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Cantata BWV 132
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn!
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 17, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 17, 2000):
Background

This is the week of cantata BWV 132 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. All the quotations in this review are taken from Alec Robertson's book - 'The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach'.

"This is Bach's only cantata for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. At Leipzig cantatas were sung only on the first Sunday, but in accordance with Luther's dislike of an invariable observance church authorities could, within reason, take their role line, and so this cantata had a place in the Weimar liturgy."

Personal Viewpoint - Place of a cantata on a CD

Guess what are the following numbers: 2 (1), 2 (7), 2 (7), 2 (6), 2 (8), 3 (14), 2 (10), & 2 (6)? I shall save your time. The first number notes the serial number of Cantata BWV 132 on each one of the LP's and CD's listed below, and the number in brackets specifies the track on that LP or CD in which this cantata begins. It means that in each one of the recordings, this cantata was not thought by the editor of the CD as its main cause of attraction. OK, they have their excuses - BWV numbering order (Teldec), order of composition (Koopman, Suzuki), etc. But I do not believe that it is a mere coincidence. Have all the editors ganged up together against BWV 132? Is this cantata inferior to its companions on each one of the CD's? IMHO, the answer is definitely - NO! The first cantatas on the same CD's are: BWV 61, BWV 61, BWV 62, BWV 172, BWV 131, BWV 63, BWV 97, & BWV 36. Cantata BWV 132 has nothing to be ashamed of when compared to the cantatas in this list. On the contrary!

I think that almost every cantata would have blessed to have one of the three marvellous arias included in BWV 132. Each one of the arias is dominated by the presence of a solo instrument, which plays the counterpart to the solo voice. In the first aria it is the oboe with the soprano, in the second - the cello with the bass, and in the third - the violin with the alto. A whole world of combinations, completions and contrasts is opened. Bach is making the outmost of these possibilities and still leaves us under the impression that he still has a lot up his sleeve. And this cantata has all three of them in the same package. On the other hand, at this stage of our long journey along what seems to be infinite world of Bach cantatas, I am already biased. It is difficult for me to think of any cantata as inferior. I know for sure that each cantata has its own internal treasures, waiting to be explored, by investigating, reading the text and about the cantata. And mainly by listening, over and over and over again, in as many recordings of it as I have the possibility of hearing. It is never tiresome, never boring, never loathed. Let us see how this cantata is performed by all the heavy-weight contenders, as well as by one of the new forces in the arena of Bach Cantatas performers.

List of Complete Recordings

AFAIK, BWV 132 has been recorded only in complete form. Although all the three arias of this cantata are splendid and have some unique characteristics, as shall be described below, I am not aware of any recordings of individual movements from it. See: Cantata BWV 132 - Recordings.

(1) Helmut Kahlhöfer (Mid 1960's ?)
I do not have this recording. I remember Kählhofer favourably from recordings of previous cantatas in our weekly discussions. I found a short review of this recording in the first 'Penguin Stereo Record Guide' (1975): "Both these cantatas (the other is BWV 61, which was discussed in our group two weeks ago) are worth acquiring and neither is otherwise available separately. True the performances are not especially distinguished, but both are eminently serviceable and the recording, though not outstanding, is fully acceptable and musically balanced."

[3] Karl Richter (1972)
[4] Helmuth Rilling (1976+1977)
[5] Gustav Leonhardt (1983)
[6] Ton Koopman (1995)
[7] Massaki Suzuki (1997)
[8] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
[9] Kevin Mallon & Aradia Ensemble (2000)

Review of the recordings of the three solo arias

Mvt. 1 Aria for Soprano
'Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn!' ('Prepare the way, prepare the course')
Accompaniment: Oboe, Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Continuo
"In answer to the question put by the Jews 'Who art thou?' John the Baptist replied by quoting the prophet Isaiah (15: 3) - 'I am the voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord', and went on to prophesy the coming of the Messiah.

