If I could have only one composer...

...I think it would be Bach. I've tried over the past few years to listen to his St. Matthew Passion during Lent. I have two recordings, one made in 1962 and conducted by the legendary Otto Klemperer with some of the greatest singers of the past century or so, the other made in 1973 and conducted by Herbert von Karajan, with some of the same singers. The former is on CD, the latter on an LP that I picked up used somewhere or other, and I think I'm going to get rid of it, if only because the sound is inferior due to wear and tear on the discs. Anyway, the general feel of the performance is similar to Klemperer's, but not as good, so why keep it?

The Klemperer performance is nowadays considered unacceptable by some because it predates the vogue for authentic 18th century instruments and performance practices. Nevertheless it continues to show up on lists of classic recordings. It's big, rich, and slow, and I love it. Here's the opening chorale. 


I am curious, though, as to how I would like some of the paradoxically more modern, because more antique, performances. John Gardiner's from 1989 seems to be highly regarded. At least in the opening it's so much faster that it almost seems a different piece. The version above runs nearly twelve minutes, the one below doesn't quite make it to seven. 


The Klemperer recording runs over three and a half hours, the Gardiner roughly an hour less. I wonder if that, or perhaps Klemperer vs. some other recent recording, is some kind of record for divergence between performances.

p.s. Here's a link to the text.


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He would be my choice too.

I think you might be right about the wide time difference between those two recordings. Klemperer is famously slow and grand, Gardiner famously brisk and light. Over the course of a piece that is, by any measure, long, those differences really add up. I guess the Klemperer is about 35% longer.

Here's a comparison of timings for chunks of Wagner's operas: differences of up to 65% there, but the chunks are not as big as the St Matthew Passion, so the overall times are not so different.

Intriguing question! I'm not a great fan of baroque vocal music, so while I like Bach's instrumental music very much, he'd probably not be my choice.

The choice for me would end up being between Bruckner and Vaughan Williams. The former is my favorite symphonist, and although he didn't write a lot of choral music, what he did write is quite good. I especially love his motets.

RVW, on the other hand, also wrote well in both forms, and also did some very lovely chamber music, something you don't get with Bruckner. You do miss the spiritual quality that you find in Bruckner, however.

Tough call, but I think I'd have to go with RVW, simply because there's more there to listen to.

But the arias in the St. Matthew Passion! And I've been paying more attention to the recitativs this time through, and finding them very expressive.

I probably haven't heard more than 20% or so, maybe less, of Bruckner's and RVW's music (more of the latter than the former), so I can't say for sure, but I don't think either would be in the running for favorite or only composer. Beethoven or Mozart might have a shot. Brahms and Mahler would be pretty high up there, too.

Interesting chart, Craig. I like the comment from R Strauss: it's already slow enough. I really want to get back to Wagner.

Actually, I like Bach's chorales a good bit. I just don't really care for the baroque solo voice that much. Not sure why.

Dvorak would be in the mix for me, at least as far as instrumental music goes. I've heard very little of his choral music, but I like both his orchestral and his chamber music a lot.

I actually have a slight preference for baroque solo vocal music, because it's more restrained. 19th c vocal music sometimes seems a tad hysterical to me.

That's really interesting, Rob G. I don't know that I've met anyone else for whom those two composers rise to the top of the heap. (Though they are both great!)

I confess I am rather fond of RVW: I adore his choral music, and his chamber music, especially the Phantasy Quintet, is always nice to hear. His Symphony No.2 I count among my favourite 4 or 5 symphonies.

Have you heard RVW's opera The Pilgrim's Progress? I was surprised at how much I liked it!

Yeah, I'm probably in the minority there! I think RVW ranks so high with me because when I first started seriously listening to classical music 20 years ago or so he was among the initial ones who really caught my ear -- the Tallis Fantasia, The Lark Ascending, etc. One of the first classical CD's I ever bought was a RVW disc by Neville Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields. It's still one of my favorites.

I came to Bruckner a little while later, probably about 2001 or 2002, when I went to hear his Symphony No. 4 on a whim. I had only ever heard his motets, and really liked them, so I figured I'd give the symphony a chance. Well, I was blown away, and went out the next day and bought a recording of it. Come to think of it, it may have even been the same night -- in those days we had Borders stores that were open until 11:00 on the weekends.

Anyways, his No. 4 symphony remains a favorite (I was in the audience for the recent Grammy-nominated recording by the Pittsburgh Symphony), and my other favorites are 2, 8 & 9, esp. the latter.

The Tallis Fantasia was one of my first classical favorites, too. There's only one of his symphonies that I know at all well, though, and now I can't remember which one it is--the London, I think. I've heard the Sea Symphony a few times and not been real taken with it.

I *really* like Mahler, and I guess actually he's sort of been in the way of my getting to know Bruckner better--when I want to hear a huge late Romantic symphony I go to Mahler.

I've never taken to Mahler -- too much of a muchness, as they say.

My favorite RVW symphonies are the "London," "Pastoral", and No. 5. I'm not a fan of the Sea Symphony myself. Also, Job: A Masque for Dancing, while technically a long ballet suite, is very fine and approaches being a symphony in all but name.

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