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Cantata BWV 106
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus Tragicus)
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of March 19, 2000 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 19, 2000):

This is the week of cantata BWV 106 – Actus Tragicus (according to Jane Newble's suggestion). I am a little bit saturated and exhausted after extensive listening to 15 recordings of this cantata during last week. Therefore I will not go into too much details this time. In any case, this cantata is very well known among Bach lovers and outside of that circle. For those who need some background on BWV 106, there are some sources on the Web.

Original German text:
A good English translation by Z. Philip Ambrose:
Simon Crouch Cantata pages:
Jan Koster Cantatas Project:

Review of the Recordings

Hereinafter is the list of the recordings I have listened to. See: Cantata BWV 106 - Recordings.

With such big number, it is unrealistic to cover them all in this space. Realising that, I even have not written to myself notes during listening to the above recordings. I have listened to them during last week, couple of recordings per sitting, and the whole picture has been built gradually during listening. One conclusion is the feeling that the recordings are being transformed during a process of fine-tuning. Ramin’s recording [5] is very far away from contemporary practice. After all, he did not have any model of performance before him. Each recording afterwards seems to strive to an ideal goal. They are coming closer and closer to that goal and consequently they are becoming more and more similar to each other. Another clear conclusion is that the recordings of this cantata can be divided roughly into two groups – the traditional performances and the more modern (or HIP) ones. In each group there is one recording, which is for me head and shoulders above the others. The first group includes recordings Nos. 1-8 and the second one recordings Nos. 9-15. In the first group my contender to the first place is Öhrwall [15] and in the second group – Leonhardt [18]. I will not try to justify my picks. Everyone may choose by himself his own favourites.

I found out that every performance of this cantata could satisfy. The deep feelings transformed through the music of this cantata are so strong, that they conquer even lazy or sloppy conducting, singing and playing. But hearing Leonhardt’s recording after so many others is like finding a spring of cold and clear water after long journey. I think that I am gonna listening to it once again. But not this week, because I have to take a break!

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Frank Fogliati wrote (March 21, 2000):
I've been doing some research into this magnificent work and discovered that the score is available in 2 different key signatures! You can take your choice of Eb or F. But there are pitfalls! It could also explain why this piece is sometimes heard with celli at A=440 (or so) instead of the gambas. That is, musicians opt for an incorrect but apparently 'simpler' solution.

Below is a message I have 'lifted' from the 'viols list', authored by Roland Hutchinson. It is in response to another gambist's plea as to how to play the gamba part.

The problem is that the alto recorder parts for cantata BWV 106 ("Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit," a/k/a the Actus Tragicus) were originally written in F at chamber pitch (around a'=410 Hz), while the remainder of the score was written in E-flat at choir pitch (around a'=460 Hz).

In effect (to use slightly anachronistic but nowadays standard terminology), Bach treated the recorders as transposing instruments (with a B-flat transposition). However, as the overall pitch was choir pitch, about a whole step higher than we normally use for Baroque instruments nowadays.

If, however, we regard A-410-ish (i.e. our A-415, approximately) as the "concert" pitch for this score, the recorders become the concert pitch instruments, and everyone else (including the singers) reads in a D transposition.

What a mess! It hurts to think about (unless you're an 18th-century German church musician, in which case dealing with the different flavours of choir- and chamber pitch is just another part of the daily hassle of getting the job done and the music ready for next Sunday).

The Bach-Gesellschaft decided to make the score easier to read by printing everything in E-flat; the NBA decided to put it all in F.

What's a viol player to do? Obviously, finds out what pitch the recorders are going to be playing at, and accommodate them. They OUGHT to be reading in F major, as they will run out of notes otherwise, since when their parts are transposed to E-flat the low F, the lowest note on the instrument, becomes an E-flat which can't be played.

Since E-flat is the original key of the viol parts, you've no right to whine if that's where you end up playing it. This would, however require either oddball-size recorders, or fudging by using more than one size of recorder, or else substituting flutes.

Due to the notated range of the voice parts, which runs on the low side (bass voice down to E-flat below the staff, if memory serves), in addition to the aforementioned practical necessity of giving recorder players parts consisting entirely of notes that they can play on their instruments, The usual thing nowadays is to have everyone tuned to A-415, i.e. with the viol parts transposed up a step from Bach's original notation, as you find them in the Barenreiter edition. This gives the first viol player a few more gymnastics above the frets to deal with, but nothing really unmanageable.

If you want to resort to re-tuning, the historically correct thing is (as you will now understand) not to tune down a whole step, but rather up a whole step (to A-465 if you're going to mix it up with A-415 recorders)--after which you play in E-flat. A shortish string length, light-gauge strings, and a trip to the shop to have the soundpost adjusted, or even to have instrument's entire setup monkeyed with at great expense (lowering the bridge and changing the fingerboard wedge and/or the set of the neck correspondingly) are helpful if you're going that route--more trouble than it's worth for one performance, surely!

