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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

Cantata BWV 134
Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß
Cantata BWV 134a
Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of March 17, 2002

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 16, 2002):
Introduction

The subject of next week's discussion (March 17, 2002), is the sacred Cantata for the 3rd Day of Easter (Easter Tuesday) ‘Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß' (A heart that knows its Jesus living). In its original form, this was a secular Cantata BWV 134a ‘Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht’ (Time, that creates days and years), a congratulatory ode on New Year’s Day (Serenata) 1719 to honour the birthday of Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Only last week we celebrated the same event of the same of persona with Cantata BWV 66, which was based on Cantata BWV 66a, composed by Bach to celebrate the Prince’s birthday in the previous year (1718).

The secular homage cantata BWV 134a was for two voices: a tenor in the role of ‘Zeit’ (time) and an alto representing ‘Göttlische Vorsehung’ (divine providence), both of which Bach retained for the sacred adaptation. Both libretti are supposed to have been written by Bach. The Gospel, Luke 24: 36-47, relating how the rising Jesus appeared to the Twelve, occurs only briefly in the last two lines of the duet. Still, Bach must have worked hard at this adaptation, since three versions of the libretto are known to exist.

This is the third one in Riccardo Nughes' proposed list of cantatas for discussion. In order to allow the members of the BCML preparing themselves for the discussion, I compiled a list of the recordings of both of these cantatas. I put the details of the recordings in the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website:
Cantata BWV 134: Cantata BWV 134 - Recordings
Cantata BWV 134a: Cantata BWV 134a - Recordings

In the same page you can also find links to translations of the German text - to English (English-3), made by Francis Browne, and to Hebrew, by me. I hope that the English and Hebrew readers of the BCML will find the translations useful. I also wish to see other members of the BCML contributing translations to their languages (French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, etc.).

The recordings of Cantata BWV 134 are divided to two groups:
Traditional: Winschermann, Rilling, Rotzsch
HIP: Leonhardt, Koopman, Leusink

Cantata BWV 134a has only three recordings: Unger [1], Koopman [2], Rilling [3]

With so many recordings of this cantata (in its two versions) to choose from, I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 23, 2002):
Background

The background below is taken completely from W. Murray Young’s book ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’. The English translations are by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.

See: Cantatas BWV 134 & BWV 134a - Commentary

Review of the Recordings of Cantata BWV 134

The Traditional Renditions

[1] Winchermann (1971)
As was noted lately in some discussions in the BRML & the BCML, one of the most important features of a good cantata recording is the ability to hear clearly every line, either vocal or instrumental. With Winschermann one gets everything he (or she) could have wished for – clarity of lines, singing and playing of the highest order, full expressiveness from all the participants, cohesive playing and singing of the orchestra and choir, and mutual attentiveness. Above all it is light, flowing, lively, and bubbling with enjoyment. One has only to hear the singing of the tenor Equiluz to realise the special qualities of Winschermann’s approach. With Leonhardt and/or Harnoncourt Equiluz sounds sometimes too restrained, as if he is limited by the conductor to follow a certain route, which does not allow him to bring out his whole expressiveness. With Winschermann Equiluz is freer and his sheer enjoyment can be clearly heard. For Julia Hamari I have nothing but praises. Her dark alto voice is in wonderful match with Equiluz’. The oboes and strings keep constantly and repeatedly the felicity-motif along the whole aria for tenor (Mvt. 2), and Equiluz accedes to them with pleasure. The excellent choir of Kantorei Barmen-Gemarke (directed by Helmut Kahlhöfer, a fine Bach conductor by himself) set makes the concluding chorus the pick of a marvellous rendition, and sets a standard, which very few contemporary choirs can match, both musically and technically.

[2] Rilling (1977)
Rilling’s rendition has more vigour and stronger colours than Winschermann’s, but it is less convincing. Adalbert Kraus has beautiful voice, but he tends to over-expression. It is not inappropriate with the text. His interpretation is certainly valid. Listen, for example, to the aria for tenor (Mvt. 2) and you can hear that his singing corresponds with the text. But Bach’s material is so strong, that over-expression is not necessary. Helen Watts’ voice is not as beautiful and as stable as it used to be. Nevertheless, her intelligence compensates for the loss of the beauty. The chemistry between the two singers is not as captivating as that of Winschermann’s couple. The choir singing is sweeping but less solid and coherent than Kalhöfer’s. When comparing these two renditions one might think that with Rilling the performers just came to pass one more working day, where with Winschermann’s the participants were really inspired.

