Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

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Tarantella
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Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Tarantella » Thu Dec 05, 2013 12:31 am

Here's an absolutely splendid account of Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists. This Oratorio, as set out in the notes below the link, was the first concert as part of the Bach Pilgrimage undertaken by the orchestra, throughout Europe, in 2000. A friend of mine (who is a friend of the soprano at the top left) accompanied the choir and orchestra for part of this tour, including rehearsals, and sent me back emails and pictures!! I don't know how JEG draws such a mellifluous sound from his choir!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFnW_CrPUlA

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Thu Dec 05, 2013 1:55 am

Here's the recording I once gave my father for Christmas (and, it turns out, Sviatoslav Richter played at his Christmas parties): DG Archiv's version conducted by Karl Richter with an amazing quartet of soloists, Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Fritz Wunderlich, and Franz Crass. It too has an excellent choir, and a very big one!

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Tarantella » Thu Dec 05, 2013 2:08 am

They're both such different accounts of the Oratorio!! The Gardiner is, of course, HIP and sounds so translucent compared to your bigger, German version. This latter has great grandeur and nobility, however scholars could argue for hours about whether it's valid to use a choir that big for Bach. In the end, it depends on what are our personal tastes. I think there's room for both kinds of performance.

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Thu Dec 05, 2013 7:28 am

I'd add only that in the early 1960s, when the Richter recording was made, this was an exemplary "period performance" - that's why DG recorded it on their Archiv label, which was reserved for musicologically correct performances. Today's HIP is only the latest of many in a century of rather rapidly changing fashions in "historical" performance; who knows what tomorrow's HIP will be?
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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by premont » Thu Dec 05, 2013 9:45 am

John F wrote:..... in the early 1960s, when the Richter recording was made, this was an exemplary "period performance" - that's why DG recorded it on their Archiv label, which was reserved for musicologically correct performances.
In 1963 when Richter´s Weinachtsoratorium was recorded, quite a lot of musicologists and musicians (including many of Archive´s regularly recording musicians) knew for sure, that this was far from any reliable period performance style, and other considerations (presumably economic) must have been crucial since the recording was released on Archiv.

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by josé echenique » Thu Dec 05, 2013 11:57 am

The vocal quartet, Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Fritz Wunderlich and Franz Crass is still the greatest ever to have recorded the work, and the first trumpet was no other than Maurice André.
Treasurable.

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Thu Dec 05, 2013 3:26 pm

premont wrote:
John F wrote:In 1963 when Richter´s Weinachtsoratorium was recorded, quite a lot of musicologists and musicians (including many of Archive´s regularly recording musicians) knew for sure, that this was far from any reliable period performance style, and other considerations (presumably economic) must have been crucial since the recording was released on Archiv.
I lived through that period and in my experience, Richter's Bach recordings of cantatas etc. for Archiv were as "reliable" (whatever that means) as any others of the time in point of style. Harnoncourt & Co. came along in the following decade.
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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 05, 2013 11:23 pm

The term "original instrument" preceded "HIP" and was associated first with the recordings of Harnoncourt and a few others. I may be wrong, but I doubt that Richter put a particular label on his approach at all; it was just the way he thought Bach's works should be played. None of this is to make an invidious comparison. The Harnoncourt Telefunken recording of the Christmas Oratorio is good, but does not set a standard in either chronological direction. Years ago I heard a broadcast performance conducted by Harnoncourt in which he seemed to correct the very defects that critics had pointed out in his recording.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Fri Dec 06, 2013 2:06 am

"Original instruments" goes back a very long way before Harnoncourt, to the revival of the harpsichord and other "obsolete" instruments early in the 20th century by Arnold Dolmetsch and others and in some performances and recordings that used recorders instead of transverse flutes in Brandenburg 4 (in the Vox recording by Jascha Horenstein, not a Baroque specialist). The Boyd Neel orchestra was recording Handel in the 1940s and 1950s with harpsichord continuo - often played by Thurston Dart, a musicologist as well as a musician. After he took over as music director and the orchestra was renamed the Philomusica, I saw a couple of their concerts in 1956-7 which he led from the harpsichord; the strings were playing their "modern" instruments with reconstructions of Baroque bows.

As for period performance practice, ensembles like his were playing Baroque music with added ornaments, whether improvised or actually written out, from the 1950s if not earlier. The style of ornamentation was a good deal more restrained than in later HIP, but it marked a notable and noted departure from literal adherence to the notes on paper that had led Fritz Busch, for example, to ban appoggiaturas from the famous Mozart opera recordings made at the first Glyndebourne Festivals.

