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Cantata BWV 173
Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut
Cantata BWV 173a
Durchlauchtster Leopold
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of July 13, 2003 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 17, 2003):
BWV 173 & BWV 173a - Introduction

The chosen works for this week’s discussion (July 13, 2003) are the Sacred Solo Cantata BWV 173 ‘Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut’ (Exalted flesh and blood) for Whit Monday [2nd Day of Pentecost], and the Secular Birthday Cantata [Serenata] ‘Durchlauchtster Leopold’ (Most Serene Highness Leopold) for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen.

Bach’s admiration and enthusiasm for Prince Leopold were evident in the Secular Cantata BWV 173a, which he composed for his employer soon after he arrived to Köthen. Bach apparently wrote the flattering libretto for the secular work, but we do not know who revised the text for the religious version, which was performed in Leipzig in 1724. It was probably done by Bach himself, wishing to revive the exceptional music he had written in 1718. Bach omitted two of the eight movements in the Secular Cantata BWV 173 (Mvt. 6, an aria for soprano, and Mvt. 7, an aria for bass), but retained the exact music of all the rest for the Sacred Cantata. The original aria for bass from BWV 173a, which was omitted from BWV 173, found its way in a transformed form as an aria for tenor to another Sacred Cantata, BWV 175 (planned for discussion in the BCML two weeks from now). The exact borrowing gives the impression that Bach prizes the Birthday Cantata highly, despite the passing nature of its single performance.

The Secular Cantata BWV 173a has only two vocal soloists, a soprano and a bass. Its orchestration is also light: 2 transverse flutes, a bassoon, strings and continuo (harpsichord). Its chamber music quality might indicate the style of music-making that Bach found upon his arrival at the Köthen court, where Leopold himself played various stringed instruments and could sing bass. In the Sacred Cantata BWV 173 Bach transposed some of the movements to different voices, giving parts to all four vocal soloists, who might also sing the concluding chorale.

The details of the recordings of these cantatas can be found at the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website:
BWV 173:
BWV 173a:

The Sacred Cantata BWV 173 has 7 complete recordings: Winschermann (1971) [BWV 173-1], Rotzsch (1974) [BWV 173-2], Rilling (1976-1977) [BWV 173-3], Harnoncourt (1987) [BWV 173-4], Koopman (1997) [BWV 173-5], Leusink (1999) [BWV 173-6], and Suzuki (2001) [BWV 173-8]
The Secular Cantata BWV 173a has 5 complete recordings: Rotzsch (1974) [BWV 173a-1], Labadie (1994) [BWV 173a-2], Leonhardt (1995) [BWV 173a-3], Koopman (1998) [BWV 173a-4], and Rilling (2000) [BWV 173a-5].
Rilling, Koopman and Rotzsch recorded both cantatas, and the last is the only one who did it back to back at the same time.

Through the pages of the Music Examples you can listen to three complete recordings:
has Cantata BWV 173 with Harnoncourt [BWV 173-4] (at David Zale Website) and with Leusink [BWV 173-6] (at Leo Ditvoorst Website).
has Cantata BWV 173a [BWV 173a-4] (at David Zale Website).

Additional Information
In the page of recordings of Cantata BWV 173 mentioned above you can also find links to useful complementary information:
The original German text and various translations, three of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), and Hebrew (Aryeh Oron). Francis Browne translated also Secular Cantata BWV 173 and presented the original text and the English translation a way that allows direct comparison of the secular and the sacred texts.
Links to the Score in Vocal & Piano version and BGA Edition (newly added).
Links to commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

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

Marie Jensen wrote (July 18, 2003):
"Durchlauchtster Leopold" (DL) 173a is the oldest version. It is a birthday cantata from the Köthen days.

I have Koopman’s version [BWV 173a-4]. It is good. Leopold would have been delighted. The booklet calls it a serenade, and it is light, dance-like and entertaining. It is easy to imagine an elegant party at the Schloss. "Leopolds Vertrefflichkeiten" are praised. He engaged Bach, so he certainly deserves praise, but I don't think the author had that in mind, when he wrote it, anyway prasing him as was he The Lord Himself is too much. I listened to the sacred BWV 173 "Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut" first, (I had forgotten DL was at the Koopman 9 [BWV 173-5]), so it shocked me to hear that many phrases were exactly the same. So it is not very often I listen to the secular cantatas.

