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Cantata BWV 125
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
Discussions - Part 1

Hidden triple concertos

Olivier Raap wrote (December 4, 1999):
Cantata BWV 99 "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" opens with a Coro movement that seems to be an arrangement of a part (allegro?) of such a lost triple concerto: a concerto in G for flute, oboe d'amore, violin, strings and continuo. Maybe some major parts of the original work are not used in the cantata, and the solo violin part is relatively unimportant. Perhaps the work originated as a double concerto for only flute and oboe d'amore. If that would be the matter, a second part (slow tempo) of this concerto could be found in the opening Coro of cantata BWV 125 "Mit Fried' und Freud' ich fahr' dahin". Those cantatas are composed in 1724 and 1725, relatively short after the Köthen years. Maybe a Köthen concerto that is lost is borrowed for composing them. I didn't find any 3rd movement yet.

Another triple concerto, a concerto in D for 2 oboes, bassoon and continuo, can be assembled. For the 1st movement (allegro?) we can use the opening Sinfonia of cantata BWV 42 "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats" For the 2nd slow movement the alto aria "Wo zwei und drei" can be used, but much reconstruction work has to be done. As a final fast movement the opening Sinfonia of the Easter Oratorio is a good choice. The trumpets and timpani, that probably are added later, have to be omitted.


Discussions in the Week of January 24, 2000 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 23, 2000):
Background - Aria for Alto

This is the week of cantata BWV 125, according to Ehud Shiloni's suggestion.

Mvt. 2: Aria for Alto
Ich will auch mit gebrochnen Augen
(I would e’en with my broken vision) Translated by Z. Philip Ambrose (Hänssler)
(In death my glassy eyes are turning) Translated by? (Teldec)
(Even with falling eyes I will look toward thee) translated by Derek Yeld (HM)
Alto, Transverse flute, Oboe d’amore, Continuo

Please pay attention that I put above 3 different translation of the opening words of this Aria from German to English. Each one of the translators chose different approach. I read them all, because I wanted to get to the real meaning of the original text. Personally I like the second one (Teldec). It is much more poetic than the others are and I feel that it reflects rightly the sombre feeling of the original text and the music.

Regarding this slow Aria, I would like to quote from Whittaker’s book, from Ludwig Finscher (linear notes to Teldec Cycle) and from Simon Crouch (of our group) Cantata pages.

Whittaker wrote:
"The Aria is one of the most extraordinary numbers in the whole range of Bach’s writings, all the more astonishing as his treatment of the text added by the unknown librettist to Luther’s paraphrase of the new NUNC DIMITTIS introduces an emotional element scarcely compatible with the peaceful and joyful, albeit solemn, death-bed hymn, and is unlike anything else found in the cantatas for the Purification of the B.V.M., of which this is undoubtedly the latest, c. 1740. During the whole number, over 140 bars of slow tempo, the continuo ceases once only from its repeated quavers, TUTTU LIGATO, on the second appearance of the word ‘Sterben’, where flute and voice are left unsupported for the moment and an awesome rest follows. Bach’s use of long leaning tones, producing dissonances with the foundational harmony, is one of the commonest and most expressive of his harmonic devices. Here he carries it to a degree unexampled elsewhere. The voice has many appogiaturas, but they are few as compared with the obbligato lines, which are crowded to an astonishing extent with…"

Finscher wrote:
"The ensuing Alto Aria combines flute, oboe d’amore and voice, over the continuo to be played ‘TUTTU LIGATO’ in a soaring, almost sentimental trio movement of particular tonal beauty, marked by the constant use of appogiaturas."

Crouch wrote:
"The very long slow Alto Aria that follows this impressive opening is itself equally remarkable. One might think that boredom would set in at around the five minute mark but the Alto soloist is beautifully accompanied by a flute and an oboe d'amore who together maintain the interest and attention throughout with some lovely harmonies and some really scrunchy discords. Excellent."

Personal viewpoint

And something personal:
This movement does not include strings, but they are not missed. The contrary is true. Bach achieves here a rare balance between the flute, the oboe and the voice and all of them have the same weight. I believe that most conductors will not resist the temptation to push the Alto ahead and in that way they might lose the delicate balance with the instruments and miss a major part of the solemn beauty of this cantata. The economy of means reminds me a tendency in the Jazz world to play with less and less instruments. With the right soloists, equipped with good technique, sharp ear, ability to listen to the other players, readiness to play sometimes the lead, sometimes the accompaniment and sometimes in tandem with another player, they achieve in some cases much more convincing results than with many more instruments. Another tool, which was very common in the early days of Jazz, was the ‘break’. This is the moment where the rhythm section suddenly stops playing and one instrument or two are left ‘in the air’ and they have to carry on the flow of the music ahead without support. This ‘tool’ is the equivalent to the moment described above by Whittaker.