Labels aside, Karl Richter's Bach recordings (and for those who heard them, his performances) were widely considered stylish, meaning specifically that they were appropriate to Baroque music. I heard him and his chamber orchestra (the use of a chamber orchestra was itself a point of style) play a concert of Brandenburg concertos with Maurice André playing #5 on a tiny trumpet made specifically for Baroque music. This was in the 1960s, on Harnoncourt's home turf actually (Vienna), but if Harnoncourt was even a name in his home city at the time I never heard it - not until the first Telefunken recordings appeared.

"Original instruments" has since become a kind of industry, certainly a "label," and conventional orchestras have more or less been chased out of the pre-Haydn repertoire. But this wasn't done from scratch beginning in the 1970s. It was part of a long evolution which is still going on - today's Baroque-style performances and recordings are not the same as those from the later years of the last century. And if earlier Baroque specialists like Karl Richter weren't marketed in the same way as today's authenticists, that's a different issue from their intentions and practices.
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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Tarantella » Fri Dec 06, 2013 4:56 am

This is excellent, John. I have in front of me Thurston Dart's "The Interpretation of Music" (first published 1954) and many of these issues of which you speak are discussed. In Chapter 9, "Conclusions", Dart says:

"There can be no cut-and-dried set of answers to the questions raised in the performance of early music. The problem itself has only arisen during the last century and a half, for until the early years of the 19th century no musician was interested in anything but new music, that is to say, music written during the preceding 40 or 50 years. Old manuscripts and printed books were something for the antiquary, the historian and the musical snob; old musical instruments, unless they were violins, were merely old-fashioned and tiresome; and the idea of including even one piece of old music in a concert program would have been regarded as unfashionable and eccentric".(160)

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by premont » Fri Dec 06, 2013 7:36 am

The “harpsichords”, Dart and his contemporaries (also Karl Richter) played, were not original instruments but newbuilt instruments considered improvements compared to true historical instruments. In a way they were a step backwards, because they prevented the historical movement from developing. They should rather be called pianochords. And it is also obvious, that Richter hadn´t much idea of informed harpsichord playing – here on you tube one can see him hammering on the keys of his Neupert Bach, as if it were a Steinway Grand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMSwVf_69Hc

Richter remained conservative and maintained his old-fashioned playing style until his death in 1981. His style was marked by strict adherence to the score with stiff inflexible tempi (sewing-machine Bach) and no – or as well as no -added ornamentation. In all three recordings he made of the Brandenburg concertos e.g. most of the self-evident cadential trills are missing. Compared to much earlier recordings of these works (Baumgartner, Goldberg, Menuhin and even Dart, all recorded 1958) his interpretations are mechanical and insensitive.

I think there are some fine moments in his recordings of Bach´s passions and cantatas, but as a keyboard player and leader of baroque instrumental music , I have no trouble forgetting him.

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Fri Dec 06, 2013 8:46 am

Thurston Dart's students at King's College, University of London included Christopher Hogwood and John Eliot Gardiner, though their styles of performance are not the same as his - less full-blooded, I'd say.

As for the history of HIP, on YouTube I've come across a recording of movements from a Handel concerto grosso, made in 1938 when Dart was himself still studying at the Royal College of Music, in which the Boyd Neel Orchestra's strings are joined in the tutti of the fast movements by a harpsichord playing very discreet continuo. You can just about hear it if you try.



Though the Boyd Neel Orchestra was known outside England for its recordings of 18th century music, particularly Handel, they were not a specialized ensemble, playing music for string orchestra and chamber orchestra from all periods; they gave the premiere of Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings as well as other new English music. Today's period-performance orchestras don't do that, having boxed themselves in by their dedication to "ancient" versions of the instruments. I deplore this isolation of whole orchestras and the repertory they play from the mainstream of present-day performance and am glad that some conductors, Alan Gilbert on the mainstream side and John Eliot Gardiner on the other side, have refused to let it happen to them.

premont misses the point. The Goff and Neupert harpsichords that Dart, Kirkpatrick, and Karl Richter played were not replicas of 18th century instruments - they had metal frames to stand up to the beating that instruments are subjected to in today's peripatetic concert life - but their sound was much closer to the originals' than Landowska's Pleyel, just as the Pleyel was much closer to the sound of 18th century harpsichords than to that of a piano. As for Richter's harpsichord playing (not at issue in this discussion anyway), which wasn't particularly admired back then, it may not have been similar in style to today's periodists, but more to the point, it was greatly dissimilar to the playing not only of mainstream pianists who played little Baroque music and much Chopin and Liszt (Rubinstein, Horowitz) but also Glenn Gould who played a lot of Bach. By the standards of the time, this was stylish Baroque performance, and it's not just unfair but incorrect to dismiss it as such because it didn't prophetically conform with today's way of playing that music, a way which itself may prove as transient as its predecessors.
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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by premont » Fri Dec 06, 2013 9:52 am

