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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 139
Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of November 3, 2002 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 5, 2002):
BWV 139 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (November 3, 2002), according to Thomas Shepherd’s suggested list, is the Chorale Cantata BWV 139 ‘Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott’ (Happy is the man, who to his God). This cantatas for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, by an unknown librettist, is based on Johann Christoph Rübe’s hymn of this title, but it has no allusion to either the Epistle or the Gospel for the day. He quoted stanzas one and five for the opening and the closing movements, and paraphrased the others. From Rübe’s chorale the librettists derived the thought of the poem: that we should seek God’s friendship to obtain comfort and help in resisting Satan’s sins.

Recordings

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 139 - Recordings

Of the six complete recordings of this cantata, three (Richter [1], Rilling [2], and Harnoncourt [3]) were recorded in the late 1979’s and early 1980’s, and the other three (Gardiner [4], Koopman [5], and Leusink [6]) in the late 1990’s.

You can listen to Harnoncourt’s recording [3] through David Zale Website: http://www.mymp3sonline.net/bach_cantatas/mp3.asp

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
The original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website); English translations by Francis Browne and Z. Philip Ambrose; Hebrew translation by Aryeh Oron;
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide); in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes.

The question what Bach might have given us if had composed an opera has been asked many times. An example for his dramatic powers is given in the aria for bass (Mvt. 4). Bach’s mastery at setting aria texts is really evident here. He creates a highly dramatic scene, as the soloist describes his misfortunes and how God helps him, by changing the tempo many times along the aria, thus illustrating the successive grief and joy motifs of the text.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 6, 2002):
BWV 139 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 139 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 7, 2002):
BWV 139 - Reconstructions of Mvt. 2 (Tenor Aria) in the Available Recordings:

It is interesting to see how conductors have handled the problem of the missing obligato instrument part. Here are the results of my investigation into this matter:

[1] Richter (1977/8):
Richter usually plays the organ himself and it is very likely that he is the one who is gingerly attempting to plug the obvious lacunae left by the missing part. He does this by repeating only the opening motif in endless variations, but does not attempt to join the existing violin part in parallel thirds or sixths. Thus he deprives the accompaniment from supplying some of the “Toben” [‘turmoil’] that Bach very likely would have underscored musically in the accompaniment as well as in the voice (the coloraturas/melismas.) The repeated 8th notes in the bc (which the organ also plays) provide the only addition momentum in this version which is notable for having the slowest tempo of the seven recordings that I listened to.

[2] Rilling (1979/80):
Along with a very forward bc sound created by violoncello + stringbass combination, a sound that is very solid, if not a bit too loud, the harpsichord produces its usual background sound (I won’t mention here any of the pejorative descriptions that have been used to characterize its sound.) More recently this type of harpsichord bc has largely been abandoned in favor of an organ. In this cantata with its incomplete transmission, we note that Bach has designated only ‘Continuo’ and not ‘Organo’ as he frequently does in other cantatas. But then, we know that another ‘Continuo’ (or ‘Organo’) part was among the missing parts for this cantata.
Truly outstanding is the reconstruction here of the missing part as a second solo violin. This version not only has the violins repeating the opening motif in imitation of each other (this is the same motif that the tenor sings when it enters), but they also engage in a duet consisting of parallel thirds and sixths. There are mvts. elsewhere in the Bach cantatas (BWV 51/4 comes to mind as an example) that provide a similar feeling of excitement (‘Toben’) that is also captured in the fast mvts. of the Two-Violin Concerto BWV 1043. I consider this realization of the missing part to be so successful that, if listeners did not have recourse to the score or did not know beforehand that a part was missing, they would not notice any deficiency and would easily get caught up in the excitement of this mvt.

[3] Harnoncourt (1983):
It is difficult at first to consider that Herbert Tachezi, so well known for his excellent organ playing, would present such an uninspired version of this part. Perhaps Harnoncourt prevented him from achieving anything beyond mediocrity, by not allowing Tachezi to truly improvise the missing part with his right hand. Of course, there is probably no one alive who could improvise such a part properly at sight the way Bach himself is said to have done. Such a part would have to be worked out with considerable forethought and experimentation. Here, in the Harnoncourt recording, none of these precautions seem to have been taken, nor did Harnoncourt consider supplying the missing obligato part with another instrument. Poor Tachezi is left trying to provide chords for almost every 8th note in the bass. All these chords in quick succession, even if played softly, make it sound even more as if Bach had lost his inspiration. This effect is compounded when there is little or no development of any musical materials to replace the missing instrumental part. Perhaps Harnoncourt simply wanted this to be a trio sonata with Alice, his wife playing the single violin part, Harnoncourt himself playing the bc on the cello and Equiluz joining in, as if from a distance. Thus he (Harnoncourt) conveniently overlooked the problem of the missing part.

