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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 158
Der Friede sei mit dir
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Jane Newble wrote (April 24, 2000):
[20] Last week I received the CD with the wonderful Bass Matthias Goerne singing BWV 82, BWV 158 and BWV 56. I heard one track of it on the Gramophone magazine sample CD and just had to get it, and was not disappointed. "Welt, ade! Ich bin dein müde" (BWV 158) was the track featured on the Gramophone CD. The (modern) violin accompaniment is wonderful with his deep bass voice. Although it will take a lot to beat my favorite Klaus Mertens, Matthias Goerne has a fantastic voice.

Here are some excerpts from the Gramophone review: "...this extraordinary fine recital of the solo bass cantatas...." "How this wonderful musician fills all Bachians with hope! This is the sort of mature, sophisticated, assured and boundless Bach singing which one hears so rarely these days. With the beguiling and cultivated oboe playing of Albrecht Mayer, Goerne takes a refreshingly underivative view of 'Ich habe genug' (BWV 82), involved yet unobtrusively engaged. This, and the famous lullaby 'Schlummert ein', is fragrant, even and soft-spoken. Norrington's hold on the modern-instrument Salzburg Camerata Academica provides an almost ideal palette for the Lieder-inspired communicative range of Goerne. A great Bach recording" (Jonathan Freeman-Attwood)

It is on Decca 466 570-2DH (with Salzburg Bach Choir; Salzburg Camerata Academica/Sir Roger Norrington. In between the cantatas are the Sinfonias of BWV 35.

Simon Crouch wrote (April 25, 2000):
I thought Jane's post was really wonderful because it illustrated for me how people's taste in vocal production differs - I listened too to the track on the Gramophone sampler and thought it was some of the worst singing that I'd ever heard! My problem? Goerne has a very fast beating vibrato - I've simply never been able to take this voice type seriously. My loss, I'm sure.

 

Discussions in the Week of February 2, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 4, 2003):
BWV 158 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (February 2, 2003) is the Solo Cantata for the Feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary BWV 158 ‘Der Friede sei mit dir’ (Peace be unto you). It is probable that Salomo Frank wrote the libretto for the aria (Mvt. 2) and the recitative (Mvt. 3), as they bear on the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for which Sunday Bach originally set this cantata. However, in about 1724 for Easter Tuesday, Bach revised the original by adding an opening recitative (Mvt. 1) and a concluding chorale (Mvt. 4). Unfortunately, these texts do not follow a logical sequence, because of this revision. The Gospel for the Easter version is Luke 24: 36, where the risen Christ appears before His Disciples and says, ‘Peace be unto you’. This greeting or blessing begins the cantata with the first line of the recitative. Bach uses only a solo violin, an oboe and organ continuo instead of an orchestra. This is a solo cantata for bass. But the chorale of Mvt. 2 can also be sung by either a solo soprano or by the soprano section of the choir. The last chorale should definitely performed by the choir. If I am not mistaken this is last solo cantata (for one voice) to be discussed in our (first) cycle of weekly cantata discussions.

Recordings
The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV158.htm

Bach wrote three solo cantata for Bass. The most famous of which, ‘Ich habe genugBWV 82 has at least 46 complete recordings and together with the solo cantata BWV 51 is the most recorded of Bach’s sacred cantatas. BWV 56Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen’ is not far behind with its 32 complete recordings. BWV 158 is the least familiar of the three, with 15 complete recordings, but this week is its turn to be discussed and an opportunity for us to give it full attention and explore it more deeply. Two singers – DFD and Max van Egmond – recorded this cantata twice, and in the long list we can find other promising names.

Additional Information
In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
Original German text: at Walter F. Bischof Website; Two English translations: by Francis Browne (Bach Cantatas Website) and Z. Philip Ambrose; Portuguese translation by Rodrigo Maffei Libonati (Bach Cantatas Website); Hebrew translation by Aryeh Oron (Bach Cantatas Website).
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide) and by unmentioned writer (All Music Guide); in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

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

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (February 5, 2003):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< This is a solo cantata for bass. But the chorale of Mvt. 2 can also be sung by either a solo soprano or by the soprano section of the choir. >
Unlike Aryeh, I believe solo voices to be generally superior in movements of this type, where unharmonized chorales overlay shifting vocal lines or instrumental melodies.

< The last chorale should definitely performed by the choir. >
Rifkin [14], of course, performed it with four vocalists, although the original vocal parts for this cantata have vanished.

