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Roger Norrington
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions

Bach Cantatas from Goerne/Norrington

Donald Satz wrote (April 13, 2000):
Matthias Goerne is a young and widely heralded baritone who has well established himself in opera and lieder. We all probably know about Norrington who has been one of the leading and most controversial practitioners of period performances. Decca has them joining forces to record the Bach cantatas for basso and two sinfonias from Cantata BWV 35. Norrington directs the Camerata Academica Salzburg which I believe is the orchestra used by Schiff/Vegh for their traversal of the Mozart piano concertos. In that series, the orchestra was excellent and added significantly to the quality of the set. Although a modern instrument orchestra, it has, for the new Bach recording, adopted many HIP features and eschews the heavy and bloated traditional renditions typical of modern instrument recordings of this category of repertoire.

There are many fine features of the new disc. Goerne has a powerful and expressive voice which sounds like he could continue singing for days on end. And, as I noted above, the orchestral support is very stylish and cognizant of period performance practices. The violins don't even sound sour or inappropriate. That leads me to the one major flaw I found in the recording. Although Goerne sounds like he's in my family room, most of the instruments sound as if they are in the back yard, particularly the violins.

If you raise the volume to get some good impact from the violins, Goerne's voice will knock you down with its power and volume. Set the volume at a fine level for Goerne and some of the instrumentation is so recessed it can hardly be heard. Some folks might call it an "intimate" acoustic; I call it poor decision-making and engineering. With the two sinfonias, the orchestra does come to life and provides fine performances.

The instrumentation is an important aspect of Bach's cantatas, and that certainly applies to the Bass Cantatas BWV 56, BWV 82, and BWV 158. And its significance is not just a matter of hearing some good instrumental passages; there's also the interplay between the voice and instruments which adds to the pleasures to be found in these works. Mostly, Goerne/Norrington can only provide the bass and choral pleasures of the work, given how recessed the instruments are. There is one primary instrument which is forward in the soundstage compared to the others; that's the oboe which sounds fine in the recording but still not as good as a period model.

I end up with mixed feelings about the new recording. I appreciate Goerne's voice and interpretations, the stylish playing of the orchestra, the choral work, and the intimate nature of the performances. Also, BWV 56 and BWV 82 are popular and masterful works which can accomodate a variety of interpretive decisions. It could be that with time I might even adjust to the recessed instrumentation. But currently, I see the production as offering a half-loaf of excellence. There are other recorded versions which have the style down pat, very good singers, excellent choral work, *and* superb instrumental contributions which interact with the bass on an equal level. That would include the accounts of BWV 56 and BWV 82 from Richter on Archiv featuring Fischer-Dieskau.

I do want to point out that Gramophone and Classic CD consider the disc outstanding. Classic CD gave no mention of the instrumental support except for the oboe playing. Gramophone stated about the orchestra - "just occasionally they rather fall between two stools and seem reticent". All I can say is that I heard a preponderance of reticent orchestral support. I can only surmise that the two reviewers were so taken with Goerne that his vocalism eclipsed other important matters. Facing facts, this disc is a vehicle for Goerne, not a well-rounded interpretation of great Bach works.

Don's Conclusion - Primarily for fans of Matthias Goerne and folks who don't place much priority on the instrumental aspects of the cantatas. All others should sample carefully before buying. The catalog number is 466 570-2.

Jane Newble wrote (April 24, 2000):
Last week I received the CD with the wonderful Bass Matthias Goerne singing BWV 82, BWV 158 and BWV 56. I heard one track of it on the Gramophone magazine sample CD and just had to get it, and was not disappointed. "Welt, ade! Ich bin dein müde" (BWV 158) was the track featured on the Gramophone CD. The (modern) violin accompaniment is wonderful with his deep Bass voice. Although it will take a lot to beat my favourite Klaus Mertens, Matthias Goerne has a fantastic voice.

