Wednesday 9 March 2005

The new orthodoxy

I've just been re-reading Andrew Parrott's book The Essential Bach Choir partly because, with Easter approaching, there are so many Bach passions in the air in London. We've got visits from the Kings Consort (at St. John's Smith Square) and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra (at the new Cadogan Hall). I hope to get to St. John's but alas we're going to miss the Cadogan Hall gig, which is a shame as I've not yet managed to get to a proper concert there.

I've always been fascinated by the idea of one to a part performance of Bach and I still treasure my old Joshua Rifkin LP's, in fact I've just managed to order the Mass in B minor on CD at a reasonable price (from MDT); it was available in the UK only as an import for some time. What these new performances seem to tell us is that there is a new orthodoxy, the performance of Bach by a small, professional chamber choir.

I can remember the time when it was not only common to perform Bach's passions with rather large choral groups, but that was seen as the standard method of performance. We have now replaced this with our chamber choir model, neither of which has that much basis in what we know about Bach's performance methods. But the effect has been to make it difficult for choirs to perform Bach's music in large scale performances. Couldn't we perhaps learn a little from the past and instead of replacing one orthodoxy with another simply agree that there are many valid ways of performing great music.

By the way, I managed to track down the Parrott book via a rather wonderful website, WILL, which allows you to search on-line across all of the London public lending libraries. So no more trekking to Wesminster Music Library only to discover that a) they don't have any music by Eccard or b) its all out on loan

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