Cantata BWV 113Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of August 11, 2002
Aryeh Oron wrote (August 11, 2002):
BWV 113 - Introduction
The subject of this week’s discussion (August 11, 2002), according to Klaus Langrock’s suggested list (the first one in his list), is the Chorale Cantata BWV 113 ‘Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut’ (Lord Jesus Christ, you highest good) for the 11th Sunday after Trinity. It is arranged on Bartholomäus Ringwaldt’s hymn by an unknown librettist, who left stanzas 1, 2, 4 & 8 in their original form and paraphrased the remainder. The Gospel for the day, Luke 18: 9-14 – the parable of the Pharisee and the publican – is mentioned only in the tenor recitative. The 10th verse of the Epistle, 1 Corinthians 15: 1-10 – God’s redeeming grace – suggested the main theme of penitence. The intense, personal emotion of this subject inspired Bach to compose a masterpiece in this cantata.
The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 113 - Recordings
4 complete recordings of this cantata come from cantata cycles: either complete ones (Rilling , Leonhardt , and Leusink ), or still on its way (Koopman ). The fifth, by Gardiner , also belongs to a complete recorded cycle. Alas, no one knows when (or even if) this cycle will be available to the public. From Gardiner we are given the opportunity of not only of hearing but also of seeing, since this cantata appears on the only DVD which has been issued so far from the famous Bach Cantata Pilgrimage . A review of this DVD (by Kirk McElhearn) can be found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Gardiner-DVD.htm
Texts & Translations
Original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website): http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/113.html
English translation by Francis Browne: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV113-Eng3.htm
Another English translation by Z. Philip Ambrose: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/BWV113.html
Hebrew translation by me: Will come later.
Vocal & Piano: http://www.bh2000.net/score/sacrbach/bwv113.pdf
Commentary in English by Simon Crouch: http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/bachjs/cantatas/113.html
Commentary in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes: http://homepage.mac.com/cantatasdebach/113.html
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.
Aryeh Oron wrote (August 17, 2002):
BWV 113 - Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut
The background below is taken from the following sources:
Alec Robertson: ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972),
W. Murray Young: ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1989), and
Nicholas Anderson: Liner notes to the DVD ‘Bach Cantatas’ conducted by J.E. Gardiner (2001)’ ;
The English translation is by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.
Only the paragraphs related to the first three movements are quoted, because these are the movements I chose to review this time.
See: Cantata BWV 113 - Commentary
During last week I have been listening to 5 complete recordings of this cantata.
 Rilling (1973 + 1981)
The opening ritornello sets the sombre mood to the entry of the choir. One may certainly think of water welling from a spring, or depicting waves of comfort on a tortured conscience. I hear despair with no real comfort. The instrumental introduction to the ensuing chorale continues the melancholic mood. Rilling gives the alto part to a small group from the alto section of his splendid choir. It forms a sense of continuity between the first two movements, which is very much to my liking. Tüller is a wonderful bass singer, with rich voice, taste and sensitivity. He reveals every corner in the aria for bass. Listen, for example, to the individual and unique attention that he gives to each of the following words: ‘Zittern’ (trembling), ‘Furcht’ (fear) and ‘Pein’ (pain), or to the delicate treatment with which he sings the word ‘bräche’ (break).
 Leonhardt (1981)
The sections of Leonhardt’s opening chorus are separated, not only by the instrumental ritornellos, but also by short pauses, which spoil the continuity. The instrumental playing is not clean from insecurities, and the choral singing is somewhat lacking in expression. The choral for alto is given in this rendition to René Jacobs (where the duet for soprano and alto is given to two boys). Jacobs’ timbre of voice reflects an internal pain, which suit this chorale perfectly. The delicate playing of the strings supplies beautiful bedding to the singing. Rarely can you hear such a moving praying. Max van Egmond is reliable, as always. However, his expression is somewhat limited and not as interesting as Tüller’s is.
