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Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248
Conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt

V-15

Bach: Weihnachtsoratorium

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248/1-6

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Wiener Sängerknaben & Chorus Viennensis (Chorus Master: Hans Gillesberger) / Concentus Musicus Wien

Soprano: Soloist of the Wiener Sängerknaben; Alto: Paul Esswood; Tenor: Kurt Equiluz; Bass: Siegmund Nimsgern

Teldec

1972

2-CD / TT: 154:22

1st recording of Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 by N. Harnoncourt.
See: Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Buy this album at: 
2-CD: Amazon.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.com [Highlights]

V-16

Bach: Weihnachtsoratorium

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248/1-6

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Tölzer Knabenchor / Concentus Musicus Wien

Soloists of the Tölzer Knabenchor: Christian Schnellert (Soprano); Alan Bergius (Soprano); Gregor Lütje (Soprano); Stefan Rampf (Alto)
Tenor: Peter Schreier; Bass: Robert Holl

Unitel
Deutsche Grammophone

Jul, Nov 1981

Video / TT: 169:00
DVD / TT: 153:00

2nd recording of Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 by N. Harnoncourt. Recorded at Waldhausen, Stitslirche.
See: Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Buy this album at:  
DVD: Amazon.com | Amazon.de

V-17

Bach: Weihnachtsoratorium

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248/1-6

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Arnold Schoenberg Chor / Concentus Musicus Wien

Soprano: Christine Schäfer; Alto: Bernarda Fink; Tenor: Werner Güra; Basses: Gerald Finley, Christian Gerhaher

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi

Dec 7-11, 2006

2-SACD / TT: 148:38

3rd recording of Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 by N. Harnoncourt. Recorded live at Musikverein, Vienna, Austria.
See: Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 - conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Buy this album at:  
2-SACD: Amazon.com | Amazon.de

Harnoncourt Christmas Oratorio DVD

Drew Point wrote (October 12, 2005):
Does anyone know anything more about this upcoming release? Amazon.de

If Schreier is a soloist, it must be an older recording.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (October 12, 2005):
[To Drew Point] Yes it is and it dates back to 1982; this release is part of Unitel back catalogue reissue serie from Universal group. Never commercialy released before it has been widely broadcasted in Europe.

 

Christmas Oratorio performed by Tölzer Knabenchor available on DVD [Bach_Cantatas ML]

Takashi Tsushima wrote (December 17, 2005):
I happened to find a DVD of Bach's Christmas Oratorio performed by Tölzer Knabenchor under Harnoncourt at HMV store in Tokyo today.

Here is the infromation of the DVD:

Picture format: NTSC
Region Code: 0 (worldwide)
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo DTS 5.1
Menu Language:English (Subtitiles: German (original Language), English, French, Spanish, Chinese
Toatal time: 153 min.
Cat. No.: 00440 073 4104
http://www:universalclassics.com http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/dvd

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 17, 2005):
With Masaaki Suzuki right there in your country, why would you want anything by Harnoncourt, master of the make-it-square approach?

Douglas Neslund wrote (December 17, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] That's an ugly response. I love Masaaki's Bach, but surely there are other approaches that are different, that do not deserve to be slimed. Harnoncourt uses boy soloists. Does that bother you? If you mean his rough-hewn treatment, then try to realize that some people might enjoy that approach versus the super-chrome polish of Suzuki.

Takashi Tsushima wrote (December 17, 2005):
Sorry, the site was wrong. It should be http://www.universalclassics.com or http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/webseries/?ID=dvd .

Takashi Tsushima wrote (December 17, 2005):
[To Douglas Neslund] Thank you very much for your responses.

Yes, I think Mr. Suzuki is great and certainly is the greatest Bach performer here in Japan. But I just prefer the original church music style in Bach's days.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 17, 2005):
[To Takashi Tsushima] This recording is available also in Europe from November. See details at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Rec/Rec-2005-11.htm

I remember seeing most of it in the Israeli TV about two years ago. I was not very impressed. Every participant, including the Tolzer, is in good form. However, it seems that each movement was filmed and recorded on different date. Gardiner's XO, recorded in Weimar at the beginning of his BCP, was recently reissued and is much to be preferred. You have the feeling of being there in the occasion.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 17, 2005):
Sorry. I just think Harnoncourt has never gotten it at all, ever, right up to now.

There was a fabulously funny program on the BBC Early Music Show a few weeks ago that Andrew Manze put together tracking the recorded history of German approaches to the Brandenburgs, which absolutely illustrated Harnoncourt's inability to comprehend anything about melodic scansion in Bach at all.

If you can't figure out how to phrase Bach it really doesn't matter whether you use a piano or a harpsichord, boys or vibrato-less women, big forces or small, modern or period instruments.

Have you been listening to the BBC Bach festival this week? Compare Rilling/Harnoncourt with Gardiner/Suzuki and see who understands the phrasing.

Bach was no square for all his dance form context.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 17, 2005):
Studio performances

Aryeh Oron wrote:
< I remember seeing most of in the Israeli TV about two years ago. I was not very impressed. Every participant, including the Tolzer, is in good form. However, it seems that each movement was filmed and recorded on different date. >
This is constant problem brought on by modern technology. Unless it is a "live performance" recording, arias, choruses, chorales, recitatives are all recorded out of sequence and the feeling of a complete performance disappears. The worst I have ever heard was Robert King's recording of Händel's "Joshua" which had first-rate performers but the breaks between movements must have been left to the engineers. They were all the same length and the dramatic momentum just expired. Even in good recordings, you can always hear a passion evangelist sing differently when a chorus is present. Today, a good conductor has to be a good editor or the performance suffers.

Douglas Neslund wrote (December 17, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] I prefer listening to original instruments and voices, admittedly a minority preference. But, for the moment, granting Manze's point about Harnoncourt's "inability to comprehend anything about melodic scansion," inasmuch as Manze is British and Harnoncourt is a native German speaker, it seems to me - having not enjoyed a good laugh at his expense a few weeks ago on BBC, that your comparison is flawed, isn't it, by utilizing an authoritative quote regarding the Brandenberg Concerti when the discussion is of choral-instrumental composition. Does melodic scansion ever come into conflict with linguistic scansion? Hmmm. Perhaps Professor Manze could comment on that, too.

"If you can't figure out how to phrase Bach it really doesn't matter whether you use a piano or a harpsichord, boys or vibrato-less women, big forces or small, modern or period instruments." Can we agree to disagree? Sorry to have missed the program to which you refer, making a proper response moot. At face value, this sentence comes close to snooty ivory towerism and in so doing, appears to seek to diminish the utter ecstasy to which the Cantata Series presented so long ago by Harnoncourt/Leonhardt brings us, prejudices and assumptions made while in academia aside.

