30 December 2023

Arbitrary comments on Bach vocal performance today

My tastes have changed, and/or the singers have gotten lots better. Or both, more likely. Years past I much preferred female altos and sopranos in, for example, Bach cantatas. The countertenors, when they existed, and the boy sopranos, sounded pinched, tight, and just not warm. There are still few male sopranos worth a listen, but the historical practice of using men for the alto parts is now enjoying a revival and in general, they're really good and sound great. Other aspects of performance practice (smaller, more professional choruses, for example) have also made Bach performance really shine in a way that I wouldn't be surprised if it outshone even the best performances Bach would've directed himself. Certainly, Bach recordings from the last 30 years or so are just better than recordings from the earlier years of sound recordings, and it's reflected in live performances too. But the sopranos... well, I wish they'd stick with women. They still do it better, for all intents and purposes, always. (And many women altos are absolutely fantastic Bach performers too). 


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