BWV 173 is for Whit Monday, and the text for this day, one of the most quoted and most uplifting truths of the Bible begins:
(John 3:16): For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life....

So praising God’s love is what this cantata is about!

Two arias are removed from DL, some changes are made in the voices, and the final duet is made a chorus. It is still a serenade, and very dance-like, entertaining and elegant. Perhaps this was too much for some members of the Leipzig congregations.

In the opening recitativo Leusink [BWV 173-6] and Winschermann [BWV 173-1] do best. Their violins glow, make a halo (like in SMP when Jesus speaks). It gives sacred associations from the beginning. The beginning always means a lot to me, setting the mood.

BWV 173 begins with a solo recitativo, goes to solo arias, to a duo aria and recitativo and ends with a chorus, a plot which makes praise more and more intense. Also in a single movement: the B/S duet (4), this is heard very clearly. It is a three-verse song. First the bass and the violins, then the flutes and the soprano and finally all of them while the minuet doubles and double-doubles....

The solo aria parts are not that different in the three versions, except that Buwalda (Leusink) [BWV 173-6] startled me a little, when he began the alto aria. I like all the versions of the duet and Larson/Mertens (Koopman) [BWV 173-5] sing a beautiful, emotional recitativo.

Although I taped Winschermann [BWV 173-1] from the radio, I end liking his version of BWV 173 best. It gives the best all-round impression.

Gott will, o ihr Menschenkinder,
An euch große Dinge tun.
(BWV 173)

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 19, 2003):
BWV 173a & BWV 173a - Provenance:

See: Cantatas BWV 173 & BWV 173a – Provenance

Dürr’s Commentaries:

See: Cantatas BWV 173 & BWV 173a – Commentary

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 22, 2003):
BWV 173a [Durchlauchtster Leopold] & BWV 173 [Erhöhtes Fleisch und Blut]

The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following:

BWV 173a
Rotzsch (1974) [BWV 173a-1]; Koopman (1998) [BWV 173a-4]

BWV 173
Rotzsch (1974) [BWV 173-2]; Koopman (1997) [BWV 173-5]; Rilling (1977) [BWV 173-3]; Harnoncourt (1987) [BWV 173-4]; Leusink (1999) [BWV 173-6]

[BWV 173-2] [BWV 173a-1] The Rotzsch Recordings:
In both Rotzsch recordings, Werner, the soprano, has a clear, strong voice with strength throughout the entire range, but which tends to have a sharp edge to it on the higher notes coupled with a sometimes not very well controlled vibrato (a bit too slow) elsewhere and uncertainty regarding pitch. Her expressive range is limited with very little of the import of the words conveyed to the listener.

The bass, Polster, has a duet with Werner in BWV 173. This bass part is not at all as demanding for the bass as is the aria in BWV 173a which Lorenz sings. Polster has a relatively pleasant voice well-suited for this duet, while Lorenz manages to sing quite well the aria with the high tessitura (high baritone) and gives an even better rendition of the lyrical, melodic passages in the duets.

Rotzsch, as tenor in BWV 173 has an ever-so-slight similarity with the voice of Peter Schreier, but, almost in every way, Rotzsch’s voice pales in comparison with Schreier’s: it simply does not the strength and expressive power of Schreier’s voice.

In her single aria of BWV 173, the alto, Rieß, demonstrates a moderately full voice, which lacks some of the rich, dark quality that some really great female altos have in the low range. Her voice is more of a bridge or transition between the latter and typical countertenor voices heard singing Bach arias, countertenor voices which lack strength, warmth and depth in the low ranges of such arias as this one.

The choral mvt. at the end of BWV 173 is excellent with the Thomanerchor ensuring a very good performance of this music.

[BWV 173-5] [BWV 173a-4] The Koopman Recordings:
Both of the Koopman recordings were also made around the same time with some of the same artists performing in both versions just as in the Rotzsch recordings. The Koopman versions were recorded 13 years later and reflect the considerable changes that have taken place in the interim: compare, for instance, the total times of these performances – BWV 173a Rotzsch (23:31) vs. Koopman (16:12) and BWV 173 Rotzsch (16:19) vs. Koopman (13:42). Such major acceleration of tempi is bound to have its effect upon the presentation of Bach’s music.

