Discussion:
How Bach SHOULD be played :-)
(too old to reply)
Ioannis
2005-11-04 19:34:08 UTC
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As promised in another thread, I recorded some pieces from my WTC clavier
with harpsichordist Isolde Ahlgrimm.

To repeat a little from what I said in that other thread, Isolde was an
Austrian harpsichordist, I think born 1918 and died 1992. She came after
Landowska, who is admittedly more famous than her, but in my opinion Isolde
plays much better than Landowska, although both are simply terrific.

Isolde tought at conservatories in Austria and for full biographical
details, do a Google search on her full name. She has recorded all of Bach's
keyboard works on a special pedal harpsichord of her own, on PHILIPS LPs
around 1955. She had done extensive historical research on Bach. All
recordings are played from memory.

Isolde's performances have been termed "historic", both in terms of value
and in terms of style and she, herself, had been labeled "widow Bach".
Whenever she gave public performances in Germany and Austria, the crowed
apotheosed her.

When my dad was a Bachian, before his death in 1986, around the time of my
birth, in 1964, he bought her albums of WTC1, WTC2, French/English Suites,
Partitas and Small Preludes and Fugues. I grew up with her Bach recordings,
since I was a young boy. I did not understand Bach back then, but I have
very fond impressions of all these recordings. I am not aware if PHILIPS
re-issued the keyboard works on CD, so if you can find those LPs anywhere,
buy them. They are worth their money. Isolde has issued other Bach works on
CD, which can be found online, searching for her name.

I recorded some pieces yesterday, for the pleasure of the Bach audiences
here. The recordings are low quality, 22kHz, 8 bit, mono, converted to 44khz
16 bit mono and encoded as mp3. Apologies for the occasional inline noise,
but my house is not soundproof. Comments interspersed:

(The links are all redirection links. For the direct link, substitute .mp3
for .html)

Prelude #5 from WTC book 1:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmWTC1P5.html (1.3MB)

Note the perfect timing. Isolde plays like clockwork. Note how interesting
the ending of the prelude is, with pedal. This is one prelude where most of
the work is done by the right hand, but I have yet to hear any
pianist/harpsichordist keeping such a perfect timing of the right hand.
Ending of Prelude is fireworks, with pedal!

Fugue #5 from WTC book 1:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmWTC1F5.html (1.8MB)

Timing is absolutely perfect, although there is some dispute on whether Bach
intended those to be dotted sixteenths vs dotted thirysecondths. Isolde goes
for thirtysecondths, but the effect is fantastic. Pedal at the end with the
finishing chords, creates such a wonderful "bang" ending effect on this
fugue.

Prelude and Fugue #2 from WTC book 2:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmWTC2P_F2.html (3.7MB)

Note sublime and quiet Prelude. Note fascinating and perfectly executed
legato on it. Fugue, mysterious, pastoral, quiet in the beginning, (as it
should be), an introduction to a musical prayer, until the first Stretto,
where she puts registers in. Note clear strettos. Note how absolutely
beautiful the pedal sounds on the bass on the augmented theme and how
pastoral transforms to grand and grave towards the end. Notice call of
inverted theme in the end with pedal. Have you heard any keyboardists who
bring the inverted theme out in the end instead of the regular theme?
(Compare with the staccato nonsense that Gould does on this prelude and
fugue for example).

Prelude and Fugue #16 from WTC book 2:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmWTC2P_F16.html (5.3MB)

THIS is how Bach would want this prelude to sound. Majestic, grand, not
chicken-shit romance and quiet. Tutti! Double registers and pedal for added
effect. Wonderful! This is anger and passion, a profound statement, not some
whiney mellow musac melody. Fugue: This is one of the great fugues, and
Isolde does it justice with double stops. Note how Isolde gradually
transforms it from a slow start to a serious statement. Note additional
melodies coming out. Note bass playing the theme at the end.

Fugue #22 from WTC book 2:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmWTC2F22.html (4.3MB)

This is one of the most difficult fugues in all of WTC1/2. This is a hellish
nightmare, contrasted with its prelude which is melodic and romantic. Bach
wants passion, power, gravity, to the point of insanity, and Isolde does it
justice. Notice additional melodies creeping in. The harpsichord is ready to
explode! Can you detect the almost insane crux on bars 36-37?! THIS is how
this fugue SHOULD be played. It's fireworks! One of the most complex fugues!

Prelude and Presto (excerpt) from English Suite #6:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmES6Pre.html (3.8MB)

Grave! Majestic! Grand! Pedal and double stops! Timing, perfect! Clockwork.
This is what I call a hell of an introduction. You almost don't need to hear
the rest of it, when you hear the prelude played thus! Note transition to
Presto. Note perfect staccato on Presto theme. Note perfect timing on
Presto. Note what she does with the second theme on the presto and how she
arranges for some notes to be staccato, for added effect. If this isn't
played miraculously, I don't know what is!

Gavotte I and II from English Suite #6:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmES6GavI_II.html (2.8MB)

Surdina in for emphasis and contrast between sad/joking/playful. Gavotte I,
sad, ironic and mysterious, Gavotte II playful. Note perfectly executed
trills with correct timing. Note how wonderful the return to Gavotte I
sounds, with the surdina in again, after the playful character of Gavotte
II. I haven't heard anyone play this one as perfectly as that. Note perfect
ending of Gavotte I.

Gigue from English Suite #6:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmES6Gig.html (2MB)

All hell breaks loose again! This is the END of the Suite and Bach wants you
to know it. Note what Isolde does with the trills: The trills are
ASYNCHRONOUS! In the end she does the impossible and plays the final trill
with THE PEDAL! Jesus Christ! Suite ends with a BANG!

Hope you enjoyed it.
--
I. N. Galidakis
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/
Eventually, _everything_ is understandable
d***@sympatico.ca
2005-11-05 01:34:08 UTC
Permalink
Fantastic with the pedal..... well..... just plain fantastic playing!
Here's another site with some of her readings of the Toccatas.

http://www.baroquecds.com/726Web.html
**©©
2005-11-05 03:59:19 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ioannis
As promised in another thread, I recorded some pieces from my WTC clavier
with harpsichordist Isolde Ahlgrimm.
Stunning! Really marvelous playing. Thanks for posting.

ps - I enjoyed your enthusiasm almost as much as her playing!
That's the kind of passion JSB inspires in me, as well.

pps - if you ever have time, could you post her Partita #1...?
..at least the first couple of movements? I'm playing it just
now, and would love to hear hers....
Ioannis
2005-11-05 12:25:01 UTC
Permalink
d***@sympatico.ca
2005-11-05 16:40:32 UTC
Permalink
In truth, they are unlike any interpretations I have ever heard. The
first on harpsichord that I like. They work splendidly, much the way
Scarlatti typically works so well on harpsichord, or any
harpsichord-like instrument.

JG
Ioannis
2005-11-05 18:28:44 UTC
Permalink
Post by d***@sympatico.ca
In truth, they are unlike any interpretations I have ever heard. The
first on harpsichord that I like. They work splendidly, much the way
Scarlatti typically works so well on harpsichord, or any
harpsichord-like instrument.
I am not familiar with the inner workings of harpsichords, so although I've
played on one when I was a student in Chicago, I cannot make sense of how
many "modes" Isolde's Ahmer harpsichord has.

I can detect at least 5. Regular, (for lack of a better word), Surdina
(that's the Italian name for the left piano pedal. What's it called in
modern piano parlance?), double-stops, where each key strikes an octave,
Pedal, and a funny mode with top notes, which I have no idea what it is.
This instrument must have registers which she is probably able to switch in
real-time, like the knobs on an organ. Listen for example to the Fugue #2
from WTC 2, where the pedal plays the augmented theme i the bass, and then
it seems she pulls some sort of register at the end of the theme notes off,
and then again back on to play the inverted theme. I have no clue how this
works.

Also, note the strange sound (metallic?) the pedal makes on the first ending
chord on the end of Fugue #5 from WTC1. I have no clue what this is, but it
sounds fascinating.

