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Cantata BWV 159
Sehet! wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem
Discussions - Part 1

Welt, gute Nacht!

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (August 2, 2000):
I found this phrase in three cantatas: BWV 82, BWV 159, BWV 161. And every piece is very touching, full of comfort. What do you think about these pieces? And do you know any other including this phrase?

 

Discussions in the Week of February 10, 2002

Dick Wursten wrote (February 14, 2002):
BWV 159 - Estomihi

The sunday of BWV 159 is the last sunday before the fasting starts (Lent) and the musical instruments in the Catholic, Lutheran (and Anglican???) churches become silent.

I was intrigued by the name of the Sunday for BWV 159 in the Lutheran tradition: Estomihi.

The Sundays before were just numbers: Septuagesima (70th), Sexagesima (60th), meaning .. the number of days to go till Easter. (The way the church counts the days is quite creative: one week having 10 days...).
The last Sunday before Lent begins usually also is a number: Quinquagesima (50th), which indeed makes Lent last 40 days (Quadragesima).

By the way: I read somewhere that this period of the church-year, know as the pre-Lent (voorvasten in Dutch, don't know the exact English term), was for very earnest christians, who really wanted to fast 40 days before Easter. They were not satisfied by a global period of 40 days, because they didnot count the already obliged fasting-days, nor the Sundays (because on sunday fasting was prohibited). That is why they started there 40-days fastingperiod on Septuagesima. I think I read this in the pilgrimage-letters of Egeria, end of the 4th century).

To the point now: Estomihi is the Lutheran name for Quinquagesima and is constructed as all the other names of the Sundays of Lent from the Introit-antiphone for this sunday: Esto mihi in Deum protectorem: Be to me a Lord Protector: Psalm 30/31: 3-4

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 14, 2002):
I have dedicated some time in the past week to the Koopman’s petition (BTW, Koopman himself has not yet recorded this cantata, and if he deed, the recording has not yet been released) Therefore my review will be short this time, although I like this cantata a lot.

Introduction

The subject of this week's discussion (February 10, 2002), according to Vicente Vida's proposed list of cantatas for discussion, is BWV 159 'Sehet! wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem' - a Solo Cantata for Quinquagesima Sunday (Estomihi). It is remarkable because of Bach's setting and because it has the same feeling as the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), which Bach was composing at the same time. The bass aria (Mvt. 4) reflects back to the earlier St. John Passion (BWV 245), which has the same opening words in its aria for alto.

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 159 - Recordings

Of the six complete recordings of this cantata I am aware of, four are available in CD form. Three of which come from Bach Cantata cycles (Rilling [4], Leonhardt [5], and Leusink [7]). The fourth is a unique recording by Neville Marriner & ASMF with Janet Baker & John Shirley-Quirk [3]. It is included in a CD, which is considered by 'Penguin Guide' to be 'among the half-dozen or so cantata records that ought to be in every collection'.

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

Background

The background below is taken completely from Alec Robertson’s book ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach (1972). His description is so poetic, touching, and straight to the point that I would not like to touch it:

See: Cantata BWV 159 - Commentary

Review of the recordings

[2] Kurt Thomas (Mid 1960’s?)
Jakob Stämpfli utters the first world of the opening recitative very softly and continues his plea tenderly but painfully, with many nuances along the way. Then the alto Eva Bornemann enters with penetrating voice crying for help in her despair. Her vibrato is clearly heard but we are compensated by her heart-rending and expressive singing. The contradiction between the approaches of the two singers is well suited to the spirit of this movement. Bornemann carries her high level of expression into the second movement, where she is comforted by the clean and warm singing of the choir’s sopranos. Johannes Hoefflin is fine in the short recitative for tenor, and Stämpfli has all the room for himself in the aria for bass. Hearing him together with the accompaniment he gets from Thomas means that Robertson’s comes into full blossom. This recording is one of the best renditions I have heard from Kurt Thomas so far in the weekly cantata discussions. He shows much more sensitivity than we have learnt to expect from him.