Larsson, the soprano, has a more limited voice than Werner’s: Larsson has to strain even more than Werner when she tries to sing the high notes with a full voice, while in the low range the weakness of Larsson’s demi voix becomes quite apparent as there is little support or volume than can be produced on those notes. As a result Larsson slips into a sotto voce in this low range. This sotto-voce technique is then further encouraged by Koopman in arias where the faster tempi and ‘light’ [‘lite’] playing technique of the instruments accommodate a voice which does not ‘speak’ with full volume even in the higher range because the notes now have to be clipped and unaccented simply in order to ‘make it through the aria’ at a very fast tempo. While the aria (mvt. 2 of BWV 173a) does speak of ‘frohe Stunden’ [happy hours] and asks every one to ‘singet’ [sing] and ‘rühmet’ [praise] Prince Leopold, it does lose its dignity and become rather frivolous when the interpretation is changed through these means. At this fast tempo the text is also much more difficult to understand. There are simply too many words to be sung too quickly in order for the message to come across successfully. Her [Larsson’s] voice taps very lightly many of the notes making them rather meaningless. Sometimes she ‘howls’ on some of the long held notes in the very high range of her voice.

Mertens is much more successful in keeping up with the extreme tempi and nevertheless attempting to put genuine expression into the text. This is very admirable singing that is well-suited for the arias and duets in BWV 173a. His voice seems quite at home with the high tessitura required throughout most of this cantata.

In BWV 173, the tenor, Türk, has less of a voice than Rotzsch has in his recording. He has vocal facility without much capacity in projecting the voice. In particular, the low range gives him problems since he does not have ample volume there. This, again, is an indicator of demi voix. The orchestral accompaniment matches the lightness and thinness of his voice by playing fast and light.

The alto, von Magnus, displays similar problems with the low range. Listen to the notes that drop into the low range. They are just barely audible. The extremely light and fast string accompaniment only adds to the disparity between the text and music. Again it appears that these very light accompaniments are intentionally kept this way to accommodate the demi voix who are incapable of projecting the music and text with sufficient volume so that it would be audible in a large church setting.

The choral section at the end emphasizes the dance-like character of the music. It is very pleasant to listen to with its ‘lightness’ in stark contrast to the more serious rendition given by the Thomanerchor under Rotzsch.

[BWV 173-3] Rilling:
From the very first notes sung by Kraus, the tenor, it is clear that the message contained in the words is being projected with much greater intensity than in any of the HIP recordings. In the aria, mvt. 2, the music is being sung and not simply danced as a background accompaniment for some prince’s birthday party. The flutes and strings ‘sing’ along with solo voice. Here the aria becomes a very different experience for the listener. The word ‘auszubreiten’ [to spread abroad] becomes the key notion which transforms this aria into one that creates a feeling of breadth and expansion. Watts, the alto, expresses the depth, power and seriousness in the words, “Gott will an euch große Dinge tun” [God wants to do great things for you.] In the soprano (Beckmann) & bass (Tüller) duet, both full voices lend credence to the words of the text as well. Despite the fuzziness inherent in the choral sound created by these trained voices with vibratos (the balance and clarity of parts is nevertheless quite evident,) Rilling maintains the dignity that befits a sacred cantata that is performed as part of a festive church service.

[BWV 173-4] Harnoncourt:
Equiluz, the tenor, in mvt. 2 – aria, elects to sing this aria mainly sotto voce. This is part of his intelligent approach to this music, because he knows that he would not be able to sing this aria in full voice all the way through without having it sound forced and unpleasant. Of all the sotto-voce versions in other HIP recordings (most of which sound quite boring and uninteresting,) Equiluz at least succeeds in putting appropriate expression into the text.

Immler, the boy alto, gives a laudable performance of his aria, and Holl, the bass, has a full voice, albeit with a rather slow vibrato, that lends substance to the important low voice throughout. The soprano boys (Gienger in mvt. 5 is the weakest of the two, Bergius is more secure in his singing) sing with greater strength and fervency than anything that Holton, in her imitation (very tentative) ‘boy-soprano’ voice can muster.

Harnoncourt forces the Tölz Boys’ Choir into exaggerated singing/shouting in the final mvt. This is Harnoncourt’s idea of ‘spicing things up’ and making them more interesting. Unfortunately, this also leads to ugly, unmusical sounds which not to bother him in the least.