Perhaps somebody with more intimate knowledge of such instruments can shed
some further light on how many "modes" this thing has.
Post by d***@sympatico.ca
JG
--
I. N. Galidakis
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/
Eventually, _everything_ is understandable
Ben Crick
2005-11-05 22:00:05 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ioannis
I am not familiar with the inner workings of harpsichords, so although
I've played on one when I was a student in Chicago, I cannot make
sense of how many "modes" Isolde's Ahmer harpsichord has.
A Harpsichord may have one or more manuals, and maybe a pedal
clavier too.

There are two or more sets of strings per manual, with several sets
of plectra. When a key is struck, a plectrum rises and twangs the
corresponding string. If it is a hard plectrum, it will give a loud
twang. If it is a soft plectrum, it will give a gentler twang.

A small harpsichord will have two sets of strings, corresponding
to 8ft and 4ft organ pitch. Each sets of strings will have a set of
hard plectra and a set of soft plectra. Knobs like organ stops, or
foot pedals like organ combination pedals, will select which strings
and which plectra are in action. If there is more than one manual,
then there will be couplers to couple manuals together for "Full
Harpsichord".

The Pedal Harpsichord is a separate self-contained instrument
on the floor underneath the player's feet.

Some decades ago I attended a recital by the late Susi Jeans at
Cleveland Lodge, Dorking, where she played music on her House
Organ and on her pedal harpsichord. She was the British pioneer of
the neo-baroque style of performing Bach, and brought the German
–Orgelbewegung• to Britain just before the 2nd World War.

A memorable recital; but I don't think she made any commercial
recordings. Cleveland Lodge contained her organ museum as well as
her house organ. After her death, Cleveland Lodge became the HQ of
the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM).

Ben
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**©©
2005-11-06 07:12:45 UTC
Permalink
Post by **©©
pps - if you ever have time, could you post her Partita #1...?
..at least the first couple of movements? I'm playing it just
now, and would love to hear hers....
Which movements exactly would you like? If they are less than 2-3 minutes I
can record the entire movement, otherwise just an excerpt.
--
The first 3 movements would be fantastic - they are all under
three minutes, I believe.

Very much looking forward to it - thanks very much!
Ioannis
2005-11-06 19:35:08 UTC
Permalink
**©©
2005-11-06 21:58:03 UTC
Permalink
Stunning! I really want to thank you for this - I'm enjoying her
playing immensely!
Ioannis
2005-11-06 22:56:18 UTC
Permalink
Ioannis
2005-11-08 17:00:23 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ioannis
As promised in another thread, I recorded some pieces from my WTC clavier
with harpsichordist Isolde Ahlgrimm.
[snip]
Post by Ioannis
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/AhlgrimmWTC2P_F2.html (3.7MB)
Note sublime and quiet Prelude. Note fascinating and perfectly executed
legato on it. Fugue, mysterious, pastoral, quiet in the beginning, (as it
should be), an introduction to a musical prayer, until the first Stretto,
where she puts registers in. Note clear strettos. Note how absolutely
beautiful the pedal sounds on the bass on the augmented theme and how
pastoral transforms to grand and grave towards the end. Notice call of
inverted theme in the end with pedal. Have you heard any keyboardists who
bring the inverted theme out in the end instead of the regular theme?
(Compare with the staccato nonsense that Gould does on this prelude and
fugue for example).
[snip]

To contrast Isolde's absolutely fascinating execution of the above, I will
give two more links of the same piece for comparison:

The same Prelude and Fugue, arranged by my sequencer program Virtual
Composer:
http://www.virtualcomposer2000.com/MP3/PreludeFugue2BII.html (3.6MB mp3)

I had to arrange it in 2002, because in October of that same year, I had to
play both of them in a conservatory exam. So this is my own humble attempt,
on a good Feurich upright, two years ago:
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/P_FII.html (2.5MB mp3)
--
I. N. Galidakis
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/
Eventually, _everything_ is understandable
**©©
2005-11-08 18:53:23 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ioannis
I had to arrange it in 2002, because in October of that same year, I had to
play both of them in a conservatory exam. So this is my own humble attempt,
http://users.forthnet.gr/ath/jgal/music/P_FII.html (2.5MB mp3)
--
Nice work. I love playing that fugue. I sometimes think
JSB had a knack for putting things in his keyboard works
that were meant especially for the player - little, special
things that can only be appreciated by the player.

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