Philippe Bareille wrote (February 6, 2003):
This beautiful cantata is a short cantata, because probably only a fragment has survived. The main theme is death but seen as a relief of human suffering and bringing peace and rest. "The focal point of the work is the great bass aria with solo violin "Welt ade!", to which the soprano sings the chorale of the same name line-for-line. In its instrumental symbolism and expressive power, the writing here is related to the aria "Erbarme dich" from the MP" (G Schuhmacher)

I have the two versions with van Egmond [13] and a version by DFD (Karl Forster) [4].

[4] Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau was hardly over 30 when he recorded several Bach arias including the complete BW158. The support of the orchestra may be off the mark but combines sensitivity and expression. DFD is sublime as usual. I don't think that it is possible to sing better here. The whole CD is worth listening to.

[13] I won't repeat what I said about Max van Egmond again but this distinguished singer is equal to himself: warm, affecting, tender. I prefer the Leonhardt rendition which brings out the spiritual content more convincingly than Jurgen perhaps. This kind of work imbued with nostalgia is perfectly suited to Leonhardt mystical approach. However, both versions can be warmly recommended. My only reservation with Leonhardt recording is the boy soprano who sings the chorale. I prefer a soloist to a group of singers but Christoph Wegmann' s voice, unlike that of his predecessor Alan Bergius, lacks the required strength to be effective.

In summary: DFD [4] probably remains unrivalled but van Egmond [13] is very moving.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 7, 2003):

See: Cantata BWV 158 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 7, 2003):
BWV 158 - Commentaries: [Chafe, Gerhard Schuhmacher, David Schulenberg]

See: Cantata BWV 158 - Commentary

Dick Wursten wrote (February 8, 2003):
Small cantata, a little gem, though indeed textually inconsistent. the aria mvt 2 is beautiful. In the rendering by Ramselaar & Holton [23], accompanied by Pieter Affourtit (esp. invited to join the Leusink project for this violin part ??) the balance between the three voices is good, so you can discern and enjoy all musical lines and ornaments very well. Not having any other recordings to compare it with, I can only say that I am satisfied with this recording and grateful for this piece of music.

Then a few remarks about the text and the occasion
1. It looks almost selfevident / obvious / that mvt 1 en 4 belong to Easter and 2 and 3 to the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the temple (= Mary Purification = Lightmass).
2. Just read the text of 2 and 3 and you will be reminded of the Canticum Simeonis in the typical interpretation of the christian tradition (cf: 'Ich habe genug' ... 'Mit Fried' und Freud' ich fahr dahin').
3. IMO it is a little bit silly to link the cantata to the 3rd day of Easter, based on the Reading of the gospel of Luke 24: 36-47. That reading doesn't contain the words of the risen Lord: Peace be with you (Der Friede sei mit dir). These words you find in the gospel according to John. Jesus says them twice when he appears to his frightened disciples: John 20: 19-29. [esp: verses 21, 26]. This reading though is in the lutheran lectionarium AFAIK on the first sunday AFTER Easter: The Sunday with that beautiful name: quasimodogeniti... I would dare to suggest this correction to Dürr for the next re-print of his book...

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 8, 2003):
BWV 158 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings: Forster (Fischer-Dieskau) (1958) [4]; Richter (Fischer-Dieskau) (1964) [7]; Rilling (Huttenlocher) (1984) [9]; Leonhardt (van Egmond) (1986) [13]; Rifkin (Opalach) (1989) [14]; Herreweghe (Kooy) (1991) [16]; Norrington (Görne) (1999) [20]; LLeusink (Ramselaar) (2000) [23]

[4] Forster (Fischer-Dieskau):
Mvt. 1 (Recitativo) – Without resorting to more obvious expressive devices, Fischer-Dieskau is able to accomplish a magical interpretation of the music and text. His voice, very mellow and round, encompasses the listener with a wash of beautiful sound. Much is done with understatement, so certain is Fischer-Dieskau of his interpretive powers. This is a remarkable voice at its prime and singing a recitative without making it into an operatic production, but also singing it in such a way that the cantabile aspects of the music become apparent. Any listener who thinks that recitatives are mainly uninteresting interruptions in the forward mvt. of a cantata, should listen to this. Those listeners who have become accustomed to the HIP style of singing by the current half-voices who will present such a recitative in a half-spoken presentation style with little or no support from the bc in the secco portions of such a recitative, will begin to realize how HIP renditions have, for the most part, sucked this type of cantata mvt. dry and have made it sound like the speech patter of a Mozart opera recitative. This is due to a misunderstanding on the part of some musicologists who have applied the performance practices of a later (end of the 18th century) period to the performance of Bach cantatas that were mainly performed at least a half-century earlier.

