Monday, October 25, 2010
Scherchen: Bach Cantatas 35 and 42
Recorded in Vienna in 1964, in stereo, this is one of the best in Scherchen's many notable Bach recordings. The recorded sound is better, Scherchen's approach to the music had developed a bit, but had not lost its sincerity ("Sincere" is the characterization of David Federman for the performances), the orchestra is secure and its playing stylish, without "authentic" affectations, and the performance was blessed with the best set of solists Scherchen was able to pull together for this project.
No. 35, "Geist und Seele wird verwirret", is a contralto cantata sung by the incomparable Maureen Forrester, the sensuous beauty of whose voice adds immeasurably to the spiritual import of the music, as odd as that may seem to certain manichean sensibilities. (I confess that the poems of St. John of the Cross, The Song of Songs, Bernini's Saint Sebastian speak more to me of the possibility of God than all the dry, questionable assertions of theologians and others who speak of what cannot be spoken through history. The creator of this universe, if there be one, is nothing if not transcendentally voluptuous.)
Number 42, "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats", for the first Sunday after Easter, or Quasimodigenti, is an exquisite cantata, exquisitely sung here by the fine vocal quartet mentioned above -- Teresa Stich-Randall, Maureen Forrester, Alexander Young, and John Boyden. Listen in particular to the "Despair not" duet for Soprano and Tenor and try to imagine it sung more perfectly.
I believe that this record is the last of Scherchen's Bach Cantata recordings, the others having come much earlier. I have not seen a citation, nor to I own, any cantata recordings later than this. If it was, indeed, the last of the series, it was a stunning and fitting end to an important recording project. Scherchen died in 1966, mourned by many ever since.
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