P.S. Cantata BWV 106 is almost certainly for solo voices rather than for chorus with soloists, as a careful study of the score will reveal. (And the continuo should be organ alone). However, as one is usually engaged to perform it with church or chamber choirs, I have found it fiscally expedient to maintain a tactful silence on this point, and I would advise other violists to do likewise.

P.P.S. For a brief glimpse of how convoluted the pitch problem in piece becomes for gigging recorder players, see the short entry on David Bellugi's MIDI page at:

Hope you found this as interesting as I did.

Marie Jensen wrote (March 19, 2000):
For the first time I have 3 different CD-versions of the same work. It has been hard to make a review. I really admire those list mates, which can come up with well-structured and clear reviews, though they own many versions. Now I understand why categorisations A, B, C or sticking to one Aria might be necessary. Listening to Rotzsch, Suzuki [26] and Richter [11] in four sessions, I found out that mood and sensitivity change my impression from day to day. Saturday I was very sensitive and did even enjoy Rotzsch, which I certainly didn't Friday night, where I was tired and just loved good old Richter. And Sunday the first spring arrived to Denmark, so after going to the triple Bach funeral concerto for the last time, I simply had to listen to BWV 202 "Weichet nur betrubte Schatten" too.

My recordings are:

[17] The Sonatina is very important to me; the recorders are eternal light over the dark violoncello grave. The Rotzsch recorders do not have the right rich and at the same time gentle sound. And later when the Thomaner boys enter, it is little like in BWV 198 which we recently discussed, are there too many Sopranos or is it the DDR recording technique, which cause too much descant? If it is the technique, it could explain the unsatisfying recorder sound too. I have to be very much in the "Bach mood" to listen to the end, when it's Rotzsch. It feels so uninspired.

[26] Has a beautiful Sonatina and the following is clear and full of light and life, not really Tragicus, but good enough as a whole. When the bass sings "Bestelle dein Haus" the instruments fail with a too gay dancing approach. Those words are a serious matter, a warning or an advice. Here Richter makes an allegro too but in a much more controlled way.

[11] Richter's recorders sound divine. When I listened to them and the vibrating deep cellos just after I bought the CD last summer spine was shivering. What a Sonatina! It is so intense. After that Richter enters with his enormous Bach Chor singing with intense emotion. It is in fact a wonder that such a change succeeds. Though the Richter style not is "a la mode" it is great art. But he is lucky too, that the recorders very often alternate with the choir, so that they don't drown. But if you listen carefully they can be heard when the choir is on too. The recording is intensity and expressivity all the way. Bach singers have to, if not believe the words, then at least act like they do. And with Richter it is that way. "Bestelle dein Haus" sung by Theo Adam strikes deeply.

If I should look upon the cantata as a whole I prefer Richter [11]. Suzuki [26] will do a day where I don't want the extreme, but he will never shake me like Richter.

Ryan Michero wrote (March 19, 2000):
I know how you feel, Aryeh! I had this feeling after listening to all of my recordings of BWV 198. I hadn't taken any notes and no recording really stood out above the rest, so when it came time to write something I couldn't. I think I eventually gathered my thoughts and wrote something, but I was a week late!

Luckily, I took notes this time, so hopefully I have something coherent to say. But maybe I would feel over-saturated again if I had FIFTEEN recordings to listen to! My goodness, Aryeh, you have a lot of cantata recordings!

I have only EIGHT recordings of BWV 106--most of them HIP. I'll give some short (hopefully!) reactions to each of them:

[6] (Prohaska) This one sticks out from my collection a bit, as it was recorded in 1954. However, it seems to be kind of a pioneering effort as recorders are used instead of flutes and violas da gamba (though modernised, I'm sure) are used instead of celli. Yes, it sounds old-fashioned, with copious vibrato in the choir and instruments, slow tempi, trills starting on the low note, etc. BUT it is still an effective performance. The soloists sound interesting--I was surprised by how much I liked the singing of Teresa Stich-Randall and Dagmar Herman. Operatic Bach for sure, but impressive for 1954.

[18] (Leonhardt) This is a great one, definitely one of my favourites. The Sonatina is very, very lovely and moving (as one would expect when the likes of Jaap ter Linden and Franz Brüggen are in the ensemble). Indeed, the instrumental sound (rich, wooden-sounding recorders; pungent, reedy violas da gamba) is one of the chief attractions of this recording. The choirs are on fine form, with each line delineated clearly, and Leonhardt handles the changes in pacing expertly (although I can hear some splices between sections). Marius van Altena sings his part well, and Max van Egmond is wonderful as usual, coping nicely with the high tessitura in the "Heute, heute" section (I noticed some conductors use a tenor here as the high bass part lies in their range). The singing of the boy soloists is also a highlight of Leonhardt's recording. Marcus Klein sings the cries of "Ja, Komm!" movingly, and Raphael Harten is especially touching in the solo Alto section ("In deine Hande"). If this were the only recording of BWV 106 I had heard, I would be happy (but, as it is not, it's nice to explore the riches in the other recordings too).