[3] Neville Marriner (1966)
I have to say in advance that I have learnt to be somewhat suspicious reading critics’ comments in recording guides. And in this case we have English critics praising English performers. But during the listening to this rendition I have been trying to let my ears and not the critics’ comments guide me. After hearing this recording couple of times, I tend to agree with the critics of the Penguin Guide. Everyone excels in this recording. The bass John Shirley-Quirk, although his English accent can be easily heard, has rich, warm and pleasant voice and he has the ability to express every nuance in the first and fourth movement in a touching way. His expression has more boldness and vigour than Stämpfli’s, but I find him no less convincing. Janet Baker has rarely sounded better and her cool detachment is well suited to the atmosphere of the first movement and her high intelligence is well reflected in her singing. The high level of playing of the ASMF is well-known. Marriner uses a small choir (3 or 4 voice per part) which keeps the chamber nature of this rendition and sings in the second and the fifth movements touchingly although not impeccable technically. Robert tear in his short recitative is on the same par with his partners.

[4] Helmuth Rilling (1975)
Rilling’s rendition is more grandiose than the two previous recordings. His orchestra and choir are bigger and the whole approach is extrovert rather than intimate. Huttenlocher is in good shape regarding his voice but I find his expression less interesting than the two previous bass singers. Julia Hamari is the star of this recording. I do not know how she manages to put so much pain and agony into her singing, but she definitely moved me deeply. Although she uses some vibrato, I have nothing but praise to her singing. Singing recitative is not one of Baldin’s strong areas, because he gives the impression that he dos not know where he is going.

[5] Gustav Leonhardt (1986)
The voices of the bass Max van Egmond and the alto Paul Esswood match nicely, but there is no much tension in their rendition of the opening movement. Much of the dramatic content of this movement is not expressed. In the second movement Esswood continues, and here also his singing lacks some expression. The same could be said about the aria for bass. Equiluz in the recitative for tenor is fine as usual.

[7] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
I am very much aware that had Leusink’s rendition been the only recording of this cantata I knew, I would still have enjoyed this cantata. But after hearing the other recordings, especially the first , I know that this recording would not be the one to which I shall return most often. It simply has nothing special to offer. None of the singers excels and Buwalda simply does not get into the heart of the matter, both in the first and the second movement. Ramselaar is the best of the soloists, but he is neither Stämpfli nor Shirley-Quirk. Even not Huttenlocher or Egmond, at least not in this cantata.

Conclusion

Personal priorities: Marriner [3], Kurt Thomas [2], Rilling [4], Leonhardt [5], Leusink [7]

Jonathan Miller once said about ‘Erbarme dich’ from SMP (BWV 244) that it touches every human heart every time in every rendition, because it is about the basic human facts known to every human being. That we were born to suffer and the end of all of us is to die. In some sense, the same could be said about all of Bach’s music. But there are certain works or certain movements of Bach’s works in which we feel stronger the unavoidable path. Cantata BWV 159 is such an example. Therefore, none of the recordings of this cantata to which I have listened fails to move. But Marriner and his singers [3] have touched my heart deeper than any other performer of this cantata. Forget about technical limitations or difficulties. Nobody is perfect. When somebody moves you so strongly, all his other deficiencies would better be forgotten. You know that I have listened to Jazz music for many years. Some of the better Jazz musicians did not have good technique, but they knew how to touch man’s heart. Ornette Coleman with his ‘Lonely Woman’ is a good example. I do not dare comparing him to Bach, but at least in one case is touched the same ground.

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 15, 2002):
Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 159 - Provenance

Commentaries: [Spitta, Schweitzer, Voigt, Smend]

See: Cantata BWV 159 - Commentary

Review of the Recodings

The recordings that I listened to are: Dietrich Fischer Dieskau (Mvt. 4 - 1958) [M-3]; Rilling (1983) [4]; Leonhardt (1986) [5]; Leusink (1999) [7]
An examination of the timings might be instructive:

Complete cantata timings:

Marriner [1966] [3] (17:14)
Kurt Thomas [60’s] [2] (15:41)
Rilling [1983] [4] (16:20)
Leonhardt [1986] [5] (14:36)
Leusink [1999] [7] (13:59)

Mvt. 4 (Bass Aria):

Warfield [1952] (5:41) [M-2]
Fischer-Dieskau [1958] [M-3] (7:53)
Huttenlocher [1983] [4] (5:43)
van Egmond [1986] [5] (5:14)
Ramselaar [1999] [7] (4:34)

The Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recording is outstanding in almost every aspect. Some listeners might object by pointing out the slow tempo taken for this aria. It is almost twice as slow as Leusink’s rendition [7]. Is this only due to the romanticized performance practice that prevailed in the 1950’s, and are the faster tempi to be preferred because they represent the more authentic HIP practices that have evolved over the past 40 years?

