Friday, 6 January 2017

Karl Richter in Bach

When I was young, tomatoes and mushrooms had real flavour, politicians were principled and honest, journalists delved deeply to report the true facts, daytimes were never wet … and Bach's music sounded wonderful as performed in the 1960s. Probably everyone has an idealised memory of youth; however listening to Karl Richter's performances of Bach's Brandenburg concertos and orchestral suites recorded in the 1960s, there is something that rings true about the Bach memories, at least. Prior to the 1960s, “Big Bach” was in order, as played by conductors such as Furtwängler and von Karajan. After the 1960s, artists such as Harnoncourt and Leonhardt, followed by Kuijken and others, dragged Bach back to the museum, complete with periwig and boy sopranos. The “authentic” brigade reached its height with such absurdities as Joshua Rifin's Mass in B minor with just eight voices, with the imposition of boy trebles instead of better trained and more musical sopranos, and the arrival of hell-for-leather Italian bands out to show everyone they were the world's fastest Bach players. Recently, excesses have been modified and players and singers allowed to sound musical, as well as historically correct.

Playing Bach demands a good sense of rhythm, a love of the music, and a determination to ensure that all the many strands and counterpoint in Bach's music can be heard clearly (think of the third movement of the third Brandenburg concerto, for example). If you love Bach's music and use your commonsense, Bach will do the rest; his music does not need preening and pointing and manipulating. Karl Richter and his expert band of musicians based in Munich come over beautifully in these recordings from the 1960s. The pioneering “new Bach” of artists such as Richter and Busch (in the 1930s) was soon (temporarily) overshadowed by the novelty of Olde Bach from ancient times. I grew up after 1959 with Karl Richter's recording of the St. Matthew Passion, a recording I still enjoy albeit now on CD transfers. Such expert singing and playing, and such love and feeling for the music! To listen to Karl Richter directing Bach is to re-enter a familiar and eminently civilised musical world. The playing is expert, the recordings well balanced and well restored. Personally, I ask for nothing more, and if anyone knows of a better performance of the sixth Brandenburg compared with Richter's version, played here with skill, love and warmth, please let me know; the performance for me is ideal Bach playing.

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