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Two-Part Inventions BWV 772-786
Three-Part Inventions BWV 787-801

General Discussions - Part 1 (2001-2002)

Inventions - piano vs harsichord

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 9, 2001):
For the first time, I find a Bach work that sounds (IMHO) better on piano than harpsichord. The two and three part inventions (or inventions and sinfonias; or preludes and fantasias).

While I generally prefer the harpsichord for all of Bach's music, there is something about the style of the inventions that seems to fit the piano much more. Perhaps it is the rhythmic structure of the pieces; the piano is more percussive and seems to highlight that structure.

I noticed this while trying to play the first invention (some of you may recall that I bought a digital piano last fall...). When playing it with the hapsichord sound, it's ok, but when I switch to piano, it seems to flow much more.

So, the only piano version I have is the Gould. Any suggestions for another piano recording, perhaps a budget CD?

Jim Morrison wrote (April 9, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] If the inventions and sinfonias on piano are your thing, then you may want to check out Angela Hewitt's recording on the Hyperion label. It's not budget, but it is a fine "pianistic" recording that does include a colorful rendition of the fantasia in c minor bwv906, as well as the chromatic fantasy and fugue.

I enjoy that disc, though when compared to Gould, it seems to lack a little of the lift and depth that he brought to the music in that famous 1964 recording. (By the way, on the gould list we were just talking about the three different versions of the three part sinfonias he recorded. Is this just a coincidence that there's a little cross-talk going on?)

As someone once wrote of Hewitt's WTC, "Hewitt makes a beautiful, limpid sound; her ornaments are exquisitely precise as well as sounding natural; she uses the subtle shadings and variations of volume possible on the piano without swamping the music. "

Another option you could consider is the Naxos recording by Rübsam. If out of the ordinary Bach playing intrigues you, then I encourage anyone out there to listen to some Rübsam's playing. He takes his time (some of his recordings are the longest Bach recordings I've ever seen) while simultaneously playing the music in a way that refreshes it. The best descriptions I've read of Rübsam's playing were written by fellow list-member (and you know who you are) who wrote elsewhere (and I quote without permisson though I hope the person doesn't mind.)

< "I wouldn't characterize Rübsam as in any way arrogant, or merely pedagoguish. In both his notes and his playing, Rübsam is clearly out to demonstrate a fresh, rhetorical manner of playing Bach on the piano. This is based partly on his musical sensibilities, and partly on research into baroque aesthetics. The recordings are a way to get that style into the ears of piano students and teachers, who might not have seriously entertained the notion of Bach on the piano as being so free rhythmically (loose at the note level, within absolutely clear bigger beats). >
< snip >
< Rübsam treats the piano almost as if it were a clavichord, and his attention to detail is remarkable...yet long lines and compositional structure are also there. >
The same person also wrote the following about Rübsam's Naxos English Suites

"...everything is much more unpredictable within the big beats, which are still clear. Each big beat is like a geode, and when you crack it open there's all that chaotic but beautiful surface inside it, still controlled overall but allowed to be quirky at the small levels of detail.

Gould's playing also has that quality where quirky things happen inside the big beats (mostly due to his articulation), but he does it all in a style where the individual notes begin at very regular points in time. Motoric rigidity within the beats, as opposed to Rübsam's flexibility.

Both ways can be convincing."

By the way, for those of you who may not know it, Naxos has put almost all their recordings complete on the web.

So if someone wanted to listen to Rübsam's complete inventions and sinfonias, you'd go to: http://web02.hnh.com/scripts/newreleases/naxos_cat.asp?item_code=8.550960

or if you wanted to hear János Sebestyén, a recording I don't have, you'd go to: http://web02.hnh.com/scripts/newreleases/naxos_cat.asp?item_code=8.550679

I also have Leonhardt playing the inventions and sinfonias on harpsichord, a recording which I'm pleased with.

Anyone else out there have some favorite recordings of these works?

Donald Satz wrote (April 9, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I'm not very impressed with Hewitt's Inventions/Sinfonias. I find the performances rather hard and unyielding. This surprised me, since I have every other Hewitt/Bach disc and don't notice those problems at all. At any rate, I like her other Bach recordings much more than her Inventions.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 9, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< I'm not very impressed with Hewitt's Inventions/Sinfonias. I find the performances rather hard and unyielding. This surprised me, since I have every other Hewitt/Bach disc and don't notice those problems at all. At any rate, I like her other Bach recordings much more than her Inventions. >
I think I was more impressed with them than Don was, but I do agree with him that of the other Hewitt recordings I have, the Partitas and the WTC, I find the inventions and sinfonias below their rather high level. To my ears her touch isn't an subtle as in the other recordings, norquite as much of that pianistic color that I find in the other discs.

I still enjoy them, but, if I had to let go of either my Rübsam, gould, leonhardt or hewitt, her recording would be the one.

I'm listening to the fantasia in c minor right now, the opening piece, and think it's one of the best pieces on the disc. Don, do you have reservations about this performance as well?