[4] Gardiner (1998):
The notes to this CD indicate that a 2nd violin part was reconstructed by Robert Levin. This reconstruction is similar to the one used in the Rilling recording, but has differences as well. That should have made it just as excellent a presentation as Rilling’s, but this is not what happens. Gardiner, suffering from his usual penchant of taking the tempi too fast, decides to take this particular Mvt. 1 ½ minutes faster than Richter’s (and Richter’s tempo was by no means slow!) Something has to give under these circumstances and adjustments have to be made. The violins play soft and fast. A substantial portion of excitement is sacrificed in favor of a breathlessness that lacks any sense of foundation. Imagine the Oistrakhs playing BWV 1043, or perhaps David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin playing this double concerto. Would they even consider cheating on most of the notes by allowing the notes to whisk by without drawing a full bow and allowing the sound to develop fully? What we are encountering in the HIP mvt. when such extremely fast tempi are taken is a subtraction from the original music rather than an enhancement of its beauty. Duly nothe difference between ‘period’ instruments that may have gut rather than wire or wire-wound strings and are played a semi-tone lower than standard pitch, I would ask you to compare the Rilling version with Gardiner’s and other HIP versions. In which version are the violinists playing from their heart or soul in such a manner to move the listener? Related to this HIP factor is that of the numerous half voices that are only able to sing ‘sotto voce.’ This type of ‘markieren’ (when operatic singers go through a dress rehearsal, they usually do not produce all the sound and emotion that they normally would at a real performance) has become a general standard among most HIP instrumentalists and vocalists (there are always a few exceptions here, and for these we need to be forever grateful.)

[5] Koopman (1999):
The notes to this CD indicate that Koopman supplied his own reconstruction of the missing part, and this he does with a vengeance! He not only adds the missing part, he also adds a 3rd solo instrument! This is too much of a good thing! Talk about variety! Now the listener is treated not only to the original violin, but also two differing woodwinds, an oboe d’amore and a transverse flute. These parts jump about from one octave to another. At times the transverse flute in the low register can not be heard. Most bothersome is the fact that these parts do not always make musical sense as they jump about willy-nilly from octave to octave. Here it has become quite apparent that the two-violin version is much more coherent and logical in a musical sense. Koopman has pulled out all the stops here, but still fails (because of his 'lite' approach) to generate the intensity and excitement contained in the Rilling and, to some degree, the Richter versions.

[6] Leusink (1999):
Leusink has the chest organ join the violoncello in the bc. With the right hand, the organist seems to be playing the missing part that sounds very much like the missing part of the Rilling and Gardiner versions. The only problem is that this missing part lacks any special character and seems at times to recede too much into the background so that the main emphasis is on the 1st violin part alone.

[M-1] Biondi (2000):
Let me attempt a guess at what happened here: Biondi discovered late into the compilation of this CD that there was still room for something else.

Biondi: Ian, I just discovered that there is a Bach aria for violin and tenor voice. We could do that one quickly. I just received a copy of it. I have the solo violin part here. It looks easy and interesting enough. Let’s try it!

Bostridge: Sure, why not? Can we run through it right now?
[After trying a few bars]

Biondi: Wait! [not realizing that another violin or solo obligato part is needed] At that normal tempo, this aria sounds very boring. Let’s take it much faster [this is practically the same extremely fast tempo that Gardiner took], perhaps then it will sound better. Let’s try it once again!
[after going through the 1st section] Yes, that’s much better because now, at this tempo, it sounds as if I am playing all the time and the listeners won’t notice the slight pauses [where the other solo instrument plays alone.]