I think Manze betrays his own bias against sometimes rough-hewn original instruments and voices in the selection of items for today's BBC Radio 3 broadcast in a short while, entitled "A Bach Christmas" which may be viewed at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/abachchristmas/pip/ezgdw/ Despite the program title, it is doubtful that Bach ever heard his music performed with the forces assembled in his name. Isn't that important?

The absence of original instruments (voices) amongst the soloists in all items chosen is a pale if perfect reflection likely far from the sound Bach himself heard and wrote for, boy-warts and all. If you can get past that, then Suzuki is clearly slicker and "more perfect," a performance solution I can listen to, and enjoy. I think the subject here is personal preference, not whether Niklaus ("The pioneers always take the arrows") Harnoncourt "got it all, ever." From my perspective, Suzuki and all others who deliberately choose to ignore Bach's instruments - whether Bach had a choice or not is irrelevant - are presenting Bach in a dishonest, PC perfect, manner. It almost
smacks of conspiracy on the part of these otherwise distinguished, honorable conductors.

How long can Suzuki, Biller, Herreweghe, Koopman and the likes of old-timers like Helmut Rilling continue to roll collective eyes at the point? Perhaps because Bach is indestructible, no matter the forces used? However they might behave when requested to speak to the issue (as I have personally done with Suzuki and Rilling) their claims of "authenticity" ring hollow. Worse yet are the divergent theories of Parrott/Rifkin, academia gone amuk.

I respect your opinion, too. I hope you will allow for an appreciation of the opinions of those who place a high value on the use of original instruments and voices. Thank you.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 17, 2005):
The opinions in my post were mine, not Manze's. Sorry if I wasn't clear about that.

And I have strong feelings about Harnoncourt, as you can see. And I'm delighted to agree to disagree.

If you'd like to hear Manze's program and I send you a CD with it.

Helene Goldberg wrote (December 17, 2005):
[To Takashi Tsushima] I agree with you about Harnoncourt. Suzuki has produced some beautiful recordings, and many of Harnoncourt's suffer from mixed musical quality of various performers, but his recordings are the ones I listen to. I get tired of the Suzuki. I feel the same way about Koopman's recordings. I am very put off by the women sopranos. Often they lack the simple purity of the boy sopranos. Harnoncourt's early cantata recordings often feature Peter Jelosits who is my favorite soprano on any Bach recording (of course, he isn't a soprano anymore). Harnoncourt's recordings are sometime imperfect, but I can't understand anyone thinking that Suzuki's are more interesting. To me they are just slicker, better engineered recordings without the flash of soul that shines through.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 17, 2005):
Go hear Suzuki live. I've never been able to sit through the entire Matthäuspassion. The second half flags.

Not Suzuki. Sitting on the edge of the pew through all that mourning after the crucifixion.

And then there's the exquisite voice of Yoshikazu Mera. Better than Esswood, although I must admit the first time I heard him I was floored and enthralled.

Helene Goldberg wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] Actually, I will hear them live this March. I'm hoping I like it better than his recordings.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 18, 2005):
Well, that's an instrumental gig, so it will be somewhat different but I'm looking forward to it myself.

You going to hear them in Boston?

Douglas Neslund wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To Helene Goldberg] On a parallel but admittedly off-topic bit of history, if not trivia ...

Those of us who prefer the boy soprano soloists in the series can be thankful that Peter Jelosits was around at the right time to be recorded and preserved forever. Not all star boy sopranos are. As I understand the story, Peter's parents pulled him out of the Wiener Sängerknaben because of that choir's insistence on not naming soloists on their many recordings. But when Harnoncourt came along with a string of solo opportunities in those early cantatas, and the choir having no suitable soloist at hand, Peter was literally hired back for the purpose as an outside soloist at age 15. That way, he could reap the professional rewards for his beautiful singing and the choir could maintain their "no names" policy.

Peter Jelosits today is a tenor, and sings with various opera companies today. I heard him about seven years ago at the Wiener Volksoper singing the role of Monostatos in Mozart's Zauberflöte. You would not confuse him today for a Sängerknabe.

Helene Goldberg wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To Douglas Neslund] Thank you,

I've always been curious about him because I love his voice so much. I knew he was singing tenor now and I bought a CD of Zauberflöte because he sang on it, but he has such a small part that I really don't know what he really sounds like today. It's amazing that his voice hadn't changed by 15. I feel lucky that he recorded as much as he did. And I'm glad his mother insisted on his being named so I know who he is and can look for him on Das Kantatenwerke.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To Douglas Neslund] Does Harnoncourt use boy soloists in the DVD XO? It's not part of the original cycle and assumed he did not.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To [To Douglas Neslund]] I don't suppose there are any of the original Haroncourt/Leonahardt recordings on DVD. I do have Gardiner's newly re-released version and agree with Ayreh that it is very good indeed. (Very nice documentaries too: actually well worth watching.) Something about Gardiner's stage presence: he stands there like some extremely wise stork who is in completcontrol of his flock. He also uses a mezzo instead of a counter tenor. If you're going to do without boys in Bach, as Suzuki does, why not retire the counter tenors also? My guess is that most listeners would prefer a mezo: my wife finds the whole idea of counter tenors a little unusual and I doubt she's alone. On CD, of course, you're dealing with the classic Harnoncourt all-male choir approach. It's one of my most treasured recordings, although it looks like I'm in a pretty small boat in that regard. In any case, if one agrees that there is no definitive way to approach Bach, I would say that a works as great as the XO demands multiple versions. I have four and will score another one for the next holiday. Maybe Suzuki's will be it if there's a used one on Amazon. Nobody can criticize the musicianship of the BCJ, but what I really appreciate about Suzuki's performances are the splendid sonics. (McCreesh gets equally splendid work out of his engineers, but he hasn't done a XO yet. His Messiah is a jaw dropper in the realm of sound. So is Suzuki's's when you get down to it.)

Takashi Tsushima wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] Actually, the soprano soloists are the members of Tölzer Knabenchor.

Helene Goldberg wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] Yes. It is hard to find cds of the old teldec recordings. I wish they would issue them. I have found them on a file sharing site. I can't believe anybody would care about downloading music that is not available any other way.

Robert Coates wrote (December 18, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] Perhaps because we love the sound of the Tölzers - and their soloists!