[20] (Rifkin) This is a very good recording and the first BWV 106 sung one-to-a-part. Rifkin's intimate ensemble sounds gorgeous, and the voices of the four solo singers blend nicely. While tenor Edmund Brownless is merely acceptable, Jan Opalach sounds great here. Ann Monoyios also sings beautifully, but she may sound a bit too adult to really move me in the cries of "Ja Komm"--I prefer a boy or a young-sounding, boyish female soprano. Unfortunately, countertenor Steven Rickards sounds pretty bad in his solo section. His intonation is insecure and he sings with little feeling. Opalach sounds better in the following section, but he is obviously uncomfortable in the high range. The final movement is a highlight due to the lovely ensemble and Rifkin's alert conducting.

[21] (Gardiner) This is a very good recording but not quite one of my favourites. The best thing about this one is the Monteverdi Choir--WOW! This is quite a virtuoso group, and no other choir delineates the counterpoint quite as well as the Monteverdi. Gardiner is an alert leader, and he handles the changes in tempo with customary panache (Gardiner's style is very distinctive--I can tell in a moment it's him behind the baton). I like Nancy Argenta, but she doesn't quite do it for me here--too adult sounding again, and the she's so under-powered that the choir swallows her up when her voice should be flying aloft. Michael Chance doesn't sound really comfortable in his solo (although he sings very musically). Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Stephen Varcoe sound very nice though, singing lyrically but with authority. The last movement seems a bit too quick to me, but it's very well sung. Altogether, this is a nicely performed and satisfying (if not really moving) recording.

[23] (Jeffery Thomas) Surprisingly, I think this is my favourite version. The Sonatina is really ravishing here, with gorgeous-sounding instruments and lovely phrasing. Thomas' full ensemble (like Rifkin, with one singer to a part) sounds very beautiful. One thing I like about this one is the very expressive, madrigalesque singing. Thomas himself makes a nice Tenor soloist. However, it is Christine Brandes that steals the show here with her cries of "Ja, Komm Herr Jesu". Her voice, pure yet full with very little vibrato, is powerful enough to soar above the ensemble yet light and subtle enough to fade away when the ensemble stops. Her account of this part is the only one that really sent chills up my spine. Drew Minter is also quite moving in the next section even if his intonation is a bit insecure. William Sharp is also very good. The lovely full ensemble returns for the last section to give a great account of the "Amen" fugue.

[25] Koopman's version is also very fine. The choir seems to be singing very softly in this cantata, perhaps to match with the light instrumentascoring, giving this performance a contemplative, quiet feeling that works well. Guy de Mey and especially Kai Wessel and Klaus Mertens sing their parts wonderfully. Barbara Schlick mars this performance, though, not only sounding too adult again for my taste but also insecure in her intonation. The last choral section is soft and tender until it culminates in a sprightly fugue. A good if flawed recording.

[26] Suzuki's was my favourite until I heard Thomas' version, and I still love it (this might be my favourite next week). The solo singing is perhaps the strongest overall of any version. Gerd Türk and Peter Kooy are, as always, superb. A nice surprise here is soprano Aki Yanagisawa, who usually sings in the BCJ choir but has only been used as a soloist for this one cantata. Too bad, because she is an excellent singer with exemplary technique and a pure, boyish tone (she sounds a bit like Judith Nelson to me). Her account of the cries of “Ja Komm” is very moving. Let us hear her more, Masaaki! But in my opinion, the best solo vocal performance comes from Yoshikazu Mera, who sings with incredible feeling and fine technique. His singing of the Alto part is so distinctive that I cannot listen to any other version without thinking of how Mera sings it. Overall, Suzuki again shows his talent for natural yet dramatically effective pacing. His Sonatina is, however, very slow for HIP versions, which some may not like (I find it very affecting, personally). Fine, fresh choral singing crowns an excellent recording.

Aryeh didn't mention this very new one:

[37] (Junghänel) Here's another one-singer-per-part recording, and it is in many ways the most impressive. There's not a weak link in the bunch--each singer is superb. I have to single out the incredible, nearly vibrato-free voice of Johanna Koslowsky who is marvellous in her cries of "Ja, Komm Herr Jesu", and the equally miraculous Elisabeth Popien, who nearly makes me forget Mera. Junghänel generally picks the quickest tempi, but they work within the context of his performance. The ensemble is gorgeous, and the contrapuntal lines come through very clearly. Overall, this reading is reverential, austere, beautiful, and antique, yet delightfully fresh and immediate. I highly recommend it.