[My comment: By taking this fast tempo and preserving only for himself the single solo part (much the same way that Alice Harnoncourt has the solo part all to herself,) Biondi puts himself into a stylistic bind. When Biondi plays the 1st section (the da capo section) for the 2nd time, he knows that it is obligatory for a baroque artist to add additional embellishments. The notes are already moving much too fast, but now, by including required additional trills, turns, and runs, Biondi makes a spectacle of himself as he tries valiantly to extricate himself from this ‘cage’ of his own making. As the embellishments become faster and harder to play, they become very soft indeed, almost inaudible at times. This is the very escape that many HIP artists rely upon. The listener is then, once again, being cheated of the true, full emotional force of the music. Notes being played fast, soft and lightly do not equal notes played at a normal tempo with each note given a full value and volume, nor do they equal notes played from the heart with reverence and due consideration.]

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 9, 2002):
BWV 139 - Aria for Bass - Background

Mvt. 4 Aria for Bass
Oboe d'amore, Violino, Corno
Das Unglück schlägt auf allen Seiten
(From all sides misfortune wraps)

Albert Schweitzer (Johann Sebastian Bach, 1908; roughly translated from the Hebrew translation):
Three major motifs appear in the aria for bass consecutively. The first symbolises the winding of the heavy chains; the second describes the helping hand, throwing the falling man and raising him up; the third symbolises the blinking flame of the light from afar. This third motif appears already in the introductory ritornello of the aria. With it the movement is ending.

Alec Robertson (The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’, 1972):
Bach is wholly involved in this magnificent movement which should properly be described as dramatic scena. It makes one wonders, not for the first time, what he might have given us if he had turned to opera seria. The aria divides up into 11 sections, some very brief, involving many changes of tempo. It is one of those movements which can best be fully appreciated by following the score. A long prelude has the main material of the first section in which the upper instruments picture the unhappy state of the man. The fragmented vocal part, echoed by the dotted figure in the continuo, suggests his struggle to free himself. The second section (vivace) greets the appearance of a helping hand in smooth vocal lines. In the third (andante), with continuo only, consolation's light appears from afar. The opening section is repeated, the vivace also following it, and then both of these to the same words, the aria closing with a coda. (This description does not take account of very brief sections.)

Murray W. Young (The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide, 1989):
Bach's mastery at setting aria texts is really evident in this number, accompanied by the two oboi d'amore, a violin and organ continuo. Bach creates a highly dramatic scene, as the soloist describes his misfortunes and how God helps him, by changing the tempo from tristezza to vivace and finally to andante, thus illustrating the successive grief- and joy-motives of the text. The first theme symbolises his depression, the second (the third line) the helping hand of the lord, and the third God's consoling light. The interplay of these three themes, with the da capo of the first two, analyses his emotions in an impressive and picturesque style.

Gerhard Schuhmacher (liner notes to the Teldec’s recording, 1983):
Bach experts are convinced that two solo instruments a were used in the arias No. 2 "Gott ist mein Freund" (God Is my friend) and No.4 "Das Unglück schlägt auf allen Seiten" (The blows of fate come thick and thicker), which have been tentatively reconstructed. [snip] After a short recitative there follows the aria. Here the effect is derived from the dotted figures in the orchestra and the declamatory bass line which is interrupted by a vivace section at the words "doch plötzlich erscheinet die helfende Hand" (then sudden appeareth the Succoring Hand).

The Recordings

[1] Karl Richter with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1977-1978) (5:10)
DFD has to use all his dramatic and vocal resources in order to bring out the multi-facets sections of this aria. And he does it better than any other singer. What is amazing about this performance is that it never sounds exaggerated or under-emphasised. Both the singer and the accompaniment give the impression that they always do the right thing!

[2] Helmuth Rilling with Philippe Huttenlocher (1979-1980) (5:51)
Huttenlocher starts well indeed, but as the movement progresses it seems that he has difficultieto keep up with the fast changes of the aria. It seems that Rilling chose slow tempo for this aria in order to facilitate the technical demands for his singer. The accompaniment Rilling supplies is exemplary, colourful and descriptive as the text and the music call for.

[3] Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Robert Holl (1983) (5:08)
Holl has an impressive and deep voice. Yet, it seems to be a little bit heavy for the fast sections. Furthermore, his dramatic abilities are limited and he misses more than reveals. The accompaniment moves lightly ahead, but the singer seems to be in another planet.

