Sunday, 17 March 2013

Bach on Bach

Something curious happened on BBC Radio 3 yesterday.

I was late getting out to do the Saturday morning shop (the Prof is away doing a conference gig, and it's surprising how late you can sleep without heavy hints being dropped about cups of tea) and on the car radio caught the tail end of some "re-inventions" of Bach by Stefano Scodanibbio on the New Releases spot -- a classic ECM release, modernist, airy, crystalline.  It's been end-to-end Baroque this week on Radio 3, and my ears were primed for precisely such interesting reclamations and explorations of this over-familiar territory.

Andrew McGregor, the presenter, said a few words about the Scodanibbio, and then said something like, "If you like your Bach to sound a little fuller, how about this version of the Magnificat?" and cued up the next track.  It was sensationally strange!  Over the slightly muted chorale of the Magnificat -- presumably a sampled recording -- someone was playing a crisp, loud harpsichord, in a completely different slow tempo and in a different key.  A little fuller?  I'll say... The effect was at first startling, and ear-opening, but as I became gradually attuned to it, it just became annoying.  It was really nothing more than a grinding mash-up of two pieces, which never interlocked or commented on each other, rather like being at an up-market 18th century fairground.

Then it stopped.  "Sorry about that", said Andrew, "We seem to have managed to play the Disc of the Week (Bach English Suites) over the Magnificat -- not sure how that happened...  Let's start again."

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