Neil wrote (March 21, 2002):
Today, I was listening to a HIP performance of the D minor harpsichord concerto (by a group calling themselves Cafe Zimmerman, similar sound to Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque), and noticed that some notes in the strings were inaudible, this being caused by a combination of a "cracking" pace, the strong emphasis of the first of two notes followed by the extreme staccato of the second (and the extreme staccato throughout produced a very harsh, angular effect), an emphasis of now a long note in the violas, now a long note in the 2nd or first violins (with that maddening crescendo and decresendo on each long note) etc, making it impossible to hear the complex contrapuntal lines in all the strings.
How this gets past the engineers I will never know. We need to hear all the notes in these brilliant works, not just some of them.
My favoured recording is George Malcolm with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Munchinger; in this recording I can turn my attention to the 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, or continuo 'part' (contrapuntal line) at will, and hear all the notes, as well as the brilliant harpsichord - an exciting experience.
Thomas Braatz wrote (March 21, 2002):
[To Neil] Welcome to the world of PP and the Harnoncourt doctrine! If you can now imagine what you hear happening here applied to the vocal lines in the choir as well, then you will sense some of the frustration that I have felt in listening to the Bach cantatas and sacred works that are attempted in this manner and trying to relate this to the best versions of the Bach scores that have come down to us. There is a great disparity and incongruity between Bach's notation and what you hear coming out of the speakers (or your earphones.) All of the features that you have heard and even more than you have listed can be discerned rather easily. No, this is not all the engineers' fault, although they, too, play a part in this attempt to provide a PP by helping to overemphasize certain instruments over others. The main fault lies with the conductors of these groups that are afraid to break the mould that Harnoncourt created over 40 years ago. They even attempt to outdo Harnoncourt in creating unmusical sounds that were an anathema to Mattheson in the first half of the 18th century. Equating a crude performance style with Bach's intentions takes a giant leap of faith, and yet there are some PP groups that are slowly coming to their senses and providing musical performances that can move the listener (and allow all the notes to be heard) without resorting to extremely fast tempi, overemphasis on certain notes, poor intonation, etc., etc. Brad Lehman just recently mentioned Savall's Brandenburg Concerti renditions. These certainly are a welcome relief from the unmusical extremes that can frequently be heard in many recordings of more recent vintage. These are also signs that the PP mvt. may be slowly 'turning the corner' as more listeners demand a better balance between the content and form of Bach's marvelous compositions. There are many good recordings of the non-PP type from the past, as you have indicated, but do not neglect the present-day efforts, some of which will definitely be the equivalent in quality to some of these earlier recordings, but will truly offer unforgettable musical experiences as well.
Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 21, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] I know you're on a crusade against Harnoncourt, but why don't you give it a break? You can't blame everything on him. The question raised was about a specific recording that has nothing to do with Harnoncourt. It is an issue with too many recordings, unfortunately, and has nothing to do with PP, HIP, or anything else.
I have the new Ozawa B Minor Mass (BWV 232), and there is a moment when the one of the soloists has to use every ounce of her energy to be heard; other moments when certain instruments are drowned out by the strings. If I had a euro for every disc I own where you cannot hear some of the instruments, I would have enough to by a few dozen more CDs.
Riccardo Nughes wrote (November 21, 2002):
< Neil wrote: Today, I was listening to a HIP performance of the D minor harpsichord concerto (by a group calling themselves Cafe Zimmerman, >
The recording you're talkin'about is this
< similar sound to Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque), >
Really? The Cafè Zimmerman recording is a very small ensemble (almost "a parti reali"), how can they sound similar to a full Baroque Orchestra. Actually they sound very different (I have both recordings), the original instruments are the only things they've in common. Or, in your opinion all "HIP" recordings are quite the same?
Neil wrote (November 22, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] In my opinion, are all HIP recordings the same?
No, but I mentioned Koopman because I had heard another Bach harpsichord concerto under Koopman that created the same, to my ears, miserable effect, - bits and pieces of string sound behind a "flat" harpsichord, - as the Cafe Zimmerman effort.
Neil wrote (November 27, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Kirk, regarding Thomas Braatz's "crusade against Harnoncourt", it does appear that Harnoncourt may be implicated in the problem of audiblity we were discussing, rather than just being a problem of engineering.
The local classical radio station is currently promoting an Easter performance of the SJP, under the direction of Harnoncourt, and I notice that the chorale excerpt featured has the characteristic of each phrase (sentence) ending in a vitually inaudible staccato chord, which, combined with the brisk tempo, produces a chaste and discreet effect; incongruous perhaps, considering the subject of the music, ie. the Passion of Christ according to St. John.
In other words, style is a part of the problem.