Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

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 16
Herr Gott, dich loben wir
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 9, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 10, 2003):
BWV 16 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (February 9, 2003) is the Chorale Cantata for New Year's Day BWV 16 ‘Herr Gott, dich loben wir’ (Lord God, we praise you).

Background

The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to Gardiner’s recording [3] of the cantatas, was written by Ruth Tarlow (2000):

See: Cantata BWV 16 - Commentary

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/BWV16.htm

There are only 4 complete recordings of this cantata. To the usual three participants from the already completed cantata cycles - Leonhardt [1], Rilling [2] and Leusink [4] - joins Gardiner [3].

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; Two French translations: by Walter F. Bischof and Jean-Pierre Grivois (Bach Cantatas Website); 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.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 11, 2003):
BWV 16 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 16 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 12, 2003):
BWV 16 - Commentaries: [Spitta, Schweitzer, Voigt, Dürr, Robin Leaver]

See: Cantata BWV 16 - Commentary

Dick Wursten wrote (February 13, 2003):
[4] Listening to BWV 16 with Leusink I once more was pleased by the sound and playing of the instruments. On this list one most often focusses on the singers, and they are not the best (with exception of Ramselaar, I agree, but this subject has already been discussed) but one should not deny oneself the pleasure of enjoying the HIP instrumentarium of the Netherlands Bach Collegium.

This cantata provides us with the possibility to hear the sound of the natural horn (esp in Mvt. 3. When I hear this sound I mentally immediately leave my house and project myself somewhere in the outer world, fox hunting [not shooting of course and rather cold on New-Years day..]. Also the viola can be heard in Mvt. 5... Is this the 'Violetta' Bach suggests ??

BTW: in this cantata the singers are not so bad after all. Ramselaar is good in his recitativo and the relatively small contribution to mvt 3 (more a choro than an aria).

Mvt. 4. Just try to ignore some of the cries of Buwalda in the high regions and instead try to note that he at least tries to sing the text with feeling for the contents. Very beautiful is the way he accomplishes the singing of the word 'Ruh'.

Mvt. 5 Nico van der Meel (tenor) is at his best when he has not to sing against many other instruments. So he gets well away in/with his aria.

I already said it once before, this time I am a little bit more angry. You can simply hear that the final choral is pasted here by the technicians of Brilliant from a different 'take'. Saying that Richter did the same, is no excuse for Leusink, but a minus for Richter too.

Finally, I was not able to switch off the CD, so by accident the next cantata on the CD started to play... The instrumental opening of it fascinated me... It was BWV 170. also recommended (but not with Buwalda, I'm sorry)

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 15, 2003):
BWV 16 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Leonhardt (1972) [1]; Rilling (1981) [2]; Gardiner (1998) [3]; Leusink (1999) [4]

Timings (from slow to fast):

Mvt. 1 (Chorus): Rilling (2:22), Leonhardt (1:38); Gardiner (1:37); Leusink (1:32)
Mvt. 2 (Recit): Leusink (1:26); Rilling (1:22); Leonhardt (1:14); Gardiner (1:08)
Mvt. 3 (Chorus/Aria): Leonhardt (3:52); Rilling (3:45); Leusink (3:45); Gardiner (3:30)
Mvt. 4 (Recit): Rilling (1:47); Leusink (1:36); Leonhardt (1:29); Gardiner (1:17)
Mvt. 5 (Tenor Aria): Leonhardt (8:49); Leusink (8:09); Gardiner (7:24); Rilling (6:45)
Mvt. 6 (Chorale): Rilling (1:16); Leusink (1:04); Leonhardt (1:03); Gardiner (1:01)

[Notice how Gardiner gravitates toward the extremely fast tempi. With the exception of the very fast tenor aria, Rilling tends toward the slower tempi.}

The Leonhardt, Gardiner, and Leusink recordings are definitely HIP, while Rilling’s is mainly non-HIP (using a higher pitch than the others and also utilizing modern instruments.

