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Favourite British Player Of Bach


jonadkins
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We all have our favourite players from abroad: Rogg, Isoir, Koopman et al, but when pressed to nominate a British player of preference when it comes to JSB I find it a little more difficult. Don't get me wrong: I do not wish to denigrate any British organists who are a thousand times better than I - it's just that many players from this country (UK) whom I admire greatly in every other respect sometimes leave me less inspired by their Bach.

 

Some might say that I shouldn't be so stupid and that Hurford is the obvious answer, full stop, but I'm not sure I agree...

 

Who's your favourite?

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We all have our favourite players from abroad: Rogg, Isoir, Koopman et al, but when pressed to nominate a British player of preference when it comes to JSB I find it a little more difficult. Don't get me wrong: I do not wish to denigrate any British organists who are a thousand times better than I - it's just that many players from this country (UK) whom I admire greatly in every other respect sometimes leave me less inspired by their Bach.

 

Some might say that I should'nt be so stupid and that Hurford is the obvious answer, full stop, but I'm not sure I agree...

 

Who's your favourite?

 

 

=============================

 

 

The more I think about this question, the more difficult it gets!

 

I like Peter Hurford's Bach, but only the recordings he did in "live" mode for the BBC; rather than the more pedantic archive recordings he did for .......I think.....Argo.

 

In some areas however, his pace was a little on the fast side.

 

There I come to an abrupt halt!

 

I think I have to go back a long way to recall truly outstanding Bach perofrmances from British organists. Among those was Geraint Jones, whom I remember well playing a magnificent F major on a heavily romantic organ in Wales. (Llandudno PC....Rushworth & Dreaper).

 

Roger Fisher once impressed me with the Prelude & Fugue in G minor.

 

Nicholas Kynsaton alway claimed that he never understood Bach, but my words, he rose to that particular challenge wonderfully from time to time, and on the recordings he made at Clifton Cathedral.

 

Oddly enough, the ONE Bach performance which had me almost climbing up the wall for sheer brilliance, was the most stupendous performance of the Eb St Anne P & F, at Leeds PC, when Dr Francis Jackson gave a magnificent recital. Dr Jackson could always be unpredictable. Off form, he didn't disappoint, but it was when you heard him at the peak of his form that the earth moved, and the Bach at Leeds was one of those moments.

 

John Scott Whiteley is very able, but I always think there is a certain rigidity in his Bach playing, which may suit some people to the ground. He doesn't quite cut the mustard for me personally;possibly because I like a lot of rubato and passion in Bach performances.

 

For the rest, I have heard many deadly accurate performances which have left me cold, and yet, just a short hop across to Holland, and I seem to be in the midst of performers who know EXACTLY what to do with Bach's music; and I'm not thinking Ton Koopman, whom I find infuriating one moment, and pure genius the next. I think, only in Holland, have I heard Bach so carefully studied and researched, that I once heard a re-creation of the expressionist way of playing Bach, in the German style of Straube, using the Straube editions and played on the Walcker at Doesburg.

 

Then I heard a knock-out performance at the Bavokerk, of the Great G minor, played by Bas de Vroome. Every time I seem to hear something special and something very moving, but in the UK, there seems to be a natural reticence, which just doesn't deliver the overwhelming intensity of passion which Bach's music exudes.

 

I'm sure there ARE Bach performers in the UK who are marvellous, but sadly, I have yet to hear them.

 

MM

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I think, only in Holland, have I heard Bach so carefully studied and researched, that I once heard a re-creation of the expressionist way of playing Bach, in the German style of Straube, using the Straube editions and played on the Walcker at Doesburg.

I find it hard to reconcile "Bach ... carefully studied and researched" with the kind of recreation you describe. An organist seeking to recreate a 100-year playing style in repertoire written 200 years earlier than that is surely just going to fall into the trap of creating some kind of facsimilie layered with assumption upon assumption? I find Richard Taruskin's writing (as neatly summarised in 'Text and act: essays on music and performance') to be enlightening in these matters. He writes persuasively that all we can hope to achieve is to “reinterpret Bach … for our time” (p.143)

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Guest Patrick Coleman

I suspect this may open as big a can of worms as the Bach organ thread.

