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


  1. Hell Larry, I'm pleased that you are making these available whatever original sound limitations there might be. I would call these an urgent listen in whatever shape or form.

    I'm glad you mentioned Craig Smith, one of the most authoritative, and honest, interpreters of Bach's music. His passing was a great loss to Boston.

  2. Fred: Thanks for your support. I have just uploaded new versions of Cantata 76; the original files were too shrill, which I noticed once I made a CD of them and listened on my regular system. It's a pain to download them again, but I think you will find they are significantly improved. Gottes Zeit was fine the way it was, I thought.

    You are so right about Craig Smith.

  3. Thanks Larry - I am no fan of Scherchen, but I do love Bach performances of this vintage and from this tradition.

  4. Hi Buster:
    Scherchen: Love him or hate him,he is not going away, not with admirers like me around.

  5. Larry, I experienced heaven on earth while listening to the sonatina from Cantata 106. Scherchen's Bach illustrates what William Carlos Williams called "all gentleness and its enduring." Thanks.

  6. David: What a lovely tribute to Scherchen's Bach, especially the quotation from one of my favorite poets. I think Scherchen's essential understanding of Bach is present in profound relief in his instrumentation of Art of the Fugue. I have the first performance of that, from Lugano, May 14, 1965, which seems no longer to be available on the Accord discs. If that is the case I may have to break my founding policy not to post CDs. It is an amazing document.