Here are some excerpts from the Gramophone review: "...this extraordinary fine recital of the solo Bass cantatas...." "How this wonderful musician fills all Bachians with hope! This is the sort of mature, sophisticated, assured and boundless Bach singing which one hears so rarely these days. With the beguiling and cultivated oboe playing of Albrecht Mayer, Goerne takes a refreshingly underivative view of 'Ich habe genug' (BWV 82), involved yet unobtrusively engaged. This, and the famous lullaby 'Schlummert ein', is fragrant, even and soft-spoken. Norrington's hold on the modern-instrument Salzburg Camerata Academica provides an almost ideal palette for the Lieder-inspired communicative range of Goerne. A great Bach recording" (Jonathan Freeman-Attwood)

It is on Decca 466 570-2DH (with Salzburg Bach Choir; Salzburg Camerata Academica/Sir Roger Norrington. In between the cantatas are the Sinfonias of BWV 35.

Simon Crouch wrote (April 25, 2000):
I thought Jane's post was really wonderful because it illustrated for me how people's taste in vocal production differs - I listened too to the track on the Gramophone sampler and thought it was some of the worst singing that I'd ever heard! My problem? Goerne has a very fast beating vibrato - I've simply never been able to take this voice type seriously. My loss, I'm sure.


Norrington as a Baroque specialist

Teri Noel Towe wrote (April 19, 2001):
Galina Koloietz wrote:
< I didn't quite know what to expect from the Norrington SMP because I've never thought of Sir Roger as a baroque specialist. >
If memory serves, Norrington's first record, now about 30 years old and on the Abbey label, was devoted to the music of Schütz.

Steven Langley Guy wrote (April 19, 2001):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Norrington moved through the Baroque and into Classical and Romantic music. A logical progression.

However, his credentials in Baroque music are excellent (his Purcell Fairy Queen recording is still available?). Regrettably, EMI has deleted most of his older recordings but happily many are resurfacing on VIRGIN VERITAS. Like Harnoncourt and Gardiner, Norrington has moved forward in time and has built on his experiences in earlier musics to make his recordings of HIP 19th century music. I had hoped that he would move on to Tschaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov with his London Classical Players but that now seems unlikely? (His Smetana recording on VIRGIN was his last with the LCP, I think?)


BWV 245 St John Passion, Royal Albert Hall, London

Chris Stanley wrote (August 1, 2014):
BBC Proms Masterworks: Bach's St John Passion (BBC Proms, 2014 Season)

For those who might be interested and can play content from BBC iplayer

From review in The Guardian

Central to Norrington's approach was the careful yet unobtrusive differentiation of the score's component elements, so we were conscious throughout of how they interlock form a dramatic and emotional whole. The recitatives that carry the core biblical narrative were taken slowly so that every word could register. The Sing-Akademie used scores for the choruses, but put them aside for the chorales, delivering the former with great intensity, but treating the chorales as moments of quiet introspection. The arias, meanwhile, were big emotional statements, done with operatic grandeur and agility.

Not all of it worked. Norrington's deliberate way with the recitatives resulted in occasional losses in tension, despite superlative singing fromJames Gilchrist's noble Evangelist and Neal Davies's assertive Christus. The soloists for the arias weren't ideally matched. Both tenor Joshua Ellicott, majestic if at times effortful, and bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann, uncomfortable in places with Norrington's swift-ish speeds, were late replacements for indisposed colleagues. Lucy Crowe was the rapturous soprano, Clint van der Linde the dark-voiced alto. There was some superlative playing, though the orchestral balance took a while to settle, with the all-important string figurations at the start vanishing beneath the lamenting woodwind. The evening's chief glory was the choral singing, beautifully controlled, wonderfully committed and admirably clear in a notoriously difficult acoustic for counterpoint.

• On iPlayer until 24 August.


Roger Norrington: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works | General Discussions | BWV 244 - R. Norrington

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