The instrumental introduction to the aria reflects, in its lovely dance-like melody and in its rising and falling scale passages, the joyful event that is to be. The soprano is given a long run on 'Bahn' (the course') of seven and a half bars. One of the most satisfying features of Bach's writing is a perfect balance between musical and spiritual logic and so at the repeat of the opening words the same vocal pattern returns, but this time with the florid passages taken up higher. After the ritornello - which repeats the instrumental introduction in full - the text of the middle section is 'Prepare the ways and make the paths in faith and love to the Highest quite smooth'. The outstanding feature of this section is the highlighting of the words 'Messiah approaches' which are sung three times, each time unaccompanied".

Edith Mathis (with Richter) [3] moves smoothly, elegantly and virtuously along the long and complicated lines. The accompaniment is serious and convincing but a little bit heavy and not lively and spirited enough. And although the playing of the oboist Manfred Clements is impressive, the perfect 'balance between musical and spiritual logic' described by Robertson is not achieved here. A rich and bubbling instrumental opening precedes the entry of Arleen Augér in Rilling's recording [4]. Ingo Goritzki plays the oboe with overt enjoyment. Purists might say that his playing has too much vibrato, but he is co convincing that I have nothing but praises, because I prefer it overflowing rather than dry. Augér is better than Mathis in every parameter, but this is no news to those who are already familiar with her gorgeous singing. And, of course, Augér singing and Goritzki playing blend beautifully together. The boy soprano in Leonhardt's rendering [5] has a short breath and he is compelled to break the long lines. But what he is doing between those breaks is indeed exiting. Very rarely we hear a boy singing with such level of expression. It is so different from the female sopranos, yet it opens new horizons of possibilities and the whole aria is getting a new meaning. The playing of the oboe in this rendering is less prominent and more a part of the whole instrumental texture. The playing of the oboe player in Koopman's recording [6] immediately captivated me and then I realized that Marcel Ponseele plays it. I shall say no more, except to note that the singing of Barbara Schlick is not on the same level. This rendering is played relatively fast, but it still manage to bring out all the jollity and charm. I wish Koopman had a more expressive singer for this aria. The technique of Ingrid Schmithüsen (with Suzuki) [7] is impressive, however I do not like her timbre of voice in this aria, especially in comparison to of the other soprano singers. The playing of the oboe is satisfactory, if not exceptional. Ruth Holton (with Leusink) [8] has the needed technique, the expressive abilities and the understanding of the textual content to do the best in the aria for soprano. The accompaniment is full of charm and pleasant pungency. The playing of the instruments in Mallon's recording [9] is not on the same level as in Leusink's and Teri Dunn is definitely not (yet?) Holton.

Mvt. 3 Aria for Bass
'Wer bist du?' ('Who art thou?')
Accompaniment: Violoncello, Continuo
"In this aria the question 'Who art thou?' is not the one addressed to John the Baptist by the Jews, as before, but to the Christian conscience, and so was intended to come home to the listening congregation. The austere music has an obsessive motif on the cello which is rarely absent throughout. Self-judgement comes in the second half of the grim aria '(Thou art) a child in Satan's net, a false, hypocritical Christian!' The word ' hypocritical is set to the long and tortuous phrase and the soul struggling in Satan's net is graphically represented by downward leaps."

Theo Adam's (with Richter) [3] voice has that serious quality, which makes you looking into yourself and answer him without any attempt to evade. The organ continuo is playing too loud and covers the cello. Consequently, the delicate balance between the singer and the cello is getting lost. Schöne's (with Rilling) [4] expressive range is narrower than that of Adam. The playing of the organ is humble so that he cello can be clearly heard. But it is not strong enough to be a counterpart to the bass singer. This rendering of the aria does not rise to the level suggested by the music. Max van Egmond (with Leonhardt) [5] is reliable as ever, but the main cause of attraction in the aria for bass in this rendering is the playing of the cello (by Anner Bylsma?) - full of tenderness, sensitivity and nobility. The organ continuo is light and gentle and leaves the podium open for the bass singer and the cello player to express themselves, as it should be. Koopman's approach [6] to the aria for bass is surprisingly similar to that of Leonhardt. However he has a better bass singer to his disposal (Mertens) and the cello player (Jaap ter Linden) is on the same par with Bylsma. Where Mertens is convincing you to open your heart, Kooy (with Suzuki) [7] is commanding you to do it. Both approaches are valid in this aria, but I prefer Mertens. What I wrote about the oboe player in the aria for soprano in Suzuki's recording, is applicable for the cello player in the aria for bass in this recording as well. Ramselaar (with Leusink) [8] approach to this aria is very similar to that of Suzuki. The cello player in this recording is doing also fine and his strong bow strokes are reflecting what Ramselaar is singing. Thomas Goerz (with Mallon) [9] is the weakest of the bass singers of this aria, especially regarding his expression.