[4] John Eliot Gardiner with Gotthold Schwarz (1998) (4:37)
Poor Schwarz. The break-neck tempo adopted by Gardiner for this aria puts an impassable technical obstacle in front of him, and does not leave him any room for meanigful expression. In addition, I find his timbre of voice as the least pleasant of all the six singers who recorded this cantata.

[5] Ton Koopman with Klaus Mertens (1999) (5:03)
In this aria Mertens comes closer to DFD than any other of the contemporary singers. He has the flexibility to cope up with the fast changes and the sense for drama to reveal the different moods. These aria calls for a deeper voice than he has, but it is still a very satisfying rendition. Unlike Gardiner, Koopman chose a ‘normal’ tempo for this aria and it also helps.

[6] Pieter Jan Leusink with Bas Ramselaar (1999) (5:22)
Ramselaar’s approach is very similar to that of Mertens, although his singing here seems to convey a lesser emotional weight. The instrumental playing is also less polished.

Conclusion

A movement to take away: The Aria for Bass with DFD/Richter [1]

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2002):
BWV 139 - Commentaries: [From Eric Chafe’s “Tonal Allegory in J. S. Bach, Alfred Dürr]

See: Cantata BWV 139 - Commentary

The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Richter (1977-8) [1]; Rilling (1979-80) [2]; Harnoncourt (1983) [3]; Gardiner (1998) [4]; Koopman (1999) [5]; Leusink [6] (1999); Biondi [M-1] (2000)

Comparative timings from slowest to fastest:

Mvt. 1:
Harnoncourt [3] (5:28); Rilling [2] (5:10); Gardiner [4] (4:58); Richter (4:51) [1]; Leusink [6] (4:28); Koopman [5] (4:19)

Mvt. 2:
Richter (6:36) [1]; Leusink [6] (6:14); Harnoncourt [3] (5:55); Rilling [2] (5:32); Koopman [5] (5:31); Biondi [M-1] (5:04); Gardiner [4] (5:03)

Mvt. 4:
Rilling [2] (5:51); Leusink [6] (5:22); Richter [1] (5:10); Harnoncourt [3] (5:08); Koopman [5] (5:03); Gardiner [4] (4:37)

Mvt. 6:
Richter (1:01) [1]; Rilling [2] (0:59); Harnoncourt [3] (0:57); Leusink [6] (0:54); Koopman [5] (0:47); Gardiner [4] (0:47)

There are only two non-HIP performances: Richter [1] and Rilling [2]. All the rest are HIP and have the general characteristics of such a performance.

Mvt. 1:

[1] Richter:
Large orchestral forces along with the largest choir to be heard in all these different versions lend a more monumental sound to this cantata. This has its good, but also bad aspects: the good side is that the greater numbers of performers create a higher plateau of intensity than can be achieved by the smaller groups. The listener has the impression that singers and instrumentalists are ‘filling out’ a very large space and catching the attention of everyone in the audience. There is a wonderful combination of contrasts between the punctuated 8th notes in the accompanying voices, the bc, and the oboes at times, and the flowing cantabile treatment of the cantus firmus and 16th notes in the violins. Most important of all, the listener can perceive strength, the strength of conviction that is conveyed directly to the listener. This and the Rilling version have infectious qualities that make me want to sing or hum along with the music, something that rarely happens to me when listening to HIP recordings. There are enough singers on a given part so that the part never fails to come through properly; that is, if some singers have a weak lower range, others will not, or vice versa. As a result, there is better balance between the vocal sections throughout. The mood is one of joyful trust in the Lord. I do not understand why Richter insists on playing all the vocal parts on the organ with high stops 4’ and 2’ stops with mixtures. I have found no indications in any of the sources form Bach’s time that such a practice was ever used, on the contrary, the less obtrusive the organ is, the better.

[2] Rilling:
Rilling’s version is treated very much in a legato fashion, much more than even the legato aspects in Richter’s recording. All the voices, trained and operatic as they are, can be clearly heard. If a listener wants to hear all the parts all the time, this is the version to listen to. The greatest drawback, as always, is the lack of a stable and firm c. f. sung by the sopranos who have great difficulty controlling their vibratos. Once you have heard the cantus firmus sung clearly and strongly without a vibrato, you will not be quite as happy to return to this version, as good as it is in so many other ways. Once again, as with Richter, the general attitude is one of firm, childlike trust in the Lord. There is no need to emphasize or add expressivity to such a line as “und alle Teufel hassen” [“and all the devils hate.”] Actually, in repeating the Stollen in the bar form of such a chorale as this, Bach does not change anything in the music to make this phrase any different than the phrase “recht kindlich kann verlassen” [“{who} can depend {on God} in a childlike manner”.] Nothing but firm, joyful, childlike trust is to be expressed here. Both Richter and Rilling understand and convey this attitude.