 

My response would be somewhat different. I love hearing Bach played, yet, even though I am a mediocre organist at best, it is never quite as exciting as playing Bach myself, and on the rare occasions that it all clicks, there is no other buzz quite like it. :rolleyes:

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I find it hard to reconcile "Bach ... carefully studied and researched" with the kind of recreation you describe. An organist seeking to recreate a 100-year playing style in repertoire written 200 years earlier than that is surely just going to fall into the trap of creating some kind of facsimilie layered with assumption upon assumption? I find Richard Taruskin's writing (as neatly summarised in 'Text and act: essays on music and performance') to be enlightening in these matters. He writes persuasively that all we can hope to achieve is to “reinterpret Bach … for our time” (p.143)

 

 

=======================

 

 

A typically British way of approaching performance styles, if I may be so bold!

 

In this particular instance, the organist was playing a heavily romantic German instrument, and his programme was chosen accordingly. Only a week later, playing a Hinsz organ, I heard him play Bach very differently, and as straight as a cricket-bat.

(I've never understood that term!)

 

It is surely a measure of "scholarship and research" that the organist had taken the trouble to study early 20th century performing styles, carefully note AND TELL HIS AUDIENCE about the notational irregularities in the editions being used (in the multilingual programme notes), and something about the nature of romantic German organ-playing of the period.

 

I'm sorry, but there are amateurs and there are professionals, and I know which I would choose every time.

 

MM

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=======================

A typically British way of approaching performance styles, if I may be so bold!

...

I'm sorry, but there are amateurs and there are professionals, and I know which I would choose every time.

Each to their own! :rolleyes:

 

Seriously, I don't doubt the musicianship nor the technical and intellectual rigour required to achieve such a performance. I just question the value and, indeed, what it ultimately represents.

 

To be fair, you were mentioning this performance straight after your statement about "Bach ... carefully studied and researched". I think you'd misrepresented the point which you have subsequently clarified, so thanks for that.

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As about Bach on a Walcker organ:

 

I may be well placed to know the idea is interesting, since

the Walcker organ is already there in the instruments Bach knew; their

ancestor is exactly the same, that is, the Casparini organ in Görlitz.

I wrote an article about this in our professional belgian Magazine,

l'Organiste, which we put on-line later: (in french)

 

http://www.walckerorgel.de/gewalcker.de/PD...ga-Walcker1.pdf

 

....But if the romantic Walcker organ speaks the same language as Trost

or Joachim Wagner, this does not mean it is a reference!

No, just an interesting sideway.

If we lose the reference, I speak of 1) The organ 2) the playing, we shall

continuously drift towards something which will have nothing more to do with Bach.

We shall simply lose Bach.

 

We need such reference interpretation like John Scott Whiteley's, on a period instrument.

Bach's music is multicultural, it is an european language -we badly need such spirit in Brussels...-

but it is no "light" music. It even has a somewhat "teutonisch-schwehr" side, a certain stifness,

that should not be masked; nor a quality, nor a drawback; it simply is so, and beautiful so.

 

Pierre

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One of the best Bach CD's I have come across is 'A Late Twentieth Century Edwardian Bach Recital' played by Kevin Bowyer at St Mary's Redcliffe, Bristol.

 

With kaleidoscopic registration changes exploring the full palette of Arthur Harrison's masterpiece and ample swell pedalling and rubato, this recording is one of the most exciting and dynamic Bach recordings I have heard.

 

I have yet to come across a more thrilling rendition of the Prelude and Fugue in D BWV 532 and the 'Dorian' Toccata and Fugue in Dm is, in my mind, second only to Karl Richter's monumental reading at Freiberg before the restoration. The Double Ophicleide thundering away in the final pedal entry is one of those inevitable 'weak at the knees' moments!

 

It makes a fascinating comparison to Walter Alcock's recordings of the E-flat Trio Sonata and BWV 532 at Salisbury Cathedral in 1927.

 

This CD alone makes Kevin Bowyer my favourite British Bach organist.

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Each to their own! :(

 

Seriously, I don't doubt the musicianship nor the technical and intellectual rigour required to achieve such a performance. I just question the value and, indeed, what it ultimately represents.

 

To be fair, you were mentioning this performance straight after your statement about "Bach ... carefully studied and researched". I think you'd misrepresented the point which you have subsequently clarified, so thanks for that.

 

 

====================

 

I've calmed down a bit!