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) – This is a very sensitive, lyrical rendition with poignant moments of resignation which are quite perceptible in Fischer-Dieskau’s voice as the listener feels how the singer portrays the sense of being really tired of being in this world and his anticipation of the ‚Ruh und Frieden’ [‘rest and peace’] which still lie before him. We are caught in the moments between death and the afterlife. The singer expresses with an almost child-like belief what his thoughts and feelings are (you can almost feel the exhaustion of a life of trials and tribulations) before reaching the next stage which occurs only at the very end where he takes heart as his faith begins to strengthen. This is a truly remarkable performance not only because of the interpretation of the text but also because of the almost incredulous quality of Fischer-Dieskau’s lyrical presentation. The magical combination of these two aspects places this recording far above any other recording. It is unique and very special. The sopranos sing the chorale melody cleanly and clearly without being intrusive, but they create many separations between the individual quarter notes (a rather non-legato style that is inappropriate here.) This chorale melody should be ethereal, as if coming from another dimension. The violin solo is played very sensitively.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) – Another masterpiece of recitative singing that should not be missed.

Mvt. 4 (Choral) – Everything seems to be going wrong here. There are intonation problems galore, the individual voice parts become unclear and muddy due to the misapplied vibratos. There is a tired laxness that makes this short chorale become boring after only a few bars. This choir simply does not care very much about the idea that they have to sing this chorale.

[7] Richter (Fischer-Dieskau):
Mvt. 1 (Recitativo) - The range of expression is much greater than in the Forster recording. Everything is on a much grander scale and Fischer-Dieskau seems to treat this much more like an opera. Here his intelligence in working out the interpretation is very much in evidence, perhaps almost too much so. Some may like this treatment better, but I find the subtlety of the earlier recording much more convincing and moving.

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) – Richter’s bc is much less lyrical than Forster’s; it begins to sound like a relentless, fast march with each 8th note being ‘punched out’ in similar fashion. Fischer-Dieskau picks up on this along with the faster tempo (compared to the Forster recording) and begins to emphasize through thrusting (over emphasis of certain short phrases such as ‘steh’n mir an’—I do not understand why he does this, the music and text do not seem to call for this type of treatment) and staccato separation a feeling almost of anger with everything the world has to offer. He is marching off valiantly as a soldier into battle saying ‘good bye’ to the world and moving into the promised heavenly existence. In the final section (‘da bleib ich’ and ‘da prang ich’), Fischer-Dieskau cuts back considerably to evoke the same child-like belief that he had in the earlier recording, but somehow, because of some sudden outbursts on ‘da prang ich’ he does not capture this mood as well and there is less of an organic development toward the conclusion as he had attained in the previous recording. Here it seems that he is micro-managing the phrases rather than looking at the overall, longer phrase structures. This is a different interpretation and slightly less convincing. The sopranos singing the chorale melody render it in an appropriately legato fashion, however, sometimes the voices are not solidly on the note to be sung (they waver slightly.) but the ethereal effect of the chorale melody is present. The violin is very much in the foreground here and the part is played with a strong presence.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) – Fischer-Dieskau is trying to squeeze out every interpretative detail that he can find. It almost becomes over laden with all the distinctions he is able to find.

Mvt. 4 (Choral) - The choir begins very flat and never really recovers completely even with the help of the organ, playing loudly as usual (this is a terrible flaw in this otherwise usually excellent cantata series), which lets us know just how flat they are.

[9] Rilling (Huttenlocher):
Mvt. 1 (Recitativo) - From the very beginning, Huttenlocher’s overly precious interpretation detracts from making this into a successful recording. He is obviously trying very hard to put expression into his interpretation. The trouble is that he is trying much too hard, and, as a result, the listener will sense the disingenuous quality of his singing.

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) - The violin, which is played very well, is placed very much in the foreground. Huttenlocher gives us more of the same treatment as in the recitative, and the cantus firmus consisting of a number of sopranos who are unable to sing a simple chorale melody without resorting to noticeable vibrato, destroy the desired ethereal quality. These ‘angelic’ voices are much too earthy and will probably remain behind with the bass who undergoes no transformation even at the end of the aria. The bc is much too heavy.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) - Here Huttenlocher becomes even more unbearable as he tries even harder to outdo himself.

Mvt. 4 (Choral) - Despite the voices with vibratos, Rilling manages to give this chorale a worthy treatment with many intriguing subtleties. The choir sings in tune, the balance is good, and the precision is outstanding, and yet there is an emotional quality that pervades the entire rendition.

