected, as is customary, as too difficult. Play the classics at their proper pitch, indeed!"

OK, not as historically informed as we would expect today, but the recording environment and artistic results brought the performances very close. It is a pity these performances are not available on CD.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 5, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< you should try to listen to E.P.Biggs playing
Incidentally, everyone thinks he was American --- of course much of his work was done there where he had settled--but in fact he was English--another triumph for the Brits taken over by the Yanks! >
Another? What is the other one? Ba-da-bing!

For the record, I was born in Harvard Square, where E.P.Biggs played, and is still revered. So are the Brits.

We love you madly.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 5, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< We love you madly >
Actually Ed as you well know I am not a Brit---on this occasion I merely speak on their behalves!

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 6, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] Reproducing art has quite a pedigree. Most "Greek" statues we have from antiquity are Roman. As the book market developed in the high Renaissance, woodcut prints of the paintings of famous "masters" were a staple, and remain popular in their modern guise. (Indeed, what we would consider a print was a great boon to the publisbusiness.)

I grow increasingly fond of a hybrid of the beast - the "variation." Because keyboards were plentiful and orchestras were not, a good way to make money was to compose and print piano variations of larger works. As the endeavor was a little "down market" (ie, intended for the amateur musician) they don't have the popularity they once had. But Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and heaven knows who else produced this music in large quantity. I really like it - maybe because it's simple. (I don't think this really qualifies, but one of my very favorite Bach works is BWV 1083, "Tilge, Hochster, Meine Sunden" after a work by Pergolesi. The Teldec version done by Gunar Letzbor and the St. Florianer Sängerknaben is a real treat to fans of boy singers in Bach. And in my opinion Leusink's crew is in very good form, even Buwalda.) As I recall Glenn Gould's transcriptions were quite controversial. If so, I don't quite get it. He was following a very well trodden path.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 6, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< As I recall Glenn Gould's transcriptions were quite controversial. If so, I don't quite get it. He was following a very well trodden path. >
Bach was certainly happy to make organ transcriptions of his cantatas. Cantata BWV 140 would not have achieved its popular pre-eminence without organists playing Bach's organ transscription.

Santu de Silva wrote (October 6, 2006):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< It has taken time for me to adjust to the fast tempi he favored (made possible by the tracker action of the Bush-Reisinger organ), >

Thomas Braatz writes:
>> From my own experience in playing tracker action organs, I would have to disagree with the statement that this type of action makes fast tempi more possible. On the contrary, this type of action, particularly when playing with more than one stop per manual, will tend to slow organists down, making them work even harder to depress deliberately each key all the way down. <<
I have played them, too, and I must agree; the more stops open, the harder it is. I must retract my hypothesis that it was the tracker action that made the speed possible ...

Chris Kern wrote (October 6, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Bach was certainly happy to make organ transcriptions of his cantatas. Cantata BWV 140 would not have achieved its popular pre-eminence without organists playing Bach's organ transscription. >
I've always gotten the feeling from reading various music books that the idea of having a musical piece that would be performed over and over again throughout the years by many people, and of which not a note must be changed (to preserve the original artist's intention) is a fairly recent invention -- possibly no older than Beethoven. But maybe I'm wrong.

Uri Golomb wrote (October 7, 2006):
[To Chris Kern] This idea was promoted, primarily, by Lydia Goehr in her book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works An Essay in the Philosophy of Music; see description on the publisher's website -- http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780198235415.

This book started a lively controversy in musicology and music philosophy, and the debate is by no means over. Almost everyone in these fields agrees that she has a point -- though several critics believe that she overstates her case. My overall impression is (in an overly-simplified statement) that the fixed, unchangeable musical work indeed became a dominant feature of musical culture from Beethoven onwards, and perhaps reached its extreme version only from Stravinsky onwards. However, some degree of struggle on this issue always existed -- even before the emergence of this concept to a dominant location, there have always been composers who wished that performers would be as loyal as possible to their works as written; and even at the height of the concept's domination, there have always been performers who insisted on having the freedom to introduce their own interpretation -- even if it was in direct and conscious violation of the composer's instructions.

Of course, when you get composers or theorists repeatedly exhorting performers not to stray too far from the composer's instructions -- this suggests that, as a matter of historical fact, performers have been taking such liberties. Otherwise, composers and theorists would not have wasted their breath. And composers -- even from the same period -- differ from each other. There are many anecdotes to suggest that Maurice Ravel, for example, demanded strict literalist loyalty (or very close to that) from performers; but similar evidence suggests that Claude Debussy was much more tolerant, sometimes even enthusiastic, about performers who introduced their own ideas into his music. This suggests that the difference is partly a matter of personal temperament, not just a matter of general historical trends.