Review of the Recordings

See: Cantata BWV 125 – Recordings.

The 3 performances I have listened to (in the order of listening) are – Rilling [1], Harnoncourt [2] and Herreweghe [3]. Each one of the recordings is from a different decade and they are indeed very different from each other. It is also a fine opportunity to check if Herreweghe learned a lesson or two from his predecessors and improved something, as has been claimed by other contributors to this group in another thread.

My conclusions below were written after listening to the full cantata in each performance, and at least one more hearing of the Aria for Alto alone. I recommend everybody in the list not to jump into conclusions after the first hearing. Another benefit gained by this way of comparison is that the beauty of the Aria is exposed gradually with each listening.

[1] Helmuth Rilling with Marga Höffgen (contralto) (1973; Aria for alto: 7:13)
Rilling is the least successful of all 3. His Alto is too prominent and I have to admit that I also do not like her voice. It lacks beauty and what is more important it lacks sensitivity. If woman voice is to be used here, I prefer somebody like Janet Baker or Christa Ludwig. But, as far as I know, none of them has recorded this Aria. Another thing that I do not like in this performance id that it is too rush, and the internal rhythm of the movement is not underlined. The sorrow dimension is almost non-existent.

[2] Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Paul Esswood (counter-tenor) (1982; Aria for alto: 8:41)
The beauty of Harnoncourt instruments is almost irresistible, and they play an equal part to that of the voice. I like Esswood voice. He sounds so natural and comfortable in the Bach idiom. In this Aria he is also very expressive. The continuo players also do their job right. You can almost physically feel the slow and heavy steps of the dying soul, as it should be according to the words of this Aria.

(3) Philippe Herreweghe with Ingeborg Danz (contralto) (1998; Aria for alto: 7:51)
In this Aria Herreweghe is in his natural playing yard. In the first hearing I thought that everything I have wished for in this Aria came to life with Herreweghe performance – the delicate balance, the sensitivity, the tender expression of feeli, and the beauty of voice and instruments. The last notes of this movement, where the two wind instruments play in unison, are breathtaking in their beauty. The Alto - Danz sings nicely, she has a very beautiful and gentle voice with a unique timbre which reminds me a counter-tenor voice. However, for my taste she is not as expressive as Esswood is, but somehow it works. Herreweghe succeeds in making the best out of the potential of this Aria.

In second (and third) hearing I came to conclusion that the Harnoncourt performance [2] of this Aria is the most dramatic and the most convincing. Hearing Herreweghe [3] alone you do not feel that you are missing something. Hearing him after Harnoncourt, and he sounds a little bit pale in comparison. In this Aria if the performance takes the approach of restrain of feelings, as Herreweghe does, some of its potential is not revealed. All in all, Harnoncourt performance [2] is my preferred choice for this Aria. His approach adds another dimension to the beauty of the music and the words.

One factor of development between the 3 performances is quite clear and it is the chosen Alto. Rilling [1] chose classical female Alto. Harnoncourt [2], as a prime representative of the authentic approach, naturally prefer contra-tenor. And Herreweghe (3), in the era of post HIP, preferred a woman with a unique voice, which reminds counter-tenor. There is a general agreement that women are to be preferred in performing of the cantatas, because their ability to be more expressive. Here I find the contra-tenor doing better than his two female competitors.

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

Enjoy and Happy Bach Year,

Marie Jensen wrote (January 26, 2000):
I don't have a big library with several versions of each cantata, or the books you quote, and when you have written, you do this so excellent and so quickly, that there often is nothing more to add. I am not writing this to criticise you in any way because you do a very fine job, but you asked. I want this idea to live, and if you compare with the activities a month ago, much more is written now. I am in fact writing as much as I am able to, but this must not end in being just another duty (that goes for you too). On the other hand we are not many active members, and I have sometimes found it difficult to choose which group to write to, because I am quite sure, that some of the very active persons on the recordings list not are involved here. Basically I agree with you about the Harnoncourt version (2) of the Alto Aria in BWV 125.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (January 27, 2000):
I did some "homework" and reached the exact same conclusions: In the "Battle of the H's", the former [Harnoncourt] (2) wins over the later [Herreweghe] (3). Herreweghe falls into his often found tendency towards the "dreamy" and somewhat mellow interpretation, where Bach's music would be served better with some more drama and excitement [BTW, Herreweghe IS quite capable of delivering exciting and dramatic spectacles - just listen to BWV 62 opening Chorus!].