Donald Satz wrote (April 9, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Concerning Hewitt's Fantasia in C minor, I reviewed many months ago a Koroliov/Bach recital disc on Hanssler. Koroliov includes the Fantasia & Fugue in C minor. My comparisons were Kipnis on Arabesque who performs both the Fantasia & Fugue, Joseph Banowetz on Naxos with only the Fantasia, and Hewitt with only the Fantasia. I found Hewitt's version of the Fantasia to be a fine one but not as enjoyable as the Kipnis. But I feel she does better in the C minor Fantasia than in the Inventions.

That Kipnis disc is one of my most appreciated acquistions. If I remember correctly, he uses both the harpsichord and clavichord. The disc is entirely devoted to Fantasias and Fugues.

Back to Hewitt, I have tickets for a concert in May in Los Alamos, New Mexico. That's a town loaded with PHD's who work at the DOE facilities there. I hope she devotes a significant amout of the recital to Bach.

Donald Satz wrote (April 9, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I'd recommend the Peter Serkin Inventions on RCA. Excellent performances on the slow end, sort of a thinking person's set of interpretations. I can't recall any budget recordings on piano that I'm fond of.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 9, 2001):
Donald Satz said:
< I'm not very impressed with Hewitt's Inventions/Sinfonias. I find the performances rather hard and unyielding. This surprised me, since I have every other Hewitt/Bach disc and don't notice those problems at all. At any rate, I like her other Bach recordings much more than her Inventions. >
OK, Don, you who have more keyboard recordings than anyone - what's your recommendation for the inventions on piano?

Donald Satz wrote (April 9, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] My recommendations are Gould and Peter Serkin.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 10, 2001):
Jim Morrison said:
< By the way, for those of you who may not it, Naxos has put almost all their recordings complete on the web. >
Unfortunately, it's Windows only...

Jim Morrison wrote (April 10, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] sorry Kirk, I had no idea. Are you saying that computers that operate on a different system then windows can't access this site at all, or that the music won't play on a system that uses an operating system other than windows. Do you have to have the windows media player in order to listen to this site? Can the windows media player only be used with a windows operating system? Could you download the media player and access the sound from the naxos site that way? Any computer person out there know what's going on?

Jim Morrison wrote (April 10, 2001):
Donald Satz wrote:
< My recommendations are Gould and Peter Serkin. >
anyone ever heard the following recording of the inventions and Sinfonias?

Bach with Pluck Vol 2 / Elaine Comparone, Dusan Bogdanovic

Release Date: 8/1/1994
Catalog#: CD 1039
Label: Ess.a.y Recordings

The music is performed by a harpsichord and guitar duo, which sounds interesting on the face of it, but the sound samples I've heard belie an overuse, in my opinion, of the harpsichord's buffstop, thereby muting the bloom and glow the instrument could have. Instead of letting her harpsichord sound like a harpsichord, Bogdanovic tries to make her instrument sound more like a guitar. But once again, this evaluation is just formed from a few sound samples available online. Anyone have the whole disc and can tell me it the above characterization is correct?

By the way, one of my all time favorite Bach albums is a guitar/harpsichord disc of the trio sonatas as performed by Eliot Fisk and Albert Fuller. Sadly, it recently went out of print. That's an album with an overwhelming amount of spirit. The joy of music making just overflows from almost every second. No kidding, list. I've heard few albums that good. Read more about it and the bogdanovic/dusan recording of the trio sonatas at: Amazon.com

Jim Morrison wrote (April 19, 2001):
Just a few moments ago I wrote that Bogdanovic plays harpsichord on the bach with pluck disc.

Actually HE is the guitar player.

Comparone is the harpsichordist.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 10, 2001):
Jim Morrison said:
< sorry Kirk, I had no idea. Are you saying that computers that operate on a different system then windows can't access this site at all, or that the music won't play on a system that uses an operating system other than windows. Do you have to have the windows media player in order to listen to this site? Can the windows media player only be used with a windows operating system? Could you download the media player and access the sound from the naxos site that way? Any computer person out there know what's going on? >
You need Windows Media Player, which obviously means you need Windows. Naxos is a bit stupid to do that, because Real Audio is cross-platform.

I can naturally see the pages, that's all.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 19, 2001):
< You need Windows Media Player, which obviously means you need Windows. >
hmmm, I'm no computer guy, but if you go the download media player page you'll see versions for Macs. Are you running a mac, Kirk? If so, they have versions for you. I know the Naxos page says you have to be running windows to hear the music, but that may be incorrect. Anyone other there with a non-Windows system able to access the Naxos music resources?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 10, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] There is no Mac version of the Windows media player...

Jim Morrison wrote (April 19, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] double hmmmm,

the following is from a microsoft site

Microsoft Releases Windows Media Player 7 for Mac With Support for Latest Breakthrough Compression Technology

New Player Offers the Best Audio and Video Experience for Mac Users And Access to Thousands of Hours of Film Content Offered in New Windows Media Video 8

REDMOND, Wash. - March 28, 2001 - Microsoft Corp. today announced the immediate availability of Windows MediaT Player 7 for Mac, which offers Macintosh users access to the thousands of hours of the highest-quality movies and music available in Windows Media Format, a new and intuitive design and reliable performance. It runs on most popular Macintosh models, including the Apple iMac, Cube and G4. The new player is available for download starting today at: http://WindowsMedia.com/.

With the new player, Microsoft responds to consumer demand for Windows Media-formatted content on the Macintosh platform and makes it possible for content providers to encode their content once to reach the broadest possible audience. Microsoft® Windows Media Player 7 for Mac supports digital rights management and the newest Windows Media codecs - Windows Media Audio and Video 8 - also released today.

Online film content providers have announced plans to offer thousands of hours of movie content using the new Windows Media Video 8 codec technology. With the new player, Macintosh users can experience the breakthrough quality of Windows Media Video 8 at: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/en/wm8/default.asp.

"To deliver on our goal of taking digital media everywhere, we must ensure the best digital music and film experience across multiple platforms and devices," said Dave Fester, general manager of marketing for the Windows® Digital Media Division at Microsoft. "Windows Media Player 7 for Mac unlocks more great content for a broader community of users, and it gives studios, labels and artists the technology to deliver it in the highest-quality format available: Windows Media 8."

Windows Media Player 7 for Mac makes it possible for Macintosh users to enjoy the revolutionary new Windows Media Audio and Video 8 codecs, which provide near-DVD-quality video at rates as low as 500 Kbps, near-VHS-quality video at rates as low as 250 Kbps,
CD-quality audio at 64 Kbps and near-CD-quality sound at 48 Kbps, about one-third the file size of MP3. In addition, the new player was built to provide solid stability and reliability, providing hours of uninterrupted playback, and includes a new plug-in compatible with Netscape Navigator/Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers.

Windows Media Player 7 for Mac supports playback of streamed or downloaded Windows Media audio and video files. The player also supports Windows Media digital rights management, making it possible for Mac users to download songs for purchase or promotion. To accommodate music fans with legacy collections of digital music, Windows Media Player 7 for Mac also supports playback of MP3 files.

The player offers a new, easy-to-use interface for audio and video playback, including built-in selectable "skins" that change the look of the player. In addition to the default skin, Mac users can select from a small, miniplayer for audio playback or a "classic" skin for those who prefer a classic
Macintosh feel.

About Windows Media

Windows Media is the leading digital media platform, providing unmatched audio and video quality to consumers, content providers, solution providers, software developers and

corporations. Windows Media offers the industry's only integrated rights-management solution and the most scalable and reliable streaming technology tested by independent labs. Windows Media Technologies includes Windows Media Player for consumers, Windows Media Services for servers, Windows Media Tools for content creation, and the Windows Media Software Development Kit (SDK) for software developers. Windows Media Player, available in 26 languages, is the fastest-growing media player. More information about Windows Media can be found at: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmedia/.

Kirk McElhearn
Jim Morrison said:
< double hmmmm,
the following is from a microsoft site >
Ah, I stand corrected. That's the first I've heard of that. Thanks.

 

Recommendation for Sinfonias & Inventions on Piano

Mark Zimmerman wrote (April 20, 2001):
So far I've read reviews of the Hewitt, Schiff and the new Mamikonian (reviewed glowingly in Fanfare). Am wondering which of these is best both for performance and recorded sound or is there another to be suggested?


PS: Just got Rillings Mass in B minor and will give it a listen to tommorrow.

Donald Satz wrote (April 20, 2001):
[To Mark Zimmerman] My favorites are Suzuki, Gould, and Peter Serkin. Concerning the new Mamikonian on Orfeo, I have not heard it. There's nothing special about the Hewitt issue, and the Schiff is hardly competitive.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (April 21, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Considering you a concious and incisive reviewer, I'm interested in your overall opinion about Gould. I love his recordings, but often Gould's personality "floods" his readings. Don't get me wrong. I simply love the way he makes you listen like if you were watching a thriller movie.

You can never tell how is he going to approach a work!! Listening to him is a fascinating experience. You know, he seems to challenge the listener. He sais "So you expect me to play the fastest recording of the F major invention?, Well, I'll play it in almost slow motion just to let you enjoy it's superb texture" "Of course, if you don't mind, I'd like to "hum-hum" and sing around it"

Then, when you expect a rather just-snapy tempo for the A minor invention, he delivers his "supersonic" interpretation. The same goes with all his recordings. In WTC, por instance, the prelude in C minor (book 1) is the slowest I know about.

How do you treat this strong personality influence for rewiewing purposes? And how come he is "top of the chart" for you? Again, don't get me wrong, 'cause I share the relevance you give him, but I always thought that Gould was "politically incorrect" when it comes to pick the "best" interpreter. Of course, I'm glad to hear that a strongly informed person like you is more than aware of Gould's contributions.

Donald Satz wrote (April 21, 2001):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] I don't pay attention to what's politically correct or historically accurate. I'm in it for the music, and those are not musical considerations. As for Gould's "strong personality", that means nothing to me either. I sure am stubborn.

I find listening and reviewing a very simple regimen. I listen to the various versions and decide which I consider the most rewarding, least, etc.; it makes no difference who the artist happens to be. Then, I try to figure out why I have arrived at my preferences. These are not hard decisions to make. Each of us on a daily basis develop preferences and make choices; many of them are much more important than which recordings to prefer/recommend.

I consider Gould one of the best Bach performers on record for the following reasons:

1. His conceptions are original and come from within. That leads to a lack of predictability and listening experiences which are relatively unique. I sense that Gould pays no mind to how it's usually done; he does it the way he thinks best.

2. Conception doesn't go far unless you have the chops to execute superbly. Gould possesses all the expertise needed to deliver the performance he has in his brain and heart.

3. Although there are some folks who seem to think that Gould lacks heart and soul, I consider that premise ridiculous. He consistently reveals his inner self through his interpretations.

The above comments also apply to artists such as Leonhardt, Tureck, and Gulda. They don't apply to artists such as Murray Perahia whose Bach performances are quite mainstream. All the raves his Bach recordings have received bewilder me. Yes, he is technically excellent and his performances are very rewarding. But, he lacks a distinctive profile, and there is nothing memorable in the long-run about excellent mainstream performances. Don't get me wrong. I have and will continue to snap up Perahia recordings of Bach music; they are excellent. However, there's a giant leap from excellent to magical or transcendent performances. Perahia shows no inclination to make that leap. You can't get there if you don't try, and artists like Gould consistently make the effort and often reach the heights.

Unfortunately, review mags. such as Gramophone tend to promote excellent mainstream interpretions and downgrade originality. So Gramophone gushes over Perahia's Goldberg Variations while criticizing a truely visionary version such as the Tureck on DG.

All this brings to mind the novel "The Fountainhead" where the average is exalted and the exalted is brought down to its knees; true greatness is seen as too much of a threat to the established order and those controlling it. Yet, I firmly believe that greatness does win out in the end because the 'average' has no staying power. I don't consider my views to be elitist in nature, simply an observance of how the world turns.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (April 22, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] I agree with you 100%

It's interesting and revealing your explanation about how you build up a review, because when allow myself to forget my limitations and try to make a concious comparison of recordings, I tend to be deeply influenced by the identity of the performer.

Your lines on how you fece this activity are rewarding.

I share your view on mags. Moreover, I stopped buying any magazine like Gramophone some years ago. I just can't convince myself to believe that they are not just sophisticated commercial advertising.

About Gould, what can I say...

I heard him for the first time on his CBS recording of the WTC. I remember I bought the CDs just because they where on sale, and at that time CD prices still where a bit outrageuos, and with not many choices on the market. When I got home, I put the first CD, and suddenly, I can clearly listen to "this weird guy" singing along the piano.

Given the fact that those days the world was still amazed by the marvelous clarity of the CD technology, this "madman's" humming was more than shocking, it was almost annoying.

With time, I grew up...these days, each time I play a Gould recording, I feel the inmense pleasure of being sitting on my living room, with a cigar, with Glenn Gould creating that kind of intimacy and confidence that comes, precisely, from his singing. It's like he's saying "Well, if I'm playing this in your private living room, please allow me to feel like home, and enjoy it to the max".

In the booklet for the Inventions and Sinfonias CD, it is said that CBS had to get used to have a total 18 hours of recordings jurt to get 50 minutes of "definitive" Gould. And they had to get used that those 18 hours could be divided into several sessions of one or two hours, each one months or even years apart from the others. Obviously, he played with heart, to the point of playing when he happened to want to. In some aspects, Gouls is very similar to some Rock & Roll stars. "I'll do it when I feel like doing it, how I feel it".

Thaks God there were wise men who took all the patience needed to catch some of this genious for us!!!.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 22, 2001):
Pablo Fagoaga said:
< Thaks God there were wise men who took all the patience needed to catch >some of this genious for us!!!. >
Here's an anecdote - Glenn Gould's producer, Andrew Kazdin, is the father of a childhood friend. I grew up near his home, and, unfortunately, at the time, Bach didn't interest me in the slightest... He was a weird guy, though, he never let his daughters have any friends over because of all the recording equipment in his house...

 

Sinfonia in A Minor

Anne Smith wrote (May 9, 2001):
I have two editions of Bach's 2 and 3 Part Inventions. In one, the 3 Part Invention in A Minor, #13, has a Tierce di Picardie. The only recording that I have of these is by Glenn Gould. He doesn't play the Tierce di Picardie. Does anyone know if Bach put in the C# on the last chord or if this was just done by an editor? Even if you don't know for sure, I am curious as to how this is written in different editions.

Thanks,

Cory Hall wrote (May 9, 2001):
[To Anne Smith] In my edition (Peters), which I think is reliable, there is a Picardy 3rd at the end. I've always played it this way and think it sounds strange without the c#.

Robin Crag wrote (May 10, 2001):
[To Anne Smith] I don't know the inventions, but I have the geschelchaft-reprint-thingy here and that has a C# in the last cord. When you say without the tierce di picardie, do you you mean he played a C natural instead, or just left the note out?

Warren Rogers wrote (May 10, 2001):
[To Anne Smith] I've got a Busoni edition which has the C#.

Anthony Ranieri wrote (May 10, 2001):
[To Warren Ro] This should settle it. I have the Dover reprint of the Autograph Manuscript, while using the soprano clef for the treble staff throughout, as he was wont to do, there is no doubt, it is a C#. The Henle and Palmer editions also show a C#.

