Jump to content
Mander Organs
John Sayer

21st-century Bach - Worth Another Look?

Recommended Posts

I understand your point of view, Vox; however, it seems to me that some of your statements serve actually to re-inforce my argument.

 

Playing a prelude and fugue in a recital (entirely on one registration, if it is felt absolutely necessary) is one thing, but to play for a whole DVD, or, for that matter, even a half-hour programme, with the only tonal variety being to intersperse quieter chorale preludes and trio sonati is, in my view, to perform a great disservice to some of the most beautiful music ever written.

 

Is it possible that the programme never left its late-night slot (or even that the half-promised further series were never broadcast) because it failed to catch the imaginations of viewers?

 

Yes, we could be impressed by the virtuosity and sheer musicianship of JSW, or (for a limited time) enjoy the beauty of two instruments and their surroundings and even be gently amused by quirky camera angles and split-screen effects. That said, I am afraid that I found it all rather boring after a couple of programmes.

 

I understand that you prefer Bach's organ music to be played without frills or kaleidoscopic changes of registration - this I can respect. However, it would be unwise to deny that there are many - not just organists, but genuine music-lovers - who had watched one or two programmes, perhaps seeking to become interested in the organ works of Bach, but who found the constant plenum-type registrations and lack of dynamic contrast wearisome. Changes of texture and articulation are by no means always sufficient tools with which to engage the interest of an audience - through any medium.

 

Please do not mis-understand me; I would not for one minute suggest that Bach's music needs to be made 'exciting' or given 'a new dimension'. However, for my own preferences, I would no more wish to hear a prelude and fugue played throughout on the same clavier with the same registration than I would desire to hear the B-minor Mass entirely played on clarinets, oboes and bassoons.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Funnily enough, I don't disagree with you. There are dichtomies here.

 

Firstly, as with all recordings that set out to catalogue, there is a programming issue. Bach's P&Fs were never meant to be heard wall-to-wall. While I find I can happily listen to any one of these played entirely on a Baroque organo pleno, to hear nothing but organo pleno is indeed wearisome. How the tracks have been arranged on the DVDs I do not know, but in the TV programmes I did find myself regretting that we did not hear more of the wealth of colours available on the Naumburg organ, to name but one. More of the chorale preludes and fewer of the big works would have helped. I do feel an opportunity was lost here.

 

Secondly, I fully acknowledge that the way I like my Bach is rather too refined to "wow" the unconverted, who generally look for something more "in your face". Also, while you might get away with a purist approach on a Baroque or neo-Baroque instrument, most of the organs we have to contend with in England were not voiced to be played in this way. If I were ever asked to do an all-Bach recital (not that I can see that ever happening) I'm frankly not sure how I'd approach it. It would depend on the instrument, but it would certainly need very careful thought. (Perhaps it provide an excuse for that intimate, chamber-style performance of BWV 541 on an 8' flute!)

 

As for JSW's programmes never leaving their late-night slot, was this ever envisaged? Similar series in the past - Bach's "48", Beethoven's sonatas - have always been programmed as "night caps".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Funnily enough, I don't disagree with you. There are dichtomies here.

 

Firstly, as with all recordings that set out to catalogue, there is a programming issue. Bach's P&Fs were never meant to be heard wall-to-wall. While I find I can happily listen to any one of these played entirely on a Baroque organo pleno, to hear nothing but organo pleno is indeed wearisome. How the tracks have been arranged on the DVDs I do not know, but in the TV programmes I did find myself regretting that we did not hear more of the wealth of colours available on the Naumburg organ, to name but one. More of the chorale preludes and fewer of the big works would have helped. I do feel an opportunity was lost here.

 

Secondly, I fully acknowledge that the way I like my Bach is rather too refined to "wow" the unconverted, who generally look for something more "in your face". Also, while you might get away with a purist approach on a Baroque or neo-Baroque instrument, most of the organs we have to contend with in England were not voiced to be played in this way. If I were ever asked to do an all-Bach recital (not that I can see that ever happening) I'm frankly not sure how I'd approach it. It would depend on the instrument, but it would certainly need very careful thought. (Perhaps it provide an excuse for that intimate, chamber-style performance of BWV 541 on an 8' flute!)

