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John Sayer

21st-century Bach - Worth Another Look?

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If you watched John Scott Whitely's Bach programmes on TV (the ones with the wasps crawling over the master's bust), you, like me, may have been put off by the gimmicky camera work and sometimes quirky playing.

 

The DVD version has rather more to offer, however. Apart from a wondrous assortment of organs - Hamburg (Jakobi & Neuenfelde), Arnstadt, Freiberg, Naumburg, Haarlem, Lüneburg and Bath Abbey (for BWBV 565), there are decent programme notes by Stephen Pettitt plus various DVD extras like German/English chorale text subtitles, audio commentary on the pieces, interview with Christoph Wolf (author of the best book on JSB in my opinion), biography of JSB, the inevitable 'making of...' appendix and even more whizzy 'red-button' technical stuff if you want it.

 

Like or not - I think it's worth a further look, especially as the 2-CD set (148 mins playing time) costs just £9.99 incl. P&P from Bensonworld

 

21st-century Bach

 

Worth another hearing, I reckon.

 

JS

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Note that there are two 2-disk sets, and the second is longer :-) Indeed, set 1 is eight music tracks on DVD-1 and the extras on DVD-2, whereas set 2 is all music tracks, 21 of them. N.B. both sets say Region 2 on the box, which differs from what's said elsewhere.

 

Look here

 

Paul

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Mmmm....

 

I think that I will pass. John Scott Whiteley is an excellent player with a really good technique, but I am afraid that these programmes left me cold. Initially, the organs were pleasant to hear and his playing was clean. However, I found that it all became rather familiar quite quickly. He used similar registrations for the larger preludes and fugues, which became a little boring.

 

In addition, the only British organ he chose (as far as I can recall), was that at Bath Abbey - recently rebuilt, of course, by Johannes Klais, of Bonn.

 

I would have preferred to hear a number of works on a greater variety of instruments. Whilst there were, of course, slight differences in specifications, timbre and tonal balance, the instruments used were all basically examples of baroque voicing and disposition.

 

For all the arguments which have been levied at Gloucester for its perceived inability to cope with accompanying standard choral repertoire, it does play Bach very nicely. So, for that matter, does Blackburn - and arguably Chester, Guildford (if you do not mind slightly 'chubby' Bach), Ely (sans reeds) and a number of others - even Bristol (for a fairly dignified sound - and probably not using this venue for the 'Dorian' Toccata and Fugue.)

 

In addition, how about a change of approach to registration, particularly of the 'great' preludes and fugues? Take the C minor fugue (BWV 546) for example; why not select, say, Blackburn - or Guildford and be a little more adventurous. Commence on all the 8p foundations, gradually building up to the tutti (without the really heavy reeds, but including the Pedal 32p stops).

 

I must confess that I became fairly bored with hearing these pieces played superbly - but on virtually the same registrations, not merely throughout the movement but for each work.

 

Please do not mis-understand me. I have great admiration for John Scott Whiteley as a player, but I felt that this entire series was somewhat of a missed opportunity.

 

I wonder if the fact that the BBC apparently shelved their plans to re-commence broadcasting the rest of the programmes was influenced by other viewers harbouring similar misgivings?

 

However, I suppose that we are now back to the vexed question of how Bach may have liked his music to be played - or how musicians feel that his music can be adapted to present-day instruments and performance practice.

 

Personally, I like a little more variety in my Bach. As others have said, one of the tests of truly great music is its ability to withstand a wide diversity of treatment in execution - within reason. Whilst I would at all costs wish personally to avoid the excesses of indulgence of some performers, I am convinced that there is room for a rather wider interpretation that was available in these programmes.

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If you watched John Scott Whitely's Bach programmes on TV (the ones with the wasps crawling over the master's bust), you, like me, may have been put off  by the gimmicky camera work and sometimes quirky playing.

 

The DVD version has rather more to offer, however.  Apart from a wondrous assortment of organs - Hamburg (Jakobi & Neuenfelde), Arnstadt, Freiberg, Naumburg, Haarlem, Lüneburg and Bath Abbey (for BWBV 565), there are decent programme notes by Stephen Pettitt plus various DVD extras like German/English chorale text subtitles, audio commentary on the pieces, interview with Christoph Wolf (author of the best book on JSB in my opinion), biography of JSB, the inevitable 'making of...' appendix and even more whizzy 'red-button' technical stuff if you want it.

