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Singing Bach vs. Other Composers

 

 

Style, technique / Singing Bach or Händel

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 13, 2003):
[In Discussion of Suzuki – Bach Cantatas – Vol. 20]
Much depends upon the quality of the female alto voice which could be worse than what she replaces, but a change was definitely needed! Admittedly, it is difficult to find someone of the caliber of Andreas Scholl. For many reasons, some of which I am unable to describe, I have been unable to connect with Blaze singing Bach arias. Mera and Blaze are both half-voices with serious problems in the low range where the volume and warmth of a good female alto (full-voiced) are really needed. Both Mera and Blaze sang in a language that was foreign to them; Mera, remarkably, despite his small voice, was able to sing the German religious text much more convincingly (and more beautifully) than Blaze who somehow gave the impression that he was not at home in expressing either the German language honestly and directly, his voice being better suited to singing Baroque operas (Händel, etc.); nor did he sound comfortable with the text and the religious thoughts that needed to be appropriately!
expressed.

Granted, it is not easy to shift to a foreign language, but it is even more difficult to sing Bach arias with a sense of what is appropriate for a sacred music setting. In this, even native German singers have also failed. Two names, Edith Mathis and Helen Donath, that come to mind are full-voiced sopranos 'of the old school' with voices that were extremely well-trained (at one point earlier in their careers) who later began losing vocal control, but more importantly were unable to shift from opera/operetta singing to a truly sacred style which Bach's sacred music demands.

This brings up the question of 'cross-over' artists which have become all the rage in recent years. Few are truly able to make the transition. The sopranos mentioned above were not really able to make this transition from one classical style of music to another. As an example, I like to think of Benny Goodman's recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. To my ears, his rendition has 'jazz' written all over it. In the same way I do not want to hear Blaze or others like him performing Bach arias with the nuances brought over from another style of vocal production. Perhaps it is all a question of where the artist begins and to which type of music he/she devotes primary energy. What do other list members think about this matter?

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 13, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: What do other list members think about this matter? >
I think you make very valid points:

Primarily, I definitely agree with your statement involving the religious/faith aspect to it-the fifth evangelist needs special treatment

As mainly a Händelian, though, I think that, even at that level, the transition between a Händel opera and a Bach cantata is not as great as the transition between Baroque-Classical and other eras (classical referring to the era, not the general style that most people think of it as), especially with HIP. I can think of only one singer who really does this transition well: von Otter. In an HIP world filled with countertenors, this mezzo still holds strong, while she can still belt out Die Fledermaus (I have the "Look how great they sound" DVD). I think that's a bigger achievement, because even as a listener, the transition between baroque and romantic can sometimes be difficult.

Ivan Lalis wrote (January 13, 2003):
< another style of vocal production. Perhaps it is all a question of where the artist begins and to which type of music he/she devotes primary energy. What do other list members think about this matter? >
I think it's a matter of technique and style. Technique gives a possibility to apply style. I think that the problem with many singers who do possess a good technique is that they are not aware what is stylish for Mozart/Bach/Haendel. They have a material, but they do not know how to use it. Just one example - Fleming in Haendel's Alcina. She does have a very nice voice, but her slow arias are just that - slowly sung pieces.

Singing a certain music for a long time IMO influences the singer, but an intelligent singer should be able to switch between the styles. I also think that one can be relatively successful in verismo/some Verdi/some Wagner without actually having a good technique if good looks and shouting loudly through the role is enough. And often it is. No wonder such people cannot do justice to belcanto, Mozart, or baroque music.

Just a few examples of active singers I consider both technically good and stylish: Luba Orgonasova, Edita Gruberova (she has an amazing technique, knows the style, but sometimes lacks taste in embellishments :), Veronique Gens, Magdalena Kozena, Mireille Delunsch, Von Otter, Fink.

Jane Newble wrote (January 13, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: This brings up the question of 'cross-over' artists which have become all the rage in recent years. Few are truly able to make the transition. The sopranos mentioned above were not really able to make this transition from one classical style of music to another. As an example, I like to think of Benny Goodman's recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. To my ears, his rendition has 'jazz' written all over it. In the same way I do not want to hear Blaze or others like him performing Bach arias with the nuances brought over from another style of vocal production. Perhaps it is all a question of where the artist begins and to which type of music he/she devotes primary energy. What do other list members think about this matter? >
Perhaps it also depends on our ears, i.e. where we have heard a certain artist first. I used to listen to Julia Hamari in Gluck's Orfeo, and thought I would enjoy her in Rilling's cantatas. But it was difficult to connect with her voice in a different setting. Now, I read that one of the first performances was the SMP with Richter, which was before the Gluck recording in 1980, and of course many of the Rilling recordings were also before that time.
With this idea of subjectivity in mind, I listened again to some of her Rilling arias, but I still hear something operatic in her voice, and in this context it leaves me cold.. It is possible that she was just happier singing operatic music.

As for Blaze, I saw him singing Zelenka's Lamentations in a small country church, and he was completely convincing, but I don't like him singing Bach. I get the feeling that he does not push himself in a different direction.

Joost wrote (January 13, 2003):
< Matthew Neugebauer wrote: primarily, I definitely agree with your statement involving the religious/faith aspect to it-the fifth evangelist needs special treatment
As mainly a Händelian, though, I think that, even at that level, the >transition between a Händel opera and a Bach cantata is not as great as the >transition between Baroque-Classical ... >

When discussion this subject I often quote René Jacobs:

"After having sung Händel, singing Bach is an exercise in humility."

Robert Sherman wrote (January 13, 2003):
[To Joost] I agree: Much of Händel is an ego-trip, albeit a glorious one. At the eztreme, Terfel (with Mackerras) sings "Why do the Nations" as a kind of concerto for his voice, and it's great fun.

Not always, though. Listen to Heather Harper (with Jackson) sing "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth" or to Arlene Auger sing (with Schwartz) "Come Unto Him". This is transcendent, selfless music, comparable to Bach's very best.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (January 13, 2003):
Please do not forget Kathleen Ferrier

Robert Sherman wrote (January 13, 2003):
[To Pieter Pannevis] Singing what?

Pieter Pannevis wrote (January 13, 2003):
[To Robet Sherman] Händel

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 13, 2003):
[To Robet Sherman] I think this discussion should then take an even broader view: that of the difference between the Italian aria and the German arie, or even the difference between the two national styles in general. Händel, being extensively cultured inthe peninsula of the south (the Italian states), was a large proponent of the Italian style, while Bach, of course, was very German in his solo vocal music, if he created syntheses in everything else. I guess the transition between the melody- and vocal skill-driven Italian aria and the harmony- and emotion-driven German arie is what this issue is really about. I think going from a Knupfer or Buxtehude sacred concerto to a Vivaldi opera would take the same transition.

Robert Sherman wrote (January 13, 2003):
[To Pieter Pannevis] What specific recordings?

Santu De Silva wrote (January 23, 2003):
[To Pieter Pannevis] Let me state here that one of my favorite recordings of all time is the CD of "Kathleen Ferrier sings Bach and Händel" with orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult.

Within this favorite CD, my favorite is O Thou that tellest glad tidings to Zion. Thanks for reminding me!

Charles Francis wrote (January 24, 2003):
[To Joost] Perhaps, Jacobs just meant that Bach is more difficult to sing than Händel? After all, in a Bach aria the singer is generally competing with the orchestra.

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Last update: ýJanuary 25, 2003 ý16:02:22