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20th Century Bach / Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra


Release Date: 10/30/1996 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 432092   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

This challenging CD appears to have been put together from session tail-ends, but you may well consider it a more enticing prospect than yet another anonymous Mahler recording. Many orchestral transcriptions of Bach come into the ' no- other-chance- to- hear- these -pieces- performed -in-the-l920s' category, but this is not the case here. The aesthetic issues are more complex and Max Harrison's notes do not avoid them. Only his insistence that Bach would not have been surprised by, still less have objected to, what happens on this disc smacks of special pleading.

Not having heard Stokowski's once-celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor for several years, I was surprised at just how alien it has come to sound. Shorn of visuals,
Read more the piece seems incoherent; there are passages played by organ alone, while the dialogue of flute and harp now seems ludicrous. The Fugue is less alarming at the start, if only because it is a 'transcription' rather than an 'arrangement'. Later on, the aesthetic seems to be to make it sound as unlike Bach as possible (cf. Albinoni's Adagio). Attempts to imitate heavy organ pedal tone with double-basses and contrabassoons do not work in this performance at least; the acoustic is too dry and the microphones are too close.

Transcriptions of the Ricercar traditionally derive from the feeling that the six-part keyboard original is difficult to comprehend aurally. As Webern 'orchestrates' each of the lines individually according to the Klangfarben procedure, he may only be making things worse. The colours are predominantly muted and cool, not the effect on a harpsichord at all. Webern's is a beautiful piece in its own right but how well does it function as a transcription? This disc is thought-provoking stuff.

The astonishing Chaconne, massive supplement to the Partita in D minor BWVI004, exists in many arrangements, none of which can hope to add to the impact of Bach's original. There is a special difficulty here. Despite the title of this collection ("Virtuoso Orchestral Transcriptions"), nothing is as virtuosic as having the Chaconne performed by a solo violinist. Filling Out the textures is a problem—should one add 'continuo-style' chords or leave two-part textures bare? Neither course seems particularly satisfactory and Saito's solutions are unfailingly dull. There could be a misconception here that more instruments =' more power/weight, ergo the full orchestra must make this music more 'powerful'. Ozawa's players sound bored and who can blame them? The Stravinsky, which one well-known guide berates for "a synthetic modernity, that recalls the espresso bar", is actually the least problematic item in Ozawa's programme. He secures some nice brass playing in music reminiscent of Pulcinella, quite classical in conception and mercifully free of applied legato. Stravinsky is faithful to the meaning of the original score in a way these other arrangers are not, although the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is not entirely unanimous when it comes to the letter.

Schoenberg's contribution, a version "for large orchestra" of the Prelude and Fugue in E flat, BWV552, is more controversial. Breaking up the lines so that each instrument is only permitted a handful of notes at a go sounds dangerously like a misunderstanding or side-stepping of polyphony. The opening is not as imposing as it should be and the cross-beat phrasing is a little hard to take. There is some attempt to imitate 'organ stop' scoring with flute octave doublings and so forth, but the screeching E flat clarinet and tinkling percussion is deliberately anachronistic. The experience is fascinating—and yet it's more like elephantine Brahms than revivified Bach. Ozawa does not efface memories of a rather more characterful Rozhdestvensky account on an old Melodiya disc (nla). The smooth, full, slightly opaque textures he favours throughout are not always appropriate to music of glitter and excess. My main criticism of the project would be its failure to include Elgar's brilliant transcription of the Fantasia and Fugue in C minor. There was certainly room for it.

-- David Gutman, Gramophone [7/1992]
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Works on This Recording

1. Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079: no 5, Ricercar a 6 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1747; Leipzig, Germany 
Notes: Arranged: Anton Webern 
2. Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her, BWV 769 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1747; Leipzig, Germany 
Notes: Arranged: Igor Stravinsky 
3. Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; Germany 
Notes: Arranged: Leopold Stokowski 
4. Partita for Violin solo no 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1720; Cöthen, Germany 
Notes: Arranged: Hideo Saito 
5. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552 "St Anne" by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1739; Leipzig, Germany 
Notes: Arranged: Arnold Schoenberg 

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