[1] Leonhardt:

Choral Mvt. 1, Mvt. 3, and Mvt. 6:
The entrance of the sopranos (Tölz Boys’ Choir), although forcefully present (there is nothing tentative about this entrance), presents a sound where all the boys are not together on the same note. This may be due to insecurity about the pitch and/or too much vibrato. Hermann Baumann ‘steals the show’ by playing the corno da caccia at the proper pitch (not an octave lower as in Leusink’s recording with a horn). The singing of the remaining voices of the choir (King’s College Choir Cambridge singing tenor and bass, I assume) is crisp and clear with all the parts audible and in balance with each other. The strings and oboes can also be heard on their independent parts, but the manner of playing is light, and, perhaps, with just a bit too much staccato.

Unfortunately, Hermann Baumann decides to play the wonderful, high corno da caccia part an octave lower. I rather doubt that the instrument that he is using is a corno da caccia because it sounds very much like a modern French horn. There is definitely ‘something fishy’ going on here since the booklet that comes with the recordings indicates that he is playing a corno da caccia, but here obviously he is not. Despite the removal of what might have been a very exciting performance with a horn in the proper high range, the choir continues to create excitement of its own with a very spirited rendition of the joyful aspect of this music. Leonhardt succeeds in obtaining crisp responses from the choir, however, the instruments do not live up to expectations as they fail to really differentiate between the sections marked ‘piano’ and ‘forte’ by Bach. The bass, van Egmond, is unable to continue the forceful spirit established in the choral sections. His half-voice simply does not have the necessary commanding power to establish itself firmly in the midst of this mvt.

The chorale once again has Baumann playing in the proper octave as he had in the 1st mvt. The entrance at the beginning of the chorale is quite tentative/insecure. With the help of the horn which plays legato, the beginnings of the ‘hack, hack, hack’-style of singing a chorale are overcome slightly, but if you listen carefully, you will the detect this direction of chorale singing with its ‘mini’-hiatuses already present here early in this cantata series.

Mvt. 2 (Bass Recit) & Mvt. 3 (Bass Aria) [van Egmond]:
Van Egmond may have the ability to modulate his voice more than Ramselaar (see Leusink below) and thus provide for a better interpretation of the text; nevertheless, this voice remains limited in those instances when he indulges in sotto voce singing. Van Egmond does supply a suitable bridge between mvts. 1 and 3 as he attempts to build up to the entrance of the choir which follows immediately. Once the choir has sung its 1st section and van Egmond enters with this aria-like part, there is a definite ‘disconnect’ because the listener is forced to step way down to van Egmond’s limited voice capacity.

Mvt. 4 (Alto Recit) [Esswood]:
Esswood sings uncleanly. He has trouble hearing the proper pitches of the notes and allows his terrible vibrato try to cover up these difficulties. He could really benefit from having the bc continuo to play the notes as written by Bach, it could keep him from going flat. He does try to put expression into his singing, but it is the general quality of his voice that makes it difficult for me to listen to it with pleasure and not be distracted by its strange qualities.

Mvt. 5 (Tenor Aria) [van Altena]:
Here we can hear the oboe da caccia played very well without the shaky intonation most frequently encountered in the Harnoncourt recordings in this series. The combination with van Altena’s clear (slightly nasal) is an excellent blend/match and the slow tempo (slowest of the group!) seems very appropriate to bring out all the wonderful qualities of this music. This is a very satisfying performance that is definitely worth listening to more than just once.