Bach, it seems, was more literalist in his demands than many of his contemporaries. This does not mean, however, that he demanded the same strict literalism as Stravinsky!

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 7, 2006):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< My overall impression is (in an overly-simplified statement) that the fixed, unchangeable musical work indeed became a dominant feature of musical culture from Beethoven onwards, and perhaps reached its extreme version only from Stravinsky onwards. >
In an overly simplified response, Stravinsky was notorious, or legendary, depending on your artistic and financial orientation, for making minor revisions to early compositions in order to renew copyrights. Well done, I say. Get paid for your work!

Let musicologists figure it out later on.

Tom Hens wrote (October 9, 2006):
Lew George wrote:
< They were sometimes authentic for the times. A few weeks ago a friend prevailed on me to listen to Biggs playing some Händel organ concertos with Boult conducting the LPO. I sneered and carried on but my friend persisted, and to my surprise I found the performances not only highly musical, but also historically informed. Biggs played the organ in the private chapel of the Aylesford estate at Great Packington, which Händel had designed for Charles Jennens, his friend and Messiah librettist. >
I know this brings us back into off-topic Händel territory, but: AFAIK, not a single organ from Händel's time survives in England. If the organ at Aylesford survived in the state in which Jennens had it built, I'm sure every HIP performance of the Händel concertos would use it, or a close facsimile at least. Also, based on what I remember from reading Christopher Hogwood's book (I'm sorry, it was a library book and I don't have a copy around), Händel didn't design that organ: Jennens asked him for advice, and Händel provided him with a list of registers he'd include in a smallish organ of the size Jennens had in mind. That's not the same thing as designing an organ, and one can't assume that Jennens, or rather the organ builder he hired, would necessarily have followed that list. But maybe someone who knows more about this particular organ can correct my suspicions.

Tom Hens wrote (October 9, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
<< These days, you could even link up organs in separate places through an internet link and play them from one keyboard if you wanted to. But why would anyone want to? >>
< That actually sounds like a grand idea! >
Everybody's who's ever downloaded a MIDI file of an organ piece to play on their own computer, or stand-alone synthesizer, has already done so. Where's the grand idea?

<< What fun Leonardo, or Rembrandt, or Van Gogh, would have had if only they had had acrylic paints at their disposal! So let's paint over all their paintings in acrylics. It's what they would have wanted. >>
< I'll bet they would have had fun painting ORIGINALS with acryllics. >

I'll bet they wouldn't have had any fun doing that. I'll give you a million euros if you can prove you're right.

< Well, then, to parody Orwell, 'some music is more 'Surround Sound' than others". If Bach, indeed (and I'll agree it's not certain that he did, tho I don't rule it out either) decided to arrange his singers and musicians for the 1736 SMP around the Thomaskirche according to some sort of 4 cornered spatial map or plan--correct me if I'm wrong-- this would have been outside (probably well outsidfe) the norm for church music of that time. >
Once again, what does any wild theory about where in the church Bach put his singers and instrumentalists have to do with the question of one voice per part performance practice, or with the number of channels used when recording sound electronically?

Tom Hens wrote (October 9, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Maybe instead of making judgments based upon reading a few general comments about the guy it would be better to hear some of his work and try to find out a little about his wide and (generally positive) influences some half century ago. >
The one thing I was responding to was the description of a quadrophonic recording of four organs, each one coming out of a separate loudspeaker, all played from the one console. I'm sorry, but an organist who thinks that's a good idea is not my idea of a good organist.

I've done some googling on E. Power Biggs. Just as I thought, these "wide" and "generally positive" influences were largely confined to the US. His fame seems to have been mainly based on a weekly radio programme -- IOW, if you weren't in America, you'd never have heard it. His no doubt admirable efforts to promote the use of appropriate organs for Baroque music made perfect sense in the US, where of course the vast majority of church organs were nineteenth-century "Wall of Sound" contraptions when he started out. But in Europe, we didn't need E. Power Biggs to point that out to us: the proper organs were still around. One bio that I found ends with the sentence: "By the time of his death in 1977, the name E. Power Biggs had become synonymous with the organ for several generations of music lovers." Now there's a sentence that's sorely lacking in the word "American" before "music lovers". 1977 is about the start of the time I started buying records, especially records of Bach music. I can honestly say that I can't remember ever seeing a single E. Power Biggs album in a shop, ever.