 

Like or not - I think it's worth a further look, especially as the 2-CD set (148 mins playing time) costs just £9.99 incl. P&P from Bensonworld

 

21st-century Bach

 

Worth another hearing, I reckon.

 

JS

 

I agree. Very watchable. They are BEES though!

I, however, paid rather more than that for mine. I wish I'd known.

 

John

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I must confess that I became fairly bored with hearing these pieces played superbly - but on virtually the same registrations, not merely throughout the movement but for each work.

I have to say that his registration did not bother me at all.

 

Which is more than I can say for Damien Hirst's graphics.

 

But then, I like my Bach unfussy. In my view the less people muck around with the registration the more clearly the music speaks for itself. Each to his own.

 

What did upset me was JSW's ornamentation, which I thought was fussy and quite un-baroque - bizarre, even.

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But then, I like my Bach unfussy. In my view the less people muck around with the registration the more clearly the music speaks for itself. Each to his own.

 

Whilst I accept your comments, Vox, I would say that if one is only playing one prelude and fugue this is fine - but a whole programme, or even a whole series where everything sounded fairly similar was more than I could bother with.

 

What did upset me was JSW's ornamentation, which I thought was fussy and quite un-baroque - bizarre, even.

 

I cannot recall this facet of his playing - I will have another listen. I do agree that the graphics were strange, as was th camera-work, although apparently, this was somewhat less to do with Damien Hirst.

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I agree John, glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the link.

When I was at school in the late 70's most of the pictures in books were in black and white, and it was a revelation to see the oppulent white and gold interiors of Bach's churches. Sound wise, we had the odd recording of Walcha and a few others to go on but little else.

Today, thanks to John Whiteley we can see and hear these great instruments. It's a fantastic teaching aid and should be on every collectors shelf.

JSW is not a player who has stood still, he is constantly refreshing his performance to take into account fresh insights and scholarship.

He has played at York (with the most amazing psalm accompaniments)almost daily for I think 30 years and today runs the girls choir too. And he manages to record Bach with all the cameras, lights, helium balloons etc. Quite a bloke!

 

But why the mysterious glasses?

 

Definitely one for the Xmas stocking.

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Mmmm....

 

I think that I will pass. John Scott Whiteley is an excellent player with a really good technique, but I am afraid that these programmes left me cold. Initially, the organs were pleasant to hear and his playing was clean. However, I found that it all became rather familiar quite quickly. He used similar registrations for the larger preludes and fugues, which became a little boring.

 

In addition, the only British organ he chose (as far as I can recall), was that at Bath Abbey - recently rebuilt, of course, by Johannes Klais, of Bonn.

 

I would have preferred to hear a number of works on a greater variety of instruments. Whilst there were, of course, slight differences in specifications, timbre and tonal balance, the instruments used were all basically examples of baroque voicing and disposition.

 

For all the arguments which have been levied at Gloucester for its perceived inability to cope with accompanying standard choral repertoire, it does play Bach very nicely. So, for that matter, does Blackburn - and arguably Chester, Guildford (if you do not mind slightly 'chubby' Bach), Ely (sans reeds) and a number of others - even Bristol (for a fairly dignified sound - and probably not using this venue for the 'Dorian' Toccata and Fugue.)

 

In addition, how about a change of approach to registration, particularly of the 'great' preludes and fugues? Take the C minor fugue (BWV 546) for example; why not select, say, Blackburn - or Guildford and be a little more adventurous. Commence on all the 8p foundations, gradually building up to the tutti (without the really heavy reeds, but including the Pedal 32p stops).

 

I must confess that I became fairly bored with hearing these pieces played superbly - but on virtually the same registrations, not merely throughout the movement but for each work.

 

Please do not mis-understand me. I have great admiration for John Scott Whiteley as a player, but I felt that this entire series was somewhat of a missed opportunity.

 

I wonder if the fact that the BBC apparently shelved their plans to re-commence broadcasting the rest of the programmes was influenced by other viewers harbouring similar misgivings?

 

However, I suppose that we are now back to the vexed question of how Bach may have liked his music to be played - or how musicians feel that his music can be adapted to present-day instruments and performance practice.

 

Personally, I like a little more variety in my Bach. As others have said, one of the tests of truly great music is its ability to withstand a wide diversity of treatment in execution - within reason. Whilst I would at all costs wish personally to avoid the excesses of indulgence of some performers, I am convinced that there is room for a rather wider interpretation that was available in these programmes.

