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HIPster Wars - News from the Bach Front - Communiqué 14
on 20 March 2012
I had just opened the doors of my latest enterprise - Dr Quackenstein's Happy Acres Brain-Health Clinic (complete with photo-shopped diplomas on the walls) when the front-door swung open and in walked a distinguished looking gentleman. Much to my surprise, he was wearing one of those Groucho Marx face-masks from a two dollar shop.
"Yes, can I help you?"
"Yes, hello and . . . all that," he spluttered in an English accent. "I am looking for some . . . therapy, I suppose you'd call it."
"Mate, we're still setting up but I'm happy to help. For instance, the leather couches are being delivered this arvo by my cousin Vinnie so you'll have to make do with bean-bags and no-name coffee. No worries, eh?"
He nodded uneasily. I led him inside into my `consulting room'. I boiled up some water, made a `Chernobyl Coffee' (six teaspoons of that brown, ill-smelling stuff - it always perks up patients no end). After handing it over to my tremulous patient, we flopped down in the bean-bags and started the session.
"Now mate, you have a name?"
"You may call me . . . Jeggy." He winced.
"Righto, Jeggy it is. So what's the go? Why are you goin' mad?"
"Well, I have been having a rather awful time of late. Those rotters at Deutsche Grammophon - they give money-changers a bad name - rudely dispensed with my services on the trumped-up basis that I was `uncommercial' - whatever that means. And now those blighters have the temerity to discount my definitive performances of Bach. That's adding insult to injury!"
Good heavens - I thought to myself: this is the real Jeggy incognito. And as chance would so have it, I had been listening to one of his discs on the way to work.
"Mate," I said stoutly, "we all must cope with adversity as human beings. Get your bony backside off the canvas and start punchin' again!"
"It's all very well for you to say that," he replied snootily. "And that's exactly what I did. In response, I set up my own company and undertook a Bach pilgrimage throughout Europe. The aim was to perform and record all of the cantatas. It was immensely satisfying. I even complied a `Bach journal' which contained my pensées on this luminous figure! What a document it is!"
"Well it sounds like things are looking up for you, Jeggy, and perhaps in more ways than one!"
"Yes, one would have thought so but alas," he sobbed, "I cannot take a trick. The critics continually trumpet the glories of the Suzuki series on BIS while damning my survey of the cantatas with faint praise. It's rather awful and . . . deflating . . ."
"Well Jeggy, look what I was listening to this morning," I pulled out my (library) copy of his performances of the Cantatas for the Twelfth and Thirteen Sundays after Trinity. His face brightened.
"How nice of you, Doctor Quackenstein! I am quite proud of those performances."
"No worries. Yes, I'm a big fan of Bach's secular cantatas myself!"
"My dear fellow, you are mistaken. These are deeply spiritual works."
"Oh . . . sorry mate: they didn't sound religious in the least . . . No matter. Now Jeggy, do you mind if I ask you some questions? We need to understand why the market has turned on you."
He nodded his head.
"It's . . . good to see that clipped phrasing is still working for you Jeggy, even if does not do much for the listener. And what has happened to the `English Baroque Soloists? Have the strings - such as they are - gone `diet'? They're now being monstered by an oboe. The opening of Du Solit Gott, BWV 77, sounds like moggies on heat. I hate to say this, Jeggy, but a comparison with Suzuki's account is not to your advantage."
My patient remained silent.
"And Jeggy, 'Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren', BWV 137, is surely a masterpiece; it's Bach at his most cosmic; as such, doesn't it warrant grandeur of treatment? And since when this consideration been synonymous with mere timpani and trumpets? The first movement is noisily pedestrian and the same could be said of its finale! Jeggy, this is what I fail to understand: why do you have to be so sprucely inhibited in this glorious music? Why? What is holding you back?"
Jeggy shrugged his shoulders as the tears congealed in his eyes. I pressed on.
"And where on the earth did you dig up that shrill counter-tenor? Did you really think he was going to assist the cause? Strewth - have you heard his mooing in the second movement of BWV 137? I hope you kept the receipts. It's almost as unlistenable as those bootleg tapes from Count Hugo Wankle and the Dixieland Funktime Band!"
Jeggy's face reddened but he kept his peace.
I lowered my voice.
"Worse still, the more I listen to your Soli Deo Gratia series, Jeggy, the more I'm convinced it is a sausage machine. Each one of them sounds like a proficient run-through. Name one of them - yes, one of them - that has a sense of occasion!"
"It's not my fault," Jeggy sobbed, breaking out into tears. "Those Young Turks in the Period Practice Taliban - the next generation of period practice semi-conductors - have forced me to go `Diet Bach'. They were sniggering that I was an antediluvian. What is a man to do?"
It was water-works for the next minute or so. Then it was time to turn off the tap and resolutely at that.
"Jeggy, no worries. You are not alone. I am a big believer in shock-treatment. It's the best way to blow away the cobwebs! Now we can go with the usual 240 volts job - I'm pretty sure there's an extension cord somewhere around here - or we can opt for a more unorthodox treatment!"
I pulled out a copy of Karajan's Matthew Passion.