 

As for JSW's programmes never leaving their late-night slot, was this ever envisaged? Similar series in the past - Bach's "48", Beethoven's sonatas - have always been programmed as "night caps".

 

Well, indeed, Vox.

 

With regard to your final point, you may well be correct. I used greatly to enjoy watching and listening to the 'Forty-eight', late at night - usually filmed in some Italian palazzio (and usually from the upper floor of an adjacent building).

 

The only point of contention was those programmes in which Joanna MacGregor was featured as the soloist - it did seem as if she always took the preludes quickly - and the fugues slowly. I did also catch myself thinking that, if she had been wearing a wig (God knows why she would want to), it would probably have flown from her head and sailed out of the window, since she seemed to indulge in a lot of jerky head-shaking and twitching.

 

Perhaps she had an uncomfortable stool....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The only point of contention was those programmes in which Joanna MacGregor was featured as the soloist - it did seem as if she always took the preludes quickly - and the fugues slowly. I did also catch myself thinking that, if she had been wearing a wig (God knows why she would want to), it would probably have flown from her head and sailed out of the window, since she seemed to indulge in a lot of jerky head-shaking and twitching.
Ms MacGregor is not alone in that. Even in my student days, pianists invariably played Bach ridiculously fast. I used to wake up sweating from nightmares about a cut, make and trim business where the shop floor was packed with row upon row of pianists hammering away at Bach.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ms MacGregor is not alone in that. Even in my student days, pianists invariably played Bach ridiculously fast. I used to wake up sweating from nightmares about a cut, make and trim business where the shop floor was packed with row upon row of pianists hammering away at Bach.

 

At least Glenn Gould was unable to feature in the series.

 

I have a set of CDs of him performing the Forty-eight and, apart from him singing (well, grunting) most of the way through, the piano keys must have been very hot, since he was apparently unable to touch them for longer than a few nanoseconds at a time.

 

He also used to sit on a very low stool and slouch over, effectively reaching up to the keys. I cannot imagine how difficult that made playing certain passages - or, in fact, most things.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You might be interested in this link, recently sent me by a friend.

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKkY3oSsCNg

 

If it doesn't work type it in, Gould in action , in case you're worried.

It's wonderful.

 

I came across this: a fugue by Glenn Gould

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1ain4qftoM

 

There's also a Japanese version, which is quite worrying, really...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Time now 22.40pm. Monday.

 

At 23.20, there is a broadcast of the Toccata & Fugue in F major from St.Bavo, Haarlem on BBC2 TV.

 

This one not to miss, if only for the visual feast of that magnificent organ-case.

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Time now 22.40pm. Monday.

 

At 23.20, there is a broadcast of the Toccata & Fugue in F major from St.Bavo, Haarlem on BBC2 TV.

 

This one not to miss, if only for the visual feast of that magnificent organ-case.

 

MM

Hmm. I hope Damien allows us to see it properly.... :unsure:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hmm. I hope Damien allows us to see it properly.... :unsure:

 

Oh - I have just spotted this. Unfortunately it is now 00h00, so I have missed it. If anyone happened to record it (preferably on DVD) and there is a chance of a copy, I would be most grateful. Thank you.

 

Incidentally, I believe that Damien Hirst was responsible only for the opening and closing title sequences.

:blink:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What did you think of the speed in the Toccata then? I thought it sounded so right on that organ. (I know what MM will say to this!) Nice to hear someone once again imbuing Bach with the real stature and weight he deserves. Makes a change from the breakneck speeds one has heard so often in recent years. Just my little hobby-horse, you understand. :unsure:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What did you think of the speed in the Toccata then? I thought it sounded so right on that organ. (I know what MM will say to this!) Nice to hear someone once again imbuing Bach with the real stature and weight he deserves. Makes a change from the breakneck speeds one has heard so often in recent years. Just my little hobby-horse, you understand. :unsure:

 

 

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

 

 

I was just purring (and so was the cat sat on my knee) watching John Scott-Whitely "respond" not just to the music, but also to the organ.