[2] Rilling:

Choral Mvt. 1, Mvt. 3, and Mvt. 6:
At a tempo almost a minute slower than the fastest ones that are all HIP recordings, Rilling is able to reveal things about this mvt. that escaped the other conductors: there is a strong element of serious joy, praise, and gratitude. This mvt., now devoid of the ‘whooping’ and ‘hollering’ present in the other renditions, has in it a sense of firm conviction, even a feeling that comes much closer to that which Martin Luther may have had in mind. Yes, these are trained voices with vibratos, a fact, which in itself can become rather disconcerting, yet they sing forcefully with a presence often lacking in other choirs that have to speed along while trying to hit all the notes if possible. It is the ‘weightiness’ of this mvt. that gives it the character the suits the chorale text and Bach’s setting of it. Here, for the 1st and only time, there is, at the end of the mvt., a sense of completeness. There is not the feeling: “Oh, is this mvt. over already, so quickly?” Rilling’s treatment of the instruments is quite different as well: there is not the almost continual light, staccato treatment that characterizes the other recordings. Rilling uses legato and portato to achieve the necessary ‘singing’ lines of the instruments. A conventional French horn is used as a replacement for the corno da caccia. It can be heard in the 1st mvt. where it does help to steady the c. f. sung by the wobbly sopranos.

In Mvt. 3 the horn is playing the difficult part in the higher octave. Johannes Ritzkowsky outperforms the famous Hermann Baumann in the Leonhardt recording! This is much better than in some of the period instrument performances where the horn players ‘cheated’ by playing an octave lower.

Once again, with the exception of the ‘wobbly’ voices due to the vibratos being used by these ‘trained’ voices, this chorale rendition by Rilling demonstrates a much deeper understanding of the chorale singing tradition than any of the other recordings listed here. At a very slightly slower tempo than the other, Rilling is able to convey the feeling of a communal prayer which this is. The musical lines (horizontal) of all 4 parts are truly singable lines that have not been fractured by micro-analysis, strong accents, and slight separations between most notes in a musical line. The wonderful passing notes are clearly evident.

Mvt. 2 (Bass Recit) & Mvt. 3 (Bass Aria) [Huttenlocher]:
Rilling allows the bc, using a harpsichord in addition to a cello, to play the notes as written. Huttenlocher gives another one of his innumerable disingenuous performances in the recitative. Rilling has Huttenlocher sing the opening phrase of Mvt. 3 although it is not marked that way..

Mvt. 4 (Alto Recit) [Schreckenbach]:
Once again Rilling uses the harpsichord with the cello and sustains the notes in the bc for their full note values. Schreckenbach’s voice is warm and expressive and very suitable for this recitative.

Mvt. 5 (Tenor Aria) [Schreier]:
Rilling uses the optional viola instead of the oboe da caccia. Even at this fastest tempo of all the recordings in this group, this rendition does not sound rushed. Schreier gives an excellent performance with a lyrical, but also very expressive quality.

[3] Gardiner:

Choral Mvt. 1, Mvt. 3, and Mvt. 6:
Gardiner seems to be playing games with the listener by using two different instruments for the corno da caccia part. In Mvt. 1 it sounds like a French horn with the bell stopped or muted, but in Mvt. 3 it sounds more like a tromba/trumpet (among his instrumentalists a ‘Zink’ player is indicated.) Ruth Tatlow’s commentary says it all: “Any early morning lapse of congregational concentration would have been remedied by the whooping and trilling corno da caccia.” As listeners we need to be wary of statements of this type, statements that want to have us believe that brass instruments in Bach’s day had to sound like this. This is an unfortunate, but understandable situation as this aspect of period instrument performance is still under serious revision. The notion that Bach’s brass players probably could not play these parts any better than a few specialists today is a myth perpetrated by some period instrumentalist performers and conductors. There is no valid reason for enduring a ‘splattering’ brass sound, nor should it be necessary to trill a note (Mvt. 3, ms. 32-33) for two measures by a minor third rather than a semitone or whole tone above the note over which the trill is indicated.

Otherwise (disregarding the problem with the brass instruments), Gardiner has excellent control over the instrumentalists and choir. Everything is crisp and precise with all the parts, vocal and instrumental, clearly delineated. He observes Bach’s dynamic markings carefully, but is not afraid add articulation of his own, all of which seems quite appropriate. His tempi tend to be too fast, and while he can show off his musical forces to their best advantage in this way, the bass soloist sounds definitely rushed in his intervening sections.

Although the final chorale (Mvt. 6) should have the corno da caccia playing colla parte with the sopranos, Gardiner now decides to drop this part and revert to an earlier performance stage of this cantata. This does not make much sense. The choir sings in a rather non-legato style with slight separations between the notes and stronger accents on 1 and 3. This has a detrimental effect upon the wonderful passing notes in the lower voices, because through de-emphasis they almost disappear completely. There is also an effort to make the chorale become more of a dance which makes little sense here where the chorale text is fervently praying (most prayers are serious, aren’t they?) to be spared from harm and to receive the necessary sustenance in the coming year. Gardiner shows little or no of the text and the nature of the chorale as he seems to be more interested in other musical aspects. He could just as well have the choir sing the text of an English dance song here, where his interpretation might be more appropriate.

Mvt. 2 (Bass Recit) & Mvt. 3 (Bass Aria) [Schwarz]:
Gardiner uses a modified form of the shortened accompaniment for a secco recitative: he mixes things up by sometimes sustaining Bach’s notes, but at other times shortening them considerably. Schwarz’ voice is clear, has good intonation and diction, but seems to lack the necessary capacity to really fill out the role, which in this instance, is to sustain the strength of praise and gratitude expressed by the choir in Mvt. 1 and carry this through the recitative directly into the next sudden choral entrance in Mvt. 3. There again Schwarz fails to establish a real presence, this partly being caused by Gardiner’s fast tempo which forces Schwarz to simply ‘tap’ many notes lightly. Whereas he does get expression into his part, he nevertheless fails to be utterly convincing, and that is just what this part demands.

Mvt. 4 (Alto Recit) [Ragin]:
Ragin does not have much a voice and Gardiner does not give him much support by using the shortened accompaniment in the bc. This voice is not at all convincing. His extensive efforts in attempting to pronounce properly the German text make this a recitative that a listener will be glad when it is over – this was not Bach’s intention, however.

Mvt. 5 (Tenor Aria) [Podger]:
This HIP version is faster than Harnoncourt’s. The oboe da caccia sounds just a bit rushed at times, but the quality of playing is otherwise excellent. The bc is appropriately subdued (not too loud.) The interplay between voice and obbligato instrument is noteworthy. Podger’s very slight failings (a weakness in the low range, a lack of force in pronouncing the German sibilant sounds) do not really detract from this otherwise noteworthy performance.

[4] Leusink:

Choral Mvt. 1, Mvt. 3, and Mvt. 6:
At this excessively fast tempo, some aspects of the music are bound to get ‘lost in the shuffle.’ The c. f. in the soprano voice makes a very tentative entrance even when supported by a horn. The other voices, with all their unusual characteristics very apparent, race through the mvt. with little conviction since the main object here seems to be how to get through this mvt. as fast as possible. The independent part writing in the 1st oboe and 1st violin disappears from the musical scene only to make occasional feeble appearances from time to time. This is partly due to the fact that everything has to be played very lightly (without substance.) When the mvt. comes to its abrupt end, the listener will ask, “What was that supposed to be?”

After the rather boring singing in Mvt. 1, the choir perks up here. Unfortunately the ‘yodelers’ are again at work creating a caricature of an exciting Bach choral mvt. The instruments are one-dimensional. They play with a very tentative-sounding light ‘piano’ (soft) touch that shows no gradation throughout the 3rd mvt. Where Bach indicates a ‘forte’ (ms. 43-46), they remain at their very reticent ‘piano’ level from which they never budge. As a result their playing sounds generally dull and unexciting. The horn is unable to play the horn part as written and thus plays everything an octave lower.

The final chorale (Mvt. 6) (with the exception of the yodelers and the disregard for some fermati) is slightly above average compared to other chorale renditions in this series.