The "order of discussion" plus your own excellent presentations, Aryeh, is really exciting: I am discovering new "treasures" even in familiar cantatas!

After thoroughly listening to BWV 125, I decided to add more Harnoncourt [and Leonhardt] to my collection. I have only a few of their Teldec series, and up until now I was disinclined to add more, but now I changed my mind.

Don’t worry about the scant responses - we are a small group, but I am sure that with time there will be more on this List!

Jane Newble wrote (January 28, 2000):
After reading Aryeh's review I had to tear myself away from BWV 42, which I have only just discovered, to listen to BWV 125 again.

This was the cantata CD that got me into the cantatas full-time. I got the Herreweghe version (3) in January last year (1999), and listened to it more or less non-stop for several weeks. (Is it possible to wear CDs out?) At the time I did not have time to concentrate on the words. When I listened to it again several times (this time with the words), it still sounds so beautiful, in fact, even more so, now I have heard lots more Bach during the past year.

Aryeh wrote: “Another benefit gained by this way of comparison is that the beauty of the Aria is exposed gradually with each listening.” Although I totally agree about this Aria, it is the Duet (no.4) that means even more to me. There is so much hardly suppressed joy, a declaration of the best news that has ever been heard. When the voices stop, the violin takes over, and continues as if to back up what the voices are singing. Even the continuo is joyful and excited. I don't like some of the translation in the Herreweghe booklet [3]. Instead of 'ineffable', I would prefer ' incomprehensible', or even 'inconceivable'. Although the English words are so much more cumbersome than the beautiful German 'unbegreiflich' is.

From what Aryeh says, I shall have to get the Harnoncourt performance (2) of this!

Jane Newble wrote (January 28, 2000):
After remembering that last year I had taped some L&H cantatas from the radio (not BWV 125), I listened to them again last night, and I have come to the same conclusion. I have none of their CDs at all, so I ought to get at least one of the 4 volumes.

A comment from the (British) Classic CD magazine: "Expect JSB fans to have considerably enlarged CD collections and much thinner wallets come December..."

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 30, 2000):
(4) All the European members of Bach Recordings List and Bach Cantatas List, please take notice. Arte Channel will broadcast this week a Bach programmes with Herreweghe: Today Sunday, January 30, 2000 - 20:00 (Israeli time, about 45 minutes) A live broadcast from Nantes, including cantata BWV 125, which was discussed in the Cantata List couple of days ago.

HRS wrote (January 30, 2000):
(4) (To Aryeh Oron) Thank you for your hint! It was a wonderful performance! Today (time: 19:00) BWV 125. The chorale was little bit too fast... but... Herreweghe is great! (Believe me: I have all sacred works with Rilling....)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 31, 2000):
(4) Yesterday evening, the Arte TV channel broadcast Herreweghe and co. performing this cantata, from the Bach festival in Nantes. While I agree with much of the discussion regarding the recordings of this cantata and in particular this Aria, the live performance blew all that away. It was as close to perfect as possible. The singer was excellent, and the solo musicians were visibly enjoying themselves immensely.

Ryan Michero wrote (February 1, 2000):
Well, I'm late again here, so I'll keep my comments brief. I have the versions by Herreweghe (3) and Harnoncourt (2). While I agree with Aryeh that Esswood's version of the Alto Aria is very fine, probably finer than the Danz version with Herreweghe, I prefer Herreweghe's version overall. Both Harnoncourt and Herreweghe are strong in the opening chorus and the Alto Aria, with Harnoncourt having an edge in the Aria. However, Harnoncourt's bass, Thomas Thomaschke, simply cannot compete with the stupendous Peter Kooy in the bass recitative and the bass/tenor duet, "Ein unbergreiflich Licht erfullt". I like Kurt Equiluz, but his voice doesn't match well with Thomaschke's heavily vibrato-ed bluster. Mark Padmore and Kooy sound wonderful together, as do Herreweghe's violinists. It is a joy to listen to Bach's intertwining melodies in tmovement. Thomaschke--a great Bachian surname, isn't it? It's only two letters away from Thomaskirche! Too bad he's not a great Bachian singer.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 125: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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