[3] Harnoncourt:
From the 1st wailing, insecure sounds of the oboi d’amore players and the reticent, subdued playing of the violins, we are immediately surrounded by the Harnoncourt HIP cantata sound, a sound that he had already spent a dozen years perfecting during the course of this series. An indication that not all is well with Harnoncourt's portrayal occurs with the opening notes sung by the altos. This is a very feeble, insecure entrance followed by some muffled singing by tenors and basses as well. In stark contrast, the boy sopranos sing with conviction and clarity as if they are the only ones who really know what they are singing about here. Somehow Hais unable to inspire these singers and players to do any better than this. Harnonourt has taken the slowest tempo and at this tempo this mvt. definitely suffers from the very illness that he was attempting to correct: the slow, boring tempi often taken by the late romantic interpretations of Bach’s works. This type of performance of an opening mvt. of a chorale cantata is not an aberration on Harnoncourt’s part; on the contrary, it is the norm. It is not a question of whether the listener is inadequately prepared to accept an innovative interpretation by an artist who has spent some time acquainting himself with ‘period’ music, but rather the question is whether Harnoncourt has met the challenge posed by Bach’s cantatas. In my estimation, after listening to these cantata performances many times over a period of 5 or 6 years, Harnoncourt rarely meets this challenge in mvts. of this sort. The reasons for this are numerous and I have documented quite a few of them over the past year and a half.

[4] Gardiner:
Gardiner takes this mvt. at a good tempo. The sounds created by his HIP instruments are a noticeable improvement over Harnoncourt’s. There is nothing shaky or insecure here about their manner of playing. With the choir we are back to a clear and balanced sound, much clearer (less vibrato) than Rilling’s choir sound, and, most importantly of all, the cantus firmus is loud and clear as it should be. Aside from the women who sing the c. f., there is the vocal quality of men in the Monteverdi Choir that I would characterize as rather thin, narrow, and constricted as if the voices are being forced more than usual. At times, this is a slightly unpleasant sound, but certainly not as disturbing as some of the voices in Rilling’s choirs. What I do find truly disturbing, however, is Gardiner’s attempts at an interpretation which microscopically isolates phrases for special treatment. We all know that this is how Bach frequently tries to relate the words to the music. Here, with Gardiner, however, Bach’s method of musical illustration is completely misunderstood. It is one thing for Bach to include this type of word painting in the music, but it is another very different thing to presume to extrapolate this type of interpretation from the score if it simply does not make sense. Gardiner treats, “recht kindlich” [“very childlike”] as if this were an open invitation to demonstrate the childish actions of a child that is trying to take its first steps. As explained above, here the text speaks of a firm, childlike trust, which is actually a very strong trust that does not call for tiny, staccato-like notes in the accompanying voices in imitation of a baby’s first footsteps. This is a cute device that should never have been seriously considered for inclusion here. Even more striking, and this is perhaps exactly what Gardiner is after: to shock the listener with very unusual expressive details, is Gardiner’s interpretation of “und alle Teufel hassen” [“{whom} all the devils hate”] where he exaggerates the words for ‘devils’ and ‘hate.’ The controlling, overall thought, however, is just the opposite: that of not having to worry about these things and feeling secure in the Lord. There are many other instances where Bach enjoys illustrating such things as the devils’ hatred or the fear of the devil, but here the emphasis is trust. Notice the feeling created by this mvt. in the key of E major. The key choice matches the text.

[5] Koopman:
This is the fastest version and it definitely sounds rushed. I can even feel Koopman pushing the tempo when the choir enters. What’s the rush? Notice how everything has become subdued, being played and sung at half volume without much conviction. The emphasis is on lightness. How does that fit with firm faith and dependence on the Lord? It doesn’t really! This is an innocuous version meant to provide 'lite' entertainment for those who wish to gain easy access to Bach, perhaps even as background music for going to sleep. Despite the occasional use of the French trill in the vocal parts, this is a non-disturbing, rather ho-hum version of this cantata mvt. The voices sing clear lines, but the emotional commitment is missing. This is partly due to the fact that the voices sing mainly sotto voce.