 

Rübsam Inventions and Sinfonia

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 15, 2001):
I received this CD today, and find Rübsam's approach quite interesting, for the piano.

Who can tell me which of his other recordings are worth checking out?

Don, have you ever heard any?

Donald Satz wrote (May 15, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I heard Rübsam's Partitas for Harpsichord a few years ago; that's about it. I remember not thinking very well of them, but I can't recall why.At the low price, I should get back to Rübsam and get the scoop.

Mark Zimmerman wrote (May 15, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Definitely stay away from his Art of the Fugue on Naxos. There's so much reverb in the acoustic that you can't follow along at all.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 15, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I have all of his Bach piano recordings, and enjoy them.

Anyone who likes their Bach-on-piano motoric and driven hard (like, for example, that horrible recording of Pogorelich* destroying the English suites 2&3) will probably dislike Rübsam. Rübsam plays with a gently halting rhythmic style that is at least fresh, if not always equally convincing. (It's convincing when it sounds graceful, and unconvincing when it sounds merely mannered.)

I heard Rübsam play several recitals of Bach about 12-15 years ago: some on organ, some on piano. About the piano recitals I remember most that he has an uncommon control of quiet sounds on the piano. It's almost as if he is treating the piano like an overgrown clavichord. It becomes mesmerizing to a listener who is willing to step into Rübsam's sound world.

Rübsam's notes to the partitas give an idea of the interpretations he's striving for:

"This recording was produced to communicate, stimulate and encourage the interpretation of Bach's keyboard works on the modern piano. It is based upon recognized fundamental elements of performance practices of early music.

"The interpretation of Bach's music on the modern piano remains a confusing issue in light of the fact that the instrument basically evolved with the romantic period. It is, therefore, no surprise that attempts frequently result in romantic readings, a direction which can be most musical at times but may be stylistically confusing if not actually foreign to the score. Musical preferences also favor a clean, mathematical and metronomic realization--a safe but somewhat noncommittal solution to the communication of Bach's artistry.

"On a different level, then, is the enjoyment of incorporating the often neglected elements of rhetoric, inegalite, the structures of the strong and weak within a given pulse and meter, and the fingering techniques of the time (shifting and sequential fingerings rather than consecutive scale fingerings). These components, which are strongly interrelated and directly influence choices of articulation and flexibility of rhythm, often answer automatically questions of style, especially when they are understood as basic elements of the musical language.

"The complex subject of ornamentation, both Bach's written out ornaments and the liberty given in repeats of movements, is most challenging and rewarding when there is the concept of freedom of execution and the manner is improvisational and imaginative.

"Dynamic shadings within figurations, motivic material, and entire musical lines in any part of the polyphonic structure become particularly exciting and meaningful upon melodic (and harmonic) analysis. Important pitches, in the greater sense of the direction, can be pointed out by dynamic control and nuance and by the effect of rhythmic flexibility within the structure of the melodic line. The degree of such bending in time is most personal and strongly communicative when applied with balance and refinement of taste.

"The process of merging the 'old' and the 'new' in Bach's keyboard works will be an ongoing pursuit for me as it will most likely be for the pianists with an interest in early music who strive for reorganization of the ear before fingers are expected to reflect such inner feelings. Since such musical detail is best demonstrated by the music itself, it is my hope that this recording will be a helpful example in this process and that listeners and students alike will find it an enjoyable means of communication."

Note, he did the English suites twice: the first time on Bayer 100007/8 and then on Naxos. The Naxos set has more interesting playing.

The toccatas, French suites, Italian concerto, and chromatic F&F were also all on Bayer before appearing also on Naxos. In those cases the Naxos release is the same as the Bayer, not remakes.

*I like Pogorelich in other repertoire, but find his Bach English suites to be mercilessly driven and one-dimensional: like zooming somewhere on the Autobahn just to get there but not to enjoy the trip. Plus, despite all his motoric drive in the fast movements, he can't even play a convincing three beats per measure in the A-minor sarabande. It's a lumpy misshapen mess, really a disaster. YECCH!

Donald Satz wrote (May 15, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] I feel a little differently than Brad about the Pogorelich recording. His A minor Suite isn't anything to write home about except for the Prelude which is worth the price of the disc. His propulsion is fantastic. In the Bourree I and Gigue I thought he was too soft-spoken.

I like his G minor Suite more than the A minor. Except for the last two movements, I find it a great reading. The Sarabande is gorgeous.

When I reviewed the cd, I wrote that my only significant reservation was that Pogorelich was sometimes too soft and reserved. I guess I feel very differently than Brad.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 15, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I heard Rübsam play several recitals of Bach about 12-15 years ago: some on organ, some on piano. About the piano recitals I remember most that he has an uncommon control of quiet sounds on the piano. It's almost as if he is treating the piano like an overgrown clavichord. It becomes mesmerizing to a listener who is willing to step into Rübsam's sound world. >
Indeed. That's what I heard in the inventions and sinfonia... I find him far more interesting than, say, Schiff.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (May 16, 2001):
[To Mark Zimmerman] Yes, I agree. Excesive reverb seems to be a constant in Naxos' recordings (at least the ones I know). Sometimes it is a bit, some other times the reverberation just makes it really hard to enjoy the listening. Regretably, the art of the fugue is a fine example of the latter.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (May 17, 2001):
I want to clear a point: when I talk about "Naxos' recordings", it's a reference to SOLO PIANO recordings. Other instruments and ensembles usually are satisfactiry, and even outstanding.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (May 17, 2001):
Trying to make myself clear ended up in an unintended mess between piano recordings and Rübsam's AoF, that are NOT exactly the same matter.