 

I'm also not quite sure what the performance represented, but it was fascinating to hear "romantic" Bach alongside Rheinberger, Reger and other German composers of the post Wagner era; especially the extensive use of dynamic changes using the rollschweller, and some of the quite tiny sounds used when the organist changed manuals. I think it is always interesting to hear Bach played differently from the norm, and I think it was "Vox" who enthused (as did I) about a very moving B-minor Prelude, played by a lady organist in the 1930's on a German romantic instrument, at half-speed (or thereabouts) and played on the celestes!!!!

 

Perhaps it is just a question of style, which all music should have to a large extent.

 

At least with Stokowski or Virgil Fox, you knew who was in charge!!!!

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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One of the best Bach CD's I have come across is 'A Late Twentieth Century Edwardian Bach Recital' played by Kevin Bowyer at St Mary's Redcliffe, Bristol.

 

With kaleidoscopic registration changes exploring the full palette of Arthur Harrison's masterpiece and ample swell pedalling and rubato, this recording is one of the most exciting and dynamic Bach recordings I have heard.

 

I have yet to come across a more thrilling rendition of the Prelude and Fugue in D BWV 532 and the 'Dorian' Toccata and Fugue in Dm is, in my mind, second only to Karl Richter's monumental reading at Freiburg before the restoration. The Double Ophicleide thundering away in the final pedal entry is one of those inevitable 'weak at the knees' moments!

 

It makes a fascinating comparison to Walter Alcock's recordings of the E-flat Trio Sonata and BWV 532 at Salisbury Cathedral in 1927.

 

This CD alone makes Kevin Bowyer my favourite British Bach organist.

 

 

=========================

 

 

I think Kevin Bowyer is a fabulous organist, and even though I like to hear my Bach abroad, I think I would like his "Edwardian Bach" very much.

 

Is Kevin still around on the board?

 

MM

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We need such reference interpretation like John Scott Whiteley's, on a period instrument.

Bach's music is multicultural, it is an european language -we badly need such spirit in Brussels...-

but it is no "light" music. It even has a somewhat "teutonisch-schwehr" side, a certain stifness,

that should not be masked; nor a quality, nor a drawback; it simply is so, and beautiful so.

 

Pierre

 

 

============================

 

 

An interesting point Pierre!

 

What exactly is this "teutonisch-schwehr" to which you refer, and why is it so important to the music?

 

I ask this, because I don't agree with you, even if I know exactly what you mean.

 

I am no linguist, but the natural rythms of language play an important part in the sensibilities of musicians. In that respect, one might presume a certain formality and "squareness" in the German psyche, but surely, that raises the question of local, regional and even historical dialect?

 

Was it ever thus, that everyone spoke the same as they do today? How has the rhythm of language changed since 1650?

 

These are perhaps important considerations, but also, perhaps not the most important ones.

 

Look at almost any example of Bach (and also Handel), and you cannot avoid the sheer beauty of line and the vocally inspired voice-leading. I've heard a few examples of German (and Czech) choirs killing "Messiah" stone-dead, without having to go through all that protracted crucifixion nonsense and subsequent guilt, but most singers find the inner beauty of lyrical line as well as the majesty of the form.

 

Bach and Handel may have approached their craft differently, but "Bel Canto" had a wider application than merely that of Italian-style opera.

 

Lest we forget, it was ITALIAN musicians who dominated music in baroque Germany, and since when did Italians come across as stiff and formal?

 

Their appeal was that of Casanova: the same appeal exactly which made Pavarotti what he was, and makes Ferrari choose scarlet-red.

 

We must always ask ourselves why composers such as Bach and Handel went to such extraordinary lengths in creating such beautiful melody, if it was just going to be wasted on musically bloodless accountants.

 

:rolleyes:

 

MM

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My mothertongue -an eastern flemish dialect- is very close to those countless

regional forms of the ancient german -when Germany was a collection of little

Duchies-; it belongs to the "Frankisch", one family from middle Germany, an I

can assure you it is rather schweeeeeïïrikkkkk. Da's nett ze glûven, sonder

nuw ze hoeren. With an emphasis on some letters to the point you would not

recognize the words as they are written !

I remember how we sung the "Oze Vadder" at church.....Amaï seg aefkes....

And if Bach was, indeed, like the organ-builders of his time, influenced by Italy,

we may assume this wasn't to the point to adopt a kind of lightness we find in

french or italian "leisure music"; each to his own!

