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Various Suites BWV 818-824
General Discussions

Particularity / Frisch's Goldbergs

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 28, 2003):
Jim Morrison wrote:
< Great post Brad, not only informative, but help unclog a pretty big conflation/confusion I'd had and wasn't even aware of. For years and years I've been seeking out recording that go out of their way to emphasis what was not obvious and have been turning away from those that actually do emphasis the obvious, but I'd never thought of it in such a succinct phrase. "I like recordings that don't emphasis the obvious" or "Recordings that emphasis the obvious don't work for me." Or something like that, but boy of boy did it ring true when I saw what you wrote.

And here's where the conflation comes in. While I said last week that hyperprecisive recordings don't move me as much as those who seemingly focus on other aspects of music making, I now see that even though that's still approximately correct, it's not nearly as clear and logical as it could be because one of the gut/non-linguistic responses I've been having to hyperprecisive recordings is something like "wow, all that skill, all those years of training, all those people learning to play together, all that experience, this recording competing will all those that came before and those that will come after, and they made the decision to use their precision to emphasis the obvious instead of exploring new territory. What a waste."

In other words, those groups could have been using their precision to play something unexpected, to shake it up a little bit, to bring out qualities of the composition that may get pushed under in a relatively straight performance, but instead they give us another middle of the road recording.

It's not that I object to precision so much, but the real problem, I'm thinking this morning, is that I don't like to see so much talent, so much precision, used in the service to create something so average and what sounds to me emotionally uninvolved.

I like recordings that do something different than emphasis the obvious. It's just so dog-gone obvious. Have I really never formulated it like that before? (...) >
Well put, Jim.

When you wrote "I don't like to see so much talent, so much precision, used in the service to create something so average and that sounds to me emotionally uninvolved" that made me think of Céline Frisch's recording of the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), as an example.

Her debut CD (harmonia mundi) showed that she can play with a decent flexibility, an expressive surface, especially in the French-styled Bach works. I wasn't as happy with her Italianate style on there (the A minor suite, BWV 818a)...too metrically strict, and merely brilliant (aggressive/loud/fast) where there could be more finesse. But the other suites on there show that she can play.

After that, her set of the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) is to me a huge disappointment. She applies only her generic Italianate style to this piece, and it's often so metrically stiff as to have rigor mortis within each variation. Listening to her, I dread the repeats because they don't add any new insight or sparkle, only empty length (during which I'm doubly annoyed and bored).

Worse, she applies one aspect of deliberate 'imprecision' in a very annoying (I'd say "wrong", "uncommunicative") manner. She often adopts a very pronounced staggering between the notes of her two hands, or occasionally within a hand (e.g., the left hand accompaniment in variation 25). Obviously I'm not opposed to this technique in principle, as it is one of the main tools a harpsichordist has to emphasize or de-emphasize melodic notes, and to project a vocal freedom to the lines. But, the way Frisch does it in the Goldbergs (BWV 988), it is deadly. She adopts a consistent amount of this staggering and applies it to an entire variation, the top notes always lagging behind the bottom notes by the same temporal offset. This is the opposite of expressivity. It is the rigidity of automated playing. The worst variations in this regard are 9, 13, 15, 21, 24, 25, and the Aria...I can hardly bear to listen to them! It sounds as if one her teachers (Staier? someone else?) once advised her to cultivate this technique, but she didn't learn to apply it beyond a mechanical level.

As comparison, Leonhardt in his third recording (dhm or Pro Arte) gets away with a sometimes more displaced staggering between the hands, but the crucial difference is that he varies it from note to note, continual variety where some of the attacks line up almost exactly while others are spread. The ear never knows what amount of offset is coming next. It sounds natural, organic, and alert where Frisch merely sounds affected...as if her brain isn't paying attention to the notes she's playing. Frisch's way gives the music less clarity rather than more; it merely sounds like two hands locked together but out of phase! (Also, she never explores the possibility of playing the right hand before the left, which is something she should know if she's ever studied Forqueray or the Couperins.)

On the 'particularity' line, Frisch's way with the Goldbergs (BWV 988) is to genericize them into a merely nimble, brilliant, "hot" (aggressive) delivery. It quickly sounds one-dimensional, doesn't hold the attention: doesn't have enough particularity (musical expression differentiating this from any other piece of music, or any other technically competent performance).

It's sad and disappointing because, as I noted above, on the evidence of her debut album, she really can play with an uncommon general skill. To that she should add the specific skills of being more communicative, rather than backing away from them toward a generic 'perfection'!

That's my technical assessment of it as a harpsichordist, anyway, my specific reasons why I believe this performance doesn't work. Jim, what do you sense as less than satisfactory in this recording? What do you (Jim or anyone else) feel while listening to it? I'm curious how Frisch's delivery comes across to people who don't play harpsichord....