So, I have four favourites: Leonhardt, Suzuki, Thomas, and Junghänel. Thomas' version has a slight edge right now, but I suspect my affections will switch around between these four in the future depending on my mood. Aryeh's comments interest me in Ohrwall's recording, and Marie makes me consider buying Richter. All in all, BWV 106 is quite well served on disc, isn't it?

Karl Otsuki wrote (March 20, 2000):
Actually it's a known fact that Bach's early cantatas (from Mühlhausen/Weimar period) had been published in two different pitches, because their pitches are based on Chorton (choir pitch: approx. A=465 or even higher), while his Leipzig cantatas are based on Kammerton (chamber pitch: approx. A=415). BG used Chorton to publish those cantatas while NBA was standardised using Kammerton. It is confusing, I know... But I just wanted to point out that in the case of Gettes Zeit, recorder parts were transposed to F to adjust the pitches to other instruments in Chorton.

The interesting part is that the original key is in Eb. But of course, HIP performers would want to use the key of F, otherwise it will sound like D on A=415 tuning, and that was not Bach's intention (the original key is again Eb, in A=465 tuning). But do they really want to use the key of F? The answer is no, because the key of F might transmit a wrong kind of 'Affekt'. Johann Mattheson wrote that there is a certain character or an appropriate 'Affekt' to transmit in each key (Das neu-eroffnete Orchestre, 1713)... Probably Bach used the key of Eb intentionally to transmit Eb-suited Affekt. So what's the best way to perform this cantata?

I'm not sure about other group, but Bach Collegium Japan / Suzuki [26] used the key of Eb in Chorton... that's right, they tuned the organ and strings (+choir) to A=465 pitch (of course, recorders were tuned to A=415 pitch) so that we can hear the sonority of original key of Eb! Isn't this interesting?

Johan van Veen wrote (March 21, 2000):
It is a very interesting and intriguing subject. In fact, you have opened Pandora's box here, because nobody seems to know what Mattheson (and others, like Kirnberger) have based their associations on. Were their theories based on Chorton or on Kammerton?

As far as this cantata is concerned, only the first two sections (Sinfonia and Chorus 'Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit') and the closing chorale 'Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit' are in E flat. According to Mattheson E flat can only be associated with grave and sad feelings. That is well reflected in the Chorus. The chorale is different: it is a eulogy on the Trinity. But one should remember that Bach loves symbolism: E flat is also associated with the Trinity. The key of F major gives some problems: Mattheson associates it with everything that is positive, nice and beautiful. He compares it with a person who has 'bonne grace'. Maybe it is not impossible to connect that with the chorus: 'Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit'. It certainly can be connected with the chorale.

The main problems come in the other sections, in particular the core of this cantata (the hinge point between the first and second half): 'Es ist der alte Bund'. Originally the key is f minor - Mattheson associates it with a deep anxiety, a black melancholy - and that matches the content: 'Es ist der alte Bund - Mensch, du mußt sterben!' In Kammerton this would be g minor, which expresses seriousness and buoyancy, and can be used for moderate complaining and moderate cheerfulness. I think f minor reflects the content of this section better. The recordings I know are mostly in Chorton: Cantus Cölln [37] and the Brilliant Classics recording directed by Pieter Jan Leusink [31] Leonhardt (Teldec) [18] uses Kammerton, as all cantatas in that series.

Another question is of course to what extent we can develop a sensitivity to experience the 'Affekt' associated with the different keys. I wonder what yours and other people's experiences are in that regard.


More Messages

Rasmus Storjohann wrote (March 22, 2000):
At the Bach festival in Nantes, France this January, I went to a talk on the cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" (Actus Tragicus, BWV 106), and I have been looking for a recording of it. Now, I don't really want to have to buy ALL the cantatas, so I'm looking for ideally a single disk with a decent recording of this cantata. Thanks for any pointers!

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 9, 2000):
[28] For the past two Sundays, the French satellite music channel has been playing Ton Koopman videos at 9 AM. Each film is one hour long, and presents some biographical info about Bach, and then Koopman and his band play a cantata. The first was BWV 106, and today was BWV 131. The films are not very interesting except for the cantata performances. The biographical stuff is pretty hokey, with characters in powdered wigs and horse-drawn carriages, and unfortunately Koopman does not talk much about the cantatas that he plays. In addition, the film is peppered with bits and pieces of Bach's music, all very short and out of context.

The cantata performances, however, make it worthwhile. They are interesting, and provide a nice way to learn more about the works, through watching performers play. These films were made for Dutch TV in 1997, and apparently there are 4 of them. I don't know if they are available on video, and Cor Knops, Koopman's webmaster, had not ever heard of them when I queried him...

