Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Kindness of Strangers, Part 10


Miriam Escofet, Olive Tree II, 2009
gouache on paper, 50 x 60 cm

Actually, not strangers but the parents of my dear friend, the artist Miriam Escofet. Kindness, though, definitely: recently Mr. and Mrs. Escofet gave me several old LPs they have no space for. The very first one I listened to when I got home pleased me so  much, I’m sharing it here.

Archiv APM 14 026 front

Johann Kuhnau Musical Representation
of some Biblical Stories (1700) –
I ‘The Combat Between David and Goliath’,
IV ‘Hezekiah Mortally Ill and Restored to Health’,
III ‘The Marriage of Jacob’

Fritz Neumeyer (harpsichord),
Fritz Uhlenbruch (narrator)
Archiv APM 14 026, rec. 15 & 16-Oct-53

The cover is printed in Spanish because Mr. Escofet bought the LP in his native Catalunya, before he and his family left for Britain in the late 1970s. I found his LP collection most interesting, ranging from medieval music (I took quite a bit) to jazz (sorry, not my thing). His daughter Miriam remembers the house always being filled with interesting and enchanting sounds – a bit like the Cave, perhaps, only less dark, tidier and sweeter-smelling, I’m sure.

Escofet, José Harvest [detail]

José Escofet, Harvest [detail], 1997
oil on canvas on panel, 96 x 122 cm

One reason I decided to share this Kuhnau LP is that, even though I like his vocal concertos, I’ve never enjoyed the Biblical Sonatas until now – if you’ve had the same difficulty, I hope this helps! I dutifully listened again to the better-known versions by Gustav Leonhardt, which are about as much fun as Sunday with Edmund Gosse’s father. Leonhardt reads, as far as I can tell, all of Kuhnau’s interminable narration – whatever his other talents, this ain’t his Fach (or indeed his native language). Uhlenbruch seems to have been a musicologist rather than an actor but, wisely, he cuts to the chase; and I like his archaic German and odd phonology (didn’t they pronounce umlauts in 1700?). Leonhardt occasionally speaks over Kuhnau’s music: bad, bad idea. And his narration is recorded somewhat off-mic, in a slightly reverberant acoustic, which robs it of immediacy and involvement.

Leonhardt plays the Fourth Sonata, about Hezekiah’s illness, on an organ, which goes well with Kuhnau’s use of the ‘Passion’ chorale, here titled ‘Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder’. He also chooses the organ for the First Sonata, about David and Goliath; but it’s a rather polite one and Neumeyer’s beefy but colourful Neupert harpsichord blows it away, especially at the start, when Kuhnau depicts Goliath’s blustering challenges to the Israelites (‘pochen und trotzen’).  A review of the Archiv disc in the November 1963 Gramophone is mostly and rightly favourable. It also states that it had been available for some time, on another label – that last bit seems unlikely, but maybe someone can confirm or scotch this?

The LP itself was in pretty good condition, despite some deposits of gunge from the cheapo polythene inner which seems to have been standard with Spanish LPs; I’ve only done the usual Brian Davies. I had to go easy on the narration – speech does not take aggressive de-clicking well – and what sounds like some groove-wear remains. There was no index card in the sleeve, so I can’t reproduce the texts, which would probably have been in Spanish anyway. I’m sure you can find them somewhere on the web? The stories are from I Samuel 17:1-58 & 18:1-8; II Kings 20:1-19 plus Isaiah 38:1-22; and Genesis 19. Apparently.

Three mono FLAC files, fully tagged, in a .rar file here.

Escofet, José The Forbidden Fruit [detail]

José Escofet, Forbidden Fruit [detail], 2009
oil on canvas, 85 x 74 cm

José Escofet and his daughter Miriam are both artists and they have kindly allowed me to post some of their work here. There is more on their websites, which I urge you to visit (links above). They draw on the same kind of long, deep tradition, rich in memory and meaning, to which Kuhnau contributed. I am lucky to know them and Mrs. Escofet, too, who also trained as an artist and is no less remarkable and generous than the rest of her family.


Miriam Escofet, José Escofet, 2007
oil on canvas on board,  50 x 40 cm
Selected for the BP Portrait Award 2007 exhibition
at the National Portrait Gallery, London