Mvt. 5 Aria for Alto
'Christi Glieder, ach bedenket, was der Heiland euch geschenket durch der Taufe reines Bad' ('Members of Christ, ah, consider, what the Saviour gave you through baptism's pure bath')
Accompaniment: Violin solo, Continuo
"The wide ranging arabesques for the solo violin, rising up the scale and gradually and gently falling to a cadence before the voice comes in, represent, symbolically, the cleansing waters of baptism, the gift of 'the new robes of crimson and white silk'."

The playing of the solo violin (Otto Büchner), which opens this aria, is arresting in Richter's recording [3]. However, Reynolds' singing is far from being satisfactory. Her voice has a kind of instability, which disturbs. Every time the violin returns, we are back on track, but then the alto singer returns and we get disappointed again. Helen Watts (with Rilling) [4] has a strong and expressive voice and slight vibrato and so is the violin, which is played here by Walter Forchert. The feeling is of two equal complementary forces that are making their outmost to make this aria moving. The technique of the violin player in Leonhardt's recording [5] (is it Marie Leonhardt or Lucy van Dael?) is not satisfactory and it annoys from listening to the compelling unique voice of René Jacobs. The delicate and tender voice of Wessel (with Koopman) [6] is blending splendidly with the addictive violin playing of Margaret Faultless. The performance of the aria for alto (Yoshikazu Mera) in Suzuki's recording [7] is not very distinguished in comparison to Koopman's. Hearing Buwalda (with Leusink) [8] after counter-tenor singers like Jacobs or Wessel, put him in very bad position. His capabilities, and especially his unstable voice, are simply not up to the task. The nice surprise is waiting for us almost at the end. Hearing the young and unfamiliar (to me) Matthew White (with Mallon) [9] is a pleasure - good and clean technique, attractive voice, and sensitive expression. In the preceding recitative he is so sensitive and touching, that he caused me to forget all the other singers of this recitative (both contraltos and contra-tenors). I hope to hear more from him in the future in the demanding field of Bach Cantatas. The violin player is also doing his best, but I was not impressed by him as I was by Matthew White. Welcome aboard!

Conclusion

I recommend everyone listening to this box of jewels cantata and judge for yourselves which is the recordings you like the most. Every recording has its pros and cons, and every one of them can be a source for pleasure (Yes, even Mallon [9]). But if I had to choose only one, it would be Koopman [6]. And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Andrew Oliver wrote (December 22, 2000):
'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." ' So reads Matthew 3:3, quoting from Isaiah 40:3. Unsurprisingly, Bach sees this as a cause and reason for joy and rejoicing, hence the delightful skipping, lilting first aria. I have only Leonhardt's recording of this cantata (from Teldec) [5], and I agree completely with Aryeh's comments about the boy soprano, Sebastian Hennig. It is true that, as he runs out of breath in the long melismata, he tends to hurry before being forced to break the syllable, but his intonation and expression is nevertheless very good and shows a maturity of musical and dramatic understanding which is quite unusual. This recording was made in 1983. I wonder if he continued to sing after his voice broke. Another point about this aria which I like is the partnership between voice and oboe, neither overshadowing the other.

The interesting recitative which follows provides Bach with opportunities for word-painting. Note the words Höhen, Wälz and schweren.

The bass aria (Mvt. 3) interests me mainly for the unusual obbligato cello part. I find the organ continuo appealing, all the more because it is gentle and unobtrusive.

The second recitative and the aria following are sung by the countertenor René Jacobs. Both numbers are performed with expressive declamation and interpretation, as would be expected from a singer of this calibre. In the aria, particularly, Jacobs reminds me of Alfred Deller, both in type of voice and in his use of phrasing and dynamics. Underlying all this there is, of course, a superbly composed musical score. Are we becoming so acto Bach's genius that we take it for granted? As always, I find it is of much benefit to listen to the cantata several times if possible, because only then do we begin to realize a little of what Bach has put into each composition. Each hearing teaches us something new, if we are able to concentrate on it. Bach is never superficial.

An example of this is the closing chorale. The melody is simple, yet Bach takes as much care over its harmonization as he does with any other number is this cantata.

I did not know this cantata before this week. How many more gems are waiting to be discovered in Bach's store of treasures?

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 23, 2000):
This review of Cantata BWV 132 was sent twice to the 'old' Bach Cantatas Mailing List at the begining of last week. Due the problems in ListBot last week and the change of the Server, I believe that many of the members had not had the chance to see it. Now, when about half of the members (61 of 120+) have already re-joined the 'new' list, it is time to send the review to the 'new' list. I hope to see some feedback to this review and recommend everybody to listen to this cantata, because it contains many treasures, among which could be found three marvellous arias!

Jonan van Veen wrote (December 23, 2000):
[5] (Gustav Leonhardt) The instrumentalists are Lucy van Dael (violin in 5), Bruce Haynes (oboe), Wouter Möller (2, 3, 5, 6) and Rainer Zipperling (1, 4) (cello), Bob van Asperen (1, 4) and Gustav Leonhardt (2, 3, 5, 6) (organ).

Maybe it would be a good idea to compile a list of the players in these recordings. I have the details of a number of cantatas, others perhaps have the information regarding other cantatas. If we put them together, we could make a - hopefully complete - list, which would be useful for the discussion of the recordings.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (December 23, 2000):
How pleased I am with your "reviews". Can you tell me and the group why it is that in my list also (BWV 147a) is also stated for the 4th Sunday of Advent.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 23, 2000):
[To Pieter Pannevis] Thanks for your kind words.

Cantata (BWV 147a) was indeed composed for the 4th Sunday in Advent. According to Grove, it was composed in 1716, but probably not performed in this version. Both the music and the text were lost. However, the music for the famous Cantata BWV 147 - "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" was adapted from (BWV 147a).

Pieter Pannevis wrote (December 23, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) Once in a while I surf the net for Bach.!!
In my booklet from Bach sorted Thematically it states that besides BWV 132 it's also 147 a. which I find to my daily life a wonderful cantata.

May the blessing of the Lord in this wonderful season upon us all! Pax et Bonum!

PS I have the version- besides the Dutch enterprise of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien.
PPS May this a good season for you all and those who in your heart! God bless!

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 23, 2000):
(To Pieter Pannevis) The cantata you enjoy listening to is most probably BWV 147 and not (BWV 147a). It is impossible to listen to BWV 147a, because its text and music have never been found (see my previous message). BWV 147 is indeed a wonderful cantata and one of the most famous. But there are many more cantatas to explore and enjoy from, most of them are not very well known. Among them is the cantata of this week - BWV 132.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (December 25, 2000):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Guess what are the following numbers: 2 (1), 2 (7), 2 (7), 2 (6), 2 (8), 3 (14), 2 (10), & 2 (6)? I shall save your time. The first number notes the serial number of Cantata BWV 132 on each one of the LP's and CD's listed below, and the number in brackets specifies the track on that LP or CD in which this cantata begins. It means that in each one of the recordings, this cantata was not thought by the editor of the CD as its main cause of attraction. OK, they have their excuses - BWV numbering order (Teldec), order of composition (Koopman, Suzuki), etc. But I do not believe that it is a mere coincidence. Have all the editors ganged up together against BWV 132? >
A couple of brief comments. At least listening to BWV 132 gave me a chance to listen again to the extraordinay BWV 131...

< The technique of the violin player in Leonhardt's recording (is it Marie Leonhardt or Lucy van Dael?) is not satisfactory and it annoys from listening to the compelling unique voice of René Jacobs. >
I have to disagree. This is the only version I own, and I feel that the violin playing here is excellent.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 132: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: 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

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