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.

Link to all files


  1. I have to admit that Scherchen is not my favorite conductor, having heard too many recordings of his that I could only describe as "odd." But your advocacy (and the presence of Forrester and Stich-Randall) has convinced me to give this one a try!

  2. Hi Buster:
    I suspect you will find this less "odd" than usual. The performance is pretty in line with many stylish baroque music recordings from the sixties, such as those of Janigro,etc. Although I do like Scherchen's older Bach recordings, he does seem to have taken to heart some of the intervening scholarship by the time he made this. And his very late orchestration of Art of the Fugue is sublime.

    Of course, in general I have more of a taste for this conductor, even liking very much his very strange recording of the Vivaldi Four Seasons.

    The solo quartet is to die for!

  3. Hey Larry,

    Good to see you back! This is indeed a fine LP and I would agree with your comments on the quartet. Stitch Randall, in particular, was one of the very best singers of Bach ever.


  4. Hi Fred: Good to finally have time to work at the blog, a pastime I enjoy both for the music and for all the fine cyber-friends that I have made.

  5. Thanks ! I have enjoyed your previous Scherchen's cantatas.

  6. If there is any more consoling music in the world than "Wo Zwei un Drei versammelt sind," please post it. Scherchen projects the serenity of this music so outstandingly that I wonder how there can be debate about the authority or authenticity of his approach. I have played this aria over and over in astonished gratitude. Not only is his signature sincerity here but also his equally apparent humility. Scherchen has no doubt whatsoever of this music's ability to heal and that is why this sublime performance is so persuasive. Thank you.

  7. Larry, While on the subject of Bach and serenity, I have a nagging memory that Yehudi Menuhin recorded the Bach violin and harpsichord sonatas with George Malcolm for EMI--and that they put all competitors to shame. Are you haunted by such memories? And can you find and post these performances (never, I believe, reissued on CD)? I haven't heard them in years but I always find myself missing what I felt was the warmth and beauty of these recordings in all subsequent versions that I have listened to. Are these feelings imaginary or justified?

  8. David: I would say justified. I might still have this LP. I'll look over the weekend and put it in the queue if I can find it.

    d'accord avec ""Wo Zwei un Drei versammelt sind", and to have Forrester singing it completes the perfection of the performance.

  9. Larry,

    thank you for posting these cantatas with Scherchen. It is always great to have really good and trustworthy vinyl transfers. BWV 35 and BWV 42 belong to the best BACH cantatas and they deserve great performances like these.

    I have the Menuhin-Malcolm Bach violin sonatas, but only on tape. I also remember an interesting recording of Bach inventions and 3-voice symphonies with Malcolm.

    Does any Scherchen fan have his Mahler 7 with the Toronto orchestra?

  10. Sturla: I have the Vienna State Opera Orchestra recording of the Mahler 7th with Scherchen in a very nice Japanese pressing, but not the Toronto, which I've not heard. I do like the Vienna recording, however.

  11. Hey there, first of all let me mention I love this blog. Secondly this Bach Scherchen recording is magnificent. Thank you so much. Was wondering if you had any more Milhaud to post?

  12. Justin: Glad you like the recording; it's long been one of my favorites.

    I do have a Milhaud recording in the queue -- Saudades do Brazil and Concerto No. 4 with pianist Zadel Skolovsky, Milhaud conducting. If it is not otherwise readily available, I'll post it, but I cannot promise anytime soon. There is a Budapest Qt. project that will take up the near term.

  13. Hey Lawrence, I haven't heard that recording yet. I'm sure whatever you post next will be great as always!

  14. I believe Milhaud wrote the pieces -- at least the Saudades -- for Skolovsky. Very nice playing.

    I followed your link, and ultimately ended up listening to a bit of your music on YouTube -- the string quartet. Because I have a thing about string quartets. I look forward to listening to the work all the way through, and was encouraged that you seem to have picked up musical insights from the great modernists. I find the onslaught of neo-romantic propaganda against the great mid 20th century composers rather tedious. As if David Del Tredici (to mention just one of the most obnoxious spokesmen) had anything to offer beside the glories of George Crumb.

  15. Hey Lawrence, thanks for checking out my music. I've actually written a couple quartets. I just got a commission for a 3rd which I'll be starting next year, amongst other things.

    I am a huge admirer of Milhaud as you can probably tell from my style (poly/bi-tonal mostly), but I do enjoy Bach as well as alot of the other "greats". I just like music!

  16. Thanks for the Scherchen-Bach recordings, notably the last one !

    For Sturla: you can find Mahler'7th from Toronto in the excellent blog of the late CuervoLopez:


  17. Hello:
    I found all Scerchen's cantatas very interesting, and perhaps you will be able to locate copies of another two (Nos. 198,210) that he recorded in the earlier 50s...
    best wishes

  18. Hi:
    I do have the 210, the Wedding Cantata, and plan to get it posted eventually. Right now there are some things in process, and I have been very busy testing new cameras, photographing pottery, doing my day job, etc.

    The up side of all that is I expect I won't be bored when I retire in 6 years.

  19. Many thanks for the kind heartfelt words about Scherchen.I am an admirer of the German Romantic Humanist tradition that includes to my mind Scherchen,Lehmann,Helmut Krebs,Hermann Hesse,etc.
    I have many recordings of Scherchen on LP,and cherish many of them.He seems undaunted by some presence of amateurish musicians and shrieky shrill singers.When surrounded by better caliber performers his performances can be sublime.
    I had a music teacher in high school,who was offered to become a disciple of Scherchen and learn conducting by following him around the world.He turned down this offer in favor of being a music teacher in Jerusalem,and had to try quite hard to justify his decision to himself, for the rest of his life.