Robert Coates wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Helene Goldberg] I recently bought the complete series from www.amazon.de
I also saw that Heffers Music shop in Cambridge (UK) had a complete boxed set, on a recent visit there.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 19, 2005):
If the performance doesn't inspire, love is hard put to substitute.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Helene Goldberg] Amazon still has the complete set for $548 (think I'll order two or three) and several individual volumes. I have noticed that bits of the old cycle appear out of nowhere. Not sure if that is someone clearing out a warehouse or whether there's some kind of limited reissue.

But it has been a long time. It is a great disappointment to me that no ensemble has tried to evolve the Harnoncourt experiment. Maybe Harnoncourt didn't know anything about Bach (does that make Leonhardt a dope too?) and maybe he wasn't well trained in conducting choral works. And maybe players on original instruments are better now than they were a generation ago. If any or all of these things are true, it's a good reason for someone else to try a disc or two employing boy sopranos. Bach did it after all. It would be really interesting to hear it OVPP. But I'm not holding my breath.

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 19, 2005):
Of course, Bach didn't have any choice. Who knows what he would have done if he had.

And if you've never read his reports on the competence of his forces, they're quite an eye opener. Even where the boys were sent to become choristers Bach felt that few of them were actually capable, even as they approached maturity and departure from the school. Sometimes he was down to only two or three and some of them were his own children.

If one considers the demands of his music, his definition of capable must have been pretty low. Even adult women who have been singing in choirs for years and read music well work hard for Bach with all his rhythmic irregularities and unexpected modulations. So I suspect the performances which he was able to present must have been pretty sad by our standards.

I heard the boys two years ago at BEMF and it was very discouraging. They were very obedient, but had a corny heart similar to that of the Wiener Sängerknaben. And that dynamic swoop on every pitch was really awful. The audience had a mixed reaction but I heard a lot of musicians shaking their verbal heads and wondering when the boy-choir syndrome was going to dig itself out of the 19th C.

Made me glad Brahms wrote for women.

Andreas Burghardt wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] Being used to boy's voices in Bach cantatas and oratorios from the beginning, I really can't imagine a serious interpretation of Bach cantatas without boy's voices. Therefore there is still no alternative to the Harnoncourt / Leonhardt series.

To this subject, there is a most interesting essay by Prof. Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, published in the program booklet for a performance of the Weihnachtsoratorium last Friday in Baden-Baden. Is there someone who can translate it into English?

WIEVIEL ORIGINALITÄT BRAUCHT BACH?
Gedanken über Bachs Weihnachtsoratorium

Wenn eine Aufführung von Bachs -Weihnachtsoratorium_ im Originalklang angekündigt wird, handelt es sich oft um eine Art Mogelpackung. Das Orchester spielt auf historischen Instrumenten bzw. entsprechenden Nachbauten, die Singstimmen jedoch sind in der Regel ein gemischter Erwachsenenchor, Sopran und Altsoli werden von Frauenstimmen gesungen. Diese unhistorische Aufführungspraxis gründet nicht auf mangelndem Wissen, sondern schlicht auf der Tatsache, dass die von Bach vorgesehenen Knabenstimmen in der Regel nicht in befriedigender Qualität zur Verfügung stehen. Der Kompromiss, einen Knabenchor mit einem erwachsenen Solistenquartett zu kombinieren, ist oft noch unbrauchbarer. Er macht das klangästhetische Dilemma nur noch deutlicher.

Inzwischen hat man längst aus der Besetzungsnot eine musikwissenschaftlich untermauerte Tugend gemacht und immer wieder begründet, warum der Einsatz von Knabenstimmen bei Bach heute keinen Sinn mehr habe. In der fachlichen Argumentation fällt jedoch auf, dass weniger historische Fakten zählen als eine - weder historisch noch klangästhetisch zu begründende -Berührungsangst zu Knabenstimmen. Zum Teil wird behauptet, die Überlieferung von nur zehn Stimmsätzen bedeute eine lediglich einfache Besetzung der Chorpartien, oder man argumentiert aus der Praxis, dass eine Knabenstimme zu Bachs Zeiten wesentlich ausgeprägter gewesen sei, weil die Knaben damals später in den Stimmbruch kamen. Ein weiterer Punkt ist das musikalische Verständnis, das Kindern im Bezug auf Bachs Musik in aller Regel komplett abgesprochen wird. Warum aber haben Bach und Mozart nachweislich zwölfjährige Solisten eingesetzt; wo sie gleichzeitig sechzehnjährige zur Verfügung hatten?

Yehudi Menuhin erzählte einmal von seinem Auftritt als Dreizehnjähriger: -Ich spielte damals drei Konzerte an einem Abend. Bach, Beethoven und Brahms. Es gab Leute, die sagten, das sei doch zuviel für ein Kind. Alles Unsinn! Bruno Walter hat mir später ein Bild geschenkt mit der Widmung: _Für den kleinen Jungen mit der großen Seele__

Nun ist nicht jedes Kind ein Menuhin, aber wenn man sich eingehend mit der menschlichen Stimme und mit Stimmpädagogik beschäftigt, kann man bei entsprechend begabten Kindern sehr viel erreichen. Die meisten Kinder mutieren nicht nur früher als zur Zeit Bachs, sie sind auch geistig reifer, umfassender informiert, interessiert. Man kann umgekehrt auch nicht davon ausgehen, dass ein Erwachsener aufgrund seiner Lebenserfahrung jene Tiefe des Ausdrucks gleichsam automatisch mitbringt; die die Musik Bachs verlangt.

Wenn man sich die Musik genauer ansieht, wird man feststellen, dass Bach sehr genau berücksichtigt hat, für welches Alter er komponiert. Zum Beispiel im Sopran-Bass-Duett ,,Herr, Dein Mitleid_, in dem die Sopranpartie eine gleichsam kindlich unschuldige Sichtweise auf das Geschehen verkörpert - als -liebende Seele_, oder modern ausgedrückt: als Verinnerlichung, ethische Reinheit, als eine zutiefst menschliche Seite. Gerade dieser theologisch begründete Kontrast zwischen dem schon in das Weltliche involvierten erwachsenen Mannes und des noch nicht verantwortlichen, im christlichen Sinn noch nicht schuldigen Kindes ist explizit formulierte Absicht des Komponisten. Ein Kind an der Schwelle zum Erwachsenwerden, das den Folgezustand bereits - in diesem Duett beinahe etängstlich - in sich trägt, aber noch an seiner umfassenden Liebe festhalten kann, diese ins Erwachsenendasein hinüberretten will. Das sagt der Text; und das sagt auch Bachs Musik, und dabei handelt es sich keineswegs um künstlich überhöhte Naivität. Aber es ist klar, dass diese Sopranpartie von einer erwachsenen Frau nicht überzeugend erfüllt werden kann und auch von keinem Countertenor.