[6] Leusink:
The orchestral sound is even more muffled here than with Koopman and the bc is simply too loud. The cantus firmus is clear but lax as if it is singing with the last energy at its disposal. The 1st entrance by the Buwalda-type voices in the alto is a real ‘turn-off’ (for who wants to hear this type of voice in a choir?) and the sopranos, on the higher notes launch into their characteristic ‘chirping.’ The lower voices are weak and generally uninteresting to listen to. Perhaps this is all that can be hoped for when so little time is spent in preparing the music for performance.

I did not have time to write up my reviews on the arias, but here is my order of preference from top to bottom:

Mvt. 2:

[1] Schreier (if the missing obligato part had been properly done, this would have been the best version of all)

[2] Kraus (here the instrumental accompaniment is the best, but the voice is not always pleasing)

[5] Prégardien (if you can put up with Koopman’s shenanigans in the accompaniment)

[3] Equiluz (very loud accompaniment and Equiluz has to force his voice as he jumps about, hence this is not up to his usual high standard of performance)

[4] Podger (at this extreme tempo, almost no tenor would survive and this one also barely survives with some ludicrous moments at times)

[6] van der Meel (nothing really outstanding here)

[M-1] Bostridge (in singing songs by Noel Coward, Bostridge really excels, but with Bach he still as a lot to learn - his German pronunciation leaves much to be desired - Gardiner's breakneck speed makes Bostridge sound ridiculous as well)

Mvt. 4:

Did not finish this, but DFD [1] would, without a doubt, have to be my favorite.

Mvt. 6:

[1] Richter:
With the organ ‘blaring’ in the background and with his definite fermati (much longer than they would have to be), Richter seeks to enhance the strong, affirmative feeling expressed in this chorale. Certainly one might question these techniques as not being entirely authentic, but there is no denying that this type of chorale singing is intended to move the listener by having the choir sing enthusiastically. How can the listener not want to sing along (even though this was not done when Bach performed these cantatas?)

[2] Rilling:
This is a good example of the flowing, legato style of chorale singing which still allows for the separation of a key word such as “Trotz.” There does not have to be a dead stop after this word as heard in many of the HIP versions of this chorale. One thing Rilling does very well to bring an interrupted phrase (“Mich kann nicht mehr {fermata} ihr Pochen…” to the point of the fermata, recognize the fermata causing a stop, but this stop is not a dead stop. The listener can feel that the choir is poised to attack the next word (“ihr.”) The listener can feel the tension in this momentary pause, a tension that will immediately propel the voices to attack the next word/note directly. This type of 'vocal magic' is missing in many of the HIP versions of this chorale.

[3] Harnoncourt:
With some unnecessary, heavy accents (on “Rache” for instance), Harnoncourt somehow manages not to let this chorale fall apart under his dissection of the music despite his usual non-legato treatment of chorales generally. In this chorale many the stops are necessary because of the numerous exclamation marks and words like “Trotz.” Yet Harnoncourt is still unable to endow this chorale with the strong conviction found in some of the other versions. But as Harnoncourt’s renditions of the chorales go, this one is definitely above average.

[4] Gardiner:
This HIP version with smaller forces at its disposal (fewer voices) demonstrates the necessary strength of conviction that a choir should express in a final chorale. Gardiner gives the listener a fitting conclusion to the cantata, one that sends the listener away with a true sense of fulfillment.

[5] Koopman:
This is a very intimate portrayal of the chorale. In addition to being very cleanly executed, Koopman, like Gardiner, includes some interpretative insights not available in all the other versions: on the repeat of the Stollen, he makes no break at the fermata, but rather continues without breathing into next line. This enjambement is very fitting indeed in this context. The numerous three-note phrases on “Gott ist mein Schutz, mein Hilf und Rat” in the accompanying voices indicate a gesture of uplifting as if God continues again and again to lift us up. This is very appropriate as an interpretative insight. In general, however, I would have wanted even more conviction expressed by the choir.

[6] Leusink:
Aside from the usual shortening of the fermati at the end of the chorale lines, this is one of Leusink’s better efforts. There are no individual voices standing out here. This is actually the sound of a good choir in a 4-pt. chorale. What is lacking here is a stronger feeling of conviction. In 4 instances of the text, there are exclamation marks. There certainly ought to be a way to bring this out without overdoing it.