The serious nature of the text and music for this cantata would more likely demand a slower tempo for this famous aria, but there are also many other variables that would need to be considered such as the quality of voice and the number of instruments performing, etc. Without wanting to launch into a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of the HIP and non-HIP versions that are available, I would ask you simply to listen to the non-HIP DFD and Huttenlocher versions and compare these with van Egmond’s and Ramselaar’s HIP versions of the same aria. The most obvious difference beyond the great variations in tempi is in the ability of the voice to embrace every aspect of the mvt.: the outer slower sections as well as the slightly faster middle section. It is Huttenlocher who attempts to copy some of DFD’s performance in some of the details without ever reaching the greatness of the latter’s performance. Allow me, therefore, to concentrate on DFD’s performance, which combines a great depth of expression with legato phrases that issue directly from the text itself:

After the beautiful opening oboe solo by Lothar Koch, DFD begins the opening phrases of this memorable interpretation at a soft dynamic level behind which one can already feel the latent power of his voice as he moves from one phrase to the next, even though there are rests between them. He creates an increasing tension as each phrase becomes part of a greater whole, a much longer arch that encompasses all the shorter phrase components. You need only to hear the unfolding of the initial phrases that he sings in order to realize that this is truly a remarkable artist who has completely identified with the text and music that he is singing. There are many beautiful moments throughout this mvt. Among all the recordings of Bach arias that I have heard, this one certainly would be at the top of my list of all-time favorites.
The rendition of the chorale (Mvt. 5) by the Choir of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral (Berlin) is such that one would expect it to be taken directly from a 1950’s performance of one of the passions: very moving, but also very romantic in performance style.

[4] Rilling:
Mvt. 1: Rilling allows the bc to become too obtrusive (loud) throughout the mvt. Huttenlocher (not one of my favorite vocal artists) sings surprisingly well here as he supplies the very affirmative voice of Christ which opposes the vacillating nature of the Soul as sung by Hamari. There is a remarkable range of expression in her voice as she presents the conflicting emotions of the soul. She is in absolute control of her vocal technique as well. Listen to the way she caresses certain notes! Rilling does bring out the contrast between the arioso sections (Christ) and the meditations of the Soul. Mvt. 2: Once again, Hamari provides a superior rendition as she creates interesting variations for the vocal line that calls for a legato treatment while at the same time preserving the movement of the triplet figures. The bc is again too loud. The choir sopranos sing the chorale. Mvt. 3: Baldin somehow manages not to sound overly strained on the high notes. His expression is somewhat restricted, but not too much so. Mvt. 4: The aria begins with an excellent oboe player (Günther Passin) and even Huttenlocher rises to the occasion (he has less of the impious voice quality that I usually sense in his singing.) Of course, he is unable to reach DFD’s level, even though he copies some of his interpretation. He sings on a higher level here. This may be due to the high quality of this aria that seems to bring out the best in the basses that attempt to sing it. Mvt. 5: This chorale flows melodically with a serious attitude toward the music and text being sung.

[5] Leonhardt:
Mvt. 1: van Egmond belongs to a class of lesser voices (not full voices) and does not give a very commanding performance of Christ’s words. Whatever sacred attitude toward the text that van Egmond is able to conjure up in his portrayal, the shockientry of Esswood’s peculiar voice destroys the solemnity normally accorded to a sacred cantata. Mvt. 2: This duetto is fraught with many problems the worst of which is intonation. Eiwanger, the boy soprano, is very difficult to listen to and Esswood reverts to his usual penchant for singing almost everything flat. Add to this the ‘Zippel Fagottist’ who not only plays too loudly, but also plods along mechanically, thus dooming this entire mvt. from being salvaged in any way. Mvt. 3: Equiluz, deprived of support (bc according to the Harnoncourt Doctrine) begins to engage in too much sotto voce in a few places. This detracts from an otherwise excellent performance. Mvt. 4: van Egmont suffers from the inability to connect the phrases the way that DFD does. These short phrases sound disconnected and therefore lack dignity. Everything seems not to hang together properly. There are sudden dynamic changes (ms.33) that jump out of the texture that Bach had provided. The oboe player has intonation problems. Leonhardt exaggerates the 1st note of the appoggiaturas, a stylistic device that sounds completely out of place here: while Christ sings, “It is finished,” Leonhardt nonsensically emphasizes the unfinished nature of the final cadence. [Go figure!] Mvt. 5: There are many added strong accents on the 1st and 3rd beats of the measure that do not contribute to the understanding of the text. With this uneven, jerky interpretation of a passion-tide chorale, Leonhardt exhibits his total lack of understanding of the chorale text as well as the choral tradition that this is part of, but this is to be expected of conductors such as Harnoncourt and Leonhardt who, as primarily trained in playing instruments, have little understanding of the art of choral singing since they lack experience in this area.

