This is a well-stocked
double album Ė but then it would have
to be since it contains Scherchenís
notorious Bach Suites and Musical Offering,
recordings of massively slow tempi.
Buschís 1936 recordings of the Suites
were nearly thirty years in the past
when Scherchen set to work with the
Suites in Vienna Ė and Casalsí Marlboro
recordings were four years in the future,
to take two exemplars of this repertoire.
But Scherchenís approach to Bach is
of an almost cosmically different order
to that of Busch (or of, say, Boyd Neel).
It is Bach of huge deliberation, profound
consideration and extensive thought.
As ever the question
with Scherchen is one of tempi and tempo
relations. But whereas in other recordings,
say the Beethoven symphonies, a ponderous
movement could be contrasted with a
kinetic one here all the movements conform
to the same model and the effect, to
ears attuned to modern performance practice,
sounds baffling. In fact historically
informed performances are really not
the point. Busch had been an exponent
of aerated textures and agile tempos
and the juxtaposition of his forward-looking
deftness and Scherchenís granitic deliberation
seems to make a chronological mockery
of Bach performance.
The odd thing, or to
be exact the not entirely improbable
thing, is that Scherchenís deliberateness
of tempi does not always equate with
heaviness or ponderousness. This is
partly to do with questions of articulation
and partly to a lightening of bass lines.
An acid test might be the Courante of
No.1 Ė which you might sample to see
whether you can take Scherchenís approach.
Itís not nearly as extreme as the Ouverture
of No.2, in which he takes ten and a
half minutes and Busch seven and a half.
But it is an acid test nonetheless.
Throughout one can
admire, despite the tempi, the tangy
accents of the Forlane of the
First Suite and the articulate flutes
in the Rondeau of the Second
and the delightfully brusque trumpets
in the Bourrée of the Third,
though he makes the Sarabande
of the Second Suite sound rather nearer
to Schumann than is comfortable. Thereís
overpowering gravity in the Ouverture
of the Third Ė where heís actually slightly
quicker than Casals, himself not by
then the fleetest of Bachians. Should
you be interested in stop-watching,
the Air of the Third takes six
minutes; Casals and Busch agree on 4.48.
Hushed pianissimos and great personality
course through the Fourth and Scherchen
manages almost to suggest a Ländler,
so genially does his rhythm sway. Whether
you should have a Ländler suggested
is of course rather a different matter.
The Musical Offering
is heard in Scherchenís own edition
and reprises the same kind of tempi
heard in the companion Suites. Heíd
premiered Roger Vuatazís nine-instrument
chamber version back in 1936, a version
he recorded fourteen years later. For
this recording, made in 1964, Scherchen
orchestrated it anew bringing some remarkable
sonorities and characteristic individuality
of utterance. Itís by no means as outrageous
an approach as his Art of Fugue orchestration,
which he premiered in 1965.
Given the choice one
would better appreciate Scherchenís
earlier take on the Suites, recorded
in 1954. The intervening period of eight
years wrought some pretty remarkable
changes in conception, indeed a complete
and radical tempo overhaul Ė surely
one of the most remarkable in recorded
The booklet notes are
rather sparing and need to be better
proof-read though there are helpful
tabulations concerning Scherchenís tempi
for his two traversals of the Suites.
Itís indicative that most of this review
has concentrated on that issue.