Mvt. 2 (Bass Recit) & Mvt. 3 (Bass Aria) [Ramselaar]:
Except for a few notes here and there, Ramselaar sings this recitative sotto voce. It is as if his vocal capacity and his expression have been reduced to almost a whisper, as he pulls you aside and tries to whisper into your ear words that are joyous and should be continuing the notion of gratitude expressed in the 1st mvt. which the bass should then continue to build upon and lead directly in the ‘shouting for joy’ in the mvt. that directly follows this one. Lacking much in the way of any support from the bc which performs the abbreviated secco-type accompaniment, Ramselaar ‘cuts back’ even more in his presentation making this one of the least substantial bass recitatives in this group of recordings.
In the middle section of Mvt. 3, Ramselaar lacks the strength and capacity to lend dignity and substance to this wonderful middle section. He does not do justice to the idea that we should believe in eternal happiness because he does not have the power that a bass in this situation should have.


Mvt. 4 (Alto Recit) [Buwalda]:
Buwalda’s voice, for all of its unique qualities (qualities that I personally perceive as unsettling,) lacks the ability to do much of anything with the text, which lacks any true sense of genuine expression. Leusink, faced with the problem of a single note in the bc held for 8 beats in ms. 1-3, but which has Bach’s figured bass indications that call for chord changes, has the bc reenter for a beat on each change, thus he has attempted to resolve the confusion between Bach’s indications and Harnoncourt’s method of sounding the held-over whole note (total of 8 beats) only once for one beat and forgetting about the rest of the changes. No wonder that many listeners do not particularly enjoy Bach’s recitatives with a performance such as this one.

Mvt. 5 (Tenor Aria) [van der Meel]:
Leusink uses a viola as the obbligato instrument. This is one of the options available for a performance of this aria. It is interesting to hear this aria at this slow tempo, but with a rather uninteresting voice lacking much in the way of expression and volume, the result is that this aria can become boring due to its length. The limited range of expression is partly due to the fact that this is a small voice, one more suited to a chamber performance, but not in a church.

Summary:

Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 3 (Chorus): Rilling [2], then with a gap, Gardiner [3], Leonhardt [1]

Mvt. 2 (Bass Recit) & Mvt. 3 (Bass Aria tutti): Only average: Leonhardt [van Egmond] [1] and Gardiner [Schwarz] [3]

Mvt. 4 (Alto Recitative): Rilling [Schreckenbach] [2]

Mvt. 5 (Tenor Aria): Rilling [Schreier] [2] is the best, but do not miss listening to Leonhardt [van Altena] [1] and Gardiner [Podger] [3]

Mvt. 6 (Final Chorale): Rilling [2]

Juozas Rimas wrote (February 15, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Van Egmond [1] may have the ability to modulate his voice more than Ramselaar (see Leusink below) [4] and thus provide for a better interpretation of the text; nevertheless, this voice remains limited in those instances when he indulges in sotto voce singing. >
Thomas, now I don't understand why you criticize just about any instance of sotto singing - sometimes to the point that the avoidance of sotto singing becomes more important than the overal voice quality. I remember how you praised Nimsgern in BWV 26 for his "schwarz" voice. you attack Van Egmond [1]. I think even (especially!) the quietest singing of Van Egmond is of higher quality than *any* singing of Nimsgern (well, at least in BWV 26, 27, 28, 31, 34 I have heard his big bass produces just standard singing – not on a par even with mediocre performances by Dieskau - and Dieskau's least acceptable performances IMHO are precisely where e decides to sing loudly!). Van Egmond's voice is simply naturally better: more flexible, tender, and, yes, more emotional. I fail to see any direct connection between loud singing and convincing conveyance of emotions.

Arjen K. Gijssel wrote (February 15, 2003):
[To Jouzas Rimas] You exactly make my point here. If you have the privilege of listening to so many different performances (I can only make comparisons occasionally) like Thomas, then choosing Rilling [2] and loud singing soloists is becoming more and more suspect. It has nothing to do with an objective assessment of interpretations, but all the more with a sort of inquisition against the more modern singers.

