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Romantic Bach

Romantic Bach?

Continue of discussion from: John Eliot Gardiner - Bach Cantata Pilgrimage - Vol. 22

Uri Golomb wrote (April 12, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< There are so many fans of Gardiner on this list that I'm hesitant to say that I find Gardiner's performances of Baroque music frequently over-interpreted and romantic. I was listening to his recording of Handel's "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" and he changes tempo in the openng chorus at least three times -- that's "interpretation" I'd expect from Klemperer. >
I wouldn't. Klemperer was one of the more objective conductors of his generation -- he managed with very little rubato and tempo changes even in Mahler! I really think it's a mistake to call him a "romantic" (regardless of whether the term is used to praise or to bury); and I would actually agree (as a Gardiner fan myself...) that Gardiner can often be more 'romantic', at least in some senses, than Klemperer.

(The question of what constitutes 'romanticism' in performance generally -- and in Bach performance in particular -- is a rather difficult one. At least three Bach conductors -- Karl Richter, Otto Klemperer and Nikolaus Harnoncourt -- were described as both "romantic" and "anti-romantic" in various times; and, paradoxical as it might seem, one can see the sense, in each of these cases, behind both labels. If anyone's interested, I tried to tackle this question in my dissertation on the B minor Mass -- see http://snipurl.com/ugphd_abs for abstract and link to complete text; I devote one chapter there to the definition of 'romanticism', and another to 'neo-romantic' tendencies in recent Bach performances).

For myself, I have no qualms in admitting that some of my favourite performances are indeed anachronistic in some senses, and this includes many of Gardiner's recordings. I also enjoy many performances (including Rifkin's) that are much more historically credible. In musicological terms, Rifkin's case is much stronger than Gardiner's; but I still enjoy listening to both of them. If that means that I might be enjoying something that Bach himself might have objected to -- well, I suppose that's just something I'll have to live with. I think great music (and great art) can be interpreted in many more ways than its originator would have imagined, and that we can learn something about the music even from approaches that go beyond, or against, the author's wishes and intentions.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 12, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< For myself, I have no qualms in admitting that some of my favourite performances are indeed anachronistic in some senses, and this includes many of Gardiner's recordings. I also enjoy many performances (including Rifkin's) that are much more historically credible. In musicological terms, Rifkin's case is much stronger than Gardiner's; but I still enjoy listening to both of them. If that means that I might be enjoying something that Bach himself might have objected to -- well, I suppose that's just something I'll have to live with. I think great music (and great art) can be interpreted in many more ways than its originator would have imagined, and that we can learn something about the music even from approaches that go beyond, or against, the author's wishes and intentions. >
I have only today broken a fast on Bach and all church music, a fast which I personally felt the need to observe during the Passover holidays inasmuch as most of these church composers had worse desires for many of us than did Pharaoh. I therefore gladly eschewed all such music with which the radio drowned us. All the passions and Messiahs, off with the radio and I feel better equipped now to enjoy the music qua music.

During the Passover period a friend sent me a copy of the out of print Pearl CD with Georges Thill, conducted by Gustave Bret (1935), singing the tenor aria from BWV65. It was in French (I would be tempted to say, of course; that however would not be accurate as Thill did record a few items in German). At all events I did listen to it last night. Today I have listened to that cantata under Harnoncourt

Although Thill is a vocal god and I totally enjoy his singing in anything, I find that what I do miss in such recordings is the diversity of the baroque instruments and the sound of the chorus. I do find Uri's description of beyond what the originator would have imagined somewhat difficult. In actuality we can not delude ourselves that we hear in any performance what any baroque composer would have intended. We need only bring to mind the ongoing (often acrimonious) debates as to what any baroque composer intended. It is obvious when we hear something that to us (currently) sounds very unbaroque.

As to Klemperer and Mahler, it is always amazing to what degree Klemperer, Walter, and Mengelberg, all in various senses closely associated with the composer (although certainly Walter's relationship is rather unique and Klemperer seems to have made more of the relationship than actually existed) offered extremely different interpretations of Mahler. Of course we have Klemperer and Walter from later periods as well inasmuch as Mengelberg's performances of Mahler had to conclude with the Nazi hegemony to which he was quite sympathetic.

Nevertheless, if these three basically offered Klemperer, Walter, and Mengelberg of a composer whom they had personally known and whose own performances they witnessed, then what can one expect of conductors such as Gardiner and Rifkin, Klemperer, etc. who knew not Bach at all?

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 13, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I have only today broken a fast on Bach and all church music, a fast which I personally felt the need to observe during the Passover holidays inasmuch as most of these church composers had worse desires for many of us than did Pharaoh. I therefore gladly eschewed all such music with which the radio drowned us. >
Welcome Bach! To each his own observance. My spouse reminded me over dinner a few minutes ago that not only the crucifixion and death of the Messiah, but also the betrayal by a disciple, are all necessary to fulfill the OT (not Off Topic, Cara) prophecies. No blame needed for anyone. OTOH, there is the old saying: 'The search for someone to blame is always successful'.

I did not revisit the original document (Bible, readily available) because I relied on her memory as a former Christian school teacher. She packed it in when she found that the Gentile teachers were paid, but the Afros were 'volunteers'. And you think the Jews have the major gripe in the world?

< Nevertheless, if these three basically offered Klemperer, Walter, and Mengelberg of a composer whom they had personally known and whose own performances they witnessed, then what can one expect of conductors such as Gardiner and Rifkin, Klemperer, etc. who knew not Bach at all? >
One can expect performances conceived with the integrity of the music (and musicians) in mind. I have no problem enjoying both Gardiner and Rifkin, especially in BWV 4. For all we know, the performance contrasts of this particular work may have been even greater throughout Bach's lifetime. An Easter Lily for the Old Dude, RIP.

Drew wrote (April 13, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Connected to the idea of "romantic Bach" - there is also the question of the degree to which an interpreter / conductor should leave her / his mark on Bach's music.

The spirit of the age seems to let Bach speak for himself - to let Bach be Bach (but of course what constitutes "Bach" is open to debate). There seems to be a move away from egotism / egoism towards a kind of musical naturalism.

Gardiner's latest recording of BWV 4 (Christ lag in Todesbanden) is less "natural" a reading than, say, Rifkin's, Suzuki's or Parrott's. Still, it is a powerful rendering that has something unique to say about Bach's setting of Luther's hymn and the life-force behind the Easter story.

Another example of a very individual interpretation of Bach is Daniel Barenboim's recent recording of the Well Tempered Clavier. Generally, I preferthe WTK on harpsichord. But Barenboim's "romantic" reading is wonderfully expressive and brings out lines in this eternal music that I had not noticed before.

Is "romantic" or "egotistical" interpretation making a comeback? I don't know. As much as I appreciate historically-informed performance (I prefer the sound of period instruments, as a rule), musicality (always interpreted through a post-Romantic lens) has an equally important place.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 13, 2007):
Drew wrote:
< Gardiner's latest recording of BWV 4 (Christ lag in Todesbanden) is less "natural" a reading than, say, Rifkin's, Suzuki's or Parrott's. Still, it is a powerful rendering that has something unique to say about Bach's setting of Luther's hymn and the life-force behind the Easter story. >
Don't get me wrong. Gardiner's performances are always exciting and beautifully executed. Klemperer's Romantic performances are stunning as well. Like you, I prefer a more "natural' performance where Romantic dynamics, tempo changes and dramatic articulations are not superimposed on music which didn;t use those techniques.

 

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Last update: żAugust 16, 2007 ż23:50:15