[13] Leonhardt (van Egmond):
Mvt. 1 (Recitativo) – For some reason unknown to me, van Egmond, in contrast with many other recordings that he made in this series, has a much greater clarity in his voice (not the usual muffled, cottony sound the prevails elsewhere.) Although his half-voice usually sings sotto voce most of the time, here, perhaps because this is a solo cantata, and perhaps also because he may have studied this music more thoroughly until it became a part of him, he gives a very good performance with ample expression that reflects a good understanding and feeling for the text. The rather loud, booming bc tries to help in setting an affirmative tone, but the shortened, secco accompaniment first heard in this Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Cantata Series deprives the singer of the necessary support that he should have. When the bc does enter with another shortened note, it is given excessive emphasis, thus calling too much attention to itself. This is evidence of the imbalance that this mistaken notion of the shortened accompaniment creates, an accompaniment in which the long notes that Bach had in the score are terminated prematurely without any good reason.

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) – One thing is quite clear: Marie Leonhardt (the conductor’s wife or is it daughter?) plays the violin solo very well. This is a refreshing change after hearing Alice Harnoncourt’s squeaky, scratchy violin renditions in the cantatas conducted by Harnoncourt. The chorale melody rendered by a boy soprano and an oboe (the latter, which almost sounds like a tromba, is quite loud, louder at times than the voice) is distorted completely by strong emphasis on each quarter note (with separation between notes.) There is nothing ethereal about this punchy rendition which essentially tries to hammer each syllable into the listener’s ear. Van Egmond continues with an interesting, differentiated interpretative rendition of this aria.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) – Here there is more of the shortened accompaniment in the non-arioso sections. In the high range van Egmond’s voice becomes thin and raspy.

Mvt. 4 (Choral) - The Tölzer Boy’s Choir gives one of its jumpy chorale renditions by throwing an extremely hard accent on almost every 1st and 3rd beat of each measure. In doing so, Leonhardt (in imitation of Harnoncourt’s chorale treatments) also manages to completely distort and hence destroy this chorale so that all that remains is a caricature of this famous chorale by Martin Luther. I wonder what Bach might have said, if he had heard such a primitive rendition such as this where the purpose of the heavy accents seems to be to keep the boys together on the beat.

[14] Rifkin (Opalach):
Mvt. 1 (Recitativo) - Opalach has a reasonably pleasant voice, but his range of expression is quite limited. There is a sameness that prevails throughout. This is another half-voice quite prevalent among HIP. The shortened secco accompaniment is quite apparent here as the voice remains unsupported except for an occasional note here and there (except, of course, in the arioso sections.)

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) - Rifkin has studied and taken to heart Dürr’s suggestion that the solo part might have been originally written for a flauto traverso which Rifkin uses here. This is an interesting experiment that makes this recording worth listening to. The solo soprano voice with vibrato sounds much too earthy and has problems sustaining the melody of the chorale (for this a number of sopranos is infinitely better.) Opalach sings cleanly with a lyrical quality, but the range of expression is quite limited here.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) - This is a continuation of the same qualities as in Mvt. 1.

Mvt. 4 (Choral) – Here we have an OVPP rendition which is excellent because everything can be clearly heard, and it is performed in a legato-style with wonderful phrasing (no clipping of the final note at the end of a line of the chorale.)

[16] Herreweghe (Kooy):
Mvt. 1 (Recitativo) – There is a continuation of the shortened accompaniment in the secco portions of the recitative. Kooy’s presentation has a lively expression and contrasts well the lyrical sections (“Der Friede sei mit dir”) with the remaining passages.

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) – The interplay of the solo violin and voice is balanced and very effective. The soprano section sings as a unit without vibrato (excellent) but Herreweghe has retained the ugly habit (he learned this from Harnoncourt) of non-legato singing (not always, but often) so that there is a separation between the quarter notes. But otherwise this soprano rendition is one of the best. Kooy is very convincing here as well.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) – very similar to Mvt. 1

Mvt. 4 (Choral) – The second note, a half note lower, than in the other recordings, in the sopranos will tip you off that there is something different here. Herreweghe has chosen a different option here. There are quite of number of changes in this version compared to the others. Herreweghe, as usual, has very good control of the choir and achieves an excellent choir sound. I may not agree with some of his unusual phrasings, but it is an interesting version nonetheless.

[20] Norrington (Görne):
Mvt. 1 (Recitativo) – Görne has a problematical voice with a fast, trembling vibrato that distracts from performance of the music. His expression is nothing special. The shortened, secco accompaniment falls in line with the HIP tradition.