Sybrand Bakker wrote (April 9, 2000):
[28] Videos have been recently brby NCRV so it is a bit strange Mr. Knops doesn't know about them. AFAIK, there are 6 of them, with one very funny performance of the Kaffee Kantate, with Klaus Mertens as Herr Schlendrian and Anne Grimm as Liesgen. Perfect casting, performance in costumes, in an 18th century coffeehouse. You may want to get in touch with the NCRV (, though I don't know whether they sell them.

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 24, 2000):
[37] I have not had the Junghänel's CD while we were discussing BWV 106, 196 & 4 in previous weeks. I still have not had it, while I sent to the group my review of the recordings of BWV 12 last week. But, at last I have it, I manages to listen to it couple of times, and my initial conclusion is that this record is well deserved almost every praise it got in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List. However, I do not find it wholly convincing from every aspect. Indeed, its intimate atmosphere is the best visit card of the OVPP approach, the voices are very well balanced and blend charmingly together, the instruments are beautifully played, and the emphasis on the words rather than on the music is well justified. The pronunciation of the words is so clear, that you could almost write them on paper according to what you hear (BTW, it is not mentioned in the booklet, when each tenor is singing. I believe that Türk is singing the Solo parts and Jochens the Chorale parts). The balance between the instrumental and the vocal parts is perfect. They are on equal level. I mean that you do not have the feeling that the instruments accompany the voices or that they overshadow them, but that they play together or one against the other, as needed. The fugal parts obtain the best clarity from this approach. What I miss is a little bit more drama and emotion, and a little bit more softness and tenderness. Don't understand me wrongly. I like this CD very much, because it illuminates special sides of the cantatas, which are rarely revealed in other performances. And the aspects that I miss here, I find in other recordings. The cantatas sound so different in this rendering than any other recording, almost like new works of art, and this approach is performed so convincingly, that this record becomes a 'must have' for every cantatas collection. But, I also believe that this record should not be the only version one should hold of each cantata included in it. Since all the cantatas in this record has been discussed in our group in the last couple of months, one can easily come to conclusion that there are other recordings for each cantata with different approaches indeed, but not less valid. Regarding BWV 12 in particular, I love Wöldike, Suzuki, and Junghänel almost on the same level, different as they are, and maybe exactly for this reason.

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 24, 2000):
[37] I'm glad you finally got the Cantus Cölln CD and I thank you for your comments on it.

One tiny point: you said you think Türk is singing the solos and Jochens the chorale parts. I can't remember where I heard or saw this (Junghänel may have mentioned it when I interviewed him for, but I believe that Jochens is singing all of it and Türk wasn't involved in this recording at all. (He was probably in Japan singing for Suzuki!)

The article for has five performers -- conductors Paul McCreesh, Konrad Junghänel and Philippe Herreweghe and singers Drew Minter and Julianne Baird -- talking about performing Bach one-singer-per-part. I will let the list know when the article is up on the site.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 24, 2000):
[37] I have just looked at this recording and this is who is singing what:

- BWV 4: Aria 'Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn' - Jochens; Duet 'So feiern wir das hohe Fest' – Jochens
- BWV 106: Aria 'Ach Herr, lehre uns bedenken' - Türk; Aria 'Heute wirst du mit mir im Paradies sein' – Jochens
- BWV 196: Duet 'Der Herr segne euch' – Türk
- BWV 12: Aria 'Sei getreu, alle Pein' – Jochens

Ryan Michero wrote (May 24, 2000):
[37] I think Johan is right. Türk's voice is pretty recognisable, and I know I heard him in a few places on the recording. I also remember that Jochens sings for sure in BWV 12.


BWV 4 + BWV 106 - Rafi' Lavi's Discussion

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 1, 2000):
Rafi Lavi is a famous Israeli painter, as well as classical music critic, who writes regularly a column for the local weekly newspaper 'Ha'ir'. Every Tuesday evening a group of dedicated classical music fans is gathered at Lavi's home. He chooses for them a certain work of classical music and they listen together to all the recordings of that work without prior notice what they are going to hear, or who the performers are. Then they compare the various recordings of the work to each other and give them marks. The results are published in the newspaper couple of weeks afterwards. I have never participated in those weekly musical meetings. However, I read the weekly column with curiosity to see if the work under discussion interests me. Last week's comparison was dedicated to cantatas BWV 4 & BWV 106. Before quoting from that article, I have to say that the opinions expressed there do not reflect in any way my personal opinion. But because the matter of our group is discussing Bach cantatas and especially recordings of them, it is interesting to read a review about the same subject from another source. Here is my translation to English of the original Hebrew text:

"The CD in which Junghänel conducts Bach cantatas [37] has raised a lot of attention lately, because it sounds so marvellous and also because it includes two of the most known and beloved cantatas - BWV 4 'Christ lag in Todesbanden' and BWV 106 'Actus Tragicus'.
We compared both of them. We did not choose arias for soloists, but choral movements, which generally characterise the performances. Also, we included only recordings from the last 30 years. It means that Harnoncourt-Leonhardt production [18] was the most veteran of them. All of them were HIP.
According to the participants' statements, all of us were looking for the same thing: beautiful voices, transparent weave of them, fluent flow, not heavy, not didactic, but also not superficial. And at the end, a performance that will 'touch the heart', as the listeners said.
[18] As has been expected, the renderings of Harnoncourt to BWV 4 and Leonhardt to BWV 106 arrived to the last place. Their performances, which once sounded to us innovative, fresh and bold, sound today old-fashioned, heavy, steady and ordinary.
[26] In BWV 4 Suzuki arrived first. He is flexible, plays beautifully with the voices and very expressive. In BWV 106 he was placed at the bottom. He was called stiff and clumsy.
[20] Rifkin, the performance that uses one voice per part instead of choir, has not recorded BWV 4. In BWV 106 he arrived to the first place far ahead before the others. Jeffery Thomas performance [23], whose approach is similar to Rifkin, got a lot of sympathy. In BWV 4 he was second by a narrow margin, and in BWV 106 he was second together with two others.
[37] Junghänel, the cause for celebration, arrived third, after Suzuki [26] and Thomas [23] in BWV 4, and second, together with Gardiner [21] and Thomas [23], in BWV 106. By the way, Gardiner was laid at the bottom in BWV 4.
Parrott, who recorded only BWV 4 in Rifkin'smethod, was put in the middle, in exact distance from the 'good' and the 'bad' recordings.
[25] Koopman, who records the complete cantatas and is considered by many to be the ultimate, was not appreciated in our group - in both cantatas. 'Ordinary', 'smeared', 'tedious', were some of the compliments he got.
Conclusion? Rifkin [20], Thomas [23], and Junghänel [37]. Suzuki [26] and Gardiner [21] should be checked according to each cantata and the soloists must not be forgotten, because in these renderings they change from one CD to the other. Koopman is out. Leonhardt and Harnoncourt are passé. And all the above said is valid until the next comparison."


BBC survey of BWV 106

David Harbin wrote (November 18, 2001):
BBC Radio 3 is doing a survey of the recordings of BWV 106 next Saturday at 9:30 GMT. You can access this via the internet.

Any predictions on which will be the Library choice? I have the Herreweghe.

Saygilarimla Can Danizci wrote (November 18, 2001):
[To David Harbin] I want to learn which interpretation of general Bach cantatas is more considered like Klemperer's Beethoven symphonies?

Philip Peters wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Can Denizci] Richter's.

Saygilarimla Can Danizci wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Philip Peters] I meant the best Bach cantatas interpretation approved by musical authorities.Is it really Richter's? Not Herreweghe, Leonhardt or Gardiner?Surprising...

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Can Denizci] Who are those musical authorities?
Anyhow, there are at least 24 complete recordings of this cantata to choose from. See the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:
You can also look at the discussions about this cantata in the following page:

Peter Tanzer wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Can Denizci] Well, it's a complicated story, as you might imagine. Bach interpretation is a contentious business, one animated by great passions. Like all rich music, there is no one way to play it, but the Bach situation is particularly interesting: there have been two more or less contending schools since the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt recordings of the cantatas, which are done on "original" instruments. The original instruments have won the day since - any trip to a record store ought to convince you of that, but neither the orginal instrument interpreters nor the "traditional" instrument interpreters form a monolithic group. Far from it.

As to the traditional performers, I would really hesitate to say that Richter is the best: his contemporaries such as Fritz Werner, and perhaps Wolfgang Gönnewein and Helmut Winschermann as well, I believe, get closer to the heart of Bach's music, and those such as Rilling who have continued to use traditional instruments may also be superior. Richter's sound and general conception is "bigger" and more "noble", but is that the way one is to enter the world of Bach? Rilling however, whom I admire and who has taken in the lessons to be learned by the modern Bach interpreters – his conception is very HIP-like, does not always have recourse to satisfying singers, whilst the four I have mentioned above almost invariably have wonderful singers - usually superior not only to Rilling's but to those of the HIP ensembles as well. Furthermore, some of the predecessors to Werner and Gönnewein, such as Fritz Lehmann, Hermann Scherchen and Karl Ristenpart, Scherchen's son-in-law, are even better: unfortunately there do not exist many recordings of cantata works featuring them. Ristenpart in particular was a great Bach conductor. I'll repeat though what I said earlier: as far as singing goes, these recordings are pretty much unmatched, but that is not the only merit of these recordings: these guys were very close to the music and knew what they, and it, were about!