But hey, everybody is entitled to have an opinion... The problem is that Thomas has acquired such great knowledge of Bach and his cantatas, that you easily confuse expertise with a IMHO "very individual" taste.

Philippe Bareille wrote (February 15, 2003):
A cantata of joy and celebration with magnificent horns playing a crucial role emphasising the sense occasion by adding resonance and vigour. The tenor aria is more subdued, a kind of "lullaby" but not without a tinge of sadness (it is more obvious with the oboe da caccia). This beguiling aria is something to be treasured (it made me relisten to the splendid alto aria of cantata BW39 which - in a similar fashion- conjures up some images charged with nostalgia).

I have listened to Rilling [2] and Leonhardt [1].

[2] Rilling, who is usually not my cup of tea, delivers a splendid performance of the choruses. He enlivens the second chorus very convincingly supported by impressive horns. The tenor aria is less satisfying for 2 reasons: the very fast tempo and the viola instead of the oboe. However, Schreier is outstanding.

[1] Leonhardt is perhaps not as eloquent as Rilling in the choruses but his choir and the orchestra are both inspired and expressive. The natural horn is superb. The tenor aria is delightful. Marius van Altena captures the spirit of the aria admirably. Van Egmond is first rate. To dismiss van Egmond (and some others) as haf-voices (sic) is -for me - nonsense. (this is a derogatory term that is meaningless. I was lucky enough to listen to Max van Egmond live on several occasions He has a "small voice" but his singing is very effective; just listen to his recitatives! They sound so natural and their finesse and emotional power are almost unsurpassed. Moreover, Bach is
not Wagner!).

An other great cantata. Despite some minor reservations both Leonhardt [1] and Rilling [2] are worth exploring.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 15, 2003):
In response to my statement:
< Van Egmond [1] may have the ability to modulate his voice more than Ramselaar (see Leusink below) [4] and thus provide for a better interpretation of the text; nevertheless, this voice remains limited in those instances when he indulges in sotto voce singing. >
Juozas Rimas Jr stated:
>>Thomas, now I don't understand why you criticize just about any instance of sotto singing - sometimes to the point that the avoidance of sotto singing becomes more important than the overall voice quality. I remember how you praised Nimsgern in BWV 26 for his "schwarz" voice. Now you attack Van Egmond [1]. I think even (especially!) the quietest singing of Van Egmond is of higher quality than *any* singing of Nimsgern (well, at least in BWV 26,27,28,31,34 I have heard his big bass produces just standard singing - not on a par even with mediocre performances by Dieskau - and Dieskau's least acceptable performances IMHO are precisely where he decides to sing loudly!). Van Egmond's voice is simply naturally better: more flexible, tender, and, yes, more emotional. I fail to see any direct connection between loud singing and convincing conveyance of emotions.<<
You are correct in pointing out that even the great full-voiced basses are capable of 'just standard singing' who sometimes do not really 'connect with' the music that they are singing. When such voices as Nimsgern and Dieskau begin to 'force' their voices it can become unbearable as well. There are many variables (too many to even begin to enumerate) just why this can happen to a good singer.

