Note: I started this post way back in July, and after moving into our new house I let it get away from me. I do still hope to continue listening to the whole of the Bach Edition, but as this long delay shows, it’s probably going to take a lot longer than I thought if I’m going to say much of anything about each disc. Yesterday I got Christoph Wolff’s one volume biography of Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, and even though it’s not an analysis of his music (anyone have any suggestions for such a book?), it’s insights into the man may help me in understanding the music. I also got The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection, and the Violin Concertos are one of the discs that make up the “350 essential works.” The NPR book looks to be pretty good at answering the question of which pieces a classical newbie should listen to, but the CD recommendations themselves aren’t going to be very useful for me. eMusic has a fantastic classical selection, but the major record labels aren’t on there, so I’ll need to find the best from BIS, Naxos and other great independent classical labels.
The fifth CD in the Bach Edition set is a collection of Bach’s violin concertos: BWV 1041, 1042, 1052, 1056 and 1064. The BWV numbers are a way of thematically categorizing (instead of chronologically, like Opus numbers) Bach’s works, so it’s something of a surprise that the numbers aren’t consecutive on this disc. According to this Wikipedia page, BWV 1041, 1042 and 1056 are violin concertos, but BWV 1052, 1057 and 1064 are all categorized with the harpsichord concertos. As noted below, this is because evidence suggests that the harpsichord concertos were written from violin concertos which have been lost (and reconstructed here). This CD doesn’t include BWV 1043–1045, which are classified on the Wikipedia page with the rest of the violin concertos. I’m sure I’ll run into them as I work my way through the corpus but the disconnect is surprising.
Most of the pieces were recorded in 1992 by Camerata Antonio Luco, with Emmy Verhey on violin. The last piece, Concerto for 3 violins, strings, and basso continuo in D Major (BWV 1064) was recorded by the Amsterdam Bach Soloists in 1988.
Concerto for violin, strings and basso continuo in A Minor, BWV 1041
The liner notes for this CD say that this concerto follows a three movement “Vivaldi form” of fast-slow-fast, but that Bach improved on Vivaldi by better integrating the three parts into a unified form. I don’t think I’m a refined enough listener to see what they’re talking about, but I like the comparison to Vivaldi because it’s got the sort of fast pacing and interplay between the instruments that makes Vivaldi enjoyable. The piece starts out with a very lively tempo with different instruments playing against each other. The second part is slower and less remarkable (the liner notes call it a “cantilena”), but the final part returns to the faster rhythm with the soloists alternating with the full ensemble.
Concerto for violin, strings and basso continuo in E Major, BWV 1042
This is a very familiar concerto. The first movement starts with a “tutti theme” repeated throughout the piece, which means that all the instruments play together, rather than individual parts carrying the melody as is common in other sections. The slower second movement is carried by the solo violin, accompanied by a few instruments, harpsichord especially. Both the NPR guide and the liner notes mention how lyrical the solo line is in the second movement. The final movement is in “rondo form”, which the Wikipedia tells me means the principle theme is repeated with contrasting themes interspersed between. For me, I think it’s this form more than anything else that says Baroque to me when I’m listening to Bach. Here, the offsetting main and secondary themes switch back and forth rapidly (four or five times in the three minutes of the movement), keeping the listener interested in the piece without being distracted.
Concerto for violin and strings in D Minor, BWV 1052 (reconstructed from a harpsichord version that Bach arranged from this, missing, original)
Lots of Bach’s music has been lost, and the three remaining pieces on the disc are reconstructed from works for other instruments. The first one, Concerto for violin and strings in D Minor (BWV 1052) is reconstructed from a harpsichord version that exists but which Bach arranged from the original violin version which is no longer around. I suppose that with so much music available, an expert can see how Bach re-wrote is other pieces, and apply the same techniques to reconstruct music that is known to have existed.
I like the first movement of this one a lot. It seems to range wildly around, but always returning to the same melody with different instruments taking it up. And all throughout the movement, there are striking moments where a larger group of musicians plays the same theme. The movement also has an unusual sounding section in the middle where a pair of violins are playing melodies that sound dangerously close to being out of tune. The main melody intrudes a few times, and the movement eventually returns back to normal by the end. I’m sure there are terms for these things, and I’m going to have to figure out what they are so I don’t keep repeating the same awkward phrases over and over again.