[7] Leusink:
Mvt. 1: Here are problems similar to those encountered in the Leonhardt version: instead of Esswood’s mistreatment of the music, we now have Buwalda who increases the dramatic vocal antics and lacks even more control of his voice. Despite all of this, Ramselaar’s efforts are reasonably good. The bc is too loud as usual. Mvt. 2: Holton’s voice is too weak for the chorale, so Leusink has the oboe double her part (not in the score!) Since her German diction is poor, the chorale text is not clear. Buwalda is slightly better here than he was in Mvt. 1. The bassoon plugs away endlessly at the notes. This ‘Zippel Fagottist’ is simply too loud. Mvt. 3: Schoch gives a rather expressionless delivery of this recitative. The bc is according to the Harnoncourt Doctrine (the 1st note should sound for 10 beats, but only manages to sound for one beat.) Mvt. 4: Ramselaar lacks the fullness and depth of expression of the other bass voices. This version is much too fast. There are times it sounds as if Leusink is pushing the tempo too much. The oboe’s exaggerated appoggiaturas are copied from the Leonhardt recording, but they are not quite as strong. Mvt. 5: Something is wrong here with the special stress given to the final unaccented syllable of certain German words: the ‘den’ of ‘Wunden’ and the ‘gen’ of “deswegen.”

Summary:
Mvt. 1: Hamari, Huttenlocher [4]
Mvt. 2: Hamari [4]
Mvt. 3: Equiluz [5] (with some reservations)
Mvt. 4: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau [M-3]
Mvt. 5: Rilling [4]

Dick Wursten wrote (February 16, 2002):
BWV 159 - Impressions

[7] I listened to the only recording I possess: Leusink’s. And indeed this is a cantata bathing in the same atmosphere as the SMP (BWV 244). What a pity that from this years cycle of cantatas so few is left, but even more reason to cherish what IS left.

In opposition with the opinion expressed by Thomas Braatz, I am reasonably satisfied by the performance of his musicians. I agree with him that Buwalda in the first mvt is stressing his voice in a rather embarrassing way but this is compensated by a fine Ramselaar. I completely disagree with Thomas in his evaluation of Mvt. 2. (But of course I have no material to compare it with). I heard in Mvt. 2 a fine balance between all participants in this delicate piece of music. That Holton’s voice had to be doubled by an oboe: well if Thomas would not have written that Bach did not write this part, I never would have bothered... The result counts for me, innocent and naive bach-listener. And the result is beautiful. The alternation of voices and parts is nice, the voices blend nicely. For one moment I could not believe that it was the same Buwalda as in mvt 1 that was singing this alto part so sensitively. that Thomas Braatz wrote <<this 'Zippel Fagottist' is simply too loud>>, I don't understand. He doesnot articulate much, indeed, but he was not too loud, at least not for my ears...

Mvt. 3: no comments.

Mvt. 4. the famous aria. I heard it for the first time. Indeed a wonderful piece of music, SMP (BWV 244) - quality label. Thomas Braatz stated Leusink tempo is by far the fastest. So it may be. I liked it. Ramselaar again proves to be a reliable bass-singer, who doesnot exaggerate in expression or in isolating details, but who gives a sincere and convincing performance. It touched me. Too fast ? I don't know the score. What are the notes like etc... If Thomas would not have said it, I would only have noticed that the tempo is not completely stable. I notice unrest or restlessness... But that - in se - has nothing to do with the tempo. It convinced me. 'es ist vollbracht' sounded convincingly enough, the 'Gute nacht' sounded like an invitation to lay down the head and rest in the Lord. And the upspeed at 'Nun will ich eilen'.... I wonder what is left of this upspeed when the tempo is almost twice as slow... (Fischer-Dieskau.. timing Thomas Braatz)..

Mvt. 5. A pleasant and unexpected surprise: The choir of Leusink [7] sings in a very natural way a famous Lutheran choral. Okay, some strange text-accents, but no yodelers this time. Good atmosphere...