When I do hear Dieskau only very occasionally cutting back to a sotto-voce, it is generally very beautiful to my ears, not only because this contrasts with the previous 'forte', but also because I can feel a tremendous presence, a powerful intimacy that nevertheless expresses itself. I have trouble perceiving this in van Egmond's voice or in many basses who have been singing Bach recitatives and arias over the past 30 years. In those instances, the 'bottom usually falls out.' When I hear Quasthoff singing Bach, it is a very different experience for me when such a singer on occasion sings a passage as 'piano' and when most of the other basses indulge in excessive sotto voce singing. The latter become more like 'whisperers' in their recitatives. At such I point I continually ask myself, "Would this really work in a large church setting such as Bach had at his disposal? Could such a singer be properly heard?" and "Should recitatives be sung the same way that they would be sung in a Mozart opera: to hurry through them sotto voce because they are the least interesting aspect of the opera?" No, these recitatives must be sung with absolute conviction (even if the singer does not believe the words.) This can not be done properly if the singer with a smaller voice is faced with this challenge. Just as it is true that there is a danger that 'strong singing with conviction' can also be overdone (just listen to Huttenlocher in his recording of this cantata), so it is also that singing primarily sotto voce severely reduces the range of modulation for expressivity in the voice. Not only does the message suffer from this aspect, it also creates a 'disconnect' between the singer and the audience because it can not speak as directly, as forcefully to listener who is frequently sitting somewhere at quite a distance from the voice. Sotto-voce singing begins to assume that the listener is close by, perhaps in the same balcony (or in the headphones or loudspeakers of a!
n amplified system.) It may even be that such singers, even the great ones do this as well, have a different mind-set when there is no audience except the microphones to sing to. This often restricts them from projecting with a full-voice, if they even have such a full voice to begin with, and the result is invariably something less than a live performance where the soloist is trying to connect with a live audience.

These are some of the criteria that I have in mind when I classify van Egmond, as good as he was in the present cantata, as a generally sotto-voce singer, whose voice does not stand up very well (it lacks the necessary strength and conviction because of its reduced volume) in comparison with the exciting choral mvts. in which it is embedded. As I pointed out, van Egmond was generally better here than he usually is (better clarity and modulation of his voice) and certainly better than Ramselaar in this instance, but this still does not allow him to project the message of the text convincingly to an audience sitting at some distance from him.

I remember hearing Segovia in concert. At first all you could see on a barren stage was a rather rigid wooden chair with a high back with a tiny footstool in front of it. Segovia finally appeared and the applause had stopped, he waited for quite a while, as if in deep concentration, and the audience with him grew more silent (no more whispering or rustling) before the first very soft sounds began to emanate from the instrument. You might have been able to hear a pin drop. This concentration and control on the part of the audience was absolutely necessary in a large music hall because here the audience had to adjust itself rather severely to the tiny sounds in the distance. This instrument, due to its limited ability to project volume, and due to the fact that the audience had become accustomed to turning up the volume on his recordings which they heard at home, is by its very nature rather restricted and confined and probably is not the best choice of instrument to be heard in a large concert hall (imagine a clavichord recital in a large, filled-to-capacity hall!) The human voice need not be classified in this volume-deprived category. It also can impart human emotion more directly with words, if necessary it can sail above a large orchestra with modern instruments and still (although with difficulty) still get its message across. This is not an indirect plea to have Wagnerian singers sing Bach arias. However, it seems that over the past few decades, more and more voices with limited vocal capacities, or with special training to sound like an instrument rather than a human voice have been engaged to sing Bach's sacred music in primarily HIP settings. This would be fine if the object is simply to get the music recorded in such a way that it will be more 'palatable' to a new generation of listeners (lite entertainment or pleasant Baroque background music.) The text and range of expression become limited as the human voice is demoted to the level of an instrument as wonderful as such an instrument may be in its own right and as interesting as the range of expression may be in its limited area. This use of 'instrument-like' or 'limited-range-and-capacity' voices, I perceive, constitutes a great loss in the overall effort to restore Bach's sacred music to the level of glory that it should have. It deprives us from experiencing the full impact of Bach's music as he may have intended it.

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 16, 2003):
BWV 16 - Background - The first three movements

The background below is based on both Robertson and Young and something of my own.

