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Kurt Equiluz (Tenor)

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Let us praise Kurt Equiluz!

Xavier Rist (February 17, 2007):
Before leaving for a few weeks, I open this thread devoted to informations, opinions, discussions, commentaries, criticisms or whatever you would like to say regarding Kurt Equiluz, the great Bach tenor of the 1970s and 1980s. (I told you guys i would do it;))

I apologize for having to start the thread by quoting myself :

"Enters Kurt Equiluz, and it is like your very fellow man grasps you and pours Bach's genius directly into your soul. What is it with this man that makes him so moving? Is it the gravity, the intensity and depth of his expression of which every drop comes to life through his "flexible and penetrating" voice, as so well put by Aryeh in a previous post? Is it his humility and total lack of affectation? Here, while still being profoundly human, he reaches the highest level of spiritual truth. He is for me everything a bachian interpreter should be. [...] Shouldn't we be grateful to the so many moments of beauty we owe this wonderful artist?"

Thomas Braatz (February 17, 2007):
Xavier Rist wrote:
>>He [Equiluz] is for me everything a bachian interpreter should be. [...] Shouldn't we be grateful to the so many moments of beauty we owe this wonderful artist.<<
If you have read the BCW reviews of his recordings by others and myself detailing the consummate artistry of this singer with his usually wonderful musical execution and the indescribable, almost uncanny moving quality of his vocal expression, then you will find more than sufficient support for the accolade you bestow on this man's voice. How often have I heard vocalists singing Bach in a manner that is disingenuous while Equiluz always seems to come through with a powerful, believable quality. This is what I admire most about him: I can actually feel that he sincerely believes the words and text which he sings. This sets him apart from many other tenors, some of whom are more technically skilled in some arias than Equiluz might be, but who do not necessarily reach his intensity of expression which is irresistible to me as a listener.

Criticism: In the H & L cantata series, there are certain Bach arias, perhaps a half dozen to a dozen arias, where Equiluz misses the mark and does not achieve the high goals which he must have set for himself in every performance and recording. These are arias of a certain type where you can hear him struggling against Bach's music rather than being a complete master over it. Some possible reasons for this that come to my mind:

1. No one is perfect. He may have been having problems with his voice (the human voice is very sensitive to many influences)

2. He may have had problems identifying with the text.
This is difficult for me to comprehend since this is his usual forte.

3. He may have had problems technically with the music.
This I consider a real possibility. I have noted in my commentaries certain very virtuosic arias with many awkward leaps at a faster tempo where it becomes quite obvious that he is struggling with the music. He sounds overly concerned about 'hitting all the notes' (certainly not typical of his usual performances), and the impression that I get is one that he is forcing himself to maintain control, thus losing the usual intimate connection that he attains with his listeners. I feel, in these instances, that he is striving to reach beyond the limitations of his voice. A comparison with Peter Schreier in this type of aria, for instance, will make it quite clear that Equiluz is definitely missing something. If Equiluz had a choice between singing this type of aria and an aria like "Sanfte soll mein Todeskummer" from the Easter Oratorio, I think he would gladly choose the latter because the lyrical, non-bravura quality suits his voice so well. I also think that part of Equiluz's problem with these "leaping, jumping" arias comes from Harnoncourt's insistence on certain unreasonable tempi which simply are not suitable for a voice which demands a certain amount of space (a more leisurely tempo) than that allowed by the conductor (in this instance, one certainly lacking the vocal expertise and experience of Equiluz). Sometimes a struggle between vocalist and conductor ensues and it becomes evident that a tug-of-war exists. Although I cannot remember off-hand right now any particular instance where this happened with Equiluz, I believe there were at least a few occasions of that sort. If I may digress for a moment to point out what I am talking about (again without a specific reference here), I still recall vividly Julia Hamari's recording of a Bach aria with Rilling where the latter had the orchestra play the introductory ritornello at a lively, but not overly fast tempo. When Hamari entered, she projected her more expansive vision of the music as appropriate for her voice and the interpretation of the text. While Rilling may have thought that the tempo would be too slow (he may have performed the same aria many times before with alto voices which I would generally abhor - as a result, not lingering on the painful too long would possibly help to alleviate this problem, or perhaps he may have thought that he was helping the soloist with the long phrases by not letting the music become too slow), Hamari tenaciously held on to her own tempo, forcing Rilling to slow down perceptibly, which, as it turns out, was the perfect tempo for Hamari and the music because she could unfold the potential of her beautiful voice and expression to its utmost.

Read the BCW commentaries and you will find in many instances unanimous acclamation of Equiluz's superior artistry in the performance of Bach's music.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 17, 2007):
Conductor/Soloist disconnect

I am not sure I understand what you are saying.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< If I may digress for a moment to point out what I am talking about (again without a specific reference here), I still recall vividly Julia Hamari's recording of a Bach aria with Rilling where the latter had the orchestra play the introductory ritornello at a lively, but not overly fast tempo. >
So far I follow.