In short: this brilliant CD was worth the price of the whole box... and my gratitude to the BCML is also very great (so Kirk, don't stop it, be patient). It time and time again forces me to take time to listen to Bachs cantatas... reason enough for its existence.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 16, 2002):
Dick Wursten wrote:
[7] < I listened to the only recording I possess: Leusinks. And indeed this is a cantata bathing in the same atmosphere as the SMP (BWV 244). What a pity that from this years cycle of cantatas so few is left, but even more reason to cherish what IS left. In opposition with the opinion expressed by Thomas Braatz, I am reasonably satisfied by the performance of his musicians. >
There is no need to apologize for the fact that you listened to only one recording of this cantata, nor should you have to deprecate your own ability to hear and comment on that which you heard. In any case, your comments, or those of anyone else on these lists, might cause me to re-examine the statements I had made. If I had only the Leusink version [7] and had never heard this cantata before, I would probably enjoy this version much more because it wobe my first introduction to this composition by Bach.

BTW, I enjoyed your comments on Estomihi very much and learned things there that I had not known before.

< I agree with him that Buwalda in the first mvt is stressing his voice in a rather embarrassing way but this is compensated by a fine Ramselaar.
I completely disagree with Thomas in his evaluation of
Mvt. 2. (But of course I have no material to compare it with). I heard in Mvt. 2 a fine balance between all participants in this delicate piece of music. That Holtons voice had to be doubled by an oboe: well if Thomas would not have written that Bach did not write this part, I never would have bothered... The result counts for me, innocent and naiv bach-listener. And the result is beautiful. The alternation of voices and parts is nice, the voices blend nicely. For one moment I could not believe that it was the same Buwalda as in mvt 1 that was singing this alto part so sensitively.
that Thomas Braatz wrote <<this 'Zippel Fagottist' is simply too loud>>, I don't understand. He doesnot articulate much, indeed, but he was not too loud, at least not for my ears... >
The fact that Leusink [7] was the only conductor who had to add an instrument to the solo soprano part (a method that Bach frequently employed to lend further support to the sopranos in an opening mvt. of a chorale cantata, but here we have a 'solo' cantata and it was not indicated here), confirms the fact that Holton's voice was insufficient to achieve a proper balance. The oboe only served to support Holton's lack of volume and obscure her poor German diction. I did point out that Buwalda 'was slightly better' in Mvt. 2, so I do not understand why you say that you "completely disagree" with my assessment of this mvt. As for the bassoon part, "Zippel Fagottist" refers to the player's inability to play sensitively without drawing attention to the part. This implies the ability to do more than simply read the notes from the part, but rather to play as a chamber musician might, listening to the rest of the ensemble while reducing volume and including some phrasing as well.

< Mvt. 3: no comments.
mvt 4.the famous aria. I heard it for the first time. Indeed a wonderful piece of music, SMP (
BWV 244) - quality label. Thomas Braatz stated Leusink [7] tempo is by far the fastest. So it may be. I liked it. Ramselaar again proves to be a reliable bass-singer, who does not exaggerate in expression or in isolating details, but who gives a sincere and convincing performance. It touched me.Too fast ? I don't know the score. What are the notes like etc...If Thomas would not have said it, I would only have noticed that the tempo is not completely stable. I notice unrest or restlessness... But that - in se - has nothing to do with the tempo. It convinced me. 'es ist vollbracht' sounded convincingly enough, the 'Gute nacht' sounded like an invitation to lay down the head and rest in the Lord. And the upspeed at 'Nun will ich eilen'.... I wonder what is left of this upspeed when the tempo is almost twice as slow... (Fischer-Dieskau.. timing Thomas Braatz).. >
To use a crude English phrase, if you listened to the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau version, as slow as it is, it would "knock your socks off!" Anyone's expectations of what DFD would do with this aria will be "completely blown away" by his performance. DFD, here at his prime, does marvellous, indescribable things with the music and text. Any words that I would attempt to formulate to describe his performance would simply pale against actually hearing this recording. You will not truly know what this aria can sound like until you hear this performance.