The Adagio is much slower (which, it turns out, is what adagio means…) and on initial listens, it seems like there’s a lot less going on. But the slower sections allow the solo violin running through the movement to really carry a lot of emotion. The final movement returns to the faster tempo and interesting interplay between instruments.
Concerto in G Minor (reconstructed from the concerto for harpsichord and strings in F Minor, BWV 1056)
This short concerto is reconstructed from a harpsichord and strings concerto. The second movement also exists as the Sinfonia of Cantata number 156. The second movement also features the string players plucking their instruments behind the solo violin, which lends a very different sound to the piece, and keeps the focus more on the solo violin than if the strings were playing a melody with the bow.
Concerto for three violins in D major (arrangement of the concerto for three harpsichords and strings in C Major, BWV 1064)
The final work is another reconstruction based on evidence that Bach wrote his Concerto for three harpsichords using a version for three violins and strings that no longer exists. It’s a really bright concerto with a quick melody that sounds more like Mozart than Bach to me. Very enjoyable.
Next up would normally be two CDs of Harpsichord Concertos, including a different version of BWV 1056 I heard in the violin concertos. But I think I may jump into the Cantatas for a change of pace from all this orchestral music. I was originally going to listen to the whole thing in order, but I it may be more rewarding to jump around.
I took Nika out on the Creek today to see how far we could get on the ice. All of the open water on our property had frozen more than a week ago and we’d noticed bicycle tracks and footprints in the snow, so I figured it was probably safe to walk on. Plus I wanted to see where the bicyclist was coming from. The photo on the right shows our bridge and the house from down on the Creek, and the photo at the bottom of the post is a Google Earth view of the GPS track we walked. The red dot is our house, and the blue dot is where we got off the Creek.
I would have kept going on the frozen Creek, but there was a small dam at that point and I could hear running water just below the surface. Just past the dam was a hole in the ice with water running underneath and I didn’t want to take a chance of falling in or having Nika break through the ice. It turns out that were we went back up onto land is a section of trail between two roads that were originally supposed to intersect. At least that’s how it looks on the map.
The bicyclist is using this trail, the Creek, and our road to travel between the two roads that don’t intersect, which is pretty clever and is probably several miles shorter than where they’d have to go to get around the break.
Garmin hasn’t come up with the software for my GPS for Linux or OS X, but gpsbabel lets me download the data from the GPS and will also convert it into a KML file I can view in Google Earth. It works really well, except that in our area Google Earth isn’t perfectly geolocated, so the GPS track isn’t lined up with the satellite topography shown. The commands are:
$ gpsbabel -t -w -i garmin -f usb: \ -o garmin_txt,date="YYYY-MM-DD",datum="WGS84",dist=s,prec=6,time="HH:mm:ss" \ -F out.txt $ gpsbabel -t -w \ -i garmin_txt,date="YYYY-MM-DD",datum="WGS84",dist=s,prec=6,time="HH:mm:ss" \ -f out.txt -o kml -F out.kml
You could take the GPS data directly to KML format but it’s handy to have the text version first so it can be edited before generating the KML file. The -w flag to gpsbabel causes it to download all the waypoints from the GPS, and I usually want just the waypoints relevant to the current track (the -t flag). The text file makes it easy to remove the waypoints you don’t need.
I’ve had Daniel Leader’s Local Breads: Sourdough and whole-grain recipes from Europe’s best artisan bakers long enough to read most of the text in the book and bake three of the more than fifty bread recipes inside. The book begins with a few introductory chapters discussing the methods, ingredients and equipment you’ll need to bake the breads in the book. Subsequent chapters begin with a long section describing Leader’s experiences in a particular region of Europe, discussing the bakers, ingredients and bakeries he came across in his travels. After that, there are several recipes based on what he learned. The recipes are all scaled down for home ovens and equipment, have ingredients measured in volumetric units, U.S. and metric weights, as well as baker’s percentages. He says that he tested all the recipes using a small KitchenAid mixer, and the mixing instructions include specific details on speed and time for that mixer (as well as hand kneading instructions for most doughs). The majority of the recipes use sourdough for the fermentation, but including whole-grain in the title is a bit of a stretch since very few recipes are more than ten or twenty percent whole-grain (not a complaint, just a warning). At the end of the regional chapters is a list of frequently asked questions and answers that are tailored to the recipes. This is a nice Book 2.0 addition that would be welcome in most sophisticated baking books.
