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


  1. Thanks for this post, Larry, as well as for the magnificent Scherchen.
    I believe the original Westminster LP (mono-XWN 18395) only had the Trauer-Ode, so I guess some compression must have gone in the mono reissue to accomodate the no. 84 cantata.
    Again, thanks for this great series!

  2. gpdlt2000: I should have made clear that I took these works from two LPs and added the No. 84 to the cover art in Photoshop. The Trauer-Ode does, indeed, take up an entire LP -- the XWN-18395 that you mention. I believe, though, that it is a re-issue of the original recording, Westminster WL 5123. The No. 84 here, from the same series, is from XWN-18393, which also contains the No.76, "Die Himmel Erzälen", which was originally issued on WL 5201, the record from which my earlier post was made. Hope that clears things up.

  3. Larry,

    As I've admitted to you elsewhere, I rather like Magda László's voice. I only mention this so that some who may consider downloading this recording but balk from doubt about her voice might want to reconsider. László was a very musicianly singer, as we agree, but to my own ears it is that very purity of her upper register is her strongest asset! I do not find it grating or sexless, at all. Her mid- and lower ranges have a more distinctly womanly warmth, even a certain sexiness to them(albeit, to other ears that tone in those registers may sound a little "gluey" in vocal texture), yet blends in nicely (without any irksome register break) with the top end of her voice.

    Admittedly, this is a matter of taste and preference. I just state my own reaction to Laszló to encourge others to "give her a try"; her voice may even be very pleasing to other listeners, too.

    Pax, Jerry Parker

  4. Indeed it does!
    Now I can sleep peacefully...:-)

  5. Jerry: We did indeed talk about Magda Laszlo, who you just like more than I do. Anyway, I would never suggest that anyone should avoid these recordings because of her, and I was careful to describe my reaction to her as a personal matter.

  6. Thank you very much for your excellent transfers, Larry!

    Magda Laszlo's voice does not irritate me much (I think she does her job quite well in the BWV 106), but Hilde Roessl-Majdan is a favourite.

    I have some concerns about the Trauerode (as Schweizer before me). It consists of gorgeous music (available in other Bach's cantatas), but I suspect that Bach was not much grieved by the princess's death. Anyway, a coupling of Scherchen and Roessl-Majdan is as usual effective.

  7. Anton: Glad you like the posts. I probably overstated my irritation with Laszlo. Although it is true that I do not find the voice especially appealing, I do think she sings musically in these Bach recordings and her passage work is as clean as all but a very few singers. I guess I keep thinking of the later, stereo recording that Scherchen did of cantata 42 with Maureen Forrester, Teresa Stich-Randall, Alexander Young and John Boyden. Now those are singers I could listen to forever. I will be posting that record soon.

  8. Larry, Um-m-m, Teresa Stich-Randall, now THERE was a fine voice! Magda Lásló was a very fine and musical singer, but she did not have the "vocal fire power" of Stich-Randall, who not only sang musically but also with considerable verve, a sort of sheer joy to be singing. For me, it was not till Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills came along that Stich-Randall had to take a back seat to any lyric-coloratura soprano. You're right that Scherchen was very fortunate to have her as well (gasp! from joy) Forrester and the supremely fine Alexander Young. That's "really cookin' with gas"!

  9. It is, for me, the deep sincerity that shapes Scherchen's performances that makes them so beautiful to hear. "Sincerity" is a value that seems to have lost its significance. This is Bach that truly comforts. I am grateful to have these recordings. Modern musicians, please take note.

  10. David: Thanks for this comment, which expresses nicely something I think and feel, but did not have the wherewithal to say as succinctly.

  11. Very nice performance.
    Thank you!

  12. WMS Nemo. Your quite welcome. As I said, despite my occasional gripes about some of Scherchen's soloists, these performances move me greatly. As David, above, says, there is a deep sincerity in Scherchen's performances that contributes to their beauty.