[BWV 173-6] Leusink:
The tenor, Schoch, gives a good reading of the notes with a rather expressionless voice. Holton, the soprano, and Ramselaar, the bass, also read their parts in an acceptable manner and do nothing to detract from the music, but they also are quite instrument-like (expressionless) in conveying the text. Buwalda, the countertenor, is shockingly bad in his aria and the choir in the final chorus, encounters some serious problems with the important soprano line becoming rather inaudible at times and not pleasant to listen to on the high notes.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (July 22, 2003):
BWV 173(a) – Exalted Flesh and Blood (Your Serene Highness Leopold)

Unfortunately, I have not been able to listen to the secular original, but thanks to Francis Browne (see ), it is easy to compare both texts and see what Bach, together with the unknown librettist, did to give the worldly occasional piece a higher dimension. We know the instrumentation was pretty much the same in both versions. In the secular work there were only two vocal soloists, soprano and bass. In the spiritual cantata Bach allotted the movements to different voices, including an alto and a tenor. To modern eyes and ears, the works in praise of persons of noble birth or noble mind may seem highly servile, even toady. I believe this certainly is an objective of these flattering odes. It was the librettist’s job to endite in eloquent words a poem of major appraisal. Bach’s work was to give it an even more festive character by turning it into a magnificent piece of music. Yet, I believe that Bach did not feign his admiration in BWV 173a, for we know that he held Prince Leopold in great honour. Moreover, we must not forget it was generally believed at the time that the government was given to the people by the grace of God. So Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cõthen was not Bach’s employer in the sense we look at employment relationships today. Therefore the poet addressed him with “Your most serene Highness” and praised both his personal qualities and his reign copiously. And Bach was happy to reflect this generously in his music. And was rewarded likewise, I hope.

The poet responsible for the reworking of 173a into 173 did quite a good job. He replaced the worldly leader by the Heavenly Father, managed to refer to the gospel of the day in the bass aria (mvt. 4) and the occasion of Pentecost in the soprano aria in the same movement and by mentioning the actions and the effects of the Holy Spirit in the concluding chorale.

The first movement is a recitative, in which Bach and the poet emphasize the exalted position of Jesus in Heaven. Also we have his assurance that when we become a new creation in Him, we are destined for Heaven as well.

The following aria, also for tenor, is a very joyful dance movement, a song of praise, elaborating on the thought of the first movement.

The alto sings that when God is doing these great things, man can not stay blind and deaf for them.

The next aria for bass and soprano begins with a reference to the gospel of the day “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Then the strings and BC are strengthened by two flauto traversos introducing the soprano. You clearly hear Bach is changing the key (from G to D). The soprano refers to the renewed covenant that is activated in our hearts and mouths by the Holy Spirit. Then the traversos are silenced, the key changes again to A-sharp and the bass joins the soprano in a fine duet, showing their gratitude for the revelation of Jesus, the Light of the world.

The recitative that follows is also a duet with a very beautiful arioso ending, this time for soprano and tenor. They sing out their intention to sacrifice their hearts to the Eternal Father.

In the concluding Chorale all the instruments available are put in. It is a prayer to God, to activate the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, so that they may work out in our lives.

Again I think Bach’s transformation from secular to spiritual takes the cantata to a higher level, not so much musically, but certainly spiritually. Strange, though, that the working of my mind and emotions are so influenced by my personal belief that the message seems to make the music much better, although the scores are almost similar.

I like the Leusink recording [BWV 173-6] very much, though I am not very satisfied with the final chorale.

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 22, 2003):
BWV 173 & BWV 173a – Review of the Recordings

Last Saturday we invited two old friends and we dedicated all day long to comparative listening and discussing of the recordings of the weekly cantatas – BWV 173a and BWV 173a. This was the first time I have tried this way of listening to the weekly cantata and I must admit that through sharing you learn much more than by listening alone, as I usually do. You look at the various renditions through different angles and your listening experience and enjoyment intensify by this process.

Firstly we listened to 5 recordings of the earliest work, the secular cantata BWV 173a, and than to 6 recordings of the sacred cantata BWV 173. We listened to the recordings of each cantata in chronological order, according to the year of recording. I gave the others short background to each cantata before listening. It was not a blindfold test. I told the others who were the performers, sometimes in advance, other times during listening. During the unavoided intermissions and to refresh our ears from listening to the same work continuously, we listened to parts from various recordings of the Goldbergs (Tureck, Arrau, Hewitt, Johanssen, Cain, etc.), the AOF (Malcolm, Delmé Quartet, etc.), the Mass in B minor (Biller, Straube, Prentl, Jacobs, Jochum), Glorious Bach DVD (Harnoncourt) and more.