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 30, 2002):
[M-1] Bostridge and the aria for tenor from Cantata BWV 139

Teri Noel Towe sent me the following message:
” I had the pleasure of meeting and talking at some length with Ian Bostridge this past Friday night, and he shared with me an interesting bit of information about one of the arias on that wonderful Virgin Classics disc that he made with Fabio Biondi (a fabulous disc, by the way, to which I awarded 5 stars in Goldberg).

As you well know, BWV 139 has an aria for tenor, two violins, and continuo, for which one of the violin parts is missing. In the course of our conversation, Mr. Bostridge confirmed that, as I had suspected while listening to it, in the recording that he made with Fabio Biondi, no reconstruction for the missing part was used. The second violin was omitted altogether, and Biondi plays the instrumental obbligato all by himself.

I have not as yet had a chance to revisit the recording since learning this, but I hope soon to do so, and with a score in front of me, to see if I can figure out exactly what is going on.”

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 30, 2002):
[M-1] [To Aryeh Oron, regarding the message from Teri Noel Towe]
I sincerely hope that Teri Noel Towe will read carefully the discussion of Cantata BWV 139 on Aryeh's site. Then, if he does some proper research and has access to the NBA with its KB, he will discover that the missing part is not necessarily another violin part. It might have been another solo instrument in the high range. In any case, this missing part is crucial to the success of a very good performance.

Omitting the part altogether may seem like a virtue to Fabio Biondi, who, under time constraints imposed by the recording process and a lack of time to provide any kind of meaningful substitute for the missing part, decides in favor of an extremely fast tempo where, by playing "instrumental obbligato all by himself", he hopes, the missing part will be less likely noticeable to a listener unfamiliar with this aria. Only by comparison with numerous other recordings do the failings of the Biondi approach become quite apparent.

While others may consider Bostridge's singing of this Bach aria an example of his artistry scoring a victory realm of Bach cantatas, a comparison with other great tenors who have recorded this aria makes clear how much Bostridge will still need to achieve. IMHO he still has a long way to go. To classify this production as 'wonderful' and 'fabulous' will only serve keep him from achieving true greatness in the singing of Bach arias. He has demonstrated his vocal technique, but has he really plumbed the depths of the aria the way some other tenors before him have? Has he really adjusted and trained his voice to sing Bach arias with a voice devoid of other influences: the singing of Noel Coward songs, Britten, etc.? He will also need a very good German language coach to correct the imperfections in German diction that always seem to appear in his singing of these arias.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (December 16, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
[M-1] < I sincerely hope that Teri Noel Towe will read carefully the discussion of Cantata BWV 139 on Aryeh's site. Then, if he does some proper research and has access to the NBA with its KB, he will discover that the missing part is not necessarily another violin part. It might have been another solo instrument in the high range. In any case, this missing part is crucial to the success of a very good performance. >
I have done what I consider to be "proper research", and I am fully familiar with the score. I also am familiar with the arguments and suggestions to be found in the NBA KB, which I perhaps have read even more carefully than Mr. Braatz would give me credit for. I continue to agree, and to agree completely, with the distinguished Bach scholar and founder of the Bach Aria Group, William H. Scheide, who not only firmly maintains that the missing part was a violin part but also has prepared a most successful, but alas unpublished, reconstruction of the missing part. I have heard this part in performance, and, believe me, not only does it "work", but also it is absolutely convincing.

Mr. Braatz and I shall have to agree to disagree.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2002):
[M-1] In regard to BWV 139/2, Teri Noel Towe stated:
< I continue to agree, and to agree completely, with the distinguished Bach scholar and founder of the Bach Aria Group, William H. Scheide, who not only firmly maintains that the missing part was a violin part but also has prepared a most successful, but alas unpublished, reconstruction of the missing part. I have heard this part in performance, and, believe me, not only does it "work", but also it is absolutely convincing.

Mr. Braatz and I shall have to agree to disagree. >
We may be closer to agreement than you think. This is what I stated in my discussion of BWV 139:

"Mvt. 2 – a missing obligato part
Both Alfred Dürr and William H. Scheide have come to the conclusion that Mvt. 2 is incomplete: a 2nd obligato part is necessary for presenting completely the themes contained in the ritornello of this aria. That this missing part would call for another violin could not be substantiated by these two Bach scholars.