My collection is divided in half between these old masters and the new. Usually, I try to get at least one old style recording and one new of each cantata, but of course it's harder to find the old ones! Of the so-called HIP interpreters, I really do find that Suzuki surpasses the others, in depth of understanding, and I find that his singers don't often disappoint, even if they do not usually rise to the level of the the singers of the 50's and 60's. If you desire, I'll air some impressions I have of the other HIPs, but, if you want - as you should - to hear Bach played at 415 instead of 440 (which, by the way, makes life much easier for the singer!) - then you can't go wrong with Suzuki.

Obviously, my comments are quite inadequate, and are meant to be the reflection of a slow and unfinished process of discovery. There is a lot more to say, but one has to start somewhere!

Philip Peters wrote (November 19, 2001):
Can Denizci wrote:
< I meant the best Bach cantatas interpretation approved by musical authorities.Is it really Richter's?Not Herreweghe, Leonhardt or Gardiner?Surprising... >
I don't know about authorities but talking about Klemperer's Beethoven is talking about the Grand Romantic Style and Richter is closer to that than other conductors. There are only three complete recordings: Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Rilling and Leusink.

H/L is the HIP-pioneering recording, Rilling uses modern instruments but has often thrilling soloists (like Auger), Leusink's is a cycle which was recorded much too fast and, various good moments notwithstanding, is only to be recommended because of its low price.

For separate cantatas many other conductors (Herreweghe prominently among them) do better. There are also earlier non-HIP recordings (Werner, Ehmann and many others) who made wonderful recordings. You can find a lot of them reviewed on Aryeh's fantastic website.

Saygilarimla Can Denizci wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you very much Aryeh for your information.

Saygilarimla Can Denizci wrote (November 19, 2001):
[To Peter Tanzer] Thank you very much for your advices.What about Herreweghe, for example his g minor mess?

Peter Tanzer wrote (November 20, 2001):
[To Can Denizci] You mean the B-minor mass (BWV 232). Hmmm: generally, Herreweghe's Bach is quite good. In particular, his winds are about the best on record, and he understands better than most acoustic space. His Bach "breathes" beautifully, and this is true too of his B-minor mass recording(s). He did, I believe, two of them; I have only the older one which appears on Virgin Veritas, and I have not heard his more recent version. I have listened only two times to the old version: at first listening I was very satisfied, particularly by its tender intimacy and clarity. On re-listening to it recently (and I admit that I was half asleep already), a complaint that a musician once voiced to me about Herreweghe's Bach began to seem relevant: Herreweghe rounds off almost every phrase so delicately and so sweetly that its cumulative effect starts to become truly annoying.

Although I don't know the Mass (nor any recordings of it) well enough to offer you alternatives, and although I do have this far from minor quibble with this one, I still think it is a fine recording - though there must be better!

Richard Grant wrote (November 20, 2001):
[To Can Denizci] Hermann Scherchen for those who know the relatively limited Bach of both conductors is probably the closest to Klemperer, though there is really no exact parallel to be found without knowing exactly what you mean when you say "Klemperer's Beethoven". Do you refer to the compact intensity of Klemperer? Or are you thinking of his lightly romantic approach with particular emphasis on a high degree of technical polish from the players, or do you mean some variation of this or something altogether different?

Richard Grant wrote (November 20, 2001):
[To Can Denizci] "Musical authorities" ithis, as in everything, differ. Different tastes will result in different degrees of appreciation of approaches contrary to or outside a particular taste. And should you find at some point that you have most of the best informed people of a given era agreeing on something you will only have to examine the consensus of a previous or subsequent era to find that agreement very effectively criticized and dismissed.

Dick Wursten wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To David Harbin] Just curious: Which recording of BWV 106 was the Library's choice ? Can I be proud of my fellow-countryman and his Collegium vocale?

Peter Bright wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To Dick Wursten] I believe the favoured recording was Joshua Rifkin's [20], followed by Suzuki [26]. He spent some time discussing the much admired Junghänel recording [37] but found some of the tempos rather fast and uninvolving. The reviewer was clearly a one to a part man. I'm afraid I can't remember whether the Herreweghe was discussed.

Joost wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To Peter Bright] Is it possible that you are mistaken about the Herreweghe BWV 106? I cannot trace it anywhere, I even tried Aryeh's listing on the Bach Cantatas site. Maybe you mean the Leonhardt recording [18], where the male part of the choir is Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale?

Peter Bright wrote (November 29, 2001):
[To Joost] I have never heard the Herreweghe BWV 106 (whether or not it exists) - I was simply replying to David Harbin's earlier email who specified that he owned the Herreweghe and wondered whether it was chosen by the reviewer as a good choice.