Wobei sich hier durchaus inhaltliche und klangästhetische Kriterien überlagern. Ein Knabenkehlkopf (entsprechend auch ein originaler Kastratenkehlkopf) ist etwa um ein Drittel größer als ein Frauenkehlkopf und produziert deshalb durchschlagskräftigere und obertonreichere Töne; mit einem Maximum von 5000 Hertz. Falsettisten, Sopranisten, Countertenöre und Altisten dagegen singen nur mit einer Hälfte der natürlichen Stimmfunktion, vor allem ohne die wichtige Schließfunktion. Sie müssen deshalb klangliche Einbußen an Durchschlagkraft und vokaler Reinheit in Kauf nehmen. In der Renaissance und im Barock wurden Countertenöre immer nur als Ersatz für die auch damals raren guten Knabenstimmen oder Kastraten eingesetzt. Für Bachs Leipziger Zeit ist nur ein einziger Einsatz eines männlichen Altos nachgewiesen.

Die Bemühungen des Tölzer Knabenchores galten seit jeher der Ausbildung von Knabensolisten, die, nebenbei bemerkt, fast alle entsprechenden Partien an den großen Opernhäusern der Welt singen. Der von guten Solisten durchsetzte Chor kann erfahrungsgemäß schon mit einer Gesamtstärke von 30 Sängern auch in großen Konzertsälen deutlicher und klarer durchdringen als ein etwa 100 Stimmen starker gemischter Chor. Im Bereich Alter Musik sind diese Solisten aber unabdingbar, um einen originalen Klang zu erreichen. Sie müssen nicht nur über gut ausgebildete Stimmen verfügen, sondern auch Koloraturen, Phrasierungskunst und barocke Verzierungen beherrschen. Wenn dies alles gelingt, dann erhält man allerdings ein musikalisches Ergebnis, das mit keiner anderen Besetzung zu erreichen ist und nicht nur Spezialisten, sondern auch den Laien unmittelbar überzeugt. Diese Erfahrung begleitet uns seit mehr als dreißig Jahren, seit unseren ersten Plattenaufnahmen in historischer Praxis, vor allem in zahlreichen Live-Aufführungen mit der Musik von Schütz, Haydn, Mozart und immer wieder: Johann Sebastian Bach.

Prof. Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden

Emily L. Ferguson wrote (December 19, 2005):
Well, for a start the author is the conductor of the Tölzer Knabenchor, so we know what his perspective is.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 19, 2005):
Emily L. Ferguson wrote:
< If one considers the demands of his music, his definition of capable must have been pretty low. Even adult women who have been singing in choirs for years and read music well work hard for Bach with all his rhythmic irregularities and unexpected modulations. So I suspect the performances which he was able to present must have been pretty sad by our standards. >
Bach was a supremely practical musician and it is not credible that he wrote music that he knew would be badly performed. Although we may find it difficult to believe, a boy sang "Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen" (BWV 51) and sang it well enough to satisfy Bach.

Douglas Neslund wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] OK, Emily, you got my attention this time!

I too was in attendance at the Tölzer performance of Schütz at BEMF on a rainy night at Jordan Hall.

I also read a few reviews of the concert by local and out-of-town critics, and here was my take. First of all, Professor Schmidt-Gaden was very unhappy with his own, and his choir's performance. I asked him after the concert if he was satisfied, and he replied, "No, and it was my fault." Without knowing what he meant by that, precisely, I can tell you that having attended their preparatory rehearsals the two days prior to the concert, I know that the ensemble was not well prepared, especially the soloist, who was in the early throes of voice change. Another factor that affects all singing artists was the way the Festival got them from Germany to Boston. They took an flight from Munich to Frankfurt, then changed planes to an Air Canada flight that took them to Montréal. They had a four hour layover, before another AV flight took them to Boston Logan. The cause of this itinerary was, of course, keeping costs down for the Festival. It was something on the order of a 19-hour journey, and that was three days before the concert. Fine. Artists on the highest levels of their
profession should be able to deal with such things.

Then, Gerhard worked the boys and men very hard, I think realizing that he had underestimated the situation his choir was in. That, I can assure you, is very unusual for Gerhard. He worked his primary soprano soloist so hard in the two rehearsal days prior to the concert that the boy had little left to give, and you might have noticed that the volume of his output diminished gradually as the concert progressed.

I must say that there were a large number of boychoir fans, probably Tölzer fans, in attendance. They formed a core of applause that would not stop in between selections until Gerhard turned around to conduct the next item.

As to Gerhard's approach to the style, yes, he is very emotional, but it would be mischaracterizing his approach to say that it was buried somewhere in the 19th century. And the reason is, Gerhard places a very, very high value on the text. You will never hear even a German choir sing with more articulation and word painting than what you heard that night. So it is missing the point to criticize his approach as being "old fashioned" when he is doing what Bach himself might well have done. Who knows for sure? Or do we run around following this guru or that expert, in a vain attempt to capture the Bachian spirit.

And finally, although it has admittedly been years since I read the Bach Letters, my impression is that he had a penchant for complaining about conditions in general, all in order to obtain this or that improvement in his life or salary. ;-)) But are you suggesting that Bach wrote Cantata BWV 51 for a woman, or in spite of not having suitable boy sopranos? I think that is leaping at a conclusion that cannot be supported. Composers, especially those in service of a monarch, are forced to turn out serviceable material for the court chapel or parish choir, as the case may have been. It would strain my belief to hear the assertion that Bach composed "over the heads" of his singers, but without doubt wrote to the limits of their abilities.

Another writer in this forum was present in Boston two years ago, and will perhaps offer his own recollections.

BTW, wasn't the Baroque opera performance that year extraordinary? I thought so, anyhow.

Douglas Neslund wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] What? His being the director discounts everything in the article? Why do you not wish to know his perspective?

Douglas Neslund wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Douglas Cowling] Precisely!

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Emily L. Ferguson] In one of the documentary features that comes with Gardiner's XO, JEG comments that one of the biggest questions confronting Bach scholarship concerns the performance standards current at Leipzig in Bach's time. He suggests the possibility that a small group of boys, half frozen in an unheated church and accompanied by musicians whose strings are breaking and instruments out of tune creating a 'dreadful' sound. As brought up before on this list, in 1739 Birnbaum (no doubt speaking for Bach) argued that a work should not be judged by its performance but rather by its composition. And, as Doug points out, Bach was not shy in pointing out problems that faced him and did have some unkind words for the forces under his command. (Of course he also may have known that squeaky wheels can get oil.) So maybe a trip to Thomaskirche would have been an assault on the ears.