 

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

 

John Scott-Whiteley is a superb organist, and at his most inspired, truly wonderful.

I recall hearing him play the Francis Jackson "Toccata, Chorale and Fugue" and it was indistinguishable from the same work played by the composer. His French music can also be wonderully exciting.

 

However, I never think of J S-W as a Bach performer.

 

Never mind the dark-glasses, he dropped his overcoat at Naumburg, and forgot to pick it up on the way out. (I have such an eye for continuity)

 

I'm especially thrilled that "pcnd" now seems to be warming to "alternative" Bach; although I am not quite sure whether he will eventually go the way of Straube, Koopman or Virgil Fox: three very different ways of playing Bach.

 

MM

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But why the mysterious glasses?

 

In one of the 'extra' interviews the producer asks him whether the lighting used for the recordings was a distraction. JSW replies to the effect that he has very poor eyesight, so the additional light was very welcome.

 

Perhaps it has something to do with this.

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I have to say that his registration did not bother me at all.

 

Which is more than I can say for Damien Hirst's graphics.

 

But then, I like my Bach unfussy. In my view the less people muck around with the registration the more clearly the music speaks for itself. Each to his own.

 

What did upset me was JSW's ornamentation, which I thought was fussy and quite un-baroque - bizarre, even.

 

Yes, the ornamentation does make you sit up and listen at times, especially as some of it seems to break all the accepted barock rules, such as mordents starting on the wrong note.

 

One should congratulate JSW not only on his playing but also on his miming, since that is how whole sections of certain works were recorded, e.g. the shots from behind the music desk.

 

Whatever one thinks of Mr Hirst's swarming friends (bees, sorry - I'm not well up in apiarist matters!) and ultra-gimmicky camera-work, it does seem a pity that so many opportunities were missed; for example the chance to show more of the unique ambience of the chosen locations. Why so few shots of the interior and exterior of marvellous churches like St Wenzel, Naumburg and Freiberg Dom, and also of the towns themselves? Much has changed over the centuries, of course, but it is still possible in these places to get some idea of the surroundings in which JSB lived and worked, in a way which adds a new dimension to the music itself.

 

JS

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Personally, I like a little more variety in my Bach. As others have said, one of the tests of truly great music is its ability to withstand a wide diversity of treatment in execution - within reason. Whilst I would at all costs wish personally to avoid the excesses of indulgence of some performers, I am convinced that there is room for a rather wider interpretation that was available in these programmes.

WARNING - POSTING BELOW GOING OFF AT TANGENT - WARNING

 

I have to agree with pcnd, though not just about Bach, although the finest and most memorable performance of the Passacaglia in C minor I have ever heard was given by Peter Hurford on the Harrison at Bristol's Colston Hall, where the opening on the Pedals was given on full organ, 32ft Double Ophicleides et al. Darn it, I nearly forgot to go off at a tangent, but what I meant to say was that it does get tiresome when virtually every new recording of the Vierne Symphonies, for example, it seems obligatory to record them on a Cavaille-Coll, and preferably St Ouen. Vierne travels well, and I often find myself taking down from the shelves Martin Jean's recording of le six recorded on the Skinner organ at Newberry Memorial Hall, Yale. Pure pleasure on a spinning disc, and without any shrieking mixtures and chamades (sorry pcnd) :P Organ music by British composers, unfortunately, tend to fail pcnd's test in that it doesn't tend to travel well. I have heard Elgar and Whitlock performed on Klais and Rieger organs in Germany, and it just doesn't convince. Not great music, perhaps? :P

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Organ music by British composers, unfortunately, tend to fail pcnd's test in that it doesn't tend to travel well. I have heard Elgar and Whitlock performed on Klais and Rieger organs in Germany, and it just doesn't convince. Not great music, perhaps?  :P

 

To be honest, Elgar barely makes it on to a British organ. There are at least two notes in the first movement of his ('First') Sonata, in G which are unplayable (unless one has very long fingers). It is probably that most 'orchestral' work which I play - although, presumably this was how Elgar conceived it, even though he could play the organ.

 

Jeremy, please do not worry about the chamades - I understand....

 

:P

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

 

I'm especially thrilled that "pcnd" now seems to be warming to "alternative" Bach; although I am not quite sure whether he will eventually go the way of Straube, Koopman or Virgil Fox: three very different ways of playing Bach.

