C1845. GÜNTHER RAMIN Cond. ORTF & St Thomas Ensemble, w.Agnes Giebel, Sibylla Plate, Gert Lutze, Johannes Oettel & Horst Günter; Ekkehart Tietze (Organ): ST. JOHN PASSION (Bach). (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-1113, Live Performance, 24 April, 1952, Paris. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Günther Ramin is both a musical and historical legend in Germany today. His tenure as Cantor of Bach's ‘old church’, St Thomas' Leipzig, from 1940 to 1956, spanned one of the most difficult periods in Germany's recent history, to which Ramin responded with musicianship, enthusiasm, conviction, loyalty and persistence.
With the advent of mass transportation in the early 1920s, Leipzig began to find itself sharing its choir with an ever-widening circle of European musical centres, providing a new challenge for the then Cantor and Ramin's teacher, Karl Straube. Following extensive choral conducting experience during the 1920s and 30s, in addition to being Organist at St Thomas' since 1918, Ramin was appointed Cantor on 1 January, 1940. The choir managed to survive the war, and in 1945 began, like the rest of war-torn Europe, to rebuild. In 1948 the choir made its first trip abroad, being invited to an international youth-choir gathering in Bern and other engagements throughout Switzerland. A distinguishing feature of Ramin's interpretations is the sharpness and clarity of the boys' voices. Ramin's practice of rehearsing each part separately ensures that the four parts, S A T and B, are all equally and clearly audible, each section of the choir infused with an awareness of its own individual contribution and value, giving a depth of dimension to the sound. Another outstanding feature is the choir's diction - Ramin always insisted that every single word must be clearly audible and distinguishable. In stressing the texts themselves and the clarity of enunciation, Ramin was reflecting Bach's own view. Ramin (like his pupil Karl Richter), brings a particularly strong spiritual insight to his interpretations, stressing the text and bringing out significant phrases. Indeed without such spiritual insight Bach's music becomes empty and meaningless.
Ramin is remembered for his loyalty and persistence, his loyalty in remaining with his Leipzig choir after the division of Germany in 1946, despite numerous tempting offers from the West, and his persistence in keeping the choir alive, visible and audible through two dictatorships, Nazi and Socialist, fundamentally different ideologically yet identically antagonistic towards religion. In 1945 most of Germany was in total ruins. From the war's end until 1950, both Germanys were struggling to rebuild. Then as the 50s progressed, the weight of oppression and economic stagnation settled over East Germany in a cloud of depression; music was the people's lifeline to sanity and they clung to it desperately. It was against this background that East Germans tuned in at 11.30 on Sunday mornings to the hear boys and men of Ramin's Thomanerchor who dared to sing Lutheran cantatas and somehow managed to get away with it. These broadcasts were authorized and recorded by the SRK (Staatliches Rundfunk Komitee of the DDR) between 1947 and 1956. Ramin managed to convince his political ‘masters’ that the Thomanerchor was a major potential foreign currency earner, perhaps the only way to win some small support from the political regime. But political support was provided only on strictly limited conditions. The choir was rehearsed during the week without orchestra, to be joined by the Stadt- und Gewandhaus-Orchester and soloists for the Divine Service on Sundays. This served as the only full ‘rehearsal’ for the recorded performance which followed immediately. The performances were taped at 30 inches-per-second (giving a significant improvement in quality over the normal professional speed of 15ips) and the tapes were then taken directly to the studio for broadcasting. The ‘privilege’ of re-takes and editing was not permitted by the SRK; each cantata was, as one old Thomaner remembers, ‘an all-or-nothing’ performance.... and the world would be listening with high expectations. This sense of pressure and importance may help to explain why many of the performances could only be called electrifying….these performances must surely have been motivated by the prevailing political and social conditions. Many who lived through and remember life in the DDR look back on Ramin's Sunday broadcasts as a life-saver which helped them to survive spiritually. Never before have words and music, politics, poverty and oppression been so closely inter-linked.”
- Michael Meacock, INTERNATIONAL CLASSICAL RECORD COLLECTOR, Summer, 1999