My Naxos "ranking" shows Piano recordings as almost always too unclear due to an excess of reverb, that clearly sounds unnatural (and therefore partannoying), and spoils the minimum clarity that helps Bach's textures to come through. Say, out of 10 recordings, I dislike 9.

Organ recordings come second in terms of poor conception, but not too far, because while reverb sounds as a more natural consecuence of organ sound and volume, and the usual environment (churches and the like), too much goes wild.

Again, with Naxos reverb goes some way out of control, which means a potential dissaster, precisely because of the mean sound of the instrument, and it's capability to sustain notes. Reverberation of prior notes + notes held by the player = musical armagedon Other instruments and ensembles have much better treatment.

Unfortunately, Wolfgang Rübsam's renditions, are always inocent victims of ill advised technical treatment, because they're on piano or organ (the weakest points of Naxos!!!).

The Art of the Fugue is one of those pieces that can not afford lack of clarity, or massive sounds, and it is one of the better examples of how NOT to record (or post process, this days you can't tell for sure!!) an organ. An exception can be tha Inventions and Sinfonias, that sound ok to me (they're on piano).

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 17, 2001):
Pablo Fagoaga wrote:
< Unfortunately, Wolfgang Rübsam's renditions, are always inocent victims of ill advised technical treatment, because they're on piano or organ (the weakest points of Naxos!!!). >
Wolfgang Rübsam records/produces/edits his own recordings (and those of a few other players) and sells the tapes to Naxos. That's what the "RMC Classical Music" means on the back of his Naxos discs: "Rübsam Music Co" in Valparaiso IN where Rübsam lives. The technical aspects of his recordings are finished before Naxos gets them.

There is/was allegedly a web site at http://www.rmcclassicalmusic.com/ but it is not functioning this morning. http://centerstage.net/music/whoswho/RMCClassicalMus.html

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 17, 2001):
Bradley Lehman, wrote:
< Wolfgang Rübsam records/produces/edits his own recordings (and those of a few other players) and sells the tapes to Naxos. That's what the "RMC Classical Music" means on the back of his Naxos discs: "Rübsam Music Co" in Valparaiso IN where Rübsam lives. The technical aspects of his recordings are finished before Naxos gets them. >
That's interesting. That's the first time I have heard of a classical artist doing that (for any "major" label, at least...).

Riccardo Nughes wrote (May 17, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] excuse me for my ignorance but where is Valparaiso IN ? Indiana USA???

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (May 18, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Hey, I didn't notice!!

So he's a victim of himself!!!

So THAT is what the "RMC" logo means...

Anyway, seems to be that Naxos likes his technical style, or that he endorses Naxos' (whatever!!), because you almost can't tell the difference from listening his recordings and other players on Naxos not edited by him. Just to mention some recordings, I don't like very much the quality of the recordings of Satie Works, or Bach's inventions and sinfonias by János Sebestyén, and they represent what I consider the average quality. Still, Naxos comes along with a more than interesting catalogue, specially in early music.

 

Two-Part Invention #3

Paul Johnr wrote (July 2, 2002):
Has anyone recently played Two-Part Invention #3 (D Major)? I am looking for advice on how to get through the first five measures. At the end of the third full measure, there are two sixteenth notes, one with an ornament...No matter which articulation or tempo I use, the music seems to stall out, like the two sixteenths have to be extended in length before moving on to the next measure. I've tried to glide through them, but the notes sound out of place, rushed, etc.

Does anyone have an articulation that overcomes this? Or is JSB looking for us to put aside what our ears take so much for granted?

I love the rest of the piece, otherwise. If not for these shakes, I could move to #4 ;).

James Whisleychan wrote (July 2, 2002):
[To Paul Johnr] I think I see your problem. I have two copies of the Inventions. One is an Urtext. Both versions have not a shake but a mordent on the C# sixteenth note. When you play E in the left hand your right hand plays C#,B,C#. Sounds like you have been playing too many notes.

Some people play the Inventions without the ornaments. I usually play them. This often means a slightly slower tempo for the whole piece.

Paul Johnr wrote (July 2, 2002):
Thanks for your help, James. I don't have time to try the mordent right now, but I'm sure it will work fine. I can already hear it in my mind.

I also try to be as faithful as I can to the ornaments, although I find myself questioning where some of them belong. I've used a critical edition published by Alfred, which takes all of the manuscripts into consideration. But still in some cases, who knows? I guess that's part of what makes Bach an interesting figure.

