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John Sayer

21st-century Bach - Worth Another Look?

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"The 1950's method was to introduce lower wind pressures" does require an apostrophe.

 

How can a decade own a method? Surely in this case '1950s' is merely being used as an adjective to describe the method. There is no possessive case here, so no apostrophe required.

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How can a decade own a method?  Surely in this case '1950s' is merely being used as an adjective to describe the method.  There is no possessive case here, so no apostrophe required.

 

 

It is more a case that the method belongs to the decade. Although, on reflection, the apostrophe should be placed after the 's' of '1950s', since the decade is plural.

 

 

See here:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A790175

 

In any case, I promised Phil T that we would stop this.

 

I hope that he can console himself with those words....

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Bad example - I will think of a better one when I am not quite so tired - and Phil T is not reading this thread!

 

See here:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A790175

 

In any case, I promised Phil T that we would stop this.

 

I hope that he can console himself with those words....

 

Thank you for considering my un-educated feelings. I started reading the BBC link until I got to....

 

“As with so much of English, it is somewhat illogical in its function, the finer points being confused even by master grammarians”

 

I bid you gentlemen farewell until we once again collide in cyberspace.

 

;);)

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Although I have enjoyed the DVDs. At first I looked for the A minor and B minor.... I was somewhat miffed to find that only about one third of the organ works are actually recorded - It did say on the front "Complete Works of Bach"!! :D

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Ah yes, 21st-Century Bach. Well what do you want to know?

 

The reason why they have only recorded on one English organ (so far) is because that episode was the pilot episode, so obviously they were on a tight budget - the Klais in Bath Abbey is an obvious choice for Bach. It was during the film of this episode the sun glasses trend arose! The lighting-team wanted to take lights up into the organ loft, but the authorities at Bath (not sure who) would not allow this, so much bigger, stronger lights had to be used from various other angles. Thus, John complained that he could not see because of all the lighting, and one the producer happened to have a pair of sun glasses handy and said "Here, wear these". From then on it stuck. The same producer (Norman Stone) also somehow persuaded John to record on one of the German organs in bear feet!! After the take John said that it was a ridiculous idea and said he did not want it to make the final edit. Unlucky for John though, there is a picture somewhere of him sat at the organ with no shoes or socks on!

 

Everything John does in his Bach playing is on purpose. All his ornaments, registrations and tempi have all been seriously thought out. He is convinced that the music needs such decoration. If there is evidence that it was done in Bach's time then nobody can say otherwise (JSW's favourite argument).

 

It is called the Complete Organ Works because over time it will be. The current DVDs that are available are series 1 and 2. Series 3 has been recorded and is currently being edited, and Series 4 is in the pipe-line, but due to change over of Producers/Directors is not running to schedule. I'm particularly looking forward to the opening of the Prelude in C (BWV 545) as it was apparently nigh-impossible to play because of the difference in compass of the pedal board - I think he said he could only use his left foot for the bottom C, and if you know the piece that is, well, hard!

 

As for his psalm accompaniment, well that is something you need to see to believe. Being in the loft on a daily basis seeing him play (when Philip or myself are not) is astonishing, yet disconcerting! He manages to get a different colour for every line, and very rarely plays exactly what is written, rather adding descants wherever he can. He very rarely plays a wrong chord, and is sometimes deep in conversation with me mid-psalm (usually about his DVDs!).

 

Back to the DVDs though, I think they are essential viewing for all organists, not only because they are excellent (yes, they are), but nothing like this has been done before, and it is excellent that the BBC have backed this idea, even though they are yet to sell them on the high-street - they are only available online.

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The same producer (Norman Stone) also somehow persuaded John to record on one of the German organs in bear feet!!

 

Surely the claws and the fur would hinder clean and accurate pedalling? :rolleyes:

 

Back to the DVDs though, I think they are essential viewing for all organists, not only because they are excellent (yes, they are), but nothing like this has been done before, and it is excellent that the BBC have backed this idea, even though they are yet to sell them on the high-street - they are only available online.

 

I have no quarrell with Mr. Scott Whiteley's technique - or his musicality. However, I wish that he had been more adventurous with his registrations. Many of the 'great' prelueds and fugues all sound basically the same. I can only listen for so long to yet another chorus which appears to be constructed of one stop of each pitch, with a pedal Fagotto (or similar) for variety.

 

Now, to hear Cochereau play Bach at Nôtre-Dame is an altogether different experience. His performance of the C major (BWV 547) is, in my view, stunning - with the chamades employed at 8p and 4p for the descending broken chords in the pedals, for example. In addition, the way he plays this fugue is the only interpretation which I have heard that takes into account the changes in texture - he gradually builds up throughout the movement, reaching the tutti by the last page and the big chordal section; then, reduces smoothly, ending on a couple of 8p bourdons and a soft pedal 16p.

 

I confess that, whilst giving due regard to Mr. Scott Whiteley's virtuosity and musicianship, I found the performances a little dull and lacking in contrast, by comparison.

