Cantata BWV 157Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn!
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of March 3, 2002
Aryeh Oron wrote (March 7, 2002):
The subject of this week's discussion (March 3, 2002), is the Solo Cantata for the Feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary [intended for the Funeral of Johann Christoph von Ponickau] 'Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn!'. This is the first 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 this cantata. I put the details of the recordings in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 157 - 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. It is, of course, recommended to read the German text and the relevant translation before, during and/or after listening to the cantata. I find that although Bach's music is always strong enough to give outmost satisfaction even when you know nothing about the textual context, the listening is intensified when you understand the words. In this week's cantata I find the text by Picander very poetic and unified in its message, a text which a text which invites, even implore, to be composed. Bach indeed raised to the challenge and wrote a sombre and beautiful cantata, full of longing and comfort feelings, expressed tenderly and delicately.
Nevertheless, BWV 157 is a rarely recorded cantata, and besides the recordings from the three complete Bach Cantata cycles (Rilling , Leonhardt , and Leusink ), there is only one additional recording of the complete cantata. This recording, done in 1960 for the legendary German label Cantate, is conducted by Diethard Hellmann , a well-known authority not only as a Bach conductor, but also as a researcher. This is the man who prepared the most-used reconstruction of Markus-Passion BWV 247, mostly based on Cantatas BWV 198 (Funeral Ode) and BWV 54 (not to be confused with Ton Koopman's own reconstruction of the same work, which is based on other cantata movements). Besides the complete recordings, we have Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing the aria for bass (Mvt. 4) from this cantata, conducted by Karl Forster, who also performs the concluding chorale (Mvt. 5).
The background below was written completely by Alfred Dürr (1960) and is included in the liner notes to the recording of this cantata by Hellmann for Cantate label . The English translation of the text, by C. Stanford Terry, is also taken from the same source.
See: Cantata BWV 157 - Commentary
Review of the recordings
 Diethard Hellmann (1960)
Hellmann succeeds to maintain the dedicate balance between all participants. It seems like they all are in the ‘same head’. The voices of the singers and playing of the instruments are not only beautiful each, they all blend nicely together. The longing and the plea are expressed in a captivating way. Rotzsch keeps the same mood in the aria for tenor. He had so fine voice and tender expression in 1960, when this recording was made, that we rarely hear from tenors nowadays. He touches your heart also in the ensuing recitative. Roland Kunz is not bad, but one can hear drop in the level of the overall excellent performance in his complicated movement. There is more to this movement than he conveys. I can sum his performance by saying that his voice is pleasant and rich, but his expression somewhat flat. The concluding chorale is sung by a mixed big choir, but their singing his so unified, polished and delicate, that nothing is left to be desired.
 Helmuth Rilling (1982-1983)
Rilling rendition’s sounds richer and less coherent than Hellmann’s. In the opening duet I have the feeling that each one is playing or singing to himself. They do not play with each other or support each other but trying to dominate the events. As a result most of the message of this movement is lost. Hearing Kraus, whom I usually like, immediately after Rotzsch, and he sounds over-expressive, where he should be more humble. When he has to hold the long notes, his vibrato becomes too strong. In the recitatives it is even worse, because it seems that he does not exactly know what to do with it. The playing of the oboe d’amore in these two movements (in the recitative Rilling uses flute and oboe d’amore instead of two violins and violetta) lacks delicacy and sensitivity. Huttenlocher’s singing is dry, his voice not pleasant and his expression one-dimensional.
 Gustav Leonhardt (1986)
The playing of the woodwinds in the introductory ritornello is fine indeed. The two singers fit in perfectly. They all have the same message to convey, and all the participants support each other in their delivery. Equiluz singing reflects much better taste than Kraus’, and his expression is indeed heart-rending, both in the aria and recitative for tenor. In the recitative for tenor Leonhardt also uses flute and oboe d’amore instead of two violins and violetta. I like this approach because it contributes to the flow and continuity of the whole cantata. Egmond has a more pleasant voice than Huttenlocher has, but his expression is not making the outmost of the demanding movement for bass. He gives the impression that he keeps something to himself. The choir in the concluding chorale is more intimate and homogeneous even if more fragmented than Rilling’s. In this cantata I find myself preferring Leonhardt’s approach.
 Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
Leusink preserves the intimate atmosphere of the opening duet, and creates a charming performance. The two singers do not give too much of their ‘personality’, and it works for the benefit of this movement. In the aria and recitative for tenor Nico van der Meel lacks enough expressive weight to reveal more of the possibilities of these too movements. At least, he does not exaggerate as Kraus does with Rilling. Ramselaar let himself be more expressive and varied than Egmond, and between these two Dutch singers, the younger is to be preferred in the aria for bass. The chorale is livelier and less fragmented than Leonhardt, yet still intimate.
[M-2] Karl Forster with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1958) [Mvts. 4 & 5 only]
Couple of days ago Francis Browne wrote about this recording: “These are outstanding, revelatory performances… among much else, of the bass aria from this week's cantata Ja, ja ich halte Jesum feste. There is a rightness, a quality of intelligent musicality about the singing that gives constant illumination and delight. As an added bonus the playing of the instrumentalists is also outstanding.” The praises of DFD have been sung in the BCML many times already. After hearing him one can easily comprehend what was missing in the other renditions. He sets the measure by which all the other Bach’s bass (and baritone) singers should be judged. The aria from Cantata BWV 157 is only one example. DFD is most known as a singer of Schubert’s Lieder, and therefore his excellence as a Bach singer is sometimes put in the shade. Gould plays Mozart as he plays Bach (and I do not like it); Rubinstein plays Mozart as he plays Chopin (and this I do like). But DFD does not sing Bach as he sinSchubert. He sings Bach, as if he was the most sensitive, human, and soulful composer on earth, with attention for every detail and every nuance while keeping the overall picture. And that is the way Bach should be sung. And if that was not enough we have also the chorale performed by Chor des St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale Berlin under the baton of Forster. The moment when they enter after DFD finishes his last line is mesmerising. This rendition of the chorale is second only to Hellmann.
Overall performance: Hellmann , Leonhardt , Leusink , Rilling 
Tenor: Rotzsch , Equiluz , Meel , Kraus 
Bass: DFD [M-2], Kunz , Ramselaar , Egmond , Huttenlocher 
Choir: Hellmann , Forster [M-2], Leusink , Leonhardt , Rilling 
BWV 157 is a kind of cantata with which Koopman  and Herreweghe excel. Although this cantata is so beautiful that each of the currently available recordings can please, I have the feeling that it could be done better by these two conductors.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Dick Wursten wrote (March 9, 2002):
I listened to the Leusink .
As Aryeh already noticed, Leusink keeps it 'small', i.e. the atmosphere of the cantata is intimate, it is almost chamber-music. Which by the way fits my listening conditions very well, since my stereo is not in a church, but in a ''chamber' of my house... And I listen privately... So this time it's a cantata for me alone...
And I liked it!
I particularly noticed some wonderful instrumental pieces, little suites... Played very well by the instrumentalists (almost instrumental soloists) of the Bach Collegium. Indeed as Dürr says: just like in the early cantatas. The tenor in the duet of Mvt. 1 with bass is acceptable, but a little bit to little in the aria he has completely for himself (mvt 2... I agree with Aryeh); the bass is fine in Mvt. 4 Aria, Recitative & Arioso And in Mvt. 5; the choir exaggerates a little (Thomas will mention the yodelers I’m sure, so I won't) but in general this is a convincing performance...
My compliments for Picander, who again proves to be a craftsman and a very well-informed lay-theologian. The intriguing story of Jacob wrestling with the angel (or was it a river-daemon, or was it the god of Esau, his brother whom he has to face on the other side of the river, or is it his own anxiety (Angst) and feeling of guilt that have materialized in a Jung-ian way... the story is not explicit, so leaves it to the readers to fill it in) has always been used by the church in the context of 'crossing the river of death' in the 'night' in order to come in the 'promised land'.
The next morning by the way (after finally being blessed) Jacob gets his new name, Israel (=god-fighter'), wounded though for the rest of his life at his hip... Read the story, if you don't know it: it is one of the gems of world-literature, a classic, which inspired lots of artists, both musical, theatrical and pictorial: Genesis 32: 22-32: Jacob at Pniel (=face of God). Jacobs one-liner: 'Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn' (Hear how wonderful rhythmic Luther translated this sentence) f.i. inspired Schütz to one of his most impressive compositions in the Musicalische Exequien. In the rhetorical preaching tradition the clinging to the Lord to get his blessing has been juxtaposed to the clinging to Jesus to be blessed, exactly the line of Picander... wonderfully summerized in the final choral.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 157: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3