Yet JEG readily admits nobody knows. How about those days when the weather was balmy and the boys and musicians in a capital mood? I find it difficult to believe Bach would have composed that would have sounded bad every performance. As Gardiner points out, we have little evidence that the people of Leipzig had any deep appreciation for the extraordinary music delivered them. We also don't have evidence of a chorus of complaints either. In addition, Bach was not off on his own musical island. The boys choir was a long time fixture in Christian services. Were Bach's immediate predecessors, including many of his own relatives, also composing music that couldn't be performed without a wince? And it's true that Bach's boys came from a numerically small pool of youngsters. Yet the ability to attend a proper school for free in that era of history would have been a real incentive to anyone with talent I would think. And let's also not forget that the boys and the musicians did play with Bach day in day out. In terms of time, they may well have been as well drilled (or better) than any boy's choir today.

True we can't go back. But I would think we all have our own impressions of what the "real thing" was like. I rather think there were many a day when Herr Bach returned home in a foul mood. But there must have been many others when things meshed and art was made. I'd like to think so anyway.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 19, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< suggests the possibility that a small group of boys, half frozen in an unheated church and accompanied by musicians whose strings are breaking and instruments out of tune creating a 'dreadful' sound. As brought up before on this list, in 1739 Birnbaum (no doubt speaking for Bach) argued that a work should not be judged by its performance but rather by its composition. >
Anyone who is involved in the weekly grind of church music knows how circumstances can affect a performance. Crucial singers get sick, the organ develops a cypher, a string breaks in the middle of a movement ... I'm sure Bach had seen it all. I have no doubt that at the annual Bach reunions, the relatives tried to outdo each other with anecdotes about things that went wrong in the choir loft and in the sanctuary. Only since the advent of recording technology do we expect perfection in performacnces of Bach.

I once had a bride die just before she walked up the aisle!

John Pike wrote (December 19, 2005):
Andreas Burghardt wrote:
< Being used to boy's voices in Bach cantatas and oratorios from the beginning, I really can't imagine a serious interpretation of Bach cantatas without boy's voices. Therefore there is still no alternative to the Harnoncourt / Leonhardt series. >
I have to disagree with this. Much as I enjoy the reasonably authentic sound of boy's voices in the H/L series, and much as I would hate to be without the complete set, there is much to enjoy in all the other recordings I have...Rilling, Leusink, Gardiner, Herreweghe, Suzuki, Rifkin etc. All have their strengths and offer fresh perspectives on the music.

I think I heard Gardiner on a DVD recently saying that we would never be able to completely recreate the authentic sound of the Thomaner choir under Bach's direction (and I wonder if that would be desirable anyway). I therefore think that there are many recordings which have something to add.

Douglas Neslund wrote (December 19, 2005):
Thanks to Andreas and (I think) Wolfgang in Munich, we have a chance to hear a contemporary Tölzer performance at Baden-Baden of Bach's Weihnachtsoratorium (all six cantatas), from which the four excerpts below have been drawn. The conductor is Professor Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden. If you have a dial-up connection, these will take a long time to download, especially the first one, even though the files have been compressed as far as possible without destroying the quality of either the video or audio signals.

Give yourself a Christmas gift, and listen to all four samples! This MIGHT be what Bach himself heard (except in his own head). If this is better, we are the lucky ones!

If these samples don't convince you that boys' voices plus early music instruments are not a perfect match, then you cannot be convinced at all.

http://home.tiscali.de/bgh40/EhreSeiDirGottGesungen.rm 12,5 MB

http://home.tiscali.de/toelz/FloesstMeinHeiland.rm (soloist: Alexander Kalbitz, boy soprano) 10,5 MB

http://home.tiscali.de/toelz/WoIstDerNeugeboreneKoenig.rm (soloist: Frederic Jost, boy alto) 7,9 MB

http://home.tiscali.de/bgh40/HerrscherDesHimmels.rm 6,8 MB

Enjoy! Then write and give Andreas and Wolfgang (and in absentia, JSB himself) thanks for this Advent- and Christmas season gift.

Maria Dimaki wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To John Pike] So much has been written in the past few days because of the new (well, at least newly released) TKC DVD. I am not certain I can contribute, but I will just write my personal opinion.

As a child I used to "not like" Bach that much. To put it lightly. That was mostly because I was only exposed to the piano pieces. Then I heard the B minor mass. Well, that did it. Then I heard the Tolzers sing the B minor mass. And from that time it hasn't been easy for me to accept an adult choir singing Bach. And even worse, an adult woman soprano and alto soloists. Very few of them in my opinion manage to do what I instinctively expect is the right way. And of course I am not an expert, but I have a rather good ear and frankly the overdone vibrato which is most often used by even the best baroque-specialized women sopranos annoys me. Recently I attended a performance of Cantata BWV 51 by a woman soprano (cannot remember the name). Though she was by no means bad, I cannot say that she was better than the magnificent performance of the cantata by the Tolzer soloist Alan Bergius.

And who can ever forget the amazing performance of St. John passion (BWV 245) with Harnoncourt and the TKC from Graz? For me no countertenor and no woman mezzo can ever sing the aria "Es ist vollbracht" better than Panito Iconomou. And the choir...who can claim that the boys do not grasp what it is they are singing about after seeing their faces while they are singing it?

In my opinion Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden does wonders with these boys and his choir is not just the best boychoir in the world, but probably one of the best choirs in the world, adult or children's. Good amateur adult choirs actually come second in my opinion. Mainly due to the lack of heavy vibrato from the soprano parts...

Thank you Andreas for providing the essay of Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden from Baden-Baden. I heard the concert was great, and that the soprano soloist did a terrific job, despite him having to step in at the last moment.

And for the info, the Harnoncourt WO with the Toelzer's features three of the choirs soprano soloists (amongst them Allan Bergius) and the alto soloist (Stefan Rampf).

Robert Coates wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Maria Dimaki] Good to read Maria's message. I know that we who prefer boys' voices are a minority. But let's enjoy our performances without others feeling the necessity of coming with sexist arrogance about women being better! There must be a place for both types of performance. I go for Harnoncourt. I am consumed with admiration for the boy soloists, who perform with the utmost artistry things which challenge highly qualified professionals - at the age of 12 or 13!

Others go for mixed choirs. And female soloists. So what? Isn't that part of "Life's rich tapestry?"

