Customer Review

64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bach As Bach Abd Not An Academic Exercise, 17 Mar. 2004
This review is from: Bach: St.Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
The historical performance lobby (classical music's version of political correctness) would like to brainwash listeners into thinking that Bach can only be performed by small forces on alleged period instruments of modern production. How deep their belief is I am not sure as I have yet to hear of one volunteering to become a castrato. If one reads Bach's letters two common complaints abound. The quality of the instruments were poor and he wanted more performers. If anything this Klemperer performance is more in keeping with what Bach wanted than the regressive historical performance want.
In Klemperer's hands the Saint Matthew Passion is not an academic exercise but a deeply felt human drama. His orchestra and choirs (directed by one of the master choral directors of the 20th Century Wilhelm Pitz)are simply superb. The chorales which act as a sort of Greek Chorus throughout the work are not a one size fits all. As the tragedy deepens the tone becomes edgier and more sorrowful adding a further touch of humanity to the performance. Many recordings, often for economic reasons, double or triple the singers on parts but EMI opens the wallet and gives us a fine ensemble to carry us along. Many were at their peaks or just getting there. What they bring is a personality and an individuality to their parts and the listener can feel the emotional attachment they have created. It is something far to rare these days and EMI's very fine 1960's recording preserves it for us.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 9 May 2010 08:52:30 BDT
enthusiast says:
It is a shame that this review is something of a rant against another performing approach and even against social tolerance! This music is surely big enough for there to be more than one "right way" (right as in correct rather than "right wing").

Posted on 19 Aug 2010 20:36:32 BDT
Last edited by the author on 25 Aug 2010 09:44:25 BDT
The ill-informed prejudice that there is a distinction between an 'academic' approach to performance and an 'emotional' approach is becoming such a tiresome cliché. In recent years, many 'emotional' performances have resulted from academics shining new light on a masterpiece through discoveries resulting from their intellectual efforts to probe deeply into the historical performing practices prevalent at the time when the composer lived.

Admittedly, there has been a phoney air of self-conscious iconoclasm about some of the less successful musical products of research, often resulting from discovering minor evidence, taking it out of context and forcing it upon the music just for the sake of offering a different approach. This is enough to alienate many potentially open-minded 'traditional' listeners. However, even if the results are accepted by the bogus music journalists writing for our glossy (and too influential) record reviewing magazines, one can be sure that bona fide academics will see through and reject performances where a zealous search for some new phoney 'insight' has led to gimmicks.

Academics are not against a 'traditional' performance style, such as Klemperer offers here. On the contrary, there is a growing interest amongst academics in studying recordings by musicians born in the nineteenth century (Klemperer was born in 1885) because of what these recordings may tell us about those musicians' early training and the performance styles of earlier eras. There is an interesting chapter on studying old Beethoven recordings in 'Performing Beethoven' (Cambridge University Press, edited by Robin Stowell) which actually comes to conclusions which are surprisingly different from those which the non-specialist public might expect from a book dealing with issues so central to the historical performance movement. Attitudes to historical performance practice evolve as new evidence comes to light and is assessed; there is no attempt to brainwash, though it may appear so to some of the more lazy 'traditional' musicians who make their artistic decisions on the basis of 'let's do it this way because we've always done it this way'.

Whatever weaknesses there may be in some of Klemperer's later recordings, there must surely be general agreement that he never resorted to any attention-seeking gimmicks, that he never gave a performance without sincerity, and that his faithfulness to the score made him one of the first conductors with what we now regard as a 'modern' approach to his art. These qualities are sufficient to ensure that Klemperer's great performance of the St. Matthew Passion remains relevant to all listeners today, whether or not they subscribe to the tenets of the historical performance 'lobby'.

The 'taking sides' approach over the historical authenticity movement is not helping anyone's appreciation of this great music. Perhaps we should bury our differences and just be grateful that there are still some of us listening to Bach (instead of mindless 'pop') in the current shallow society in which we live.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2013 17:39:28 BDT
david says:
I agree, I enjoy Klemperer and Harnoncourt. Why pit one against the other?
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