Tag Archives: Baroque

Confessions of a Bachophile: Adaptations

In previous posts, we’ve mentioned J.S. Bach and his practice (if not the necessity) of adapting his own works to suit the instrumentation available to him at a particular time. Bach scholars have long felt that the orchestral suites probably fall into this category, and in particular the Second and Third Suites, but for different reasons. It was felt that because of historical tunings, the Second Suite was originally in A minor as opposed to B minor of the adaptation that has come down to us. However, in A minor the solo flute line becomes uncomfortably low. Baroque oboe specialist and Juilliard School faculty member, Gonzalo Ruiz, has concluded that the solo part in A Minor, a bit clumsy for the violin, falls nicely in the oboe’s range, and is compatible with oboe fingering. Along with fellow Juilliard faculty member Monica Huggett, they recorded the four orchestral suites with original tunings and instrumentation. The recording earned them a 2010 Classical Grammy nomination for Best Small Ensemble recording with Huggett’s Ensemble Sonnerie. (Avie 2171) It is an eye-opener, not just for the solo oboe in the Second, but also for the deletion of the familiar trumpets and timpani, added by C.P.E. Bach, in the Third.

They’ve taken their ideas to fortunate audiences of late, notably with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, of which Huggett is artistic director and Ruiz the principle oboe, at the Oregon Bach Festival and earlier in May in Portland.

More on this topic soon…

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Review in Brief: “Bach and Friends”

Note: The film Bach and Friends by Michael Lawrence was released on DVD in late January.

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Had Bach and Friends by documentary filmmaker Michael Lawrence been around when I was a teenager first discovering Bach, I’m not sure what impression I would have taken from it. Given the passionate statements of love from the gamut of performers seen in the film, I would have, at least, concluded that I was in very special company.

From interviews with Joshua Bell to Philip Glass, and a dozen or so others in between including Béla Fleck, Hilary Hahn, and Peter Schickele, the film paints a portrait of an effect rather a person—the abstract effect of the music of a genius on others rather than the totality of the historical genius himself. This is both good and unfortunate at the same time. Good, in that the performances on the film are absolutely stellar ones from stellar performers, but unfortunate in that the viewer is left with a very tepid and incomplete idea of who Bach actually was. The film’s emphasis on solo works and solo performers is perhaps understandable given the extremely personal nature of the individual interviewee’s responses. But, given the vast amount of Bach material and his effect on modern performances left unexplored—choral, orchestral, and ensemble—the responses come off as heartfelt and passionate, but  historically unrepresentative.

Bachophiles will obviously want to obtain and view this DVD, for no other reason than to luxuriate in the performances on the disk and on the performance-only companion disk. They will not learn anything new, but that was probably not Lawrence’s intention.

Find this DVD at Michael Lawrence’s website: http://www.mlfilms.com

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Reviews In Metro Pulse: “Baroque Masters”

My review of the KSCO’s concert “Baroque Masters: Bach and Pachelbel”, with Lucas Richman conducting, can be found in this week’s METRO PULSE, or online here.

Thanks for reading.

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Confessions of a Bachophile, Chapter 3

A recent J.S. Bach cantata performance reminded me of some reading and listening I had done maybe 10 years or so ago on Joshua Rifkin and his ideas concerning Bach choral performance. Although I had been familiar with Rifkin’s presentations from the early 80s on his controversial theory that Bach wrote most of his choral works, particularly the cantatas, for one voice to a part rather than for larger choruses, it didn’t really sink in until I heard a 1997 CD, J.S. Bach: 6 Favorite Cantatas.

Rifkin’s contention essentially boils down to this:  Bach did not have available to him the quality or quantity of choir members that has grown up around choral music since the Romantic era days. So, he wrote for, and used, four soloists for both arias and as the chorus. Needless to say, this idea provoked an incredibly forceful rebuke from mainstream choral experts who were not able to accept such heresy. And many still do not. However, since then, the rational logic of his theory, as well as additional historical research, have swayed more and more Bach experts to his side.

For my ear and eye, though, it was that 1997 CD  that stimulated  new consideration. It featured the cantatas BWV 147, 80, 140, 8, 51, and 78 with performances from Joshua Rifkin’s Bach Ensemble—originally recorded in 1985-86.  These performances followed Rifkin’s premise of one voice to a part…and what voices they are. Among the singers were the incredible Julianne Baird, soprano; Allan Fast, countertenor; Frank Kelley, tenor; and Jan Opalach, bass.  Also singing on some of the works were Jane Bryden, soprano; Drew Minter, countertenor; and Jeffrey Thomas, tenor.

Whether or not you fall into the Rifkin camp, it is undeniable that a quartet of  excellent singers can have a vocal nimbleness and a freshness that large ensembles cannot.  On this CD is possibly my favorite J.S. Bach sacred cantata, Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben, BWV 8.  Not only are the performances of Julianne Baird and Jan Opalach stunning, but Bach’s flute and oboe obbligato lines are simply amazing. There is a beautiful musicality and a translucent clarity to the performances that is positively addictive. It’s really hard to stop listening.

If you are unfamiliar with Rifkin’s premise, or not a believer at all in his concept, this recording could offer you some new insights into Bach. If not, you will still be overwhelmed by the musicality. The CD is still available on L’Oiseau-Lyre 455 706-2.

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