Friday, September 3, 2010

Scherchen Bach Cantata 198 "Trauer-Ode" and 84

Here is the next post in the series of Bach cantatas led by Hermann Scherchen. Unlike previous posts it was taken, not from the original early fifties release, but from a later reissue. Fortunately, though, it was a mono issue, not the subsequent phony stereo release in a Westminster multiple LP set.

Trauer-Ode, No. 198, was written to commemorate the death of Queen Cristiane Eberhardine of Poland, a faithful protestant who had adamantly refused to convert to Catholicism when her husband, the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich August, had no pangs of conscience doing so in order to fulfill the prerequisites for the Polish monarchy, to which he had been elected. At her death, she was deeply mourned in Lutheran Saxony, part of the official mourning in Liepzig resulting in this cantata.

The Cantata No. 84 for soprano is to a text from the "be thankful for any crumbs God throws to you" school of Christian thinking, but, as usual, Bach transcends the orthodox line to give us music of transcendent worth that is greater than the belittling doctrinal minutiae that inspired it. Of the performance: I confess that I have never been able to develop a real fondness for Magda Lazlo and that this work, along with other soprano cantatas Scherchen recorded with her, are among those I listen to least. There is just something in her upper register that I find unpleasant.

While I am dealing with my feelings about Scherchen's soloists, I may as well lay my biases on the line. Of his frequently recurring artists in the early recordings, I feel that only Alfred Poell and Hilde Rössel-Magdan are fully up to the task. The various tenors he uses are fine -- Waldemar Kmentt being among the best, but almost all do their job satisfactorily, even those with voices dry as chalk, a sound that usually makes me shudder. The basses, on the other hand, other than Poell, can be sub-par. Richard Standen in No. 76 provides a nice, bass rumble, but his intonation is frequently approximate, at best, and his passage work is sloppy. Having said all that, I should add that I have fairly narrow vocal tolerances and that, as a former string bass player, poor bass intonation makes me physically uncomfortable. But I should add again that I find the over-all effect of these readings, vocal limitations and all, to be sublime. The choral singing is deeply felt, and the final chorus of Trauer-Ode performed here is as beautiful as any Bach singing I know.

As usual, the text and translations at Emmanuel Music ( are recommended.

Link to all files