Sunday, August 22, 2010

Redo of Die Himmel Erzählen Die Ehre Gottes with Scherchen

I have just reposted the files for Bach Cantata No. 76 with Scherchen, removing the original restorations, which I thought produced a harsh treble. The new files are not THAT different, and the highs have plenty of room, but the unpleasant shrillness of the first post has been ameliorated.

Sorry for the inconvenience this may cause anyone wishing to download a better version.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Scherchen Bach Cantatas: No. 76 "Die Himmel Erzählen, No 106 "Gottes Zeit" (Actus Tragicus}

Two more great Bach cantatas in superlative performances. The Cantata No. 76 was recorded from an original pressing issued in 1953; the Gottes Zeit from a later pressing, but thankfully not one of the fake stereo ones. I have doctored the cover art to include both works on the original LP front from No. 76. The soloists on the 106, though, are Alfred Poell and Hilde Rössel-Madjan.

Bear in mind that the records used for most of this series are almost 60 years old (like me). I have filtered them lightly in DartPro 24, though, not really concerned about removing every barely audible surface flaw on them. Though they are significantly cleaned up, there is the occasional slight click that might remain; I manually remove those I feel are bothersome but do not chase down every last one of them.

More significantly, the original records delivered a muddy choral sound, where the inner voices often disappeared into a sonic grumble. That did bother me, especially in this music, so I have done some re-equalizing. I am always loathe to do so; one man's "opening up the top" is another's "treble screech", but the ability to hear the counterpoint suffered from the sonic fog of the originals. To fix it I gave the midtones a boost and did a very slight gain on the low bass, and high treble, which seemed cut off, even though I use a cartridge/stylus combination with an extended treble response. It did open up the choral opaqueness a bit and allow more separation of vocal lines, and I believe the overall balance remains reasonably good. I would be happy to hear what you think, though, as I am anything but a professional sound engineer, and the impression the files make on fresh ears would be valuable to know. I am aware from having printed custom photographs professionally for many years, that our senses, too tensely concentrated, can play tricks on us.

Once again the text and translation can be found at the website of Emmanuel Church in Boston, where the great Craig Smith led the music program for many years. John Harbison stepped up to the plate when Smith passed away.

Link to all files

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Roger Voisin: Trumpet Music

This post is for my friend, colleague, trumpet player, and fellow Bostonian, Fred, at Random Classics. I say "fellow Bostonian even if I have not lived there for over 18 years, because I retain a certain home town feeling for the BSO, especially in its Koussevitzsky and Munch days, and am thus thrilled to present this record of Roger Voisin, 1st trumpet in the orchestra until Leinsdorf demoted him in a fit of Teutonic pique.

This is trumpet music and trumpet playing at its most wonderfully assertive, demanding assent and getting it -- music with tremendous positive energy that I find gets the juices going even on days when I'm not exactly rearing to go or in any mood to say "yes" to much of anything.

In short, a delight.

Link to all files

Scherchen: Bach Cantatas 140 and 32 (Wachet Auf & Liebster jesu Mein Verlangen)

This is the second post in an ongoing project to put up Scherchen's Bach Cantata recordings. My feelings about these performances was expressed in the first post, and there is abundant information about these works available from sources more knowledgeable than I. I will only add the perhaps uninteresting note that the Wachet Auf included on this record is my favorite recorded performance. There are many, many others I like, and with soprano soloists a whole lot more appealing to me than Magda Laszlo, but this remains to my mind the most deeply felt, even if not the most beautifully sung performance of this work on record. One sometimes loses the sense of the sacred cantatas as church music, especially if, like me, you do not speak German. But the musical expression here is profoundly liturgical, and though I do not share Bach's religious beliefs, the profound truth of those beliefs to him is evident through this performance, and is deeply moving.

Link to all files

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Scherchen, Rössel Majdan Bach Cantatas for Contralto

With this post I begin a project to make available as many of the Bach cantatas lead by Hermann Scherchen as I have that are not otherwise available. Although the solo singers in some of the recordings to follow are not particularly to my taste, these three cantatas for solo contralto feature the wonderful Hilde Roessel-Magdan.

Scherchen’s Bach has always been controversial, even in its day, and it has become increasingly so to those raised on original instrument performances of the composer. I will say no more than that I find it musically convincing most of the time. Its old fashioned musical values transcend transient, contemporary notions of authenticity as a musical value in itself. Moreover, we would be foolish to think that current performance technique is the final word in the evolution of instrumental and vocal practice. As one of the first conductors to record a large series of the most famous cantatas, Scherchen captured a new and appreciative audience for these glorious works and helped open the way for recordings of the complete set. They should be known for their historical importance, if for no other reason (though, as I said, I believe there are many other solid reasons to listen to them).

The three contralto cantatas in question (Nos. 53, 54, and 170) are some of the most sublime music the master wrote. They are (or were) also available in a glorious recording by Maureen Forrester with Antonio Janigro conducting the Solisti de Zagreb, which I will post if I find it is not available. Those wishing a more modern vocal technique and a more stylish accompaniment might want to acquire it.

I am posting what I can of Scherchen’s recordings of these works for those who enjoy this older, and individual (it is Scherchen, after all) way of performing Bach. I will not defend my taste, nor Scherchen’s musicianship. Those who share my enjoyment of these records and this conductor will likely be happy to see them digitized and made available; those who do not like them should be warned that no comments denigrating them will convince me. I know the arguments against them and am aware of the various shortcomings attributed to them, and I am convinced that their strengths far outweigh them, where they even exist. But feel free to comment as you wish within the bounds of courteous discourse.

Texts and translations of 54 and 170 can be found here:

The translation and text of No. 53 can be found here:

Link to all files