 

You really do have to have played that instrument to know WHY that speed was just absolutely right in that particular place, and yet would sound totally wrong at Leipzig.

 

My one regret is that he didn't let rip with the pedal-reeds for the final entry of the Fugue, because there is absolutely no way that he changed the Hoofdwerk stops himself, and somewhere, someone else was lurking hidden behind the end of the Rugpositiv case!

 

Now if that had been Jos van der Kooy..........

 

A fine performance nontheless!

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Did anyone hear John Scott-Whitely perform the "Great" G Minor "Fantasia & Fugue" from the Bavokerk last night?

 

A good deal quicker than what I expected after the F-majpr played on the same instrument, I was absolutely thrilled by the result.

 

The only thing I rather baulked at was that final trill at the end of the Fugue, which seemd to diminish the power of that major chord; but that is only a small gripe.

 

At least we heard the pedal reeds this time, which sounded just glorious beneath that pleno. It was a very, very fine recording, which really did capture the sound well IMHO.

 

How refreshing to hear Bach played on such a rich-sounding organ with tierces in the chorus, JUST LIKE THOSE BACH WOULD HAVE KNOWN SO WELL AT HOME.

 

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
JUST LIKE THOSE BACH WOULD HAVE KNOWN SO WELL AT HOME.

MM

 

 

"just like" - I'm not sure about that ...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"just like" - I'm not sure about that ...

 

 

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

 

 

Well perhaps not, but there is a strong link between what Hilderbrand did at St.Michael's, Hamburg, and what the same builder did at Naumburg, with which both the names of J S Bach and Gottfried Silbermann were associated.

 

I suspect that the Muller organ owes a great deal to a combination of Southern and North German styles, but by what precise route, I am not sure.

 

Both Naumburg and Haarlem do, of course, include the Terzchor, which is the point I was making.

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
=========================

Both Naumburg and Haarlem do, of course, include the Terzchor, which is the point I was making.

 

MM

 

I think you are wrong about a Terzchor at Naumburg, where the mixture compositions at C are, according to my notes:-

 

HW Mixtur 8fach : 15-19-22-26-29-33-33-36

OW Scharf 5fach : 22-26-29-33-36

RP Zimbel 5fach: 19-22-26-29-33.

 

The HW has a Sesquialter 2fach, but I don't believe it was intended to be used in the plenum. The OW mutations are of tin and almost principal scaled, but, again, intended, I'm sure, for solo use. The RP, unlike North German models, has no tierce which leaves the Nassat as the sole mutation colouring.

 

I think third-sounding muxture ranks are more typical of other Saxon/Thuringian builders like Heinrich Trost and also Joachim Wagner from Magdeburg, whose choruses at Brandenburg Cathedral have an unmistakable reedy clang to them. Hildebrandt, on the other hand, seems to have remained true to more classical traditions.

 

When all's said and done, I think I'd stick my neck out and say Naumburg is quite the most wonderful 18c instrument anywhere in Europe. A notice on the music desk asks players not to touch the paper inserts in the stop handles as 'they were touched by JSB himself' - a truly humbling experience just to sit at the console.

 

JS

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think you are wrong about a Terzchor at Naumburg, where the mixture compositions at C are, according to my notes:-

 

HW Mixtur 8fach : 15-19-22-26-29-33-33-36

OW Scharf 5fach : 22-26-29-33-36

RP Zimbel 5fach: 19-22-26-29-33.

 

The HW has a Sesquialter 2fach, but I don't believe it was intended to be used in the plenum.

 

 

----------------------------------------

 

 

John is absolutely correct of course. I was confusing the Trost at Altenburg with Naumburg, and then getting it further wrong by claiming that Hilderbrandt ( a pupil of Silbermann) built the organ at St.Micheal's, Hamburg for Mattheson. Hilderbrandt died, and the work was taken over by his son.

 

Actually, the Terzchor was usually an option on numerous instruments, and it is unlikely that the tierces were included purely for solo purposes, but as part of the chorus. Whether that applies to Naumburg I do not know, but if Bach truly had a hand in the design of this organ, he would certainly have been aware of the terzchor elsewhere in the Thuringian region.