Of course, maybe I didn't go to the right record shops, and E. Power Biggs was wildly famous, and historically important, and widely respected, all over Europe -- except in the places where I happened to be at the time.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 9, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< I know this brings us back into off-topic Händel territory, but: AFAIK, not a single organ from Händel's time survives in England. If the organ at Aylesford survived in the state in which Jennens had it built, I'm sure every HIP performance of the Händel concertos would use it, or a close facsimile at least. Also, based on what I remember from reading Christopher Hogwood's book (I'm sorry, it was a library book and I don't have a copy around), Händel didn't design that organ: Jennens asked him for advice, and Händel provided him with a list of registers he'd include in a smallish organ of the size Jennens had in mind. That's not the same thing as designing an organ, and one can't assume that Jennens, or rather the organ builder he hired, would necessarily have followed that list. But maybe someone who knows more about this particular organ can correct my suspicions. >
The restored organ at St Lawrence Whitchurch, Edgware, Middlesex, has a good claim to be a Händel organ

Nice photo at: http://www.goetzegwynn.co.uk/newchurch/whitchurch.shtml

Chris Rowson wrote (October 9, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< .... AFAIK, not a single organ from Händel's time survives in England. ... >
http://www.baroque-music-club.com/Adlington.html

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (October 10, 2006):
[To Chris Rowson] Mr. Hens is incorrect about no organ surviving from Händel's time in England. There is the Great Packington instrument which Händel himself played and which E. Power Biggs came close to destroying for his recordings.

Tom Hens wrote (October 19, 2006):
I'll combine a reply to two replies to my comment: "AFAIK, not a single organ from Händel's time survives in England."

Chris Rowson wrote:
< http://www.baroque-music-club.com/Adlington.html >
That's an article about an organ that was built c. 1670, some 15 years before Händel was born, and about half a century before he even set foot in England. The author, pulling open almost all of the too familiar registers of pseudo-historiography, tries to establish a tenuous link between Händel and that organ, without being able to come up with any evidence that (a) Händel played that organ, and (b) that if he ever played it, he liked it. More importantly, it doesn't say anything at all about how similar its present state is to the one in the mid-18th century, or if it's even remotely similar to the original construction from 1670. It's completely impossible for any organ from 1670 to have survived in a playable condition until today without undergoing some pretty extensive modernisation or restoration along the way. A fact which is borne out by another reply:

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The restored organ at St Lawrence Whitchurch, Edgware, Middlesex, has a good claim to be a Händel organ
Nice photo at:
http://www.goetzegwynn.co.uk/newchurch/whitchurch.shtml >
That page opens with: "A new organ made for St Lawrence Whitchurch, Edgware, Middlesex in 1994". That says enough. Reading along a bit, one discovers that this new organ contains some bits and pieces that happen to have survived from an organ that was around in Händel's time. I'm sure it's a very nice instrument.

 

Gardiner's Christmas Oratorio

Josh Klasinski wrote (January 17, 2007):
This past Christmas and indeed over the entire holiday season reaching up to the present I have had the immense pleasure of becoming intimately acquainted with what is certainly one of Bach's most fully realized and extraordinary works, the Christmas Oratorio.

What a joy it has been delving into this music and as always constantly being surprised and moved by this affectionate display of Bach's greatest loves in life, music and his faith. One is hard pressed to encounter a more masterfully sculpting of each piece into a mighty and marvelous musical edifice in the oratorio output both before and after Bach. Again Bach's gift and musical prowess which IMHO could only have come from God, is on full display with this work. Those chorales never cease to move and inspire, it is as if Bach is conversing directly with the Heavens through these beautiful affiances of choir and instrument. To say that each Christmas will not be complete without this work is no exagerration. Gardiner and his troupe perform with a gentle benevolence which the text and music demand. If anyone has any tidbits of info or interesting compositional remarks regarding the Oratorio please feel free...Was this work used in performance proliferately in Bach's time
and after...say in the 19th century with the Bach revival did this oratorio recieve much attention?

Just another Bach work to add to the lifetime of wonderment, study and enjoyment a music lover is compelled to undertake.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 17, 2007):
Josh Klasins wrote:
>>If anyone has any tidbits of info or interesting compositional remarks regarding the Oratorio please feel free...<<
Read Simon Heighes article on the WO in the "Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach", Oxford University Press, 1999.