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I must admit to having been a mite disappointed with Volume 2. It could have done with being made on a wider variety of organs, rather than concentrating on one or two albeit distunguished instruments. I also came away with the impression that in some instances JSW was filmed playing to pre-recorded tracks. What you could see him playing and what you could hear were't always necessarily in synch. Or maybe I've just been watching too much Songs of Praise, where it is common practice.

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I also came away with the impression that in some instances JSW was filmed playing to pre-recorded tracks. What you could see him playing and what you could hear were't always necessarily in synch. Or maybe I've just been watching too much Songs of Praise, where it is common practice.

 

The audio was recorded first, followed by the visuals. This is common practise for "broadcast-quality" DVDs, and is the only possible way to get multiple camera angles without another camera appearing in-shot, as is the case with many live TV shows and concerts. If you watch the Bath Abbey episode, you might have noticed that there arn't even any stops drawn out. But one of the points of these DVDs is to try to reach people from all different levels, rather than just organists, and this is done by using some very strange camera angles and effects.

 

I must confess that I have yet to hear the Cochereau rendition of the 'Leipzig' 547. It has done me well as I played it in both my Chester and York sholarship auditions!

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I must admit to having been a mite disappointed with Volume 2. It could have done with being made on a wider variety of organs, rather than concentrating on one or two albeit distunguished instruments. I also came away with the impression that in some instances JSW was filmed playing to pre-recorded tracks. What you could see him playing and what you could hear were't always necessarily in synch. Or maybe I've just been watching too much Songs of Praise, where it is common practice.

 

I agree. Interestingly, the same happened at York Minster some years ago. I think that it was a televised service of some sort at or around Christmas. At one point, there was a close-up shot of JSW playing, in which his hands were placed around the middle of the keyboard; however, on the the soundtrack the organ was sounding notes which were considerably higher than those which were seen to be played. (Incidentally, it was not simply a question of him adding mixtures - just that he was playing a different part of the piece on the screen to the part which was on the soundtrack.)

 

What a pity the editor did not notice such a simple error.

 

I had a similar experience when SoP came to Christchurch Priory when I was the Assistant Organist. After the end of the first recording session, the camera crew wished to film some close-ups. I suspect that they also wished to get to the pub before closing time. Initially, they just wanted me to play the opening of Jerusalem with the toaster turned off and no stops drawn. I was unhappy with this and pointed out that it would look absurd to anyone who knew half a thing about playing the organ. In the end, I became so concerned at their lack of interest in detail or accuracy, I made sure that the close-up shots would be unusable.

 

They were.

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I wish JSW would talk about the pieces he was playing, about how he was interpreting the pieces (and why) and about the organs he was playing, rather like they did with the 48 preludes and fugues. It would make the series so much more interesting and accessible. Currently, I find it all a bit too esoteric and strange and rather a missed opportunity...

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It is not difficult to argue that JSW is the most accomplished organist in this country at present given his familiarity with the repertoire at large. As Richard says his psalm playing is distinquished and imaginative. I particularly love to hear him accompanying the Ivor Atkins chant that concludes Psalm 55 on the 10th evening.

 

No mean improviser either ! It is a matter of regret, however, that Saturday Evensong no longer ends with JSW extemporising after the last verse of the hymn.

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Back to the DVDs though, I think they are essential viewing for all organists, not only because they are excellent (yes, they are), but nothing like this has been done before, and it is excellent that the BBC have backed this idea, even though they are yet to sell them on the high-street - they are only available online.

 

They ARE available in the High Street as I bought my copies in the Cardiff HMV store. Although produced by Victor Lewis-Smith's Associated-Rediffusion company (not the original for those old enough to remember - he bought the name and trade mark!) I'm pleased to say the series - like the 48 Preludes programmes - is a BBC Wales commission. I'm so used to people criticising my employer it's nice to hear some appreciation :rolleyes:

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No mean improviser either ! It is a matter of regret, however, that Saturday Evensong no longer ends with JSW extemporising after the last verse of the hymn.

 

What a shame - so what happens now, and why was it changed? :rolleyes:

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Ah yes, 21st-Century Bach. Well what do you want to know?

 

It is called the Complete Organ Works because over time it will be. The current DVDs that are available are series 1 and 2. Series 3 has been recorded and is currently being edited, and Series 4 is in the pipe-line, but due to change over of Producers/Directors is not running to schedule.

 

I, for one, enjoy watching (and re-watching) Series 1 and 2.

 

I should be most grateful if Richard, or someone else 'in the know', would inform us on this site when Series 3 and 4 become available.

 

Do you know which instruments were used on these latter series, Richard?

 

Many thanks

 

John

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I wish that he had been more adventurous with his registrations. Many of the 'great' prelueds and fugues all sound basically the same. I can only listen for so long to yet another chorus which appears to be constructed of one stop of each pitch, with a pedal Fagotto (or similar) for variety.
Doesn't worry me. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice.

 

Now, to hear Cochereau play Bach at Nôtre-Dame is an altogether different experience. His performance of the C major (BWV 547) is, in my view, stunning - with the chamades employed at 8p and 4p for the descending broken chords in the pedals, for example. In addition, the way he plays this fugue is the only interpretation which I have heard that takes into account the changes in texture - he gradually builds up throughout the movement, reaching the tutti by the last page and the big chordal section; then, reduces smoothly, ending on a couple of 8p bourdons and a soft pedal 16p.
How gross. There's a place for this sort of thing, but Bach isn't it.