 

Bach Inventions and Sinfonias for four hands?

mjseyers wrote (July 24, 2002):
Recently, I acquired a stack of Bach Inventions and Sinfonias with added parts for a second piano (some are one piano, four hands; others, two pianos, four hands). Has anyone here acquired similar editions, who may be able to compare versions? Some appear to be taken from identical plates.

James Whisleychan wrote (July 24, 2002):
[To mjsayers] This is interesting. Who wrote the secondo parts? Are they good? If so, where can I have a look? I might want to buy them

mjseyers wrote (July 31, 2002):
[To James Whiskeychan] Are you familiar with the Bach-Busoni transcriptions (and the Busoni editions of the inventions and sinfonias)?

James Whisleychan wrote (July 31, 2002):
[To mjsayers] Are you familiar with the Bach-Busoni transcriptions (and the Busoni editions of the inventions and sinfonias)?

No. I have heard of them. When I was taking lessons one teacher used highly edited scores. Another got me started buying Urtexts. Any comments on the Busoni?

 

Digest Number 124

Derrick Johnson wrote November 2, 2002):
As someone who is just beginning to get a grasp on polyphonic playing, are there any of Bachs works that
someone might recommend...for a beginner?

James Whisleychan wrote (November 3, 2002):
[To Derrick Johnson] I recommend the 2 Part Inventions. You can't go wrong with these. Many teachers have good students learn them all before advancing to the 3 Part Inventions.

I have learned all of the 2 and many of the 3. The next step is the WTC. Most of the fugues are beastly difficult to play. If you don't have part playing in your fingers they are immpossilbe.

Michael Wright wrote (November 22, 2002):
[To James Whiskeychan] Just a quick little addition to James' comment:

Definitely start with the 2 part inventions, then the 3 part. But when you move on to the WTC, start with book one. Book two is different, and far more complex (for the most part).

Some favourites of mine for the 2 parters are the B-flat major, the E major and the d minor (the C major is a lot of fun too). Of the 3 parts, the g minor, b minor, D major and E-flat major are good.

That might give you some ideas... After the 3 part inventions, you might also want to try some of the easier French Suites concurrently with Well Tempered Clavier Book I. The G major and E-flat major are excellent choices from the French Suites.

Good luck with your exploration!

Derrick Johnson wrote (November 22, 2002):
[To Michael Wright] Thank you very much for the good advice. I have begun concentrating on the 2 part inventions and memorized the invention in c (along with the triplet variant). Also I am studying a book called: Einfuhrung in das polyphone spiel (introduction to polyphonic playing) with little pieces by Klemm, Frescobldi, Couperin Froberger, Buxtehude, Walther,..oh and of course J.S. Bach. Might you please recommend a recording of the two part inventions?. I understand Glenn Gould released one, but he seemed prone to suunusual tempos and interpetations sometimes, I just want a conventional listen to them at first. Thank you all so very much

Michael Wright wrote (November 30, 2002):
[To Derrick Johnson] Personally, I don't have a recording of the Inventions and Sinfonias... I would avoid using Gould as a reference, since his playing is for the most part anything but 'mainstream'. They are interesting to look at after you have formulated how you personally want to play the piece, but not as a point of departure. Angela Hewitt's playing is good, but she takes her tempi quite fast. I find this a little disarming and intimidating (from the learner's perspective), since in all likelyhood you won't be approaching tempi that quick in your studies yet. You might want to try and look for a recording by Andras Schiff. He's probably one of the best Bach players around currently. These would be good choices for a piano recording. In terms of harpsichordists, I'd steer you in the direction of Colin Tilney or Kenneth Gilbert. I'm not sure if either of them have recorded the Inventions, but Colin has a great recording on Hyperion of the entire WTC on both clavichord and harpsichord. I would strongly recommend this recording to any player, pianist or harpsichordist.

Good luck!

Derrick Johnson wrote (December 2, 2002):
[To Michael Wright] Thank you:

Andras Schiff is one of my favorites in any case. It looks as though I may have to special order his two-part inventions, as none of the local music shops have it on hand. I appreciate your suggestion very much.
Thanks Mr. Wright

P.S.
I have a DVD of Gould playing the Goldberg Variations, and find it to be an absolutely virtuosi performance.
Even though his technique in general seems so odd, his rendition is just fascinating. In an avant-garde sense
of course. How would you contrast Gould whith Schiff? Please tell me your opinion regarding both their abilities and approach to Bach's music.

Is there something even the novus can learn from them?

Thanks again

 

Busoni's edition of Inventions

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 17, 2002):
Francine Renee Hall wrote:
< I have just finished listening to Book I of Hewitt's WTC. It's beautiful, like crystal, played with sensitivity. It has a feminine' touch, but I don't see that as 'bad' at all. This reminds me of my old piano book of Bach's Two and Three Part Inventions transcribed by Busoni. In the first invention, he writes that the student should play with a definite 'masculine' touch. >
That's not quite what Busoni says. I believe you're referring to his footnote about the final chord:

"The inexplicable arpeggiando-sign, which accompanies this final chord in numerous editions, is in absolute contradiction to the virile style of the composition, and so far as regards Bach, must be termed a stylistic error. We wish to warn students, in particular, against effeminization of this kind, here and in analogous places."