 Leusink (1999)
There is certain poignancy in the instrumental ritornellos, which distinguishes Leusink’s rendition of the opening chorus. The singing of the choir sounds to me fresh and sincere, although they do not reach the depths that Rilling’s choir does. The playing of the strings in the chorale for alto is too light and jolly to my taste. Buwalda copes with the technical demands of the chorale quite well, and the simplicity of his expression, makes this movement one of the best I have heard from him. This is not the first time in the weekly cantata reviews, that I find Ramselaar’s singing more expressive and convincing than Egmond’s.
 Koopman (1999)
Koopman takes the best parts of his predecessors and delivers a charming and moving rendition of the opening chorus. The instrumental playing is better than either Rilling or Leusink, the singing of the choir is more cohesive and smooth than all three, and the expression is simply heart-rending. The sad mood continues into the chorale for alto, where Koopman adopts Rilling’s decision to use the alto section of the choir. In this sense he even outdoes Rilling, where his delicate approach goes better with the character of the movement. With slower tempo it would have been even improved. Mertens is a pleasure to hear, and he his rendition is the best of the four light basses (actually baritones) that sing this aria.
 Gardiner (2000)
I heard the CD version. I have the DVD, but, alas, not a DVD player yet!
Gardiner’s opening chorus is impressive, both in the playing of the orchestra and the singing of the choir. However, he does not touch the heart as Rilling or Koopman do. William Towers is a nice surprise in the chorale for alto. He holds the long lines with assurance and sensitivity. The accompaniment here is jolly (as with Leusink). It seems that they try to uplift the spirit of the prayer. Stephan Loges has soft baritone voice, which is pleasant to hear, although his expression lacks some variety and depth. I do not hear him adding a personal dimension to the aria for bass. I understand that he is relatively young, and I hope for him that deeper expression will come with age.
Chorus (Mvt. 1): Koopman , Rilling , Gardiner , Leusink , Leonhardt 
Chorale for Alto (Mvt. 2):
Choir: Choir/Koopman , Choir/Rilling 
Counter-tenors: Jacobs/Leonhardt , Towers/Gardiner , Buwalda/Leusink 
Aria for Bass (Mvt. 3): Tüller/Rilling , Mertens/Koopman , Ramselaar/Leusink , Egmond/Leonhardt  = Loges/Gardiner 
A movement to take away: The Chorale for Alto (Mvt. 2) with Jacobs (Leonhardt) !
As always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Nancy & Thom Johnson wrote (August 18, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] Bravo, Aryeh... So well expressed. I'm enriched by these insights, and glad to see the group's up and running this weekend. A peaceful rest this Shabbat to you & yours.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 18, 2002):
BWV 113 - Provenance:
See: Cantata BWV 113 - Provenance
Commentary: [Most of my sources had little or nothing to say about this cantata]
See: Cantata BWV 113 - Commentary
The recordings that I listened to this week were Rilling (1973, 1987 ; Leonhardt (1981) ; Leusink (1999); Koopman (1999) 
Mvt. 1 Chorale:
As the only non-HIP recording in this group, the orchestra is tuned ½ step higher (standard pitch) than the HIP versions. The instruments, although many of them, the strings in particular, can be pre 1800, have been modernized to give them more volume, hence greater range of expression, and are generally played with more vibrato. This is very apparent here in the sound of the oboi d’amore. Overlooking factors such as these which are inherent in a non-HIP presentation and even affect the choir sound created by trained vocalists with vibratos, this version is nevertheless superior in its ability to convey the message of the cantata text with great conviction. Sorely missing in all the HIP versions is the ability to create a complete musical line with an arch that carries the listener from the beginning to the end of each line of the chorale text. The feeling created here is that of a fervent prayer.
Here there are many heavy accents in the rather loud bc which plods along crudely adding to the strong accents heard elsewhere. The prevalent separation of the notes in each measure into many 2-note phrases followed by a single unaccented note is typical of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt style of dissection into tiny fragments so that the overview of the entire phrase containing these elements, a phrase that is a single line of text in the chorale, is lost.
Although not quite as detached and fragmented as Leonhardt’s treatment of this mvt., Leusink places the accents (a heavy 1st beat followed by two light ones) so that the mvt. begins to sound like a waltz. There is the usual insecurity in the choir in attacking notes precisely with the correct intonation as well as sudden variations in volume. On the high notes the sopranos create a warbling effect due to their insecurity in this regard. Certain voices stand out at times when they should not.