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Doesn't worry me. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice.

 

How gross. There's a place for this sort of thing, but Bach isn't it.

 

Have you heard this recording, Vox? Personally I do not think that it is gross. At least it brings some excitement and interest to the performances. Certainly I prefer it to endless identical registrations!

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Have you heard this recording, Vox? Personally I do not think that it is gross. At least it brings some excitement and interest to the performances. Certainly I prefer it to endless identical registrations!

 

I tend to agree - I once heard the Passacaglia played by a Danish organist - full organ (nearly) from start to finish. When asked why he said it was that's (maybe then) what M-C Alain did....and she is a prophet! One can of course go too far in the other direction and some 'Edwardian' performances or over registered contemporary versions can be just as ghastly. Common sense is probably the best thing.

 

AJJ

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They ARE available in the High Street as I bought my copies in the Cardiff HMV store. Although produced by Victor Lewis-Smith's Associated-Rediffusion company (not the original for those old enough to remember - he bought the name and trade mark!) I'm pleased to say the series - like the 48 Preludes programmes - is a BBC Wales commission. I'm so used to people criticising my employer it's nice to hear some appreciation ;)

Really?! John will be pleased to know - he was sure that they are only available online. I haven't seen any lurking about the shops in York; Banks Music have a BBC music DVD stand and I haven't seen it on there, or in HMV/Virgin etc.

 

What a shame - so what happens now, and why was it changed? :rolleyes:

It depends on whether or not the collection has finished. The stewards have usually finished it all by the time the Offertory Hymn is over, but sometimes theres room for an improv! Philip is also very good at improvising.

 

I, for one, enjoy watching (and re-watching) Series 1 and 2.

 

I should be most grateful if Richard, or someone else 'in the know', would inform us on this site when Series 3 and 4 become available.

 

Do you know which instruments were used on these latter series, Richard?

 

Many thanks

 

John

Series 3 is still being edited, so don't expect that until later this year or even early next year :o As for organs, I can't remember which ones he said. Hes currently away as it is half-term but when I see him I'll ask him.

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Have you heard this recording, Vox? Personally I do not think that it is gross. At least it brings some excitement and interest to the performances. Certainly I prefer it to endless identical registrations!

The mere thought of it was enough. But I grant you it was a sweeping statement. In practice I hope I am not entirely dogmatic about such things. Most certainly there are organs on which a purist approach to Bach simply will not work. Our local, large R&D is the worst instrument for Bach that I know and, as I have mentioned before, the only performance of a large Bach piece that has come anywhere near working musically was one that adopted a Romantic approach to registration. Nevertheless, a recital where you are stuck with a given instrument is a different proposition from a CD where you can pick and choose to suit your taste. I would not choose to spend my money on Bach aux chamades, but if you want to convert me I am quite willing to listen to it with as open a mind as I can muster.

 

Back in my student days an eminent organist was telling me about his choir. Of one singer he said (and it could be said of countless others too): "He has a good voice, but he only has one style of singing." The comment made a deep impression; it can so obviously be applied to any musician. I have always hoped that no one could accuse me of having only one style of playing. I only wish I had more. Certain repertories still remain a closed book to me, most notably Italian music of the early Baroque (but I'm not alone here: how many organists really engage seriously with Frescobaldi & Co and how many who do can really bring it to life?)

 

Getting back to Bach, I think it depends what you want to hear. Personally what I want from a performance of Bach is very different from what I want from one of Rheinberger. Heart-on-sleeve interpretations of Bach, with the emotion (including tone colours) slapped on top, thick and creamy, just do not seem appropriate to me. That is not to say they are inherently unmusical. It is perfectly possible to be musical and tasteless at the same time. Taste is such a subjective thing anyway. As far as I am concerned a Bach performance that is not in sympathy with my understanding of the Baroque simply isn't Bach. (The possibility that I may totally misunderstand the Baroque is neither here nor there.)

 

So for me the emotion in Bach is a more subtle thing. In the larger pieces it stems primarily from the combination of motor rhythm, articulation, harmony, contrapuntal interplay and sense of architecture than from the tone colours. I am not saying that tone colour is unimportant - very far from it - just that its priority relative to the other factors mentioned is nowhere near as high as it must be in Romantic music. I suspect this is precisely the reason why, like Vamathou, I find Elgar's (and Stokowski's) orchestral arrangements of Bach so unappealing.

 

Picking out fugue subjects on Tubas (to caricature a bit) or even changing manuals for episodes risks drawing my attention onto minutiae in the piece at the expense of the whole architectural journey; I tend to resent the disruption. One of the things that, for me, makes Tallis's 40-part motet great is the contrast between the restless contrapuntal activity and (in the fuller sections anyway) the very slow rate of harmonic change. The whole thing is a monumental musical edifice that is almost Wagnerian in concept. I tend to view most of the large Bach P&Fs, and certainly the mature ones, in much the same way.

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