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) – the extremely fast tempo forces Görne (and the violinist as well) to twist and turn his way through Bach’s musical lines without being able to do much with the expression. The violin is mainly kept in the background and sometimes is barely heard. This is a quick reading of this beautiful mvt. that fails to leave much of any impression on the listener. The sopranos sing the part very effectively as they float above all the other parts.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) – more of the same, trembling voice that becomes unnerving after a while. The expris almost non-existent. It is simply a quick reading of this work.

Mvt. 4 (Choral) – This is a fairly good reading of the chorale, but there is evidence of some lack of precision in the attacks. It would appear that this choir had probably not had sufficient time to become completely familiar with the chorale and the conductor’s manner of conducting.

[23] Leusink (Ramselaar):
Mvt. 1 (Recitative) - This is one of the few performances which sounds contrived. Very likely this is due to the fact that insufficient time was available for truly ‘digesting’ this musical material in order to make the expression sound natural because it has become an integral part of the performer. Compared to Fischer-Dieskau who also sings pianissimo in this mvt., Ramselaar’s voice becomes a lifeless when singing sotto voce almost all the time. There is no real intensity when singing softly. The bc overdoes the strong emphasis after ‘zerissen’ and ‘gefällt.’ The shortened secco accompaniment in all but the last 6 measures (an arioso) deprives Ramselaar of the necessary support that he needs. There is a breakdown here in the communication between the vocalist and his listening audience. His attempts at expression are artificial.

Mvt. 2 (Aria con Corale) - The bc is quite heavy here. The violin sounds quite thin and tentative. The soprano is a solo voice and doesn’t ‘float’ as well as a soprano section might. In the low range the oboe is louder than the voice. Ramselaar gives a clean reading of the music and if he does attempt to put more expression into his voice, it sounds more like an affectation.

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo) - more of the same as in Mvt. 1, but with even more sotto voce. This is not very convincing.

Mvt. 4 (Choral) - The typical Leusink trademark is the clipping of the final word/consonant at the end of a phrase. All the yodelers and Buwalda-type voices are present. The final touch is Buwalda, or someone like him, trying to jump from an ‘e’ to a ‘c’ on the ‘le’ of the final ‘Alleluja.’

Summary:

Choirs:
The worst choir performances: Forster [4], Leonhardt [13], Leusink [23], yes, and even Richter [7] despite his valiant attempt to make something more of the chorale.

The best choir performances: Rifkin’s OVPP [14], Herreweghe [16] (with a slight reservation), Rilling [9]

Bass soloists:
The best, by far, and in a class all by itself: Fischer-Dieskau in the Forster Version [4]

Very Good: van Egmond [13], Kooy [16], Fischer-Dieskau (Richter) [7]

Average: Opalach [14]

Below Average: Huttenlocher [9], Görne [20], Ramselaar [23]

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (February 9, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] The longer I read the e-mails in the Bach Cantata group, the more I learn about the persons contributing to it. And the more I learn about their preferences. I get the impression that Thomas is living in the past, in his dislike of the use of sotto-voce in recent performances.

Personally, I admire the voice of Ramselaar [23], as plain as it is, his thechnique, expression and interpretation. The same counts for Nico van der Meel (although not in this cantata), who sometimes is treated harshly by mr. Braatz. Everybody his opinion. I am not convinced at all by his claim that musicologists are wrong, and he is right.

I consider it an honour to perform with both aforementioned soloists in the cantate cycle in Rotterdam (Laurenskerk), the Netherlands.

Philippe Bareille wrote (February 9, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< One thing is quite clear: Marie Leonhardt (the conductor’s wife or is it daughter?) plays the violin solo very well. >
It is Gustav Leonhardt's wife.

Aryeh Oron (February 9, 2003):
BWV 158 - Background

The Background below, quoted from the liner notes to the original LP issue of Max van Egmond recording on Telefunken (1972), was written by Christoph-Hellmut Mahling:

The solo cantata for bass "Der Friede sei mit dir" (Peace be with thee), BWV 158, is supposed to have been intended both for use on the feast of the Purification of Mary and for use on the third Easter feast day. This double use let the question arise whether the form in whim the cantata has come down to us might not be just a fragment of one single or possibly even two different works. All attempts hitherto at restoring the original form of the work or works have, however, failed through the insufficiency of the available sources. Again, a later re-arrangement of a cantata originally intended for the first of the feasts mentioned above into an Easter Tuesday cantata would not seem inadmissible as an explanation. Also dubious is the time of its composition, whim was hitherto always placed in the Weimar years (1708-17). Today, however, Bach research raises the possibility of it having been written at the beginning of the seventeen-thirties. The question also remains open whether part of the text is by Salomon Frank or not. In the two chorales Bach uses the hymn verse "Welt ade ..." mentioned above on the one hand, and the fifth verse of Luther's hymn "Christ lag in Todesbanden" (Christ lay in death's bonds) on the other. Another striking feature is the sparing use of instruments: apart from the continuo instruments (violoncello and organ), only a solo violin and an oboe are required, the latter to reinforce the chorale melodies sung by the soprano. The cantata begins with a lengthy recitative, which is followed by an "Aria con Corale". The highly virtuoso solo violin part (its technical demands have given rise to consideration whether another solo instrument, e.g. the flute, may not have been originally intended) "concertizes" with the bass soloist, while the chorale is introduced into their jubilation by the soprano and the oboe as a restful element, so to speak. and as a symbol of the firm resolve to bid the "World farewell". The recitative that now follows once again takes up the thoughts expressed in the aria, partly even word for word (Arioso: "Da bleib' im, da hab' ich Vergnügen..." - I stay there, I have pleasure there…), which again can be an indication that the cantata originally must have had another form. The chorale "Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm..." (Here is the proper Passover Lamb...) in a simple four-part setting closes this cantata.

The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 12 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 158:

[4] Karl Forster w/ Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1958)
[5] Jaap Schröder w/ Max van Egmond (1966-1967)
[7] Karl Richter w/ Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1969)
[9] Helmuth Rilling w/ Philippe Huttenlocher (1984)
[11] Johannes Somary w/ John Ostendorf (1984)
[13] Gustav Leonhardt w/ Max van Egmond (1986)
[14] Joshua Rifkin w/ Jan Opalach (1989)
[16] Philippe Herreweghe w/ Peter Kooy (1991)
[18] Karl-Friedrich Beringer w/ Siegmund Nimsgern (1991)
[20] Roger Norrington w/ Matthias Goerne (1999)
[21] Elizabeth C. Patterson w/ Br. Francis Hempel (1999)
[23] Pieter Jan Leusink w/ Bas R(2000)

I do not have the time to write an extensive review. Here are some of my personal observations and a rating of the recordings.

From the opening recitative of DFD’s first recording of this cantata [4] it is easy to realise that we hear a singer who launched a totally new approach to Bach singing. He finds nuances and meaning in a recitative that with other singers might sound bland and not very promising. Every word and every syllable are getting individual treatment. Sometimes the question might be raised: does he over-interpret rather let the music speak for itself? From time to time, if not very often, I have this impression when hearing DFD, but not in his first recording of the cantata under discussion. He sounds so natural and unforced, that when you hear it you think that this is the only viable way of singing this cantata. He set in this recording so high bar, that even for him it was difficult to overstep it. The dialogue between him and the well-trained soprano section of the choir in the second movement leaves nothing to be desired. On the other hand, the choir in the recording with Richter’s [7] is too big and they sing with power rather than gentleness, as they should.

Max van Egmond, who also recorded this cantata twice, approaches it from a different point of view. His interpretation is more subdued and intimate, and he attracts less attention to himself. Nevertheless, I find it very attractive and tasteful. I prefer his first recording [5] to his second [13], not because there is a great difference in the quality of the interpretation or the singer’s voice. There isn’t. But in the first recording he has an equal partner with Schröder, the violinist, who plays with technical assurance, sensitivity and vitality. I also prefer the singing of the small and excellent soprano section of the choir in the first recording to the solo soprano boy in the second. The oboe in the second does not play in tune with the soprano.

I do not know why did Rilling choose Huttenlocher to sing this cantata [9]. He uses too much vibrato in his singing, his lines sounds unstable and his interoperation is not very interesting. I think of at least two or three singers, who served Rilling in his cantata cycle, that I would prefer to hear singing this cantata. The choir in this recording is again too big.

John Ostendorf, who recorded the cantata with Somary [11], has serious problems of pronunciation, and his interpretation gives the impression that he does not really understand the textual and musical content he has to convey. The playing of the violin is not clean and the choir is too big. Rifkin [14] uses another American bass singer, Jan Opalach, who is a major improvement by showing more sensitivity and more tenderness. Rifkin has his reasons to use flute rather than violin in the second movement. To my ears it is totally unacceptable. Using OVPP in this cantata could be justified had Rifkin used a more balanced team of vocal soloists, whose voices bland better together. Another America bass recorded this cantata. This is Francis Hempel with Elizabeth Patterson [21]. This is the least satisfying rendition of this cantata I have heard. The voice of the singer is not especially pleasant, and he has nothing to offer in terms of interpretation.