I also love the all-male recordings of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Dvorak masses which bring to life the classical, Central European Church Music tradition in a completely different way from the more concert-orientated mixed choir performances.

Incidentally, in Marc Behr's novel "Embrace" there was a performance by an all male choir of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Has anyone ever heard such a performance? It would be interesting to hear of any such project!

Helene Goldberg wrote (December 19, 2005):
[To Maria Dimaki] I absolutely agree with you. Mature women's voices seem to detract from the music. It sounds to me that Bach wrote for boys' voices. To me the extra power and vibrato in women sopranos is like listening to Bach concerti with piano or modern flute. It's just not the right balance. Just distracting.

 

Harnoncourt Christmas Oratorio DVD

Rick Canyon wrote (June 7, 2006):
I just picked this up.

It's quite spectacular. I'm sure it will become a favorite at Christmas (the Nehru jackets not withstanding).
BUT...

I think I'm distracted because of the recording technique, which perhaps someone could explain. The 5.1 sound makes an original instrument performance seem much larger than life to begin with. All the soloists sound more robust than one might expect (the boy alto sounds quite full bodied). But, it appears that the configurations of the choirs--especially the boys--seems to change depending on the camera angle. Singers change positions, different singers appear--all within the course of a single chorus. Soloists appear in long range shots, but disappear in more medium range views. Yet, the sound remains constant.

Is this lip-synching to the highest degree? If so, it appears quite in-synch. Was this actually recorded in the church? or, was it recorded in a studio with the visual in the church added later? I'm reminded very much of Karajan concert videos. I know this was recorded in Summer/Fall of 1981 for German TV. It appears to be film rather than tape.

It just seems that there's a certain staginess that one wouldn't find in a true live performance. I'm just curious about how this all was accomplished.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 7, 2006):
[To Rick Canyon] It's all a trick - they simply play back the recording in a studio, then record the playback with 5.1 recording equipment. Wouldn't it be more jarring if they actually changed the sound according to who is on screen?

Rick Canyon wrote (June 8, 2006):
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
< It's all a trick - they simply play back the recording in a studio, then record the playback with 5.1 recording equipment. >
Well, I understand there's a process for converting common stereo into 5.1 sound. The actual details of this process are not particularly important to me, other than that I am glad such can be accomplished.

< Wouldn't it be more jarring if they actually changed the sound according to who is on screen? >
Yes, the sound would be "more jarring". But, in a way, the visual is already "more jarring" as participants are moved around, and substituted for, in this rather haphazard manner. In a Hollywood film, this is what would be called a continuity issue.

No, what I want to know is how (and where) the original sound was recorded; and then, how it is synched so perfectly with the orchestra and the various choir configurations which appear on the screen. Again, I've seen this technique employed in DGG's Karajan videos.

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 8, 2006):
Harnoncourt Christmas Oratorio DVD -- Technological Aspects

[To Rick Canyon] Although I have not worked with DV editing for creating home DVDs for very long, and although I have not seen this video, perhaps I can make a comment on how something like this could be done as I have worked with some software. The film is placed on a time line, and beneath it the wave (sound) files--again on a timeline.

One can simply cut and paste for a virtually exact fit--though in a DV recording things ordinarily just line up. The process is not really complicated unless there is a bad spot in the audio. In that case you simply time-stretch the audio once you have removed the undesirable sound. You can also fade in and fade out as desired. My program does not do surround sound, but can incorporate sounds from the film and additional audio. In that case you would probably have multiple layers of audio on the timeline, and they could possibly have the fades worked in.

If you have recorded the audio separately from the film, you bring the audio file(s) into your software and simply match up the sections. It probably helps to be trained to do this, and I don't know how--but only have read some articles about the newest methods.

In high level software (not in mine) the portion of a second to which you can match film is miniscule.

I use inexpensive home software to accomplish the little I have done and my computer is too old and limited to work with this extensively, but I had a chance to speak with a gentleman running a TV camera at the university one evening. His day job was working as a video editor for a mega church in the Phoenix area. From what he told me the basic editing procedures are virtually identical in the major software and the home versions, only the cameras cost ten times the simple home varieties and the software is very expensive.

I hope this makes sense.

Santu de Silva wrote (June 8, 2006):
Canyon Rick quotes Unknown:
>> Wouldn't it be more jarring if they actually changed the sound according to who is on screen? <<
And replies:
< Yes, the sound would be "more jarring". But, in a way, the visual is already "more jarring" as participants are moved around, and substituted for, in this rather haphazard manner. In a Hollywood film, this is what would be called a continuity issue. >
Honestly, I have seen videos where the audio balance has been very slightly adjusted to focus on (I.e. bring out the voice(s) of) whomever is on screen. It's a common technique, and jarring only if you want to listen to the soundtrack as if it were a CD. Perhaps this is what is being talked about by Canyon Rick in this next paragraph:

< No, what I want to know is how (and where) the original sound was recorded; and then, how it is synched so perfectly with the orchestra and the various choir configurations which appear on the screen. Again, I've seen this technique employed in DGG's Karajan videos. >
I'm not sure whether both of these people are really talking about how "jarring" the video is on its own, or how jarring it is relative to the audio. If it is jarring to have people relocated suddenly, all it takes is a wipe, or a fade; in our minds, having become accustomed to the conventions of cinema, wipes and fades accomplish just enough of a disconnect that the psychological need for continuity is dulled, or appeased. The slight audio focus is not at all jarring; it is easily noticed in scenes involving singing in a church (I believe there was such a scene in either "Finding Neverland," --or was it "Sense and Sensibility"?), where the actor's voice is just slightly emphasized. The tracks are not very relevant or at any rate, the emphasis is in the center speaker. Not in the least jarring, IMHO.

As far as where it is recorded is concerned, I imagine the whole business is recorded on a 16-track 'tape',
and later balanced either for plain stereo or for 5+1. All the audio gymnastics can be accomplished in the editing booth, but of course a little more expensive than the trick Kirk describes, which would (in my admittedly ignorant opinion) degrade the sound a little.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 8, 2006):
< Yes, the sound would be "more jarring". But, in a way, the visual is already "more jarring" as participants are moved around, and substituted for, in this rather haphazard manner. In a Hollywood film, this is what would be called a continuity issue. >
Some similar questions could be asked about the SMP conducted by Cleobury, on DVD. This one: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV244-Cleobury.htm

I have it and enjoy the performance, but the sound is nothing special. (Well, the whole SMP is compressed onto a single disc, including the picture....) Its visual continuity is fine.