< Mvt. 5. A pleasant and unexpected surprise: The choir of Leusink [7] sings in a very natural way a famous Lutheran choral. Okay, some strange text-accents, but no yodelers this time. Good atmosphere... In short: this brilliant CD was worth the price of the whole box... and my gratitude to the BCML is also very great (so Kirk, don't stop it, be patient). It time and time again forces me to take time to listen to Bachs cantatas... reason enough for its existence. >
All things are relative. If I had only the Brilliant Bach Cantata Series and nowhere else to turn to for hearing these masterworks from Bach's pen, I would certainly be thankful for this opportunity. As it is, I am trying to distinguish between different versions (Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual = Whoever has to choose between things, will also experience the agony of trying to distinguish between them) so that others on the list might get a sense of where their recording(s) rank among choices, should they be interested in pursuing such an objective as possibly acquiring other recordings. But if you are happy with what you have, then state what you have heard and discovered. There is no need to imagine what another version might sound like "when the tempo is almost twice as slow," and to imply with trailing dots that there may be something wrong with such an interpretation. This could easily be turned around, so that if you had first heard the DFD version and, after that, saw the timing on the Ramselaar version and then listened to it to confirm your suspicions, it would be quite apparent what is lacking in the latter version.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (February 17, 2002):
Thomas Braatz Wrote:
< If I had only the Leusink version [7] and had never heard this cantata before, I would probably enjoy this version much more because it would be my first introduction to this composition by Bach. >
Sure thing!!
I'm not proffesionally trained in music, so my sparse knowledge comes mainly from listening and isolated readings, sometimes just the booklets in the CDs, and occasionally some book or magazine I happen to buy. I guess this profile fits many members, so it would be nice to know if my experience is common place or not. The thing is that I've been listening to music (all types) since I can remember. My parents allways played music at home. Regarding classical music, since my early twenties, I turned back to it after some years of a "logical" romance with Rock. So I begun getting the works I used to listen to when I was a kid. Many of the versions my father had were not in print yet in the digital domain, so I got alternative ones. By then, I thought that there was no REAL difference between one conductor or another, and all that stuff was just form weak-minded-snobs.

How enormous was my surprise when I really felt that Carmina Burana by Ozawa had almost nothing to do with my "good old" Frühbeck de Burgos reading. Same goes for Malgoire's Requiem (Mozart). Even in the digital era, I experienced this sense of "reference reading" phenomenon. It's just that. When I searched for Frühbeck de Burgos recording on CD, shop clerks told me "No, no. Better go for this one." or "But...This one has Orff's personal approval" etc. etc.

Tell me whatever you what, but unless your first contact with a piece of music happens to be the worst version of recorded music's history, chances are that the first recording you heard is your reference of "how should it sound". And the younger you heard it, the stronger the feeling. At least, that is the case with me.

Dick Wursten wrote (February 18, 2002):
Thomas Braatz reacted to my impresssions and opinions about the tempo of mvt 4. (The famous aria Es ist vollbracht). As my listening-history was still blank, I said, that I did not have the impression that Leusink [7] was too fast. I only noticed a lack of stability. And I wondered what happens with the upspeed (Nun will ich eilen) when the tempo is almost twice as slow (Fischer-Dieskau timing Thomas Braatz)

Thomas reacted:
< To use a crude English phrase, if you listened to the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau version, asslow as it is, it would "knock your socks off!" Anyone's expectations of what DFD would do with this aria will be "completely blown away" by his performance. DFD, here at his prime, does marvellous, indescribable things with the music and text. Any words that I would attempt to formulate to describe his performance would simply pale against actually hearing this recording. You will not truly know what this aria can sound like until you hear this performance.>
This of course I accept. What else can I do ? But that was not my point. There are many people who do 'marvellous' thing with music and text of others. And in more than one way one can be 'completely blown away' by it. My point was this: Does the partiture (written by Bach) give any indication at all about which tempo would be suitable or does the partiture say nothing about it... As far as I know the beginning of the aria is written in 8/ths en the upspeed in 16ths, which unto me - but I am a layman - 'looks' quite quick.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 18, 2002):
Dick Wursten inquired:
[7] < My point was this: Does the partiture (written by Bach) give any indication at all about which tempo would be suitable or does the partiture say nothing about it... As far as I know the beginning of the aria is written in 8/ths en the upspeed in 16ths, which unto me - but I am a layman - 'looks' quite quick. >
There is no indication of tempo (for example, adagio, andante, etc.) for this mvt. in the score. As I have indicated, there are many elements that need to be considered, when attempting to determine the appropriate tempo, even when tempo markings are given by the composer. The visual element, just looking at the types of note values involved, can be quite deceiving. Bach might have notated mainly half and whole notes, and yet the tempo taken might be quite brisk or even fast. Among other things, we need to consider the important HIP and non-HIP factor which calls forth certain extremes in performance style. I have alluded to this already. Reducing the instruments in number to only one per part and using historically imitative reproductions thereof that have less volume than modern instruments, 'micromanaging' the phrasing and causing many gaps between notes to appear in what is now clearly a characteristic of the non-legato HIP style initiated by Harnoncourt, using half-voices that have a diminished ability to sustain notes and have a reduced range (whenever they sing beyond their limited range, the volume drops off considerably), are factors that lead toward speeding up the performance of individual mvts. such as this beautiful bass aria (Mvt. 4). Other peripheral factors, such as the acoustic environment in which the music is performed, climatic conditions, etc., also affect the tempo at which a given composition is performed. Ultimately, the decision regarding the tempo to be used rests with the conductor, who needs to be very mindful of the soloist's expressive capabilities and vocal proficiency, while at the same time maintaining a goal that is directed at achieving a musically coherent, musically satisfying presentation of the words and music.