The first three movements form a unique unity within the whole cantata. The first, a chorus, is for the choir; the second, a recitative for solo bass; the third is a combination of both: a recitative/arioso for bass with a chorus. There is a sense of continuity between these three movements. As such they can be seen as sections of a bigger movement. In light of this view complaints regarding the brevity of the opening chorus might be seen as irrelevant. Such is also the claim that Bach imitated Telemann in the combination he chose for the third movement, rarely to be found in Bach Cantatas. Bach used so many combinations in his cantatas that it seems almost unavoidable that he would also use the arioso-chorus structure. All the more so if we see the third movement as the concluding section of a larger movement.

In the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) the first four lines of Luther’s verse translation of the Te Deum set to his free version of the plainsong melody. First we hear the sopranos, and then basses, tenor and altos enter in close imitation. All the instruments participate. This lively and striking chorus seems as a very promising introduction to the three-part movement.

The second section (Mvt. 2) describes the warm devotion shown by the people at the beginning of the New Year. Apparently the secco recitative is rather dull, but it serves well the purpose of introducing the next section, a song of devotion to God for the New Year.

The basses of the choir begin the third section (Mvt. 3) with a rousing fanfare phrase in which all join. The corno da caccia gives brilliance, as it doubles the voices. This superb song of rollicking merriment expresses their exuberance over God’s blessing on them. The joy-motif is so overpowering in the first line that the listener can almost hear the singers’ joyous laughter, as the bass alternates with the full choir in repeating the first line. In a short ritornello before the repetition of the words, the 1st violin adds two phrases of what one might call whoops of joy. These are later woven into the independent orchestral parts. The middle section is the solo bass arioso. The remainder of the arioso shows less verve, but its florid effect continues its charming repeats.

I can hear this three-part movement endless times and still discover new things to enjoy from. Restrained and introvert approach is not in place here. All forces involved must know how to convey convincingly outburst of joy, but also should have the wisdom not to exaggerate with it. The last one is always a good advice regarding the interpretation of any of Bach’s works, let alone his cantatas. The bass singer should have a strong voice with depth to form a good balance with the power of the full choir.

The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following complete recordings of Cantata BWV 16:

[1] Gustav Leonhardt (1972)
[2] Helmuth Rilling (1981)
[3] John Eliot Gardiner (1998)
[4] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)

As usual, in order to be as objective as possible, I have avoided reading the messages regarding the recordings of this cantata, which were sent to the BCML prior to mine.

Short Review of the Recordings

[1] I like the sharpness and the precision in the singing of the choir in Leonhardt’s recording. The rhythm along the three sections also sounds right. Yet this rendition lacks any sign joy, as if Leonhardt had dried them out of any feeling. The singing of van Egmond is civilised and pleasant, but lacks enough inner strength to be fully convincing.

[2] Rilling’s rendition seems to come from a different world than Leonhardt's. The choral parts are multi-layered, with rich and varied singing by the choir and colourful playing by the instruments. Huttenlocher’s singing is not as varied as the choir’s is, and as consequence the third section sounds unbalanced. There is abundance of exuberant joy here, but Huttenlocher does not contribute a meaningful part to the celebration.

[3] Gardiner manages to combine the precision of Leonhardt with the vividness of Rilling. The choir and the accompaniment are indeed first rate. However, the expression of Gardiner’s bass singer, Gotthold Schwartz, is somewhat limited and his voice does not have enough strength to form a good balance with the choir.

[4] As could have been expected, Leusink’s rendition does not lack fresh enthusiasm, but he could have carried out a better rendition, had he taken a lesson or two from Gardiner. Both the singing and the playing in the choral parts sound almost uncontrolled. Ramselaar is a major improvement after Schwartz, with more expressive singing and better voice. He singing reflects more sensitivity than the two previous singers have shown, but I would like also to hear more force.

Conclusion

My first choices:
The choral parts: Gardiner [3].
The bass singer: van Egmond [1] or Ramselaar [4], although both of them leave something to be desired.
Combination: None is optimal.

I hope that Suzuki and Koopman [7] will do better, because this cantata deserves it.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 16: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discus: 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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Last update: ýMarch 26, 2010 ý10:07:51