Since the cover page which normally indicates the instrumentation used in the cantata is not by Bach but rather was a copy of a title page made by Johann Christoph Altnickol in 1750, there is no reason to lend much credence to the information given there. Since the information on the cover page is incomplete (which happens from time to time), it is possible to assume that a 2nd obligato violin is not absolutely necessary and that a transverse flute or oboe might also have been intended.

The Reconstructions of the Missing Parts:

Winfried Radeke provided a reconstruction for the missing obligato part in Mvt. 2. It appeared 1972 among the parts printed by Breitkopf & Härtel. Another reconstruction of this part was undertaken by William H. Scheide. This part appeared in “Bach-Studien” 5, Leipzig, 1975, p. 136ff. "

From what I wrote, it is clear that Scheide's 'most successful...reconstruction of the missing part' has been published. It is even very likely that the best version of this aria that I heard on the recordings that I reviewed might have used his reconstruction, but I have no way to confirm this.

Here is what I stated about the Rilling performance [2] with the missing part played by another violin:

"Truly outstanding is the reconstruction here of the missing part as a second solo violin. This version not only has the violins repeating the opening motif in imitation of each other (this is the same motif that the tenor sings when it enters), but they also engage in a duet consisting of parallel thirds and sixths. There are mvts. elsewhere in the Bach cantatas (BWV 51/4 comes to mind as an example) that provide a similar feeling of excitement (‘Toben’) that is also captured in the fast mvts. of the Two-Violin Concerto BWV 1043. I consider this realization of the missing part to be so successful that, if listeners did not have recourse to the score or did not know beforehand that a part was missing, they would not notice any deficiency and would easily get caught up in the excitement of this mvt."

The only problem here is that I am unable 'to connect the dots' between Scheide's reconstruction and the one that Rilling [2] uses. It could well be the same one to which we are both referring. Do you have any definitive information to confirm my suspicions?

Teri Noel Towe wrote (December 15, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
[M-1] < Winfried Radeke provided a reconstruction for the missing obligato part in Mvt. 2. It appeared 1972 among the parts printed by Breitkopf &Härtel. Another reconstruction of this part was undertaken by William H. Scheide. This part appeared in “Bach-Studien” 5, Leipzig, 1975, p. 136ff. "

From what I wrote, it is clear that Scheide's 'most successful...reconstruction of the missing part' has been published. It is even very likely that the best version of this aria that I heard on the recordings that I reviewed might have used his reconstruction, but I have no way to confirm this. >
Under the circumstances, my choice of the word "published" was artless.

I should have been more precise. I meant that the second violin part that has been reconstructed so effectively by Bill Scheide has never been readily and easily available to those who might want to use it in a performance. The Scheide reconstruction, as you so rightly pointed out, "appears", to use your verb, in Bach Studien 5, but, as you surely have discovered, and, in fact, as you confirm by implication later in your response to my first posting about the tenor aria in BWV 139, obtaining a copy of Bach Studien 5, which was published in the DDR in 1975, is a herculean undertaking.

It is, of course, impossible to prove a negative, and, precisely because the second solo part is missing and not identified on the evidently defective wrapper, it is impossible to prove that the second obbligato part was not a flute part or an oboe part, as you contend that it might have been. Personally, however, I think that a strong argument in favor of the aria having required a second solo violin, rather than a flute or an oboe, is the tenor aria from BWV 7. "Des Vaters Stimme" (ironically, another aria that Ian Bostridge sings to great effect on that spectacular Virgin CD) is somewhat different in character from "Gott ist mein Freund", I admit, but, like "Gott ist mein Freund", it is an aria that calls for two solo violins, and the obbligato parts require players who are equal in calibre. BWV 7 and BWV 139 are both part of the second Jahrgang, and they were first performed within five months of one another. It is well within the realm of probability, and certainly within the realm of possibility, that these two arias were intended for the same tenor and the same two violinists. That Ian Bostridge happened to chose both for his Virgin CD confirms that both arias lie gratefully for the same tenor voice. (While a member of the Bach Aria Group, Jan Peerce sang both arias with equal effectiveness, too, as the private recordings prove.)

 

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Cantata BWV 139: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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