At a slower tempo (Koopman comes in at 4:11 here compared to 3:40, 3:42, 3:59 in the other versions,) Koopman creates a smooth, legato effect very unlike the other HIP versions. He has a very smooth sounding pair of oboi d’amore. Everything, including the choir, is kept very soft-keyed here (another Herreweghe imitation by Koopman.) The basses are decidedly weak – when you do hear them, it is mainly due to the support given them by the bc. The general impression here is one of a slumber song. This interpretation contradicts, however, the text of the cantata. If you want a version for easy listening, cantata mvts. as light background music without any deep soul-searching involved, then this is the recording for you.
Mvt. 8 Chorale:
Yes, there are disturbing vibratos not only in the voices, but in the instruments as well (particularly flute and oboes.) Listen for the wobbly note the tenors sing on the final chord. This is supposed to be a Picardy 3rd [Tierce de Picardie – “the raised third degree of the tonic chord when it is used for the ending of a mvt. or composition in a minor mode, in order to give the ending a greater sense of ‘finality.’] Unfortunately, this sense of finality is undermined by this type of singing. Nevertheless, this is still the best version of the chorale in this set of recordings. Go figure! Rilling must be doing something else right. Perhaps by listening to the other HIP versions of this chorale, it will become clear by negative example, just how poorly a choir can sing such a final chorale.
Here there is nothing but chop, chop, chop until the once solid block of wood that was Bach’s original 4-pt. chorale lies strewn in many pieces on the floor of the Leonhardt workshop. The Picardy 3rd is barely audible at the very end, hence there can be no sense of finality here. As is often the case in this series, the final chorale does not end with an uplifting ‘bang’ but rather with a ‘whimper.’
Some individual voices stand out as if they are singing the part all alone (perhaps the other voices have temporarily deserted the part or are trying to find their places in the music?) There is the usual uncertainty at times. The final syllables are deemphasized as if they were unimportant.
This version flows more easily than the other two HIP attempts at this chorale. The main factor missing here is true conviction. There is no strength in the bass voice, which, at times, is almost not singing at all. The bc is much louder than the bass voice. The tenors, except when they are in their high range also tend to disappear. This seems to be the ‘powder-puff’ version of this chorale, one intended not to speak too directly to the listener. The only word to receive separate emphasis is “Freudengeist” [“the spirit of joy”], but what about the joy that should be expressed in the final line, “zu deinen Auserwählten” [“the joy of being included among Christ’s chosen ones”]? The final exclamation mark is disregarded entirely! This is, as a result, a very lackluster performance without the glaring deficiencies of the Leusink and Leonhardt recordings.
Mvt. 2 Alto
Rilling has all the altos in the choir sing this chorale melody.
There are nonsensical breaks in the middle of a phrase or single line of the chorale (in ms. 15, for instance, after the word “mein” where no break is indicated by a comma, etc.) Does Jacobs not have sufficient breath to sing the phrase as a unit, a phrase which is a simple line from a chorale that most churchgoers have sung as a complete phrase without such a break for centuries? Probably this is the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt interpretation of a chorale, an interpretation that abhors unity and completeness in favor of segmentation even when it makes no sense to crethese breaks in the middle of such a phrase. But why not do this? This is innovation that appears under the guise of being more genuinely true to Bach’s spirit of music making. Who knows? People may come to accept this as a valid tradition!
This version is faster than the foregoing ones. Buwalda copies the same breaks that Jacobs used and throws in a few more for good measure. This version sounds rushed.
Koopman’s version is also relatively fast. It is sung by 2 or 3 alto voices (male) in unison. This time there are no breaks and the musical lines flow smoothly.
Mvt. 3 Bass aria
With a bassoon and double bass creating a very heavy bc, most half voices would be overwhelmed, but this is not the case with Tüller who has a full voice. Unfortunately, he has almost too much vibrato, a factor that detracts from this otherwise very good performance.
This version is faster than the preceding one. Leonhardt has the orchestra play too many detached notes (most 1/8 notes are treated staccato.) Egmond’s fuzzy half voice with a very fast vibrato that leads to pitch uncertainty at times is unable to truly project the message properly with good expression.
