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Bach Passacaglia BWV 582


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#1 Nine and a Half Fingers

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 11:47

I have just been listening on Spotify to Bach's C minor Passacaglia & Fugue as payed by Simon Preston - a very good recording. I first encountered this piece on vinyl what feels like about a thousand years ago played by Professor Michael Schneider at Schleswig's Great Cathedral Organ (I still have the somewhat battered disc) and have used that recording as a benchmark ever since. Would anyone care to share or recommend their favourite interpretations of this simply magnificent work? 


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#2 fsharpminor

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 13:56

Ton Koopman for me


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#3 elemimele

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 22:40

One of the more unusual and remarkable recordings I've heard is Boudewijn Zwart's recording on a carillon. It works, despite the inevitable sustain and confusion of harmonics from bells - I wish we could hear it as it sounded outside the church, down in the street. It would have been something to remember life-long I think. The piece is somehow very bell-compatible.


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#4 Nine and a Half Fingers

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 11:49

Thanks for your replies. I listened to one version by Ton Koopman and although I liked the performance very much I was not keen on the organ sound and acoustic on the recording (to be fair, this is what I struggle with most with a lot of Bach's organ music). Fine playing nonetheless. 

 

Remarkable is the best way to describe the carillon version, elemimele - it is quite astonishing how well it sounds in the later passages where it is as you say very bell-compatible.

 

Next stop - try to hear it played live.


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#5 Stephen Barber

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Posted 10 December 2019 - 16:57

Olivier Latry has recorded it at Notre Dame (shortly before the fire). It's a whole disc of Bach and Latry makes full use of all the resources of the organ - he describes his performances as transcriptions! Fabulous playing, though I wouldn't always want to hear Bach played like this.

https://www.gramopho...h-to-the-future

 

My first recording of the Passacaglia was also on the Michael Schneider LP - wonderful performances I seem to remember.


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#6 elemimele

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 17:45

Thanks for that, you gave me a happy time yesterday evening pootlign round YouTube listening to things I'd forgotten, including the Schuebler chorale preludes. I have mixed feelings about Bach as played on big French organs (which otherwise I love). Often it comes out very smudgy; I don't know whether it's the organs, the acoustics of the buildings in which they're found, or a French style of playing that perhaps doesn't match my particular taste. Who knows? Ton Koopman is certainly not smudgy at all - he seems to use much cleaner registrations, which appeal more to me, and quite detached articulation, with very vivacious playing. I think I prefer his approach in general. (But for Bach, Peter Le Huray's recordings of the trio sonatas are exactly, exactly to my taste).


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#7 mrbouffant

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 07:12

I prefer the Respighi orchestration of BWV582. As with most of Bach's organ works, once you hear a half-decent orchestration with all that colour, the original version seems monochrome.


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#8 elemimele

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 09:55

I have to disagree; I feel strongly that the reason why some orchestrations of Bach sound more interesting than organ versions is because some organists have got into a false belief that the beauty of Bach is somehow in the precision of his writing, and that Bach is such a great master that his works transcend the human efforts of the performer, requiring no interpretation - in fact that his works are destroyed by any layering of humanity on top of their exactness. No orchestra can work like that, and no orchestra would even try; it's not in the culture. The Passacaglia suffers from this particularly, because of course the theme has to keep going (that's the point) and yet the total regularity of pulse of the theme mustn't be allowed to drag all the rest of what's going on into a computer-like splurge of inhuman, unfeeling automaton-output.

Also, when recordings are made on large instruments, there's a tendency to over-register, which tends to make things muddy. When I listen to Bach played by people who really understand articulation and phrasing, on smaller instruments, or using simpler registrations, then suddenly I rediscover beauty.

(sorry to express such strong feelings! It's just a matter of individual taste! Everyone can have their own viewpoint...)

(hey, but hats off to you for bravery: writing in an organ thread that Bach sounds better on an orchestra is certainly thought-provoking!)


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#9 Vox Humana

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 23:51

When I listen to Bach played by people who really understand articulation and phrasing, on smaller instruments, or using simpler registrations, then suddenly I rediscover beauty.

 

Well, that's the nub of it really, for me. I've never had a suitable instrument on which to try it out, but I've always felt that it ought to be possible on a Baroque-style instrument to play the whole of BWV 582 on three (or, better, four) manuals without any changes of registration, except maybe for adding a Pedal reed at some point. I'm not suggesting that that's how Bach did it, just that it would be an interesting challenge that would test one's ability to maintain interest just through the interplay of the three (or four) registrations and variety of articulation. 

The problem with arranging Bach for a symphony orchestra is that it invariably yanks him into a post-Beethoven and therefore an anachronistic aesthetic.  However, I would be quite interested to hear the Passacaglia orchestrated as Bach himself might have done it, had he chosen to do so - I guess we'd be talking strings (+ continuo), oboes, flutes and maybe a pair of horns (but not trumpets).


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#10 Vox Humana

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 17:21

However, I would be quite interested to hear the Passacaglia orchestrated as Bach himself might have done it, had he chosen to do so - I guess we'd be talking strings (+ continuo), oboes, flutes and maybe a pair of horns (but not trumpets).

Coincidentally, I've just stumbled across this. Sadly, as so often with this group, they speed up and, since the speed isn't slow to begin with, the ultimate effect is to make Bach sound completely neurotic. It's a pity because for the first three or four variations I really thought I was going to enjoy this and the concept could have worked so well. At least it's not Romantic.


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#11 Nine and a Half Fingers

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 18:31

 

However, I would be quite interested to hear the Passacaglia orchestrated as Bach himself might have done it, had he chosen to do so - I guess we'd be talking strings (+ continuo), oboes, flutes and maybe a pair of horns (but not trumpets).

Coincidentally, I've just stumbled across this. Sadly, as so often with this group, they speed up and, since the speed isn't slow to begin with, the ultimate effect is to make Bach sound completely neurotic. It's a pity because for the first three or four variations I really thought I was going to enjoy this and the concept could have worked so well. At least it's not Romantic.

 

That is an interesting link VH. When I listened to it (I found it quite enjoyable) there was another version on the right which caught my eye - an arrangement for solo piano. It works quite well as a bravura piano piece but loses the expansiveness (and clarity) that the organ provides, in my opinion. The fugue especially sounds "cloudy" to me.


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#12 elemimele

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 19:11

I rather liked the viol version too, though I see what you mean, VH, about the hurried feel in places. I got used to the tempo after a while. It certainly works very well on viols, and it doesn't sound as though they're pretending to be an organ. The fugue was particularly attractive. Unfortunately I share my YouTube with a kid so it didn't show me any piano versions, instead a lot of videos about Minecraft. Ah well...


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#13 Nine and a Half Fingers

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 20:41

Piano version here....


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#14 Vox Humana

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 22:47

 

Thanks for that, 9½. That's played with immense commitment and musicianship, but, oh dear, poor old Bach... At least it didn't give me the headache that the (admittedly quite astounding) carillon version usually does. I'd really love to hear the latter live - from outside the church.


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#15 elemimele

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 07:16

Yes, thanks for the piano version. That must have been quite frightening; it's demanding enough without having to keep the theme going with hands. It's interesting; I'm not quite sure how I feel about it - need to listen again to see if it grows on me, or grows off me, if that makes sense! I'm glad that recording exists, because whatever it is, it's a very honest attempt obviously performed by someone who's engaged every bit of themselves to create a convincing performance. I wonder what it would have been like on an early piano??

Yes, about the Carillon version. It would have been great to hear it from where a carillon is desgined to be heard (even if that means with street noise).


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