John F wrote: As for the history of HIP, on YouTube I've come across a recording of movements from a Handel concerto grosso, made in 1938 when Dart was himself still studying at the Royal College of Music, in which the Boyd Neel Orchestra's strings are joined in the tutti of the fast movements by a harpsichord playing very discreet continuo. You can just about hear it if you try.
.
How do you know, that Dart participated in this recording. He was only 17 years old,
John F wrote: piedmont misses the point. The Goff and Neupert harpsichords that Dart, Kirkpatrick, and Karl Richter played were not replicas of 18th century instruments - they had metal frames to stand up to the beating that instruments are subjected to in today's peripatetic concert life - but their sound was much closer to the originals' than Landowska's Pleyel, just as the Pleyel was much closer to the sound of 18th century harpsichords than to that of a piano. And if Richter's harpsichord playing (not at issue in this discussion anyway) was not similar in style to today's periodists, it was greatly dissimilar in style from the playing not only of mainstream pianists who played little Baroque music and much Chopin and Liszt (Rubinstein, Horowitz) but also Glenn Gould who played a lot of Bach. By the standards of the time, this was stylish Baroque performance, and it's not just unfair but incorrect to dismiss it as such because it didn't prophetically conform with today's way of playing that music, a way which itself may prove as transient as its predecessors.
Maybe you took me wrong, because I did not write, that Goff and Neupert harpsichords were replicas of historical instruments, on the contrary they were newly constructed supposed improvements of these, made with the experience of piano making in mind, and yes some of them with metal frame (Pleyel, Goff). However I do not think that e.g. the Neupert Bach and the corresponding Ammer instrument had metal frames. But one of the most striking common thing about these instruments is, that they (contrary to original instruments) lend themself badly to expressive playing, and their sound is compared to the sound of a Ruckers or a Couchet very much closer the sound of Landowska´s Pleyel. So they are neither pianos nor harpsichords, but a kind of pianos with plectra. It is interesting to see Richter playing the Neupert, because one sees him using some kind of piano technique. And as I wrote, Richter continued playing in this way until his death 1981, at a time where almost everyone knew better. I see Richter as a reactionary from the beginning to the end of his career, rather than a transitional figure between romantic and informed music making.

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 06, 2013 12:02 pm

premont wrote:The “harpsichords”, Dart and his contemporaries (also Karl Richter) played, were not original instruments but newbuilt instruments considered improvements compared to true historical instruments. In a way they were a step backwards, because they prevented the historical movement from developing. They should rather be called pianochords. And it is also obvious, that Richter hadn´t much idea of informed harpsichord playing – here on you tube one can see him hammering on the keys of his Neupert Bach, as if it were a Steinway Grand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMSwVf_69Hc

Richter remained conservative and maintained his old-fashioned playing style until his death in 1981. His style was marked by strict adherence to the score with stiff inflexible tempi (sewing-machine Bach) and no – or as well as no -added ornamentation. In all three recordings he made of the Brandenburg concertos e.g. most of the self-evident cadential trills are missing. Compared to much earlier recordings of these works (Baumgartner, Goldberg, Menuhin and even Dart, all recorded 1958) his interpretations are mechanical and insensitive.

I think there are some fine moments in his recordings of Bach´s passions and cantatas, but as a keyboard player and leader of baroque instrumental music , I have no trouble forgetting him.
I found that performance pretty thrilling, and though I had to listen twice to make sure, he does make the cadential trill (barely) before the re-entrance of the ensemble. :) However, I will admit that it is lacking in any expressive possibilities that the cadenza might have. Many modern/old harpsichordists would take a very slight ritardando at the end to announce the re-entry of the theme.

Richter was also a fine organist of course, and I have a recording that includes his rendition of the Brahms Opus 111 chorale preludes. I bought it after I learned them, and was a bit shocked that he played these quite unexpressively as well, in music where it might be less easily excused. At that young age, I figured I must have been doing something wrong. It never occurred to me that maybe he was simply an unexpressive keyboard player.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Tarantella » Fri Dec 06, 2013 12:17 pm

jbuck, I always thought these Brahms chorale preludes were from Op. 122, not Op. 111. Can you please clarify this?

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 06, 2013 12:28 pm

Tarantella wrote:jbuck, I always thought these Brahms chorale preludes were from Op. 122, not Op. 111. Can you please clarify this?
Yes. My fingers fell on the wrong number. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Fri Dec 06, 2013 3:22 pm

Karl Richter wasn't the only harpsichordist of that time whose playing I found inexpressive, to my non-period oriented ears. Kirkpatrick was pretty straightlaced too. I think that was part of the concept at that time of what was appropriate Baroque performing style. Then there were Landowska, who studied piano with a pupil of Chopin before taking up the harpsichord, and Fernando Valenti, who studied with Jose Iturbi as well as Kirkpatrick; neither of them could possibly be thought inexpressive, though a few criticized each of them for being expressive in a non-Baroque way. Whatever, my point is that there was a pretty well-defined Baroque period style in the '50s and '60s which was different from today's, and no doubt both will be different from tomorrow's.