Dick Wursten wrote (February 18, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks !

 

BWV 159, concert

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 27, 2006):
[cc: Doug Cowling, read the last part first, easier than extracting it for a separate post]

Our Boston based, Bach oboe treasure, Peggy Pearson, is also music director of her own concert series, Winsor Music. Last night's concert included BWV 159. She told me back in September, and again last night, that she programmed it because the oboe lines are a candidate for her favorites in the Bach cantatas, and she has played just about all of them. I am going to be satisfied when I can say I have listened to (and discussed) just about all of them.

The soloists were Joanna Manning, S; Pamela Dellal, MS; Frank Kelley, T; Ulysses Thomas; B. The Rilling configured continuo was Susan Hagen, bass; Michael Beattie, harpsichord, and Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello. Only a few more: Heidi Braun-Hill and Gabriela Diaz, violins, and Mary Ruth Ray, viola. So far this would appear to be OVPP, but we had a surprise treat: the chorals were sung by the PALS (Performing Arts at Lincoln School) GirlChoir, twelve young ladies led by Rebecca Kenneally

Given the modern instruments and GirlChoir, you could not call this an attempt at authentic performance practice, but the rest was sized for HIP. You will have to pick your own label. Before mentioning a few details, the overall performance was consistent and cohesive, perfectly suited to the setting in a small church.

I have mentioned elsewhere (incl. BWV 8) that Frank Kelley is my benchmark T for Bach. This is the first I have heard him live for a while so it was good to refresh my ears. He brought expression and pure tone to the Mvt. 3 T recit., in perfect balance with the basso lines, who also struck a thoughtful balance between continuo and interruptus. Just a few rests, not overdone. I will have more to say about the Winsor Music Bach continuo come January, with respect to BWV 202, which WM performed a couple months ago.

Others have mentioned elsewhere (incl. BWV 8) that they find Kelley's voice light. He is actor as well as singer, performing many opera roles. I would consider the possibility that when singing Bach, he is playing the role of a boy (or very youthful) tenor. If I had thought of it, I would have asked him last night. Next time.

Some of you may recognize Pamela Dellal from her role as translator for Emmanuel Music (BCW link from English-6). And a subset of that group may know her EM recorded voice, as well. She has major roles in BWV 159, both the opening A recit (with B arioso), and the Mvt. 2 A aria (with S choral). I don't often take the time to do a lot of preparation for concerts, but last night I did get to listen to Buwalda with Leusink [7] over dinner before heading out for music. I have promised myself not to join the Buwalda bashers. Let me just say, if you want contrast, Buwalda on CD, followed by a live performance from a powerful female voice, definitely provides it.

Although he calls this a solo cantata, Robertson suggests the choral section as a better option than solo S. Too bad he never got to hear the GirlChoir, an inspired choice, forget about authenticity. Robertson again: <Bach achieves a perfect union between the melodies of the two parts in this most lovely movement.> We certainly heard that!

It is pointless to talk about highlights in a masterpiece such as this, so compact and perfect that every note is a highlight! So what shall we call Mvt. 4, B aria, w/ oboe obbligato? In times of great stress, I fall back on numbers. I am gong to call it BWV 159/4 (Mvt. 4). This is my first experience hearing Ulysses Thomas. I have been listening to Peggy Pearson for about twenty years. That is not exactly possible, since she is barely past thirty. Anyway, I have a feeling it was as much a thrill for Ulysses as it was for me to hear them together.