Anyway it's a steal at less than $20 USD, and worth a look.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 8, 2006):
video wipes/fades/etc

< I'm not sure whether both of these people are really talking about how "jarring" the video is on its own, or how jarring it is relative to the audio. If it is jarring to have people relocated suddenly, all it takes is a wipe, or a fad; in our minds, having become accustomed to the conventions of cinema, wipes and fades accomplish just enough of a disconnect that the psychological need for continuity is dulled, or appeased. The slight audio focus is not at all jarring; it is easily noticed in scenes involving singing in a church (I believe there was such a scene in either "Finding Neverland," --or was it "Sense and Sensibility"?), where the actor's voice is just slightly emphasized. The tracks are not very relevant or at any rate, the emphasis is in the center speaker. Not in the least jarring, IMHO. >
Risking a drift off-topic: on this subject of video production events, and their effects on perception, there are some interesting sections in Jerry Mander's old book "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television", 1970s: Amazon.com

Part of his argument, IIRC, is that all of this artificial stuff does odd things to people's brains as to telling a difference between possible reality and fiction. Especially so, as events that are *seen* on a screen do not correspond with shifts in audio input, in distance perception or location or relative volume.

As in, we are biologically conditioned over centuries of normal human/societal development to perceive surrounding events in certain ways, but then television flattens things out so much that the brain can't take it in the same way as reality. Or the imagery does odd things to us. Something like that. Mander says it much better in the book than I've described it here.

He has an interesting exercise where you watch a normal TV show and count the number of visual discontinuities within a couple of minutes. We're so accustomed to them that we hardly notice, but when attention is paid to it, it's startling. Like more than one per second, on average in some commercials. And Mander was writing way before MTV-type productions.

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 8, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] I think Brad is making a very good point here. As a rule, I do not like to watch television much, but risk it from time to time if PBS is having a music or history special.

I also find it very distracting when people channel surf. Musicians and scholars are taught to develop a deeper focus than much of the general population, and a person who is interested in advancing his or her art does not find a lot of TV time worthy or refreshing because of the constant shifting. When you destroy focus you lose meaning.

About five years ago I got interested in sound recording, mixing and mastering. The case for working with the media and software is in the fact that the equipment used often limits the sound reproduction quality. For example, in my observation most of the recordists that come to our university place the microphones too close to the stage to make use of the quality of acoustic available in a great room. Using a zoom microphone on a DV recorder from the back of the hall will often create a far better sound recording for next to nothing, than a $600.00 recording session by some professionals. I have not had a lot of opportunities to work extensively with halls, but at one point did a favor for a student and recorded his recital with the Phoenix Early Music Players at a modern cathedral. Rather than place the two directional microphones right on top of the ensemble...as I see many do...I placed them back about twenty feet from the group. The results even unedited (simply archiving the performance) were excellent, and allowed the acoustic of the room to come through in the recordings, particularly on his work with Purcell.

Moreover, depending on what part of the US a recordist comes from, or what part of the world, settings for a recording vary greatly. In the Southwest US a brighter and lighter—fresher quality is considered more desirable by many, than in the Eastern US where a darker, more intensive setting is wanted. This kind of thing impacts the quality of what we get to hear in the long run. If the microphone settings are not good, diction can be impaired, and tone quality, too. So the artist may have done a fine job, but if the technical help hasn’t the understanding, knowledge or the ear to appreciate what is going on, the results will differ.

Many video recordists are not trained musically or do not have a good ear. Added to that, when audio is finalized the peaks are raised, and the dynamics are lost to a certain extent. When I record from time to time I do not like to finalize the recording...and as long as the accompaniment and the singer (in my case) are synchronized the result is comfortable.

Being able to listen to music in 32-bit stereo rather than 16-bit stereo is also a major factor. Some of the sound is lost when the switch is made, and sometimes a person has to work with the wave files again and again to maximize the results.

Edited audio and video are not the same as live performance...there can be no doubt. Live performance is a treat to the senses and an emotional excursion. Good quality video and recordings can also bring the desired result.

Enough of my opinions...

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 9, 2006):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< Edited audio and video are not the same as live performance >
Not even close, just a reminder of the actual experience. To make matters worse, attendance at live performances that I attend is declining. So if you enjoy your records, if you enjoy BCW, get out and hear some real music if you have the opportunity, lest it be gone!

Rick Canyon wrote (June 9, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] This is all true. But, in some people's minds, edited audio and video is better...and I think that less-than-well-known artists/ensembles suffer the most. Why spend $$ to go hear some pianist fresh out of Julliard play a concerto with the local symphony when you can put on Horowitz and the New York Philharmonic and hear them play the same piece on a quality stereo?

For myself, I've always used headphones (since the 60s and generally decent ones--not the earplug types). And that is nothing like a live experience. And I've always used them even when I haven't had downstairs neighbors to offend with a loud stereo. I really like the sound, however. There are no distractions.

And considering the last live performances I've attended--Pinchas Zuckermann in a Sun City, AZ church where an irritating air conditioner marred much of the first half; The Flying Dutchman at Symphony Hall in Phoenix at which the stifled acoustics are only the beginning of my complaints--I do kind of wonder any more which is indeed better.

In the Harnoncourt DVD I mentioned, I've come to the conclusion that it is sort of a "Yule Log" type video dripping with Bavarian Christmas gemutlichkeit, meant to be played in the background of some intellectual-type Christmas gathering. But, it is not a live performance nor even a reminder of one.

But, it also does make me wonder what distractions Bach had to endure when he performed. I can't imagine the patrons at Zimmermann's being necessarily well-behaved (was wine served there?). It appears thatduring services, especially in winter, Thomaners could go out and get warm at various times. One can also not imagine Bach demanding quiet from a royal patron who might crudely request more wine for his goblet during an improvisation.

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 9, 2006):
[To Rick Canyon] I absolutely loved the comments at the end about what Bach might have had to endure. Of course, as a parent with a rather large family he must have been used to a great deal, and as a teacher with many students, the same. But I will never forget personally how hard I had to work in my early years to maximize one of his easier organ works, and how church folks would come up and try to talk to me when I was playing. Some of them just didn't get it where the music was concerned...we were still conducting worship.

Sunday afternoon was a wash sometimes...I was worn out. Although I no longer perform at all, playing Bach on the flute in church even a few years ago still be a problem. A well-meaning friend of my Dad's thought it a great idea to bring his camera to church and take a picture of me the flute, playing Bach that Sunday--to send to my Dad. I felt like an idiot having my picture taken in my fifties as if I were a little kid doing a first Suzuki violin solo. It was also very distracting both to me and the listeneers. I have to say I normally play better at home when I have my accompaniment pre-recorded and I am recording to my little studio-in-a box unit. I can work on something like that for hours...the time just slips by.