By the way, Richard Westenburg (founder and conductor of Musica Sacra, the superb chamber choir) surprised me with his enthusiasm for Karl Richter, about whom he never said anything bad. He never studied with Richter, and while I suppose a personal relationship might have arisen, I believe Dick just admired Richter's way with Bach. Westenburg led one of the most moving performances of the Matthew Passion that I've ever heard, at Carnegie Hall in the 1990s, so he himself was certainly no inexpressive musician.

P.S. Nosing around on the Web, I see that nowadays the modern harpsichords played by Landowska, Dart, Richter, et al. are called "revival harpsichords" to distinguish them from the replica-type instruments now called "historic." Since none of the latter were available until relatively recently, and truly original historic instruments were often too fragile to tune and play, the available choice for many decades was between a "revival harpsichord" and a piano.

Also, I now remember that the Polish pianist Ignaz Friedman, famed for his Chopin playing, recorded a couple of Scarlatti sonatas and the Mozart rondo alla turca on what was billed as a harpsichord. It was instead a kind of prepared piano with something done to the hammers or the strings to make it sound like a harpsichord, kind of. As early as 1926, then, the appeal of "original instruments" had spread beyond the specialists in Baroque music to at least one celebrated mainstream pianist, though he didn't actually play one.
Last edited by John F on Fri Dec 06, 2013 5:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 06, 2013 4:06 pm

I've posted this before, but I had a teaching colleague who had sung in the Munich Bach Choir under Richter, and thought him something of a tyrant. He had them do two performances of the St. Matthew Passion in one day, and during each did not allow the choir to sit down.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Marc » Mon Dec 09, 2013 3:49 am

John F wrote:Though the Boyd Neel Orchestra was known outside England for its recordings of 18th century music, particularly Handel, they were not a specialized ensemble, playing music for string orchestra and chamber orchestra from all periods; they gave the premiere of Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings as well as other new English music. Today's period-performance orchestras don't do that, having boxed themselves in by their dedication to "ancient" versions of the instruments. I deplore this isolation of whole orchestras and the repertory they play from the mainstream of present-day performance and am glad that some conductors, Alan Gilbert on the mainstream side and John Eliot Gardiner on the other side, have refused to let it happen to them.
There are more conductors and artists who have a broad interest in various periods of music, like Philippe Herreweghe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Frans Brüggen, Jos van Immerseel, Ronald Brautigam (playing both the fortepiano and the modern piano), Anne Sofie von Otter and the late Sir Charles Mackerras.
To name but a few.

Personally, the only thing I sometimes deplore about the ancient music/HIP-movement(s) is the strict and almost calvinistic attitude of some spokesmen and the way they convict dissenters.

For the rest, IMHO the entire ancient music movement has greatly enlarged and deepened the spectrum and understanding of (western) classical music and its history. The supply of good recordings of different musical styles and periods in a regular cd shop now runs from the Middle Ages to the present time, whilst about 40 to 50 years ago it seemed that the western classical music history only started with the birth of Bach and Händel (and Scarlatti, if one entered a good shop).
Good and skilled composers like Byrd, Frescobaldi, Froberger and Buxtehude were very difficult to find.
To name but a few. :)

The enlargement just had to lead to specialisation.

In my view, this development has given the interested listener(s) much more variation and choices to listen to. Up to this day 'new' music from earlier ages has been rediscovered and, among those, there are many pearls to admire.

I can't expect from Christoph Tielemann that he also performs and studies 16th and 17th century court music with the Staatskapelle Dresden, and I also don't expect from Marcel Pérès that he and his Ensemble Organum dive into the Rhine to discover the hidden secrets of Wagner's Ring.

On a sidenote: about the publicity/popularity/fame of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and other members of the HIP-movement in the 1960s: the Concentus Musicus Wien was formed in 1953, they made their first recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos in 1964, they came to the USA and Canada in 1967 (a.o. for Boston's Peabody Mason Concert series), Alfred Deller already started recording early baroque music in the 1950s (to great acclaim) and quickly became a renowned counter-tenor, there were many baroque recordings available by Franzjosef Maier and his Collegium Aureum, colloborating with musicians like Gustav Leonhardt and singers like Elly Ameling and Peter Schreier, Leonhardt played the part of JS Bach of Jean-Marie Straubs much discussed film Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach, Paul Badura-Skoada began playing the fortepiano, Harald Vogel and others discovered the unique colours, strength and beauty of many 16th to 19th century organs, influencing many American organ builders like Brombaugh, Fritts and Fisk, Frans Brüggen introduced the capabilities and capacities of the recorder, et cetera and et al.