I find the Herreweghe with Kooy [16] as the best of the modern recordings of this cantata. Herreweghe with his sensitive accompaniment pushes Kooy to give his outmost along all the four movements. The playing of the violin is soft and tender; the small soprano section of the choir is well balanced with the violin and the singer. There is a unique aura of mystery and lyricism in this recording, not to be found in any other recording.

When Nimsgern recorded this cantata with Beringer [18], he still had an impressive voice as could be heard in his cantata recording s with Rilling and Harnoncourt from the early 1970’s. But I feel that something had been lost. In almost every of his earlier recordings he brought an original and convincing approach. Here he sounds more ordinary. As if he did not pay the same attention to the recording as he once use to do. The real gem of this recording is the excellent boys’ choir of Windsbacher Knabenchor, who sings in both of the choral movements. Another German bass-baritone, who belongs to a younger generation, Matthias Goerne, recorded this cantata with Norrington [20]. One can hear that he has been trained in the tradition of DFD. He has an impressive voice, but I have the impression that he does not have much originality to offer in terms of interpretation. Maybe he does not have to, and it is only me who am looking for something unique in every recording. The accompaniment and the choir make this a good and solid rendition. If this recording has some problems, they can be found in improper balance between the components. This sounds as a problem of recording or mixing.

Ramselaar rendition with Leusink [23] can certainly please. He has proven himself along the Leusink’s cantata cycle as one the most reliable factors. He is not a DFD, but who is? The playing of the violin and especially the oboe is good, and the soprano (Holton) singing the chorale in the second movement is better than the 4-part choir in the concluding chorale.

Conclusion - Rating

Exemplary: Forster/DFD [4]
Very good: Schröder/Egmond [5], Richter/DFD [7], Herreweghe/Kooy [16]
Good: Beringer/Nimsgern [18], Norrington/Goerne [20]
Average: Leonhardt/Egmond [13], Leusink/Ramselaar [23]
Below average: Rilling/Huttenlocher [9], Rifkin /Opalach [14]
Poor: Somary/Ostendorf [11], Patterson/Hempel [21]
Bad: None

That’s all this time.

Christian Panse wrote (February 10, 2003):
Hello Arjen, Thomas and all,

< The longer I read the e-mails in the Bach Cantata group, the more I learn about the persons contributing to it. >
It's an old insight that no one can talk about anything without talking about him/herself between the lines at the same time ;-)

< I get the impression that Thomas is living in the past, in his dislike of the use of sotto-voce in recent performances. >
Well, everyone has on some labyrinthine ways grown to his own taste and preferences, and after all: it's Bach, a music to which an unequalled lot of approaches seem to work. Yes, it is remarkable with which dedication Thomas takes on the assignment of Leusink-bashing - but you can believe me: I'd do the same to Rilling at every opportunity ;-)

What I find much more questionnable is Thomas' use of the word "half-voice" as a pejorative term for singer classification, while I see it simply as a name for a vocal technique. But I may be wrong here, since I'm no native English speaker.

< Personally, I admire the voice of Ramselaar [23], as plain as it is, his thechnique, expression and interpretation. >
I agree with you; in my opinion Ramselaar [23] does a very good job in the Brilliant series - often he outrivals even famous colleages like Kooy or Mertens in the above-mentioned respects. And I can live with the most of the other soloists in this series as well. There surely are disappointments here and there, but in most of the cases one should be happy that these works are revealed once more with again different aspects. I don't believthat one single recording could ever be enough to do full justice to a Bach cantata.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 11, 2003):
Arjen van Gijssel stated:
>> Personally, I admire the voice of Ramselaar [23], as plain as it is, his thechnique, expression and interpretation. The same counts for Nico van der Meel (although not in this cantata), who sometimes is treated harshly by mr. Braatz. Everybody his opinion. I am not convinced at all by his claim that musicologists are wrong, and he is right.

I consider it an honour to perform with both aforementioned soloists in the cantate cycle in Rotterdam (Laurenskerk), the Netherlands<<
Anyone should consider it an honor to perform in a Bach cantata cycle! You are fortunate to have some of the solo voices which, if I were forced to compare them with soloists performing these works with church choirs in the area in which I live, I would have to admit that the soloists that you mention are better than some of those that I have heard here.

There is, however, a noticeable difference between a performance of a Bach cantata which is performed ‘at all costs’ [unfortunately not monetary] simply to be able to perform this great music and a performance that achieves true greatness. When the enthusiasm among the performers is great and achieving the goal of performing Bach is a primary objective, some magic is bound to occur (even if it may not always be apparent to very critical listeners) despite the fact that clarinets may be playing, the high trumpets missing a note here or there, or that the voices might be struggling with some particularly difficult passages.