 

Pierre

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My mothertongue -an eastern flemish dialect- is very close to those countless

regional forms of the ancient german -when Germany was a collection of little

Duchies-; it belongs to the "Frankisch", one family from middle Germany, an I

can assure you it is rather schweeeeeïïrikkkkk. Da's nett ze glûven, sonder

nuw ze hoeren. With an emphasis on some letters to the point you would not

recognize the words as they are written !

I remember how we sung the "Oze Vadder" at church.....Amaï seg aefkes....

And if Bach was, indeed, like the organ-builders of his time, influenced by Italy,

we may assume this wasn't to the point to adopt a kind of lightness we find in

french or italian "leisure music"; each to his own!

 

Pierre

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Far too many virtuoso organists are lacking in musicianship. How many technically brilliant players have you listened to, whether in concert, town hall, recordings or on the radio or tv, where the piece has consisted of one bar? No articulation nor accented beats, rigid time time-keeping, neither empathy with the music nor an ability to communicate with the listener. I suggest that these are the reasons why so many people when confronted with Bach's organ music respond by asking "Why should I waste time listening to such a dirge?"

Best British player of Bach? Andrew Fletcher of Stourbridge PC in the West Midlands. His playing gives life to the music printed on the page.

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When I come to think about it, the only British player I have heard playing much Bach is Peter Hurford, whom I rate highly, though I find some of his tempi a little fast.

 

Of course, I have heard a lot of British organists play one or two of JSB's works, and of those, it is a performance of the Wedge by Andrew Millington in a recital at Halifax that sticks in my memory as quite outstanding. I thought the tempo was exactly right, which probably means it was on the leisurely side; the forward momentum was astonishing, which I put down to a very subtle use of rubato and some slight tempo changes. I seem to remember he played the prelude without a stop change (though with manual changes), pushed in the great mixture for the start of the fugue, then added it and the swell reeds (8' and 4') at the end.

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....a performance of the Wedge by Andrew Millington in a recital at Halifax that sticks in my memory as quite outstanding. I thought the tempo was exactly right, which probably means it was on the leisurely side...

Why? I fully agree that Andrew is a superb organist, but I wonder why the tempo seemed exactly right if it was "on the leisurely side". A few years back, many of us seemed to think that the tempo was exactly right if playing of Bach was "on the brisk side" (as, I feel, were some of Hurford's tempi despite the musicianly playing)! I wonder why the change....?!

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Holz, give a try to some of those central-german baroque organs we still have,

and tell us, afterwards, if they allow Schumacher-like tempis like with mega-light

neo-baroque suspended actions.

 

Pierre

 

 

===========================

 

 

Exactly Pierre!

 

Using the same analogy, I would suggest that driving an old baroque organ is like driving an old 1930's supercharged Bentley 4-litre around Le Mans. You firmly coax the best out of the machine, but the machine cannot be pushed beyond certain limits.

 

Hurford himself now suggests that he played many Bach works too fast.

 

Of course, the real knack of playing Bach at a more leisurely pace with fairly elastic rubato within a strict overall tempo, is to lift the fingers as well as put them down, and introduce "daylight" is such a way that it propels the work forwards.

 

It's actually the difference between Albert Schweitzer and someone like Geraint Jones; the latter a much finer musician during his lifetime.

 

MM

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Holz, give a try to some of those central-german baroque organs we still have,

and tell us, afterwards, if they allow Schumacher-like tempis like with mega-light

neo-baroque suspended actions.

 

Pierre

 

But I wonder how much that has to do with the age of the mechanism.

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But I wonder how much that has to do with the age of the mechanism.

 

When you see the trackers (massive wood...), the valves -of a size choosen in accordance

with the 8'-rich specifications- you understand at once these organs were

heavier than ours from day one.

 

Pierre

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When you see the trackers (massive wood...), the valves -of a size choosen in accordance

with the 8'-rich specifications- you understand at once these organs were

heavier than ours from day one.

 

Pierre

 

So, Pierre, are you suggesting that none of Bach's organ works should be played briskly because the organs he played made it impossible?!

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===========================

 

Hurford himself now suggests that he played many Bach works too fast.

MM

 

We will never know why great players change their minds about the “correct” way to play Bach. Karl Richter’s earlier and later Bach Cantata and Passion recordings show significant differences in tempi. At a public lecture, Lionel Rogg said that he had not done any historical research for his series of Bach recordings – he said he played from the heart! This is really what everyone does.

 

I am afraid we are all people of our own time. ;)

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