I took notes while we were listening and discussing and hereinafter is a summary of the impressions, almost unedited. The others asked me not to mention names and I respect their request. I shall only say that all four of us love classical music in general and Bach’s music in particular and all four of us have many years of listening to this sublime music.

Impressions of the Recordings

The 5 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 173a we listened to were:

[BWV 173a-1] Hans Joachim Rotzsch (1974)
[BWV 173a-2] Bernard Labadie (1994)
[BWV 173a-3] Gustav Leonhardt (1995)
[BWV 173a-4] Ton Koopman (1998)
[BWV 173a-5] Helmuth Rilling (2000)

Summary of the impressions:

[BWV 173a-1] Rotzsch: Lacks lightness. Seems like a birthday celebration of an old man. The Soprano, Regina Werner, has strong and full voice that is not lacking in beauty. The orchestra is full and not minimal as the occasion and the music calls for.
[BWV 173a-2] Labadie: Excellent singers. Light and jolly. Much more chamber-like than the previous recording. If the previous rendition seems like the last birthday of an old man, this one gives hope for many more to come.
[BWV 173a-3] Leonhardt: Serious, dry and lifeless. Frimmer has lighter voice than Werner’s, but her expression is too severe. The bass, David Wilson-Johnson, is uninteresting. The whole performance is heavy, dragged and does not flow. Even the bassoon in the aria for bass (Mvt. 7) sounds ponderous.
[BWV 173a-4] Koopman: Lacking authentic experience of a celebration, somewhat neutral. Missing some humour and real joy of birthday, up to being pale. Good and nice, but somewhat anaemic and distant. The orchestra is good and so are the singers. Through this rendition it seems that there is no correlation between the text and the music. there is a major improvement in the second half, and the second aria for soprano (Mvt. 6) is very vivid. Mertens’ voice suits the work very well and there is a good match between the voices in the duet (Mvt. 8).
[BWV 173a-5] Rilling: Bubbling with joy and full of vividness. Sounds the most proper. Excellent singers. The soprano, Marlis Petersen, has an attractive voice and compelling interpretation. The bass, Klaus Häger, has golden, strong and fluent voice. The dialogue between him and the bassoon (Mvt. 7) is simply terrific, and both are equal partners. The singers are in the front-line.

Rating: Rilling [BWV 173a-5], Labadie [BWV 173a-2], Koopman [BWV 173a-4], Rotzsch [BWV 173a-1], Leonhardt [BWV 173a-3].

The 6 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 173 were:
[BWV 173-1] Helmut Winschermann (1971)
[BWV 173-2] Hans Joachim Rotzsch (1974)
[BWV 173-3] Helmuth Rilling (1976-1977)
[BWV 173-4] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1987)
[BWV 173-5] Ton Koopman (1998)
[BWV 173-6] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)

Summary of the impressions:

[BWV 173-1] Winschermann: The orchestra is mostly accompanying. The atmosphere is right. A classic and satisfactory rendition. Winschermann keeps the chamber nature of the music with excellent playing by the various instrumentalists. The aria for alto is sweeping. The duets for soprano and tenor (Mvt. 5) has magical match between the voices, and one can clearly hear the sighs. The best movements of the rendition are the aria for alto and the recitative for soprano and tenor. In the second round, of listening only to the aria for alto, Hamari was chosen as the best overall rendition of this movement, where the smooth way in which she performs the slow bridge, is unmatched by any other alto singer.
[BWV 173-2] Rotzsch: Serious, but unlike the secular cantata, this approach corresponds with the work. On the other hand, one cannot consider this rendition as inspired. Rotzsch as a tenor singer (Mvts. 1 & 2) is very expressive with rich and warm voice. He has Evangelist’s voice, and he is putting much more of himself into the recitative and aria for tenor than Equiluz (with Winschermann) does. In the comparison Equiluz sounds too restrained. The whole rendition is a little bit heavier than the previous one. The alto, Heidi Rieß, has beautiful voice, with interesting melismas. She sounds frightened rather than confidence or happy, as her aria (Mvt. 3) calls for. The bass, Polster, has full and authoritative voice, Jesus-type, and he sings with lot of emotion. The quality of the singers in this rendition is so high, that you do not pay much attention to the interpretation. The choir at the concluding chorale is full of comfort. The best movement of this rendition is the aria for tenor.
[BWV 173-3] Rilling: The accompaniment is very galant, and the use of the harpsichord, rather than organ in the continuo sounds proper. The tenor, Adalbert Kraus, is very expressive. Every note of the orchestra can be clearly heard. The aria for alto is simply magnificent. Helen Watts sings with all the confidence, and her singing reflects intelligence and depth. Her voice production is light and flexible and her melismas admirable. The bass, Niklaus Tüller, is authoritative with very deep voice, like a father. The whole rendition of the cantata is very impressive. All four agreed that Rilling is much better than they have expected. The best movement of this rendition is the aria for alto.
[BWV 173-4] Harnoncourt: Equiluz sounds here more relaxed than with Winschermann. Everybody guessed that it was Harnoncourt, even before I declared of him. Some were annoyed by this rendition. They said that he is too expected, never getting out of himself. Everything gets the same dance-like treatment. It is as if he does not dedicate the needed thought and right attention to the individual message and demands of each cantata and movement. Some even called his rendition static and uninvolved. The boy alto, Christian Immler, has beautiful voice with effortless delivery, but he is lacking in emotional depth. The bass, Robert Holl, has deep but inflexible and not very interesting voice. In the two duet movements (Mvts. 4 & 5) there is no much chemistry between the singers. The combination simply does not work.
[BWV 173-5] Koopman: An improved version of Harnoncourt. The tenor, Gerd Türk, is delicate and civilised, but does not reach the emotional intensity of Rotzsch and Kraus. The alto, Elisabeth von Magnus, has pleasant and flowing voice, but raises only minor excitement. The whole rendition is characterised by good match between the voices and lucid playing. One of us suggested, and the others agreed, that Koopman is very reliable, almost always between good to very good. He never gives bad performance, but on the other hand, he rarely deserves superlatives. The last duet is a pearl, with perfect balance between all the components, less so regarding the feeling. Nevertheless, the best movement of this rendition is this duet.
[BWV 173-6] Leusink: The tenor, Knut Schoch, is boring. The playing of the accompaniment along the whole rendition is first-rate. One of us said that Schoch’s timbre of his voice is to his/her taste, but he has technical problems of controlling his voice. The alto, Sytse Buwalda, has peculiar voice, up to being considered bizarre. It would be refreshing hearing the aria for alto with first rate counter-tenor. The soprano, Ruth Holton, has clear and vibrato-less voice, and instrumental approach, which flows beautifully with the music There is good match between the soprano and the bass in the duet. The second part of this rendition is a major improvement over the first part, the aria for soprano (Mvt. 4) being the best movement of the whole rendition.


The four participants have too major conclusions:
a. The sacred cantata is on much higher level and more inspired than the secular one. One could hardly guess that the first was the source for the second.
b. The various renditions of the sacred cantata should not be rated. Each rendition has its own merits and gives us a different approach to the cantata from which we can learn and enjoy. All the participants in the various recordings have dedicated a lot of time working on their renditions; sometimes it is a life-time effort. We should not judge them, but respect them for presenting to us Bach’s music as best as they can.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (July 23, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Great idea, Aryeh, especially when you are having so many recordings at hand. I think most of us Bach lovers listen to the cantatas all by ourselves. The reviews are very refreshing. Your friends showed respect for the efforts of the performers and their way of wording what they hear is quite original at times.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (July 23, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks so much for sharing your 'Bach Cantata Party'. Having fun and learning at the same time! How ideal!

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 23, 2003):
BWV 173 – Aria for Alto

Following the review of 6 recordings of Cantata BWV 173, which I sent to the BCML yesterday, I put at the page of Music Examples from this Cantata mp3 files of the tuneful and splendid aria for alto (Mvt. 3) from 4 recordings: Winschermann/Hamari [BWV 173-1], Rotzsch/Rieß [BWV 173-2], Rilling/Watts [BWV 173-3] and Koopman/von Magnus [BWV 173-5].