Leusink has slightly less staccato treatment than Leonhardt, but otherwise copies Leonhardt’s style directly. With Ramselaar, at least, the notes are more clearly heard, but the expressive power of the voice is lacking.
Mertens is unable to do much with expression because Koopman is on one of his many tempo rampages. With the notes flying by so quickly, Mertens, as a half voice, is forced to sing even more sotto voce than he normally does. Maybe he enjoys doing this because he does not have to exert himself as much. How is it possible to get much expression into his voice under these circumstances? The oboi d’amore are very muted here and everything is performed with an extremely light touch. As a result this aria becomes a trifle and not a substantial part of a church cantata. This is a ‘lite’dance-like version that lacks even the depth to express joy meaningfully. The serious parts of this aria are treated the same way as everything else. Where is the “Zittern, Furcht, und Pein” [“the trembling, fear, and pain”] if everything in this mvt. is treated the same way?
Mvt. 4 Bass Recitative:
Tüller’s approach is too operatic for a recitative such as this.
With Egmond, everything is essentially the same as Tüller but at half the volume (sotto voce.) Such a half voice as Egmond’s would not be able to project the message of the text to an audience/congregation in a large church.
Ramselaar has less vibrato than the other basses mentioned above, but he remains very much a half voice without much in the way of expression.
Koopman has made a good division between the chorale sections, sung by 2 or 3 basses, and Mertens who sings the free recitative sections that occur between the chorale sections.
Mvt. 5 & Mvt. 6 Tenor aria and recitative:
Kraus has very good expression with a bright and cheerful quality throughout. His coloraturas are excellent. Peter-Lukas Graf enhances this mvt. with a superb performance on a modern flute. In the recitative Kraus, as usual, becomes substandard in quality.
Both the aria and recitative are excellent in these performances by Equiluz. The wooden transverse flute is coupled only with a cello to preserve the balance between these instruments. I can not believe than this is Frans Brüggen playing here; it must be one of the other ‘lesser lights’ listed in the program booklet, because this playing is rather uninspired using a strange blowing technique that causes occasional intonation problems.
Kate Clark does quite well on the transverse flute, but Schoch, with his rather dead, nasal quality in his voice comes as a real ‘shock’ after hearing the above voices.
Prégardien is very good in his recitative, but Koopman makes things rather difficult for him with an extremely fast tempo that causes Wilbert Hazelzet to produce a tour de force performance on the transverse flute, because he has to try to squeeze all the notes in. The bad aspect of this is that it forces the instrumentalist as well as the vocalist to treat everything with a very light touch (and hence everything becomes less meaningful.) In the midst of all of this the words become very secondary, if they have any importance here at all.
Mvt. 7 Duetto
With the exception of the heavy, thick bc and the occasional overuse of vibratos on the part of both singers, Augér and Schreckenbach, this version with full voices does not run into the problems encountered in the other versions.
As admirable the effort by both boys, Hennig and Bratschke, is, there are obvious intonation and breathing problems with momentary insecurities that detract from this performance.
Buwalda has an insecure start, but then he blends well with Holton when she enters. The long coloraturas, sung sotto voce, sound more like exercises that are sung like exercises with disinterest and no connection with the words.
With Rubens and Markert we have two vocalists with too much vibrato trying to sing at an extremely fast tempo. The result is very unsatisfactory. Here Koopman is doing what he does worst: extremely fast tempi, bad vocalists, and a lite (meaningless as far as the text goes) treatment. In this instance there are not even any good qualities that can redeem this performance from being a complete failure.
Preferences in order:
Mvt. 1 & 8 Rilling , Koopman , Leonhardt , Leusink 
Mvt. 2 Rilling , Koopman , Leonhardt , Leusink 
Mvt. 3 & Mvt. 4 Rilling , Koopman , Leusink , Leonhardt 
Mvt. 5 & Mvt. 6 Rilling , Leonhardt , Koopman , Leusink 
Mvt. 7 Rilling , Leonhardt , Leusink , Koopman 
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 113: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3