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: http://www.emmanuelmusic.org/notes_translations/nt_notes_transl_cantatas.htm
The translation and text of No. 53 can be found here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV53-Eng3.htm