Rest of this discussion, see: Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - played by Céline Frisch

 

A major suite BWV 824...not by Bach

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 23, 2003):
Pierce Drew wrote:
<< What do list members think of Carole Cerasi's, "J.S. Bach and the Moeller Manuscript: Music for Harpsichord" (Metronome CD 1055)? >>
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Here's a link to my review of that disc: http://www.goldbergweb.com/en/discography/catalog/barroque/2003/5280.php
As you can see, I liked it very much as well... >
That A-major suite BWV 824 is now firmly credited to Telemann, not Bach. It's still included in some keyboard editions (and recordings!) of Bach's works, to accommodate its popularity. I remember some years ago when one of my students played it in lessons we looked it up...she also especially liked to play that "Air for the Trumpets" movement.

In the 1998 edition of BWV (Dürr/Kobayashi/Beisswenger) it is relisted as Telemann's TWV 32:14. (And as I recall, this change was already given in the 1990 edition of BWV.)

In Cerasi's CD what do the booklet notes say about this, if anything? I haven't heard this one. I like Robert Hill's performance--recorded in 1988--but his notes still credit it to Bach.

Still a good piece of music which (one hopes!) has not lost its value in the reattribution.

Uri Golomb wrote (Decem23, 2003):
Bradley Lehman asked:
< That A-major suite BWV 824 is now firmly credited to Telemann, not Bach. It's still included in some keyboard editions (and recordings!) of Bach's works, to accommodate its popularity.
<snip>
In Cerasi's CD what do the booklet notes say about this, if anything? ?
Cerasi's CD doesn't include BWV 824; the A major suite I referred to in my review is BWV 832. The CD booklet firmly attributes that suite to J. S. Bach. Here's what the booklet note (by Stephen Daw) says about it: "The opening two movements only of the Suite in A by J. S. Bach appear in the 'Moller' manuscript; the presiding copyist is still Johann Christoph Bach, but the items were entered quite late into the collection, probably between 1706 and the compiler's death [in 1721]. It is not necessary to assume, as some have done, that the title of the second movement, Aire pour les Trompettes, indicates that these pieces were transcribed from ensemble originals".

Other works listed as J. S. Bach on that CD are the Toccata BWV 912a, a Sonata in A minor, BWV 967, and the Capriccio BWV 992.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 23, 2003):
A major suites BWV 824 and 832: Telemann connections

[To Uril Golomb] Sorry about the confusion between these two A-major keyboard suites, where I flipped to the wrong pages in the BWV this morning!

BWV 824 is by Telemann, and it's at TWV 32:14 in the Telemann catalog (as I mentioned). That's clear.

But BWV 832 has also been credited by some to Telemann, at least in part, historically among scholars. BWV (the book) now says "Echtheitszweifel vermutlich unbegruendet" (i.e. they were probably wrong before to doubt that it's Bach), and has a reference to Ruhnke's listing of it as TWV 32:18, and Ruhnke's explanation. It also has a reference to Robert Hill's introduction to his edition Keyboard Music from the Andreas Bach Book and the Moeller Manuscript (Harvard and London, 1991).

Yes, only the first two movements are in the Moeller MS...the Allemande and the "trumpets" air that stands in the place of a courante.

I knew I wasn't completely mis-remembering that this suite with the "trumpets" movement has (or has had) alleged Telemann connections!

BWV 832 is probably by Bach, most or all of it. Nobody would know that better than Robert Hill, whose 1987 dissertation (under Christoph Wolff) was precisely in these early works of Bach, and the authenticity problems with the sources. And Hill in his 1995 program notes for his first CD of this (the 1988 recording I mentioned this morning: Music and Arts #874) said he's convinced it's Bach. He said it again in his similar essay in his 1999 remake, for Hänssler #102.

Why has BWV 832 been doubted at all? Stylistically, for one thing: the Sarabande's texture is strangely thick (looking more like Georg Böhm's textures than like Bach's later works), and the rest of it looks sort of like Reincken or Buxtehude or JKF Fischer or (again) Böhm also. If it's Bach, it's from his late teens or early 20s before he found his distinctive style...hence the puzzlement with both young Telemann and young Bach (at least) on the table for discussion.

And there are these Frenchy keyboard pieces that look like orchestral transcriptions, in the works of Fischer and Böhm and Muffat (among others). Bach wasn't doing anything new here, but just "learning the ropes" of composition and trying out some ideas in the current fashions.

I'm a big fan of the Böhm suites, myself: delightful stuff. His textures are just so well written to make harpsichords and clavichords sound good!

Uri Golomb wrote (December 24, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I'm a big fan of the Böhm suites, myself: delightful stuff. His textures are just so well written to make harpsichords and clavichords sound good! >
Are you famliar with Mitzy Meyerson's recording of these works? (see: http://www.glossamusic.com/catalogue/1801.htm). Some really colourful performances, in all senses (including the literal one -- using many registral combinations). Apparently (from the CD booklet -- available from that site), Meyerson has explored the music of several composers whom Bach is known to have admired, though I have not heard yet any of her other sets. Anyway, highly recommended to people who want to know something about "where Bach came from" -- as well as being fascinating and enjoyable music in its own right.