>>Was this work used in performance proliferately in Bach's time and after...say in the 19th century with the Bach revival did this oratorio recieve much attention?<<

The NBA KB indicates that, without a doubt, additional performances of the WO or at least parts of it took place during Bach's lifetime. No firm dates, however, can be given as to whethis did occur. It is possible that CPE Bach used a modified version of the introductory chorus for part 1 in his Easter music in 1778. CPE Bach had all of the original parts and the autograph score in his possession (they were never separated from each other during his lifetime). If CPE Bach did use them for other performances which seems unlikely, he might have selected only a mvt. here or there to be included in a performance with many of his own works. One complete set of parts for the WO (copies of the original) was available for purchase from Breitkopf at the New Years Fair in Leipzig, 1764 (had anyone performed from these before selling them? - these were lost and never seen or
heard from since).

One of the earliest performances (complete in one concert???) would most likely have been under Zelter's direction of the Berlin Singakademie. Zelter would have acquired all the original materials for the WO soon after CPE Bach's death (check the date) after which Zelter between acquisition of them and the time of his death in 1832 would most likely have performed them in public. Zelter had a copyist duplicate all the vocal parts with usually two extra parts for each voice for each cantata in the WO. These are all indications that it was performed during Zelter's lifetime. It would be interesting to determine if Mendelssohn was aware of its existence or may even have performed it as well - there is no record of this, however. Private copies began floating around at the beginning of the 19th century, making a few other performances of this music possible.

There are a few firm records of performances that were either considered or did take actually take place:

1. Johann Nepomuk Schelble considered performing it in Frankfurt am Main in the 1830s.

2. Johann Theodor Mosewius (1788-1855) performed the first two parts as part of the Christmas celebration given by the Breslau Singakademie.

3. Carl von Winterfeld included in his printed collection "Der evangelische Kirchengesang", Part 3, Leipzig, 1847, selected mvts. from the WO.

4. After the publication of the WO in the BGA in 1856, the number of actual performances would have increased dramatically.

As far as the tradition of performing all the cantatas in one sitting/concert, it is very difficult to ascertain this. It might possibly have happened under CPE Bach's direction, then possibly later under Zelter's direction. After that perhaps only after the complete score had been printed in the BGA. No records about this are available here.

The first performance of the WO in England took place under the direction of William Sterndale Bennett in 1861. In 1849 he had founded the Bach Society. He performed the SMP in 1854 and the WO in 1861. This might possibly have been the first time that the entire WO was performed at a single concert (unless, of course, this already took place under CPE Bach or Zelter, for which no records but reasonable assumptions exist).

Josh Klasinski wrote (January 17, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] Many thanks Thomas...will look into this Heighes article.

Continue of this discussion, see: Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 - General Discussions Part 7

 

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248: 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
Systematic Discussions:
Cantata 1 | Cantata 2 | Cantata 3 | Cantata 4 | Cantata 5 | Cantata 6 | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings:
BWV 248 - Collegium Aureum | BWV 248 - H. Christophers | BWV 248 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 248 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 248 - R. Jacobs | BWV 248 - N. McGegan | BWV 248 - R. Otto | BWV 248 - K. Richter | BWV 248 - H. Rilling | BWV 248 - P. Schreier | BWV 248 - M. Suzuki | BWV 248 - K. Thomas | BWV 248 - J.v. Veldhoven
Articles:
A Bottomless Bucket of Bach - Christmas Oratorio [D. Satz] | BWV 248/19 “Schlafe, mein Liebster” - A Background Study with Focus on the Colla Parte Flauto Traverso Part [T. Braatz]

John Eliot Gardiner: Short Biography | Monteverdi Choir | English Baroque Soloists
Recordings:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Newsletters
Cantatas:
Cantatas BWV 106, 118b, 198 | Cantatas BWV 140, 147 | Cantatas BWV 11, 37, 43, 128 | Cantatas BWV 6, 66 | Cantatas BWV 72, 73, 111, 156 | Cantatas BWV 82, 83, 125, 200
Bach Cantata Pilgrimage:
BCP - Vols 1&8 | BCP - Vol. 14 | BCP - Vol. 15 | BCP - Vol. 21 | BCP - Vol. 24 | BCP - Vol. 26 | Bach Cantata Pilgrimage DVD | DVD John Eliot Gardiner in Rehearsal
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - Gardiner | BWV 244 - Gardiner | BWV 245 - Gardiner | BWV 248 - Gardiner | BWV 1127 - Gardiner
Table of recordings by BWV Number

Recording& Discussions of Other Vocal Works: BWV 225-231 | BWV 232 | BWV 233-242 | BWV 243 | BWV 244 | BWV 245 | BWV 246 | BWV 247 | BWV 248 | BWV 249 | BWV 250-438 | BWV 439-507 | BWV 508-523 | BWV 524

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

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Last update: ýJanuary 18, 2007 ý18:36:13