The three breads I’ve baked so far are his Old World Baguette (Paris), Buckwheat Batard (also Paris), and Whole Wheat Genzano Country Bread (Genzano, Italy). All of them were excellent, and the techniques involved were different from the recipes I’ve tried from Hamelman, Reinhart, or Beranbaum mostly because the doughs were so wet that they were difficult to shape using the techniques I’ve used in the past. If you’re going to be baking the breads from this book, you’ll probably need a good peel or a lot of parchment paper and a stand mixer.
Because the recipes are taken from different regions with their own baking traditions, there is less unity in technique than in the other books mentioned. Hamelman focuses on developing gluten with as little mixing and kneading as possible to maximize flavor and longevity, and the Reinhart whole grain book I recently reviewed revolves around pre-ferments and soakers or mashes. In Leader’s book you’ll find recipes using liquid levian, dough-like starters and starters raised on different grains; long-fermenting recipes with retarted proofing and recipes that are ready to bake a few hours after you start; recipes with a lot of kneading and recipes with much less. It’s a nice variety, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the results of variations in ingredients and technique in the final bread.
My only complaint with the book is that it’s not a sewn binding, which means that the book will eventually fall apart with the hard use it experiences in the kitchen. Hamelman’s bread book suffers from the same poor quality binding, and my copy recently split after three years of use. Contrast that with Whole Grain Breads, which has a sewn binding: it lays flat on the counter and will last a lifetime. Considering that both books list for $35, it’s a shame that Norton couldn’t produce a book up to the standards set by Ten Speed Press.
One other note: I’ve used my new SuperPeel (it’s the peel in the top photo) four or five times and I’m very happy with it. Thus far I haven’t used it to pick anything up, but it’s very good at smoothly laying dough down onto my baking stone in the oven, and when the belt is properly floured, the dough doesn’t stick to it. The only issue so far is that I haven’t found the optimum belt length yet such that the belt is tight to the peel but still allows it to move easily. My previous method for handling dough was to proof the loaves on a Silpat, which is a sort of reusable silicone parchment paper. It is very durable and works, but because the bread isn’t being place directly onto the heated stone, I wasn’t getting as much oven spring as I do now with the SuperPeel. Later this week I’m planning to make pizza, and we’ll see how easy it is to pick up and put down a big pizza. That’s the true test.
We finally started getting some of our winter snow. It started yesterday morning, and it’s been snowing pretty hard ever since then. By midnight yesterday we’d gotten an inch and a half, according to the Weather Service, and I’d guess we now have four to five inches on the ground.
Earlier in the year we went to a garage sale and scored a snow thrower for cheap. Today was my first opportunity to see if it actually worked. As promised, it started right up, and did a great job moving snow around. Unfortunately, the snow isn’t packed down much at all, and so it was perfectly happy to pick up and fling frozen dirt and gravel from the driveway. I think it might be a good idea to drive on top of the snow for awhile, and start using the snow thrower once there’s a better base underneath it.
The water delivery guy said that he used to “plow” his two mile long driveway by running his snow thrower out on one tire track, and then back on the other track. Driving over the cleared areas caused the berm in the middle to get spread out evenly over the driveway, resulting in a nice flat surface. I doubt if I’m going to go the 1.2 miles from our house to the nearest plowed road, but I might try this on the worst section of it. Or the worst section of it that’s close to our house, since there are so many bad areas…
Nika enjoys hanging out in the snow, and since she’s black, she’s really good at demonstrating how hard it’s snowing outside. This isn’t the greatest photograph, since I took it through the sliding glass door, but after I let her in, I was just about to snap a photo when she shook all the snow off on my slippers. Thanks Nika!