As with our famed politicians, my quote about recorded edited audio and video was lifted out of context. The sentence that followed on made the point that well-edited works can be comfortable. At my age, although I support the arts at ASU regularly, and I am the photographer and videographer for one of the studios...see the following url: http://cfaonline.asu.edu/studio303/eventspage.html

I prefer to work with recording for my own work. With the amazing sound fonts available created by NI, it is possible these days for a hobbyist like me to create orchestral sounding accompaniments of a very good quality electronically. (Of course there could still be commentary regarding the volume of the obes, and so on, as under those circumstances I am also the conductor). My young friends at ASU who have received doctorates this spring (and summer) have been amazed at what can be accomplished when they have listened to my efforts, and what I have taught myself to do through technology. So I personally find the area of working with sound and recording excellent and challenging, and it is a major thrust of my retirement.

But a good live performance gives another dimension that can be emotional and spiritual. Honestly, though, I have spent more time listening at home in my life, and practicing at home, than in the concert hall.On the other side of things I know how hard muscians work to give a performance, so it is good to go and give support.

Cheers to anyone who can create beautiful music, I say! And Bach, above all!

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 10, 2006):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< As with our famed politicians, my quote about recorded edited audio and video was lifted out of context. >
Well, I didn't intend to misquote or misinterpret, just trying to be concise and agreeable. I stand by my original point, which was that the best live music is a different, more intimate, more communal experience than listening to recorded music. And one that is increasingly neglected on my block. I did not mean to imply that all live music is better than all recorded music, nor that all live performances are wonderful, nor that there is no creative value in music of whatever type made by recording and editing. Just trying to nudge people (myself included) out the door to support performers.

I believe it is yourself (rather than me) who you are comparing to a famed politician; in that case, no offense taken.

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 10, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] My nature is to be Pollyanna...I'm known for that wherever I am part of any group. So I don't take offense at all... And if I am wrong about something I take correction and admit my error. It only makes sense.

This was just a light-hearted comment coming from me at my computer. But it is a valid point of discussion to explore the merits of either medium. For example, without all the fabulous recorded music we have had available for decades, I could not have had so many wonderful things to listen to during the years our family lived in areas with few cultural opportunities. Those years forced me to dig into music that was recorded for comfort and encouragement during some years with multiple deaths in the family.

When we eventually moved to Arizona I had so many opportunities to attend live concerts that the first years we lived here I went to hundreds of events...mostly free at the university. And I got back into performance beginning two years prior to that with some opportunities for attending concerts. However, we lived an hour to two hours from great musical entertainment even in those years, so my awareness of the music of the great composers came almost entirely from playing, singing and listening. After we moved to Arizona, for seven and a half years I read the biographies of composers at an amazing rate--until many of their life stories began to blend together.

One element--live performance makes memories. The second--recorded music preserves memories. One thing I love about recorded music is that in one hearing all the elements are not apparent. But it is great to be able to go back and to listen again and again.

Can anyone ever absorb all the factors and elements in even one Bach Cantata? There is so much depth in each work. Even the simple recitatives contain thoughtful elements through the simple mood Bach's chord choices indicate. And the words are discerned with even greater depth if the soloist has studied the meaning and has the depth of experience and vocal technique that conveys the meaning. A singer knows that all the nuances cannot be grasped in the first round, and it is said of singers that a performance of a piece does not become one's own until it has been performed seven or eight times. Many times singers do not get to sing something so many times.

When I record I would almost hate to tell you how many takes I make before I have one that comes near to satisfying me.

So I believe happily that live performance is inspirational and that recorded music can also serve the same kinds of purposes...though, they are different. I've recorded two CDs just for my family and friends and I do not purpose to share those recordings with others since I have improved since I made them. But one thing I dearly love is that the best singers among my connections tell me that they play the CDs from time to time they like to sing along with me when they are able. So recorded music serves as instruction and reinforcement in lives in a way live concerts can not.

I am highly impressed with your scholarly knowledge about the qualities of many recordings. Many people who make music do not have the time or take the time to explore so many details, but obviously you have the ear for it while celebrating live performance as the ultimate venue. I will continue to enjoy your writings, as I am sure many others do.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 10, 2006):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< One thing I love about recorded music is that in one hearing all the elements are not apparent. But it is great to be able to go back and to listen again and again. >
I very much agree with this comment, and with just about everything else Jean had to say about the value of recordings. I hope it is clear to everyone that I would not participate in a site devoted to weekly discussion of recordings if they were not important to me. Mostly, I was venting my concern for performances to half-filled (I am trying not to say half empty) halls that would have been overflowing a few (very few) years back.

I am responding publicly to thank Jean for her kind personal comments, but I need to disclaim any pretensions to genuine scholarship with respect to Bach. It has been a pleasant surprise to me that I listen more carefully, and enjoy it more, when I expect to write something. It has also been a pleasant surprise what a wealth of information is already in the archives. This gives me an opportunity to again express the opinion that musicians and other actual scholars are a great benefit to BCW, as is everyone who takes the trouble to post comments re the weekly discussions. For those who disagree, can't you just skip over what you don't want to read? What? You skipped that last sentence?

 

Harnoncourt's New "Weihnachtsoratorium"

Drew (BWV846-893) wrote (June 10, 2006):
I just received a copy of Harnoncourt's latest take on Bach's great Christmas masterpiece.

I had high hopes for the recording, and was pleased to see that the set is Gramophone's Recording of the Month for December. However, after a few listenin, I am a bit put off by some of Harnoncourt's rhythmic irregularities and exaggerations. After getting to know the work through more "natural" recordings - especially Suzuki - some of these gestures seem willful and ostentatious.

One example is the final chorus of Part I (No. 9). Harnoncourt seems to speed up when the brass come in (or I am imagining it?). The great bass aria (No. 8) almost sounds syncopated at the beginning (or is it something to do with the accenting of notes?).

Most odd to my ears, though, is the closing chorus of Part VI (No. 64). I'm not sure what Harnoncourt is doing here - my guess (since I have not heard it played this way before) is that it is a "free" interpretation of the score.

Although the Schoenberg Choir is well-drilled, I miss the lighter, and more clear (less recessed) sound of other HIP choirs.

Anyway, some initial impressions. I'm sure this recording will have many admirers. But I find myself going back to Suzuki and Gardiner.

 

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]

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

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

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Last update: ýSeptember 23, 2008 ý11:45:32