Maybe it also depended on where one was born and with what kind of music programs one was entertained.

In some countries the ancient music developments and their HIP-musicians were greeted with great enthousiasm, but many others remained retentive for a long time, as some episodes in Lebrecht's The Maestro's Myth show. Sometimes HIP-conductors who were invited by a modern instrument orchestra, and who tried to explain the different way of articulating and phrasing in Haydn's and Mozart's music, were mocked by self-complacent orchestra members (Norrington in Cleveland).
At the same time, in the early seventies, Nikolaus Harnoncourt made his debut in The Hague (with the Residentie Orkest) and Amsterdam (Concertgebouw) and found in their musicians an attentive audience. They said that they were interested in his approach and asked him to teach them.
(Harnoncourt in Amsterdam 1975, whilst repeating the opening chorus of Bach's SMP: "You know Vater Strauss' Radetzky Marsch? Just play it like that." :mrgreen:)

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:03 am

Marc wrote:(Harnoncourt in Amsterdam 1975, whilst repeating the opening chorus of Bach's SMP: "You know Vater Strauss' Radetzky Marsch? Just play it like that." :mrgreen:)
Marc means "rehearsing" (French répéter) in case anyone was wondering. I mean, I just posted about Karl Richter actually performing the St. Matthew twice on the same day. Didn't want anyone to think this was a common thing. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:04 am

Music from before the Baroque era has always been pretty much the province of specialized performers and ensembles, whether Pro Musica Antiqua groups or church choirs. What I deplore is the ceding of mainstream 18th century music - Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart - to such groups. Nowadays you rarely find a Bach suite or a Haydn symphony on the programs of symphony orchestras - Mahler's symphonies are more often performed - or a mainstream conductor who goes beyond the Greatest Hits as Antal Dorati once did with Haydn's symphonies and operas. And yet, many of the recordings of this music that I like best were made by musicians who didn't venture into the pre-Baroque at all: not only Dorati but Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, and of the previous generation Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, and Serge Koussevitzky. Christopher Hogwood and his ilk have a lot to answer for.
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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Tarantella » Mon Dec 09, 2013 7:07 am

Venturing into the pre-baroque? I'm unsure what this has to do with the performance of Haydn symphonies and Bach and Handel in "mainstream" orchestral programs. For what it's worth, Haydn symphonies are seldom performed on ANY concert program. I did hear the "Military" played by a period instrument ensemble in Vienna, but that was all. Bach suites are seldom performed in concert halls either. These are mostly reserved for the recording industry nowadays.

I don't know how you can suggest Hogwood has a lot to answer for. He was a student of others who'd pioneered the use of period instruments and techniques, as we've discussed earlier. Once the horse had bolted, as it were, it was difficult to return to the idea that a late 19th century symphony orchestra is appropriate for performing works written more than 100 years earlier. When you listen to baroque and classical music played at A415 pitch with the requisite (approximately) number of players the clarity just jumps out at you. Yes, there have been less than satisfactory performances under these circumstances, but there have also been magnificent ones.

It's a huge subject. Just listen to the very earliest gramophone recordings - and here's extremely early Arthur Nikisch of Beethoven 5, last movement (1913, so it's now 100 years old). Nikisch was a friend of Brahms. The performance seems to have a vitality all of its own, but as to whether it's what Beethoven intended.....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKkNcp2wIOU

Do you think the Nikisch sounds anything like Bernstein, Toscanini et al?

We should start another thread on this!

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:42 am

Tarantella wrote:Venturing into the pre-baroque? I'm unsure what this has to do with the performance of Haydn symphonies and Bach and Handel in "mainstream" orchestral programs.
It distinguishes between mainstream performers, whose repertoire essentially begins with the great Baroque composers (or used to), and specialist performers of "ancient music," whose domain used not to extend beyond the Baroque. This makes a fundamental difference in their approach to 18th century music, the former within the tradition that extended up to our time, the latter discarding that tradition completely in favor of "historically informed" performance practice.
Tarantella wrote:For what it's worth, Haydn symphonies are seldom performed on ANY concert program. I did hear the "Military" played by a period instrument ensemble in Vienna, but that was all. Bach suites are seldom performed in concert halls either. These are mostly reserved for the recording industry nowadays.
That's how things are nowadays, because of the specialization I've been describing. It used not to be like that.
Tarantella wrote:I don't know how you can suggest Hogwood has a lot to answer for. He was a student of others who'd pioneered the use of period instruments and techniques, as we've discussed earlier. Once the horse had bolted, as it were, it was difficult to return to the idea that a late 19th century symphony orchestra is appropriate for performing works written more than 100 years earlier.
Hogwood is a representative HIP performer; as you say, there are others. What's different about Hogwood is that he applied his non-interpretive approach (he himself called it that) to Haydn, Mozart, and even Beethoven. If you've hears his recording of the Eroica, you know what I mean. And the abdication of interpretive responsibility, though Stravinsky might have approved, is for me something for which to be answered.
Tarantella wrote:When you listen to baroque and classical music played at A415 pitch with the requisite (approximately) number of players the clarity just jumps out at you. Yes, there have been less than satisfactory performances under these circumstances, but there have also been magnificent ones.
Many people like HIP performances and recordings, and I've no objection to their taste though I absolutely do not share it. What I'm objecting to here is that doctrinaire HIP has shouldered aside other approaches to performing the music.
Tarantella wrote:Just listen to the very earliest gramophone recordings - and here's extremely early Arthur Nikisch of Beethoven 5, last movement (1913, so it's now 100 years old). Nikisch was a friend of Brahms. The performance seems to have a vitality all of its own, but as to whether it's what Beethoven intended.....
I've known the Nikisch recording for a long time. What's striking is that the first movement isn't particularly striking or distinctive. Except for one detail: the oboe solo in the recapitulation is long drawn out, an effect that I like. It's an extreme interpetation of Beethoven's fermata, but the fermata allows it.