To put it another way, a listener wishing to gain a first acquaintance with the great music contained in the Bach cantatas would probably be well served by purchasing the Leusink Bach Cantata Series. Although there is always the aspect of almost any live performance that such a recorded series can not easily replace, the advantage of actually being able to listen to a recording at the convenience of the listener is not to be underestimated. As long as the listener has nothing else to compare this experience with (other available recordings or good live performances) and if the individual listening actually participated in the recorded performances where all the ‘live’ elements of actual participation are revived upon rehearing these performances, then such a series such as Leusink’s can be considered an economical way of studying and appreciating this great music.

However, when the wealth of recordings that ‘are out there’ is examined more carefully (it is possible ‘to play ostrich’ and pretend that these recordings really do not exist, or that they have ‘fallen out of favor’), a listener with an open mind will, most likely, discover recordings of a higher quality than those produced under the time pressure exerted upon Leusink’s ensemble. These could be HIP or not. It does not seem to matter as long as true excellence is attained by combining the artistry supported by good technique and a range of expression that speaks directly to the listener.

>>. I get the impression that Thomas is living in the past, in his dislike of the use of sotto-voce in recent performances.<<
Try to think of this as the difference between a full-flavored food and one that is bland in taste. Try to imagine a harpsichordist (already there is no sustaining pedal available) trying to play every Bach keyboard composition only on a 4’ stop in a staccato fashion at very fast tempi. I have to exaggerate these comparisons in order to make a point about the singers who use the sotto-voce vocal technique almost exclusively. As I understand it, there are two basic prerequisites (perhaps there are others as well) for an outstanding singing voice: the physical ‘apparatus’ (all the organs needed for good sound production) with which not everyone is endowed from birth) and the gift of a ‘soulful’ quality which can impart a spiritual aspect of communication to the listener. Assuming that these are present, a vocal teacher will undertake to train and improve that which already exists.

In the case of the sotto-voce specialists (‘half-voices’ is the term I use because I have not yet found a better one yet) which constitute the majority of voices currently singing Bach arias and recitatives (there are always a few exceptions), these are voices that suffer deficiencies when compared to full-ranged, naturally talented voices. These ‘half-voices’ (for lack of a better term) lack the full range of notes required by many Bach arias as they have little or nothing to offer in the low ranges of their voices and may have problems controlling their voices when attempting to sing with volume and conviction in the high range. As ‘sotto-voce’ implies, these vocalists ‘lightly tap’ the notes they are trying to sing. This is a form of 'vocal cheating' which shortchanges the listener from obtaining the full impact or true substance of the music. Any attempt to use more volume (which is sometimes admittedly difficult because of the extremely fast tempi that many HIP conductors are prone to use) usually results in a negative change of voice quality (the voice tending to break under the strain, or a hooty, screaming quality.)

For half-voices, singing recitatives more as a whisper does absolutely nothing to delineate the meaning of the text, except perhaps to indicate that the singer has trouble identifying with it. If a ‘full voice’ sings piano or pianissimo in a recitative, it would indeed be a very short passage within the recitative, but the difference would also be very apparent. Such a vocalist sings from a base of power which the sotto-voce specialists lack. Behind the lesser amount of volume in the former is nonetheless a feeling of a great reserve of vocal power which usually manifests itself shortly thereafter when a return to the full voice takes place.

In short, for various reasons ‘half-voices’ are unable to give full-blooded presentations of great Bach arias and recitatives. A listener who has heard side-by-side performances of BWV 158 by Fischer-Dieskau [4] and Ramselaar [23] will very soon become aware of the vast differences between these two performances. Some would say “This is great! We have two recordings that give different interpretations of the same Bach cantata. One happens to be HIP, the other not. Isn’t that all that we are after, a greater wealth of interpretations?” At this point it is left to the individual listeners with varying tastes and ideas to decide what sounds good and is effective in moving the listener so that an opinion about the performance can be formed. That is what this list is all about, but it does help when reasons for the distinctions which are made are placed before other listeners who may, or may not, feel the same way. Who knows, perhaps some will feel that Ramselaar is better than Fischer-Dieskau? Tell us your reasons why you feel this way. Perhaps we can all learn something from this, even those that seem to be ‘living in the past.’

Continue of this part of the disussion see: Half-Voice [General Topics]

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 158: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýSeptember 24, 2011 ý08:20:55