The page also includes links to Harnoncourt/Immler [BWV 173-4] (Dave Zale Website) and to Leusink/Buwalda [BWV 173-6] (Leo Ditvoorst Website).

You can now listen to 6 different renditions of this aria and judge for yourself.

I would like to hear your opinion.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (July 23, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] My PC does not play mp3.
How can I make it play?

Robert Sherman wrote (July 23, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] Go to:

And download the free basic version of MusicMatch Jukebox.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 23, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Since thoroughbass is the foundation of this music, I listened to the five .mp3 samples with that focus. How well does the bass line come across as a meaningful and expressive line?

Accordingly, my preferences among these from best to worst are: Koopman [BWV 173-5], Leusink [BWV 173-6], Rotzsch [BWV 173-2], Rilling [BWV 173-3], Winschermann [BWV 173-1].

Koopman's [BWV 173-5] bass line has the most variety and life in it: differences of length and volume according to the motivic content, natural shape, plus forthrightness, poise, and grace. Beautiful.

Leusink's [BWV 173-6] is similar to that, but has a bit less character to it. More generic.

Rotzsch's [BWV 173-2] at least has some shape to it, although it's too heavy overall.

Rilling's [BWV 173-3] has the notes uniformly long and of similar weight; at least the legato approach makes it sound more like a line than Winschermann's [BWV 173-1], where everything in the bass line is a uniform staccato. But against that observation, I think Winschermann's bass line has more joy to it (the "heilger Freude" of the text) than Rilling's or Rotzsch's. That redeems it a bit. But then its regularity is just too much; the notes don't seem to be organized into any overarching meter.

I looked at the score only after listening to all five of those, and writing the above. From that look, I'd add the following comments:

- It's marked "Vivace" but the Rotzsch and Rilling performances don't have that character.

- I liked Leusink's handling of the "Adagio" measure the best, by far, and it's the way I'd do it myself if I'd never heard any recordings. Then Koopman, and then the others who all make much too much of it (in my opinion). An "Adagio" measure ("at ease") in this type of movement is just a slight relaxation to mark an event in the form (here, the florid vocal line setting up the return of the opening material). In Rotzsch, Rilling, and Winschermann, I feel that the drastic slow-down at that point disrupts the overall flow, with an overdone contrast. The slower-moving bass line (longer notes) and other instrumental parts at that measure already make it apparent that it's a climax, and I believe the word "Adagio" should be interpreted as a character word rather than a tempo word.

p.s., the singers? In sheer sound, I liked Leusink's singer [BWV 173-6] the least; but interpretively I feel his delivery is very clear and attractive. I liked Koopman's singer [BWV 173-5] best, both in sound and interpretation: such clarity, grace, and expression. With the other three singers I hear too much clobbering of weak syllables, and a tone that is too thick. [With such singing, my attention gets drawn to the tone itself and away from the if we're here to hear the singer instead of the message.] The graceful treatment of weak syllables (and "bad notes" in general, in all parts) is a very high priority for me as a listener and performer. When weak notes are given too much emphasis, it makes me think the performers don't understand the musical syntax, aren't following the harmonic progressions, and haven't rehearsed detail. This business of weak syllables/notes is most important (to me) in the bass line, and then in the singing, and then in the other parts. If a bass line doesn't have grace, none of the other parts are going to, either (because it would be a struggle against the environment): the thoroughbass lays down the basic character for everybody else.

Neil Halliday wrote (July 25, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron]
Winschermann [BWV 173-1]: too much staccato in the instrumental parts (strings and B.C.).

Rotzsch [BWV 173-2]: Graceful and tuneful rendition, highlighting some beautifu harmony between voice and violins. (This is the slowest performance.)

Rilling [BWV 173-3]: a touch too "operatic", due to Watt's strong, operatic voice.

Harnoncourt [BWV 173-4]: a light and lovely performance.

Koopman [BWV 173-5]: too much "pointedness" in the instrumental parts, otherwise pleasant.

Leusink [BWV 173-6]: also has the light, "pointed" accompaniment; Bulwalda's distinctive voice is perhaps better suited to Handelian opera.

Conclusion: I enjoy the Rotzsch recording the most; the timbre of the strings in the modern instrument recordings is preferable to the "scratchy" sound in the period instrument versions; all the vocalists are satisfactory, with the reservations noted above.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 173: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Cantata BWV 173a: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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