 

MM

 

 

Unfortunately, neither do I - although I really think that you should listen to a recording - the recording - of Cochereau playing the C major Prelude and Fugue (BWV 545) at Nôtre-Dame. I would be very interested to know what you think of it. For the record, I would not play it any other way, myself. His interpretation of the fugue in particular just makes so much sense, when one considers the changes of texture.

 

In fact, I have not liked my Bach played entirely ... "with one stop of 8p pitch, up to mixture and a nice Pedal fagotto" for a very long time.

 

Out of interest, MM - why have I apparently acquired epaulettes?

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Jeremy, please do not worry about the chamades - I understand....  :P

You are so kind. :P It's not that I don't like chamades per se - I like the one's in St John's College, Cambridge, for example - it's just that so many of them sound like spitting cobras and not very musical.

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Unfortunately, neither do I  - although I really think that you should listen to a recording - the recording - of Cochereau playing the C major Prelude and Fugue (BWV 545) at Nôtre-Dame. I would be very interested to know what you think of it. For the record, I would not play it  any other way, myself. His interpretation of the fugue in particular just makes so much sense, when one considers the changes of texture.

 

In fact, I have not liked my Bach played entirely ... "with one stop of 8p pitch, up to mixture and a nice Pedal fagotto" for a very long time.

 

Out of interest, MM - why have I apparently acquired epaulettes?

 

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

 

Is 'pcnd' (demoted) the secret roving organist for "Ship of fools?"

 

That registration sounds darkly familiar to me, though I would absolutely deny that I use just a SINGLE 8ft register when I have 3 available; two of which blend wonderfully.

 

I did consider 8ft Gedact and 1.1/3 Quint, but it just didn't work for me, or anyone else for that matter!

 

So, 8.8.4. IV & II Sesq (Bach terzchor) it has to be, with obligatory Fagotto for that wonderful stretto entry.....the "mini" Bavo effect. (Actually proposed by a distinguished Netherlands organist resident in Amsterdam)

 

I haven't heard PC play the BWV545, but I do remember the recordings of Karl Richter, and they don't come much better than that.

 

Now who remembers Karl Richter?

 

MM

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

 

 

Now who remembers Karl Richter?

 

MM

 

Strangely enough I do! At one time, years ago it was hoped that he was going to make a recording at St.James the Greater Leicester but it all fell through and never happened.

 

FF

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

 

Is 'pcnd' (demoted) the secret roving organist for "Ship of fools?"

 

MM

 

Hardly, "mm". Since I usually have but two or three Sundays off each year, it would be extremely difficult for me to rove anywhere.

 

I would like to know why I still have little epaulettes - and from what rank or position I have been demoted.

 

Any clarification (mm), will be eagerly received.

 

B)

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

 

Now who remembers Karl Richter?

 

MM

 

I think one of the best bits in the B minor mass is in the Confiteor, where the tenors have the plainsong theme in semibreves B):D:P . So too for Karl Richter, I think; but not without his own superb choir. I remember a performance in the RFH with one of the London Choral Society choirs. At the tenor entry he waved and waved... gesticulated.... the tenors were scarlet, eyes buldging and veins bursting .. but not enough sound was produced.... :o:o:o

 

Other memories of Karl Richter recordings B) -

 

The ghostly sounds from his continuo organ that seemed as if it only had quintadena stops. :P

 

Long trills in every entry of the Wedge fugue subject ...... :P .....

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Hardly, "mm". Since I usually have but two or three Sundays off each year, it would be extremely difficult for me to rove anywhere.

 

I would like to know why I still have little epaulettes - and from what rank or position I have been demoted.

 

Any clarification (mm), will be eagerly received.

 

B)

 

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

 

I am so relieved that I was able to bypass the study of the English language prior to writing my first novel. This saved so much time, and freed the creative spirit from the strictures of those who would limit art to that which is merely accurate.

 

I suppose that is what is meant by the term "boffin" (Ed: note the epaulettes), for which the "Oxford Dictionary" has no source.

 

In the case of "pcnd" (or his junior equivalent, and rather less grammatically correct 'pcnd'), the use of epaulettes is justified on the grounds that it is not a proper name, but a pseudonymn or 'titulaire' for one other, which appears within the body of another organ; namely the "Mander discussion board." (Note the epaulettes).

 

It is therefore important to use these attractive little accretions as quotation marks, for indeed, we are quoting from the said discussion board, and the letters pcnd, in isolation, mean absolutely nothing at all, to anyone, anywhere. Of course, if written as P.C. - N.D., there may be the slim chance that a passing French organist may be alerted to the name of another French organist who passed away some years ago.