< When Hamari entered, she projected her more expansive vision of the music as appropriate for her voice and the interpretation of the text. While Rilling may have thought that the tempo would be too slow (he may have performed the same aria many times before with alto voices which I would generally abhor - >
Here I get lost. Are you saying that you generically abhor alto voices? I assume I am misunderstanding.

< as a result, not lingering on the painful too long would possibly help to alleviate this problem, or perhaps he may have thought that he was helping the soloist with the long phrases by not letting the music become too slow), Hamari tenaciously held on to her own tempo, forcing Rilling to slow down perceptibly, which, as it turns out, was the perfect tempo for Hamari and the music because she could unfold the potential of her beautiful voice and expression to its utmost. >
Should not all such problems be ironed out in rehearsal? I guess we have all heard of the Bernstein/Gould performance of some concerto, which one I forget. I have never heard the last mentioned but only stories about it. But again, such disagreements, one would think, would be ironed out before either a performance or a recording.

And then of course the are two kinds of conductors: those who accommodate singers (or pianists) and those who are the Master and not only the maestro. There are of course those singers (and pianists, etc.) who WILL also be the master. Seems to me that if an accommodation cannot be reached, another soloist needs to be engaged. As to my first question, if I have missed the obvious, remember my low reading level please.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 17, 2007):
Yoel L. Arbeitman wrote:
Yoël: >>Here I get lost. Are you saying that you generically abhor alto voices? I assume I am misunderstanding.<<
This had been my previous experience in listening to a limited amounof recordings before joining the Bach lists a few years ago (is it 6?) and from hearing some actual performances of Bach alto arias which were musically unsatisfactory from my standpoint because they indulged in using too many operatic techniques of which a wide, slow vibrato was one of the worst offenders to my ear. Of all the female alto voices that I have listened to while a member of the BCML, I would consider Julia Hamari to be without equal. She is as special to me in singing Bach as Equiluz is in his voice category.

Yoël: >>Should not all such problems be ironed out in rehearsal?<<
Ideally, yes, but obviously recording schedules may interfere, and, who knows, perhaps this was an instance where she knew this aria inside-out from having performed it many times. Rilling would also have performed it with other artists before this recording. Perhaps there was no real rehearsal with both beforehand, only Rilling with the orchestra. This is what I imagine as a conversation before the recording (remember that Rilling often recorded certain portions of a cantata at different times, sometimes patching in a version recorded years later):

Rilling: How would this tempo be for you? (He gives an example tapping the tempo and singing part of the
instrumental musical line.)

Hamari: That sounds good.

Rilling: Let's record it right now.

Recording session: Everything sounds fine in the introductory ritornello, but when the voice enters, there is an apparent tug-of-war in process as Rilling maintains the tempo he is used to, but Hamari discovers that she cannot be rushed and needs to linger on each note to bring out the real beauty inherent in the music and suitable for her voice. Rilling, for some reason, does not perceive fully what Hamari is doing here and for some unknown reason insists for quite a number of measures on not letting the tempo drag. He does not immediately want to acknowledge that Hamari, as a truly experienced singer, needs to find her own tempo, the tempo which will allow her to bring out the best in this music. Perhaps she had agreed too quickly to Rilling's short demonstration of the tempo he considered best? Nevertheless, he should have been more attuned to the tempo she needed for that particular performance. As it turned out, her recording was a memorable one in every other way. It may also have been that Rilling had recorded this cantata with Hamari for the first time, was dissatisfied with the results, tried to record this aria in a later year with a different artist, and listened to both versions before committing himself to the first recording, which, as it turned out, was superior in every way except for the slight blemish caused by tempo differences when the soloist entered for the first time.

Yoël: >>And then of course the are two kinds of conductors: those who accommodate singers (or pianists) and those who are the Master and not only the maestro.<<
I consider Harnoncourt, an excellent instrumentalist who had not grown up with a strong choral tradition or as a vocal soloist, to be in this category. There are some vocalists who will readily accept Harnoncourt's demands for extremely slow or extremely fast tempi. They accept the fact that the results with such a famous conductor may be quite different, not necessarily musically or vocally satisfying. These singers, in effect, compromise their ideals in order to attain greater public recognition.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 17, 2007):
Yoel L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I guess we have all heard of the Bernstein/Gould performance of some concerto, which one I forget. I have never heard the last mentioned but only stories about it. >
Brahms 1. Interesting performance. Also interesting to compare it with Gould's almost contemporaneous performance of it, in Baltimore, where the first two movements were faster. This latter was on a Music & Arts CD some years ago.

 

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Last update: ýMarch 6, 2007 ý21:51:14