To the editors:
In reference to the review by Dennis Polkow of Basically Bach's performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio which appeared in the Reader on 13 January:
Dennis Polkow must have a musical time machine in which he zooms to and from truly authentic performances from the times of Bach, Handel, Beethoven and even Berlioz, so sure is he of the historical styles of which he writes. The vehemence with which he attacks Baroque performance groups which do not affect the "style of the moment," but which attempt to make music with the forces at hand, seems a trifle overzealous for a critic. Never mind that scant historical evidence exists to suggest that singers sang without or with limited use of vibrato. The only protests seem to be against too much vibrato. Of course, no recordings exist which would show us what Handel, for example, thought too much vibrato was. Thus, the authentic recordings we have today are very little more than merchandising twaddle. Anyway, the so-called authentic style has been in existence long enough for the perpetrators of this particular musical crime to have softened their stance a little, and the latest recordings from Europe seem to bear this out. Two telling contradictions in Mr. Polkow's review were these: firstly, after his derogatory comments regarding the "hacking" of the "wobbling operatic" voices of Music of the Baroque, one of Mr. Polkow's biggest disappointments was that he could not hear Basically Bach's perfectly authentic chorus above the perfectly authentic orchestra. Secondly, after deriding other organizations for using modern instruments, Mr. Polkow did allow that the natural horns were horribly out of tune in the Basically Bach performance. Even for an early music zealot, surely there is a lesson in there somewhere for Mr. Polkow and his pompously intolerant ears.