A bit of extra fun for a James Joyce fan (is Hens still around), a guy named Ulysses! Still a graduate student at Boston U. Is he the long-awaited GS to take up one of our tasks (perhaps the X-quest)? Is it necessary to label that a joke?

Besides the Bach, there was Handel and Crozier. Kelley was superb in the Handel (selections, from L'Allegro) more aggressively mirthful than light, I would say, in the aria <Come and trip it> I don't know the music well, if I got the wrong title, someone usually sends the correction. And who is Crozier, you might well wonder? Daniel Crozier was the guy sitting at the end of my pew, it turns out. I found myself sitting between his wife and mine, a thorn between two roses. I don't care what you say, I thought it was pretty cool! His piece was not thorny at all, sitting between Handel and Bach. A quartet for oboe and string trio, Winsor Music commiss, premier performance, all that great stuff! Thanks, Peggy. Treasure indeed!

The piece is in one movement, with witty sections alternating with more stately, contrapuntal lines. I know that, because Dan stood up and told us so. But I also could hear it, all the more easily for his preparation. A truly wonderful experience I am trying to share with you.

I tried to spell everyone's name correctly, and not leave anyone out, but this is an informal discussion list. Again, send corrections.

I know many BCML participants do not have the opportunity to get to hear live performances. Enjoy the music any way you can. But for those of you who have the option, get out and support live music! You will never regret a minute of the effort. Not to throw too much stuff into this pot (like that's a BCML no-no), but for those who were on the Mingus thread, some of the other folks who were happy to chat between sets in my younger days included Ornette Coleman, Thelonius Monk (just a grunt on the sidewalk), and the most generous guy of all, John Birks (Dizzy) Gillespie. As best I could tell, John Coltrane hardly talked to anyone, but he was generous with his spirituality and presence.

I brought a friend, a guy who only got out about once every twenty years, to hear Miles Davis. My friend brought an LP. At the bar, he asked Miles to sign it. Miles: <I don't have time for that kinda shit.> For some reason, I was never a big Miles fan after that. His music is OK, but lots (lots!) of better trumpet players. Special memories (sorry ladies): having a pee next to Bennie (Been-Jammin) Golson, and years later, a guitarist whose name starts with G (?). Time to take a break, but also a reminder to note down more of the memories before the names are even further gone. Thanks for your indulgence (if that is not a theologically loaded term for Lutherans).

After the performance (fast forward to last night), I had a chance to chat with Pamela Dellal. Items of general interest to BCML:

(1) She feels that the performance experience gives special insight into the texts, which is why she adds her translations to the literature.

(2) We are glad she does, aren't we? Because as I noted re BWV 116/2, she is the only person, including Dürr, who translates Ach as Alas rather than Ah at that point. She has sung that aria, although I have not heard her do it.

Before I had a chance to ask, she volunteered that she believes that each instance of Ach needs distinct expression (via distinct pronunciation), else why the repetition? You can draw your own conclusions, relative to the High German thread, and Doug Cowling's meltdown over the issue correct pronunciation.

I did not notice until I got home and thought about what I had heard, that BWV 159 is also a wonderful example for the now infamous X-thread. I will switch to that location and ramble on for a bit.

Pal Donokos wrote (November 27, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks for all the info and advice, Ed. I'll leave BWV 62/1 on the list for my little nephew.

I read your report on the performance of BWV 159. It took me some time to get used to Frank Kelly's voice but I like it now. In fact, the more I listen to Rifkin's recordings the more I like them. I don't know what this means.

On Suzuki: I have a couple of CD's from him and I love them all. Blaze is indeed a very good counter-tenor. At the moment, I'm listening to his new CD with Carolyn Sampson, singing duets from Handel oratorios. Very nicely, of course. I can't help feeling though that his technique and timbre suit Handel's/Purcell's music more than Bach's. But it may be a question of language: he sounds more convincing when singing in English. (I have the same feeling about Chance.)

Anyway, in January I'll hear Blaze live (singing Handel - he knows something).

Eric Bergerud wrote (November 28, 2006):
Suzuki and Mera

[To Pal Domokos] Concerning Suzuki and Handel, Yoshikazu Mera sings countertenor on Suzuki's recording of the Messiah. In general I think I prefers mezzos to male altos, but Mera's talent is truly extraordinary. Does anyone know why he dropped out of the Suzuki cycle some years back?

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 159: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

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