[4] Rotzsch (1984)
The main asset of this rendition is Schreier, who can always be relied upon. Rotzsch prefers organ in the continuo rather than Rilling’s harpsichord. Furthermore, this rendition is the slowest of them more. Nevertheless, it never sounds tired. With the slow tempo it is of course easier to follow, and to hear every detail. With the tasteful singing of Schreier and the delightful playing of the accompaniment, the aria for tenor becomes a delicious treat – the songs are indeed sweet and the believers can feel the blessing of the Saviour. Schreier holds easily the listener’s attention in the recitatives, much better than Kraus does with Rilling. The contralto Ortrun Wenkel is inspired by Schreier and in the recitative for tenor and alto (Mvt. 3) she is loving and confident that nobody will harm her Saviour. The voices of the two singers are blending beautifully together in the ensuing aria (duet) in their praises for the comforting Saviour. The choir has also a good day with clean singing from all the sections and good balance, and I believe that Bach would be pleased with the successor to his Collegium Musicum.

Personal preferences: Winschermann [1], Rotzsch [4], Rilling [2]

The HIP (or PP) Renditions

[3] Leonhardt (1983)
The tenor Marius van Altena has a very nice voice, his singing is flowing and goes along with the music, and his expression is subdued. I like it that way because it is so different from the three previous tenors. René Jacobs has a very unique counter-tenor voice, which has more penetrating quality than Esswood’s, the usual alto singer of this series. The voices of the two singers blend nicely together, but every vocal line can be clearly heard. Leonhardt gives the front stage to his soloists without enforcing his personal view. The playing of the accompaniment is good and rhythmic along the whole cantata. The Aria Duet (Mvt. 4) is the pick of this rendition. Apparently the concluding chorus is jumpy and cheerful, but I find that the singing of the combined choir is somewhat dry, not well-balanced, and in certain places not always clean.

[5] Koopman (1998)
Whaa pleasure is it to hear Agnew and Chance singing together. Agnew is impressive in the aria for tenor (Mvt. 2) and he manages to put enough expression into his singing despite the fast tempo chosen by Koopman. This approach is so different from Schreier with Rotzsch, yet no less captivating. The level playing of the accompaniment in this aria in the cantata as a whole and particularly in this aria is very aria and full of charm. You feel that the players and the conductor adhere to the spirit of the cantata. Chance sounds a little bit ordinary after Jacobs and less expressive. Despite the too quick tempo of the duet (Mvt. 4) the singers succeed to cope with the notes, but not with the message. This is the fastest recording of this movement, and 7:22-minute is indeed too fast. The performance of the concluding chorus by all participants has everything Leonhardt’s rendition has not – warmth, clarity of lines, good balance, and some enthusiasm.

[7] Leusink (2000)
There is more sharpness in the accompaniment that Leusink supplies to his singers than Koopman gives in his recording of this cantata, but this about the best thing I could say about Leusink’s rendition. Nico van der Meel is the least interesting of all the tenors I have heard singing this cantata. Buwalda deficiencies are very evident here – instability of the vocal line, problems with pronunciation, unsatisfactory expression, and sometimes simply unpleasant counter-tenor voice. The concluding chorus is livelier than Leonhardt’s, but far from Koopman’s achievement.

Personal preferences: Koopman [5], Leonhardt [3], Leusink [7]

Review of the Recordings of Cantata BWV 134a

During last week I have also listened to the three recordings of Cantata BWV 134a. If cantata BWV 134 is long (its playing time is about 30 minutes), than the original Birthday Cantata BWV 134a has two additional movements – another recitative for tenor and alto and an aria for the alto alone. These additions expand the playing time of the whole cantata with 6-7 more minutes, making it one of the longest cantatas. Due to limitations of time and space, and because I have to do my homework for next week’s cantata, I shall not review them here.

Here are my personal preferences: Rilling [BWV134a-3], Unger [BWV 134a-1], Koopman [BWV134a-2]

Conclusion

HIP, non-HIP, PP, Traditional – forget about all these terms. The most spirited rendition of this cantata, and I believe that the most truthful to Bach is Winschermann’s [1].

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

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantatas BWV 134 & BWV 134a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 134 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 134 | Details & Recordings of BWV 134a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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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