 

About Hill's Bach Suites

Leila Batarseh wrote (April 17, 2004):
So, being the obsessive person that I am, as soon as I heard and loved Robert Hill's Music and Arts recording of the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080), I started buying all of his solo recordings as fast as I could. I now have all of his Hänssler Bach discs, and I was wondering whether there was any point to getting his disc of keyboard suites on Music and Arts. It doesn't contain any works that he didn't also do on the Hänssler recordings, so I'm thinking maybe even I'm not obsessive enough to need it. Does anyone know whether his playing is significantly different on the MandA disc?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Leila Batarseh] I haven't heard his Hänssler remake yet, but the M&A set of suites is very well played. How can one go wrong hearing such a fluent and imaginative player twice?

Leila Batarseh wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] So, Brad, I guess you're the devil on one shoulder. But I never listen to that angel on the other one anyway. I suppose you're right - the only real argument against buying the disc is my bank balance, and there are very few harpsichordists I enjoy listening to as much as him.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 27, 2004):
[To Leila Batarseh] Another great reason for picking up the M&A also (referring to Robert Hill's recording of the "extra" keyboard suites, BWV 819a/BWV 823/BWV 818a/BWV 997/BWV 832) is that it's on harpsichord, while the "Bach als Lehrer" set has the BWV 819a on Lautenwerk, and the other version of BWV 818 on clavichord. The music sounds remarkably different in these two recordings by him.

(When I remarked earlier, below, that I "hadn't heard" the Hänssler remake yet, I'd simply forgotten that this is the set those two suites are in.... So much music, so few hours in a day!)

Leila Batarseh wrote (April 27, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] That is a good reason - I'd forgotten! (I have a hard time keeping the contents of all those Hänssler discs straight too.) Yes, I'm obviously doomed to buy every solo CD Hill ever made. Ah well, there are worse fates...

 

The Neglected Suites BWV 818-824 - Discography

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 24, 2007):
Following previous discographies of Bach's keyboard works (I&S, Duets, ES, FS, WTC 1, GV), I have added now a comprehensive discography of the group of Suites BWV 818-824. AFAIK, this is the first ever web-discography of this group of works

As previously, I have used every possible source I could find, including web-catalogues, web-stores, web-magazines, artists' websites, labels' websites and other websites, as well as various printed catalogues and my personal collection.

Since these works are relatively neglected, I compiled all the known recordings (35 albums) into a single page. You can find them all through the main page of BWV 818-824 at the BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV818-824.htm
This page includes as usual internal links to reviews. I have found neither previous discussions in the Bach ML's, nor other websites in which these works are discussed.

If you are aware of a recording of the neglected suites not listed in the discography, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 24, 2007):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Since these works are relatively neglected, I compiled all the known recordings (35 albums) into a single page. You can find them all through the main page of BWV 918-924 at the BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV818-824.htm
This page includes as usual internal links to reviews. I have found neither previous discussions in the Bach ML's, nor other websites in which these works are discussed. >
I've posted about Robert Hill's recordings of those, at least three times:
See above: A major suite BWV 824...not by Bach
See above: About Hill's Bach Suites

Other BRML members were also discussing those there, in that April 2004 series.

And about Céline Frisch's recording of BWV 818a, here in December 2003:
See above: Particularity / Frisch's Goldbergs

I reviewed Gerald Hambitzer's recording of BWV 818a in Early Music, article downloadable free from here ("read online"): http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/essays.html

I don't remember writing anything yet about Belder's recordings in the Brilliant Classics set, but I like them.

In entry #33 at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV818-824-Rec6.htm the Sarabande of BWV 832 is also in that recording.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 24, 2007):
< In entry #33 at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV818-824-Rec6.htm the Sarabande of BWV 832 is also in that recording. >
That is: IMO the suites BWV 832 and BWV 833 could usefully be added to this discography of "neglected suites", along with the others BWV 818-824....

 

BCW: Various Suites BWV 818-824 - Revised & Updated Discography

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 1, 2011):
The discography of the various suites BWV 818-824 on the BCW has been revised & updated:
http://bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV818-824-Rec1.htm
The discography is arranged chronologically by recording date and includes 50 different recordings.
If you have any correction, addition or completion of missing details, please inform me.

 

BCW: Various Suites BWV 818-824 Discography

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 20, 2013):
The discography pages of J.S. Bach’s Various Suites BWV 818-824 on the BCW have been revised and updated. The discography is arranged chronologically by recording date, a page per a decade. All the discography pages are inter-linked. You can start, for example, at the last decade page (2010-2019) and go backward to pages of previous decades. http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV818-824-Rec8.htm
If you have any correction, addition or completion of missing details, please inform me.

 

Suites BWV 818-824: Details
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Last update: ýJune 21, 2013 ý07:13:45