Sunday, July 02, 2006

Bach to Bach

I have a very large pile of CDs to listen to this month for reasons I'll explain one day. The latest to hit the slot is this.

Never having been the greatest fan of John Eliot Gardiner before, I approached it with some caution. Well, there's little on earth more beautiful than one of Bach's deep, dark oboe duets, and I am currently listening to one I have never heard before, from the cantata BWV23 'Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn'. These are beautiful performances, fresh and true, straightforward but tender, and the resonance of the chapel of King's College Cambridge prevents them from ever sounding excessively dry, as period bands sometimes can.

What strikes me most is: this is WONDERFUL music, vintage Bach. As beautiful as anything in the St Matthew Passion, I'd say. Uplifting, soul-cleansing, radiant music. And I've never heard it before. Even when I sat in the Pendlebury Library in Cambridge enduring that awful 1980s Harnoncourt Bach Cantatas edition with the out-of-tune choirboys - which was all that was available at the time - I didn't hear this piece. I heard many; I had favourites, one being 'Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben', which I later discovered was a favourite of Brahms's. Maybe he also liked oboe duets - that has one of the best. Is that perhaps where Brahms's beautiful writing in thirds and sixths originated - the Bach cantatas?

If only we could hear these works more often beyond the confines of the CD player and living room. I would rather listen to this than a Bruckner symphony any day. (Actually, I've given up going to Bruckner symphonies altogether. Having tried, and failed to like them, for 25 years.)

Gardiner's Bach performances were recorded in live performance, as it happens. But live performance that is all too rare. What puts people off? The rarity, or, conversely, the quantity of them? JSB churned them out, week after week. The words? Can't blame anyone for not liking the words, but that's true of many operas too. The sentiments? Those don't stop any performances of the St Matthew Passion.

Surely, surely, there can't be a prejudice among concert promoters against...OBOE DUETS? It's unthinkable. Then again, all things are possible in this world of ours.

As I write, JEG & co in the CD slot have started another cantata, with another oboe duet, BWV127.....