Monday, January 25, 2010


A considerable number of releases with classical music are reissues. Some of these have even be reissued before, for instance when the vinyl was replaced by the CD. But some recordings are reissued for the first time.
I like especially recordings from the late 1960s and the 1970s, during the early and still strongly experimental years of the historical performance practice. Many of them I have purchased during those years but as I ddn't have them on CD I haven't heard them for ages.

It is interesting to listen to them so many years later. I am always curious to know if I like them just as much as I liked them when I first heard them. Sometimes so many better performances have been released since that their value is only historical, documenting a stage in the development of the performance practice of early music. But in other cases they still make great listening.

The reissue of a recording of orchestral overtures by Telemann, with the Concentus musicus Wien under Nikolaus Harnoncourt, is a very good example. Some of these overtures are quite well-known and have been recorded more recently. Technically some of these recordings may be better in that the skills to handle the period instruments have greatly advanced. But at the same time I often observe a loss in the amount of expression as well as a habit of making compromises in the application of what is known about how music was performed in the baroque era.

The way Harnoncourt realises the effects Telemann has incorporated in his music is still unsurpassed. In comparison with his highly evocative and often even provoking interpretations more recent recordings are not seldom bland and superficial.
When I listen to a new recording of well-known repertoire, by Johann Sebastian Bach for instance, I regularly turn to older recordings, from the 1970s and 1980s. Quite often the older recordings are better as far as the interpretation is concerned. Take Bach's sonatas for keyboard and violin. In recent years I listened to a handful of new recordings, and in most cases I was severely disappointed about the way they were performed. Turning then to one of the very first recordings of these sonatas on period instruments, by Gustav Leonhardt and Sigiswald Kuijken, I concluded that their interpretations are unsurpassed since.

There is so much more knowledge about historical performance practices, and the mastery of period instruments has vastly improved. But that hasn't necessarily led to more convincing interpretations. If performances of more than 30 years ago are still top of the bill, that should give food for thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment