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Re: GG in Brandenburg 5, and importance of bass

>>Ever hear the recent Il Giardino Armonico recording of the Brandenburgs?
>>After you've heard such a responsive and lively ensemble you can never go
>>back.  :)  It has nothing to do with purism.  It has everything to do with
>>committed music-making in which everything makes sense and has a clear
>I may have come off as anti-HIP in my flip comment above, but fwiw I'm
>not. I have Savall's Brandenburgs, but haven't heard the IGA's you
>mention.  I do though have a bit of a distaste for harpsichord
>continuo with orchestra though (the distant miking really does make it
>tinny, mechanical and a bit fussy).

Aha, the Savall.  My other desert-island choice along with the IGA.  (Well,
anything that has Fabio Biondi playing violin and/or Pierre Hantai playing
harpsichord pretty much recommends itself automatically, anyway.)  I
especially like the way Savall chooses to favor the balance of the bass line
throughout these pieces.  And it can be argued that Baroque music was often
composed this way: an expressive and hefty bass line as foundation lets
everything spring naturally above it...especially if the composer was an
organist.  The continuo group's not just along for a ride, accompanying;
they're *in charge of* the proceedings.

Who else besides Savall makes textures rise out of a firm bass like this
(not just in the Brandenburgs, but in general philosophy of musical
interpretation)?  The three examples that come first to mind are Nikolaus
Harnoncourt (another bowed-bassline player himself), Leopold Stokowski
(ex-organist) and Glenn Gould (lefty and sitting low).

Tip: the quickest way to bring springy expression to a harpsichord piece is
to learn it first with left hand alone.  If the bass "ain't got that swing"
and doesn't breathe right, the rest of it won't either.  Actually, that's
probably true of most tonal music....


A useful philosophy of continuo playing (whether on harpsichord, organ,
and/or theorbos/lutes): we're in there primarily to enhance the dynamic and
rhythmic expression of the melodic bass line players, helping them be a
solid foundation.  Help the clarity of articulation and accent, don't put
too much contradictory stuff against it.  Stay low, stay away from the
tinkly extraneous junk (high notes and 4-foot registration) that merely
distracts everyone from the higher melody players' job...let them have free
run of their own space.  Be so intensely expressive with the bass line that
the upper players are challenged to be even *more* expressive to try to
outdo us; everybody plays well that way.  The continuo group's there more to
be a catalyst for the other players than to be heard by the audience.

And anything that seems tinny, mechanical, and fussy is just being played
wrong and doesn't need to be there!  :)

Unfortunately, there still aren't many modern-instrument ensembles that give
enough attention and oomph to bass lines, or restrain their harpsichordists
from adding too much high tinkly crap (in the interest of being heard, which
misses the point).  Britten's not exempt from this, either, whether as a
conductor or composer; ever see his elaborately written-out piano
realizations of Purcell continuo parts?  Or Raymond Leppard's harpsichord
realizations of Monteverdi?  Inventive and fun, sure, but they draw a huge
amount of attention to themselves.


But not to stray too far off Glenn Gould: what is it about his Bach that
generally sounds so lively and involved?  Sure, his articulation and
textural clarity, etc., but my vote's really with the extraordinary
intensity and involvement of his *left* hand, the active role it takes where
so many other players simply have the left hand following along

Trouble is, this emphasis on the bass line shouldn't be extraordinary among
pianists or other musicians; it should (arguably) be standard.  There's all
that good music hiding down there.  Just because one hand is closer to the
audience than the other doesn't mean it's more important.

Bradley Lehman, http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl
Dayton VA