As for Beethoven's intentions, they are unknowable beyond what he wrote in the score. But even if we had a recording conducted by him, as we do for much 20th century music, that would not constrain other musicians from bringing their own imaginations and ideals to bear on the music. In my view, a musician playing from a score is in essentially the same position as an actor playing her part from a script - not to read the notes or words literally, without any personality, but to inhabit the symphony or the role and make it her/his own. (Which is what Hogwood explicitly refused to do.)
John Francis

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Marc » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:13 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Marc wrote:(Harnoncourt in Amsterdam 1975, whilst repeating the opening chorus of Bach's SMP: "You know Vater Strauss' Radetzky Marsch? Just play it like that." :mrgreen:)
Marc means "rehearsing" (French répéter) in case anyone was wondering. I mean, I just posted about Karl Richter actually performing the St. Matthew twice on the same day. Didn't want anyone to think this was a common thing. :)
Oops, one of those 'high school mistakes' I still make.
But yes indeed, here in NL we call a rehearsal repetitie.

And I could live with the SMP performed twice .... though not by Karl Richter. :wink:

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:43 am

Marc wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
Marc wrote:(Harnoncourt in Amsterdam 1975, whilst repeating the opening chorus of Bach's SMP: "You know Vater Strauss' Radetzky Marsch? Just play it like that." :mrgreen:)
Marc means "rehearsing" (French répéter) in case anyone was wondering. I mean, I just posted about Karl Richter actually performing the St. Matthew twice on the same day. Didn't want anyone to think this was a common thing. :)
Oops, one of those 'high school mistakes' I still make.
But yes indeed, here in NL we call a rehearsal repetitie.
I loved it when I lived in Germany and the young woman at the Deutsche Telekom office who spoke good English told me that I would become an invoice. (German bekommen=receive) I'm glad she didn't offer me a free gift for being a new customer. (Gift=poison)

Speaking of repetitions in Bach passions, about ten years ago shortly after moving here I sang in the St. John with the Glens Falls Symphony (don't laugh, they're quite OK). I actually had to seriously audition to do this, but one of the other basses said, "He's not really going to repeat the A section of the opening chorus, is he?" Well, um, yes.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Marc » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:20 pm

jbuck919 wrote: I loved it when I lived in Germany and the young woman at the Deutsche Telekom office who spoke good English told me that I would become an invoice. (German bekommen=receive) I'm glad she didn't offer me a free gift for being a new customer. (Gift=poison)

Widerstehe doch der Sünde,
Sonst ergreifet dich ihr Gift.


The Dutch make mistakes with 'become' and 'bekomen', too.

My 'excuse' is, that for the Public Education Examination I was scheduled for Dutch, German, French and English, being very bad in math et al (hence my love for Bach ;)), and because of that I got mixed up quite often with all those languages.
jbuck919 wrote: Speaking of repetitions in Bach passions, about ten years ago shortly after moving here I sang in the St. John with the Glens Falls Symphony (don't laugh, they're quite OK). I actually had to seriously audition to do this, but one of the other basses said, "He's not really going to repeat the A section of the opening chorus, is he?" Well, um, yes.
You could have shocked them with a question like can I do it OVPP, plz?

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Marc » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:29 pm

John F wrote:[....] many of the recordings of this music that I like best were made by musicians who didn't venture into the pre-Baroque at all: not only Dorati but Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, and of the previous generation Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, and Serge Koussevitzky. Christopher Hogwood and his ilk have a lot to answer for.
But now we're talking about taste, and, as we know, tastes differ.

As a teen of about 13 years old I started listening to Bach and Händel (and some Haydn) and immediately preferred the HIP-performances to the old school, without any understanding of 'authenticism' or whatever. (I did and do like Walter's Mozart, though.)

And as a twen, I started listening to pre-baroque music more and more, and thanks to that I began to appreciate baroque music even more, too. And I managed to somehow understand where the ideas of the HIP-school came from. But this was merely an add-on to my personal preferences instead of being a decisive factor in my taste.

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:36 pm

Marc wrote:
jbuck919 wrote: I loved it when I lived in Germany and the young woman at the Deutsche Telekom office who spoke good English told me that I would become an invoice. (German bekommen=receive) I'm glad she didn't offer me a free gift for being a new customer. (Gift=poison)

Widerstehe doch der Sünde,
Sonst ergreifet dich ihr Gift.


The Dutch make mistakes with 'become' and 'bekomen', too.

My 'excuse' is, that for the Public Education Examination I was scheduled for Dutch, German, French and English, being very bad in math et al (hence my love for Bach ;)), and because of that I got mixed up quite often with all those languages.
Ha! He says he's bad in math and apologizes for falling back on languages, when I'm good in math and only wish I were truly multilingual, as opposed to knowing a thing or two about a couple of languages other than my own.
jbuck919 wrote: Speaking of repetitions in Bach passions, about ten years ago shortly after moving here I sang in the St. John with the Glens Falls Symphony (don't laugh, they're quite OK). I actually had to seriously audition to do this, but one of the other basses said, "He's not really going to repeat the A section of the opening chorus, is he?" Well, um, yes.
You could have shocked them with a question like can I do it OVPP, plz?
I probably would have been the first voice eliminated from the section if they went that way. :) Seriously, the other three basses all doubled on one of the solo numbers, though only two were very good. I was offered the possibility, but am aware that I have a strong choral rather than solo-quality voice. Incidentally, the director very rightly skipped the musically climactic numbers Betrachte meine Seel' and Erwäge, etc. because there was no soloist available capable of that ridiculously difficult tenor aria, and without it the bass arioso makes no sense.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:55 pm

Marc wrote:As a teen of about 13 years old I started listening to Bach and Händel (and some Haydn) and immediately preferred the HIP-performances to the old school, without any understanding of 'authenticism' or whatever. (I did and do like Walter's Mozart, though.)

And as a twen, I started listening to pre-baroque music more and more, and thanks to that I began to appreciate baroque music even more, too. And I managed to somehow understand where the ideas of the HIP-school came from. But this was merely an add-on to my personal preferences instead of being a decisive factor in my taste.
I'm somewhere in between musically, coinciding I suppose with my being apparently older than you and younger than John F. I had to learn late that there were good performances of Bach before the Harnoncourt/Telefunken releases. At the time I encountered those performances, the alternatives available to me seemed like they came from a planet that encountered Earth music from a probe, and many of such still do (e.g., Klemperer's Bach). A typical older version of Handel would be the recording with Joan Sutherland which has been called "mad scenes from Messiah." However, I am inclined to agree with John F that the seeping out of the Classical repertory from ordinarily constituted modern orchestras is a destructive rather than a constructive development. Re-setting the stage for a Brandenburg concerto was always, or always should have been, a special and relatively rare thing. The same should not be true for Mozart and Haydn, of which there is so much that is so wonderful without worrying about whether the strings are made of catgut; and the question of whether it's chamber music or orchestral music does not come into play.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by John F » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:43 pm

Marc wrote:
John F wrote:[....] many of the recordings of this music that I like best were made by musicians who didn't venture into the pre-Baroque at all: not only Dorati but Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, and of the previous generation Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, and Serge Koussevitzky. Christopher Hogwood and his ilk have a lot to answer for.
But now we're talking about taste, and, as we know, tastes differ.
It's not mainly about taste. As I've said, I have no objection to musicians playing however they think best and listeners liking whatever they like. What I'm talkina about is an objectively perceivable change in who performs 18th century music nowadays, who doesn't, and why.
John Francis

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Marc » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:32 pm

John F wrote:
Marc wrote:
John F wrote:[....] many of the recordings of this music that I like best were made by musicians who didn't venture into the pre-Baroque at all: not only Dorati but Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, and of the previous generation Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, and Serge Koussevitzky. Christopher Hogwood and his ilk have a lot to answer for.
But now we're talking about taste, and, as we know, tastes differ.
It's not mainly about taste. As I've said, I have no objection to musicians playing however they think best and listeners liking whatever they like. What I'm talkina about is an objectively perceivable change in who performs 18th century music nowadays, who doesn't, and why.
OK. I understood.

And, at some earlier stage in this thread, I tried to make clear that the 'omens' of this specialisation were already audible/visible in the 1950s/1960s. And that names like Harnoncourt, Maier and Brüggen (et al) were already household names to some people in various parts of the world. At first these people existed of bearded men on sandals maybe, but that changed during the years.