 

However, I am not quite certain whether one should use the same epaulettes within the body of the said organ, but as "The Times" will often quote "The Times" in its own publication, I am quite happy to accept this as a correct use of quotation marks.

 

Now - about this "boffin" thing, (which obviously has the "Oxford Dictionary" in a state of distress), the answer lies within the specialised realm of military colloquialism, I feel sure.

 

A former partner of mine who was never anything more than a humble "squaddie," (and a Junior Bisley Champion) uttered what I believe to be the definitive answer.

 

Boffin = Technical wizard

 

Coffin = Box

 

Technical wizard = Brain Box

 

Brain Box = Boffin

 

Should we alert the "Oxford Dictionary" (note the use of epaulettes), or allow them to wallow in a state of partial-ignorance?

 

The English language, (and the use thereof), is seldom straightforward, but if people only learned how to do things correctly, it could actually be as dull as the country in which it is spoken.

 

What delights there are in Sheridan!

 

What laughter I shared with the writer J.B.Priestley, when the old Yorkshire lady bade us farewell, with the immortal words, "It'll be nice to see yer back!"

 

:P

 

MM

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

 

I am so relieved that I was able to bypass the study of the English language prior to writing my first novel. This saved so much time, and freed the creative spirit from the strictures of those who would limit art to that which is merely accurate.

 

I suppose that is what is meant by the term "boffin" (Ed: note the epaulettes), for which the "Oxford Dictionary" has no source.

 

In the case of "pcnd" (or his junior equivalent, and rather less grammatically correct 'pcnd'), the use of epaulettes is justified on the grounds that it is not a proper name, but a pseudonymn or 'titulaire' for one other, which appears within the body of another organ; namely the "Mander discussion board." (Note the epaulettes).

 

It is therefore important to use these attractive little accretions as quotation marks, for indeed, we are quoting from the said discussion board, and the letters pcnd, in isolation, mean absolutely nothing at all, to anyone, anywhere. Of course, if written as P.C. - N.D., there may be the slim chance that a passing French organist may be alerted to the name of another French organist who passed away some years ago.

 

However, I am not quite certain whether one should use the same epaulettes within the body of the said organ, but as "The Times" will often quote "The Times" in its own publication, I am quite happy to accept this as a correct use of quotation marks.

 

Now - about this "boffin" thing, (which obviously has the "Oxford Dictionary" in a state of distress), the answer lies within the specialised realm of military colloquialism, I feel sure.

 

A former partner of mine who was never anything more than a humble "squaddie," (and a Junior Bisley Champion) uttered what I believe to be the definitive answer.

 

Boffin = Technical wizard

 

Coffin = Box

 

Technical wizard = Brain Box

 

Brain Box = Boffin

 

Should we alert the "Oxford Dictionary" (note the use of epaulettes), or allow them to wallow in a state of partial-ignorance?

 

The English language, (and the use thereof), is seldom straightforward, but if people only learned how to do things correctly, it could actually be as dull as the country in which it is spoken.

 

What delights there are in Sheridan!

 

What laughter I shared with the writer J.B.Priestley, when the old Yorkshire lady bade us farewell, with the immortal words, "It'll be nice to see yer back!"

 

B)

 

MM

 

 

Erm, I'm sorry lads - have I missed something here?!

 

Whatever you're drinking seems to be having QUITE an effect!

 

 

David Wyld

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I remember a performance in the RFH with one of the London Choral Society choirs. At the tenor entry he waved and waved... gesticulated.... the tenors were scarlet, eyes buldging and veins bursting .. but not enough sound was produced.... B)  :D  :P

 

Other memories of Karl Richter recordings  B) -

 

The ghostly sounds from his continuo organ that seemed as if it only had quintadena stops.  :P

 

 

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

 

 

I guess the acoustic materials were gobbling up the tenors?

 

I suspect that the creativity of Bach was such, that scarlet faces, bulging eyes and bursting veins were really quite appropriate.

 

Trust Richter to discover the hidden Bach metaphor!

 

:P

 

MM

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Erm, I'm sorry lads - have I missed something here?!

 

Whatever you're drinking seems to be having QUITE an effect!

David Wyld

 

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

 

Don't worry David, you just carry on building organs!

 

I think "pcnd" was questioning my grammar, even though she died many years ago.

 

Make that a double....or a single....

 

 

B)

 

MM

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