 

The tierces were quite popular with the Hamburg school of Buxtedhue/Bruhns, and one must assume that Haarlem derives from that tradition, as well as any southern or other influences which had crept north. However, Haarlem (which was designed and commenced in Bach's own liftetime) has tierce mixtures on each of the three manuals and the pedals, whilst the slightly later F C Schnitger organs at Alkmaar and Zwolle, also include tierce chorus mixtures, not to mention the aliquot 4th sounding rank at Alkmaar, which is quite extraordinary.

 

MM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A notice on the music desk asks players not to touch the paper inserts in the stop handles as 'they were touched by JSB himself' - a truly humbling experience just to sit at the console.

 

JS

 

 

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

 

I know that feeling well from when I first played the Bavo orgel......all I could think was, Handel, Mozart, Saint-Seans, Messaien and all the rest who played it before me.

 

Quite daunting!

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
----------------------------------------

I know that feeling well from when I first played the Bavo orgel......all I could think was, Handel, Mozart, Saint-Seans, Messaien and all the rest who played it before me.

 

Quite daunting!

 

MM

 

Whereas these days, Jos van der Kooy politely requests that one does not bring drugs into the church....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Whereas these days, Jos van der Kooy politely requests that one does not bring drugs into the church....

 

 

 

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

 

 

;);)

 

Wonderful!

 

It makes my mistake of smoking a "cigarette" in Amsterdam all the more innocent, when I ended up dragging my knuckles along the streets of Amsterdam on the way to playing the organ at the Ouderkerk.

 

I vaguely recall that it was a lovely organ, but I am not sure what I played or even whether I had the music the right way up.

 

Nevertheless, I'm sure Jos van der Kooy wouldn't be too upset if one chose to improvise on the theme of Elgar's "Cocaine Overture."

 

:)

 

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
====================================

B):lol:

 

Wonderful!

 

It makes my mistake of smoking a "cigarette" in Amsterdam all the more innocent, when I ended up dragging my knuckles along the streets of Amsterdam on the way to playing the organ at the Ouderkerk.

 

I vaguely recall that it was a lovely organ, but I am not sure what I played or even whether I had the music the right way up.

 

Nevertheless, I'm sure Jos van der Kooy wouldn't be too upset if one chose to improvise on the theme of Elgar's "Cocaine Overture."

 

:)

MM

 

 

HA!

 

Have you tried the 'coffee' cake as well, MM? Of course, you have to choose your café carefully - otherwise you just get coffee cake....

 

;)

 

(My apologies for the un-intentional alliteration - I really must crawl into my pit....)

 

B)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
HA!

 

Have you tried the 'coffee' cake as well, MM? Of course, you have to choose your café carefully - otherwise you just get coffee cake....

 

:lol:

 

(My apologies for the un-intentional alliteration - I really must crawl into my pit....)

 

B)

 

 

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

 

 

No, I haven't tried the coffee-cake or anything else for that matter. My particular experience was entirely due to misunderstanding the words, "You like smoke, yes?"

 

I just put the peculiar taste of burning moorland heather down to "regional differences," little realising that it would affect me for a whole two days afterwards!

 

As someone who falls over after a couple of glasses of sherry, I am frequently mermerised by those who indulge all day and much of the night, yet still perform in public perfectly; such as the now deceased former organ-scholar at York Minster, who could probably have preserved things merely by breathing on them.

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The current DVDs that are available are series 1 and 2.
They are not quite the complete series, though, are they? The pieces comprising the two series are listed complete inside the front cover of the boxes, but, unless I've missed a sectret button somewhere, not all of these appear on the three DVDs that contain the performances. Is another set planned to complete the series?

 

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.
On the DVDs each track has an option to listen to him and the Tonmeister doing precisely this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
They are not quite the complete series, though, are they? The pieces comprising the two series are listed complete inside the front cover of the boxes, but, unless I've missed a sectret button somewhere, not all of these appear on the three DVDs that contain the performances. Is another set planned to complete the series?

When I wrote them down and checked them off carefully, I found all the listed pieces on the DVDs in the boxes. It was not obvious at first, and I think there are a few tracks with more than one piece to confuse the issue.

 

Paul

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...