That's from the 1891 notes of the first edition, from Moscow. That 1891 preface also says: "(...) The expression marks, meant to serve as a guide to the correct conception of Bach's style, which is characterized, above all, by virility, energy, breadth and grandeur. The soft shadings, the use of the pedal, the arpeggiando, the tempo rubato, even too smooth a legato and too frequent a piano--since they are not in keeping with the character of Bach's music--should be avoided, generally speaking. (...)"

In the preface of the second edition (Berlin, July 1914) he writes:

"When to-day I consider this work which took shape some twenty years ago, it impresses me as one definitely completed, and I have decided, despite various changes of opinion on my part, to have it reissued _without alterations_. I must warn the student against seeking to carry out my 'interpretations' too literally. It is here that the moment and the individual may lay claim to rights of their own. My conception may be used as a reliable guide which those to whom some other valid path is known need not employ. (...) I no longer devote too much attention to unimportant details and incidental features, and consider the expression of a face more important than the cut of its features."

It must also be noted (i.e. pointed out by me, not Busoni) that a mild arpeggiation of the final chord is not an "effeminization" on the harpsichord. It is part of basic harpsichord technique, to keep that final chord from being too loud in context. The piece has been in two voices throughout, and suddenly there are five notes struck together at that final chord: one spreads them slightly to reduce the sudden WHAM! impact. (I'd spread the chord slightly on clavichord, too, maybe also on organ.) Bach didn't notate this spread because it's unnecessary to do so; it's an understood part of practical performance tradition, common sense.

Busoni, of course, was writing that footnote for students who have exposure to only a single instrument, the piano; and on the piano a suitable amount of weighting can be done without the arpeggiation (or with some). The point is: the top voice leads into the top note of the chord, and if an arpeggio is played too slowly that voice-leading can be lost. That is [I believe] the "effeminization" Busoni was warning against [in this English translation by Frederick H Martens for Schirmer...I'm curious what Busoni's original word there was].

Francine Renee Hall wrote (December 17, 2002):
[To Bradley Lerhman] Thanks for printing Busoni's writings up and clarifying technique. If you look at the Carl Fischer's Preface, though, the footnotes, Busoni states: "...The signs of execution which are to serve as guide to a proper comprehension of style. This style is characterized above all others by manliness (emphasis is mine), energy, breadth and loftiness." I brought this up because I was thinking of John Grant's feeling that Hewitt's interpretation of the WTC is "prettified".

Francine Renee Hall wrote (December 17, 2002):
[To John Grant] Sorry, John. You used the phrase "charming and elegant" which Hewitt's WTC certainly is! I can see your viewpoint as Hewitt not being perhaps more serious and substantial and lofty. But, to me, I feel I've lucked out even with the hefty price. Hewitt's interpretation is just beautiful! I'm breathless!

I will be getting a harpsichord version soon!

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 17, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Sounds like we're simply dealing with a different English translation from that 1891 preface. That's the same passage I cited this morning as:
"(...) The expression marks, meant to serve as a guide to the correct conception of Bach's style, which is characterized, above all, by virility, energy, breadth and grandeur. The soft shadings, the use of the pedal, the arpeggiando, the tempo rubato, even too smooth a legato and too frequent a piano--since they are not in keeping with the character of Bach's music--should be avoided, generally speaking. (...)"

Frederick H Martens translated this Schirmer preface (#1512, 1927). Who did the one for Carl Fischer, and when?

In interpretation of the spirit of the music, the word "manliness" doesn't say quite the same thing to me as the word "virility".... I would take the description "virility" as more generally "energetic and driving, lively", and would take "manly" as sort of a "hammer-hands" heavy touch, like Ton Koopman's and Glenn Gould's general approach to the harpsichord. Bash those jacks into the rail! Make that instrument beg for mercy! Add all that percussive noise to the tone! Tote that barge, lift that bale! (I haven't met Koopman or heard him play; just reporting what I hear on many of his harpsichord recordings.) Some opposite of "dainty," I'd suppose.

Pete Blue wrote (December 17, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< In interpretation of the spirit of the music, the word "manliness" doesn't say quite the same thing to me as the word "virility".... I would take the description "virility" as more generally energetic and driving, lively", would take "manly" as sort of a "hammer-hands" heavy touch, like Ton Koopman's and Glenn Gould's general approach to the harpsichord. Bash those jacks into the rail! Make that instrument beg for mercy! Add all that percussive noise to the tone! Tote that barge, lift that bale! (I haven't met Koopman or heard him play; just reporting what I hear on many of his harpsichord recordings.) Some opposite of "dainty," I'd suppose. >
Yes, Brad, yes! -- you have eloquently evoked the essence of Koopman at the keyboard. I'd call him an exponent of the Jerry Lee Lewis School of Bach Keyboard Playing. (Or maybe Jimmy Durante? No, the Schnoz was subtler.)

Funny, Koopman's conducting is totally the opposite, quite sensitive, actually, if not "dainty". How do you figure?

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 17, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] I'd say the same of Pinnock: IMO his conducting has a more graceful, elegant, airy, colorful, poetic manner than his harpsichord playing (which often seems not to breathe).

 

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