Btw, in my later reaction I was mainly referring to you writing that I like best ....

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Marc » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:43 pm

jbuck919 wrote:I'm somewhere in between musically, coinciding I suppose with my being apparently older than you and younger than John F.
Thank you. I feel like a teenager again!
(Right now I'm dancing on some Bach bourrée.)
jbuck919 wrote:I had to learn late that there were good performances of Bach before the Harnoncourt/Telefunken releases. At the time I encountered those performances, the alternatives available to me seemed like they came from a planet that encountered Earth music from a probe, and many of such still do (e.g., Klemperer's Bach). A typical older version of Handel would be the recording with Joan Sutherland which has been called "mad scenes from Messiah." However, I am inclined to agree with John F that the seeping out of the Classical repertory from ordinarily constituted modern orchestras is a destructive rather than a constructive development. Re-setting the stage for a Brandenburg concerto was always, or always should have been, a special and relatively rare thing. The same should not be true for Mozart and Haydn, of which there is so much that is so wonderful without worrying about whether the strings are made of catgut; and the question of whether it's chamber music or orchestral music does not come into play.
Yes, I cherish the memories of Frans Brüggen and his '18th century orchestra' playing Bach's Orchestersuite no. 1 and Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony in one concert. Before the intermission a small group of players, and a 'large' orchestra for Mendelssohn. (Must have been in 1989. Seems like yesterday.)
And that the radio broadcasted Brüggen's performance of Mozart no. 40 in G minor with a really huge orchestra.

Funny thing is, here in the Netherlands, where HIP and small ensembles are quite popular, there are still many large amateur choirs performing Bach's Passions (especially the Matthäus), Weihnachts-Oratorium and Hohe Messe, as well as Händel's Messiah. The social-democratic God-denying Dutch minister of Home Affairs, Plasterk, insists on singing along with such a large SMP performance each and every year .... probably even if Holland is in acute danger of some flood. :)

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 2:53 pm

Marc wrote:The social-democratic God-denying Dutch minister of Home Affairs, Plasterk, insists on singing along with such a large SMP performance each and every year .... probably even if Holland is in acute danger of some flood. :)
Now now, don't go pointing the finger at us unbelieving devotees of music with a religious theme. If you wanted to eliminate them, you'd have to start with Brahms. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Marc » Mon Dec 09, 2013 3:17 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Marc wrote:The social-democratic God-denying Dutch minister of Home Affairs, Plasterk, insists on singing along with such a large SMP performance each and every year .... probably even if Holland is in acute danger of some flood. :)
Now now, don't go pointing the finger at us unbelieving devotees of music with a religious theme. If you wanted to eliminate them, you'd have to start with Brahms. :)
Yeah, actually it's one of my main personal 'problems' in life :wink:: left church, lost faith, longs for religious music.

Bach's music is my church now, I think.

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by Chalkperson » Mon Dec 09, 2013 7:37 pm

Marc wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
Marc wrote:The social-democratic God-denying Dutch minister of Home Affairs, Plasterk, insists on singing along with such a large SMP performance each and every year .... probably even if Holland is in acute danger of some flood. :)
Now now, don't go pointing the finger at us unbelieving devotees of music with a religious theme. If you wanted to eliminate them, you'd have to start with Brahms. :)
Yeah, actually it's one of my main personal 'problems' in life :wink:: left church, lost faith, longs for religious music.

Bach's music is my church now, I think.
It always was mine... :wink:
Sent via Twitter by @chalkperson

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jserraglio » Thu Dec 19, 2013 9:40 pm

I first heard the Christmas Oratorio on DGG Archiv LPs--probably Fritz Lehmann's mono rendition--and have loved the work ever since. I am currently listening to a live performance of 22 Dec 1972 from Vienna led by Karl Richter. It is a beautiful performance with leaner sound in a drier acoustic than the 1965 studio account posted above, operatic soloists that sound less operatic, and the incomparable Vienna Boys Choir.

Ileana Cotrubas, Soprano
Marga Schiml, Alto
Eberhard Büchner, Tenor
Ernst G. Schramm, Bass

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Re: Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Dec 22, 2013 5:13 pm

Getting back to Karl Richter, here is something one rarely hears. Bach was, as you can imagine, reported to have made the most imaginative spontaneous realizations of his own figured bases. It is a loss that no modern performance can cope with that challenge. Almost all recorded performances use minimal realizations, just as almost all recorded performances of Mozart concertos eschew improvisation, and recordings of Handel organ concertos do not include an improvised middle movement.

Here is Richter's recording of a movement from Bach Cantata 4 with an unusually elaborate (and in my opinion successful) realization, approaching an obbligato, which is what I imagine most of Bach's own realizations must have done. (The problem in this performance is balance. If you're going to do this, don't drown out the organ with 25 voices per part.)


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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