David Harbin wrote (December 2, 2001)
Dick Wursten wrote:
< Just curious: Which recording of BWV 106 was the Library's choice ? Can I be proud of my fellow-countryman and his Collegium vocale? >
OOps! There is no recording of Herreweghe conducting BWV 106. The winners were Joshua Rifkin (Decca) [20] and Suzuki (BIS) [26]. From memory, Gardiner's [21] speeds were too fast, Rilling [16] had some truly dire orchestral playing, Junghänel [37] was way too fast in the final movement (exciting but not what the music is about). The reviewer expressed a strong preference for a 1 voice per part approach and felt the earlier Rifkin [20] was the best but it seemed apparant that it could be bettered.


Holiday Wishes / Actus Tragicus

Ersamus Harland wrote (December 23, 2001):
As you'r an obvious expert on Bach- can you enlighten me as to Actus Tragicus - is it a cantata.

Marten Breuer wrote (December 23, 2001):
[To Ersamus Harland] Yes, the so-called Actus Tragicus is thought to be one of Bach's earliest cantatas BWV 106 ('Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit').

Aryeh Oron wrote
[To Ersamus Harland] Cantata BWV 106 has already been discussed in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List (BCML).
A list of its recordings appears in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:
The discussions are compiled in the following page:


Commnetary on Cantata BWV 106<Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit> ---quote from Händel???

Ludwig wrote (January 3, 2002):
First of all allow me to state that there are not enough superlatives to describe this cantata which is one of the most famous of the famous Cantatas. It is perhaps the shortest of all cantatas that Bach wrote and is very concise and to the point with very simple orchestration: 2 gambas, 2 Blockflöte (please English speakers let us end the confusing banality of calling this instrument "recorder"--it records nothing) with Organ and Cello (or Gamba) as continuo in addition to the usual SATB chorus of 16. The classical orchestration is nothing short of a Masterpiece.

The Blockflotes are used very descirptively to represent God in the symbolic form of Doves and throughout the Sonatina we hear sounds that resemble the calls and cooings of Doves.

It was written for apparently for someone's funeral probally around 1707 and I am wondering if anyone knows whose funeral it was first done for.

In the first Alto aria <In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist> the words are sung to a melody which I think I have heard before but unable to trace down--perhaps in Händel's Messiah or would it be in another Bach Cantata. I would like to know if anyone can identify where this melody comes from as it is not unique to this Cantata.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 3, 2001):
Ludwig asked:
< It was written for apparently for someone's funeral probably around 1707 and I am wondering if anyone knows whose funeral it was first done for. >
Read David Schulberg's article in Boyd's "Composer Companions:J.S.Bach." Nothing has been turned up to provide proof for the numerous speculative theories that have been put forth.

< In the first Alto aria <In deine Hände befehl ich meinen Geist> the words are sung to a melody which I think I have heard before but unable to trace down--perhaps in Händel's Messiah or would it be in another Bach Cantata. I would like to know if anyone can identify where this melody comes from as it is not unique to this Cantata. >
Alfred Dürr (1971) recognizes the type of melodic figure in the vocal line as originating in the "Geistliche Konzerte" ["The sacred concerted music"] of the 17th century (I assume that the German terminology that Dürr uses implies a German tradition.) This seems to mean that Dürr also hears something familiar in the type of melody used and that he was unable to track it down specifically. It also means that Händel as well may have derived something from this tradition in Germany before his exposure to and complete absorption of the Italian sacred cantata for solo voice (primarily soprano). Most of his compositions (and there are not many among them that are truly sacred cantatas) in this category are of a secular nature and were composed after the beginning of the 18th century. It appears then that both Bach and Händel looked back to the 17th century for good examples to follow and absorbed these into their compositions.

Ludwig wrote (January 4, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks ---it just seems that although the libretti are different---the tunes are either the same or similar in both Bach and Händel or is it that you are stating that both Bach and Händel borrowed this melody from the source you state.


Actus Tragicus

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 19, 2003):
Is the jpg below the best Actus Tragicus to get? If not, any other recommendations?

thanks so much

Kirk McElhearn wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Definitely!

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] That was fast! Nothing like instant internet! Hopefully a friend of mine (who orders from amazon when I ask) will place the order asap!


BWV 106 - Leonhardt tuning

Jason Marmaras wrote (August 27, 2004):
I was reading Mr. Fogliati's contribution about tuning the Actus Tragicus, BWV 106, found on <>, and wondered how Leonhardt had chosen to tune.

Comparing it first with my long untuned pianoforte and then with my Herreweghe recording of the XO, BWV 248 (in D-Dur but sounding half a tone lower, due to Herreweghe's HIP practice), I concluded that it sounded in [modern] Ees-Dur (or, for A =415 Hz., E-Dur).

Can someone prove deny, or explain, this? I would recommend a look at the above page, for Frank's enlightening <essay>.


Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 106: Details
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