Cantata BWV 185Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe
Discussions - Part 1
Koopman - Vol.1
Steve Schwartz wrote (July 11, 1997):
 Cantata BWV 185 "Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe" ("Compassionate heart of eternal life"): Most of the cantatas so far have been "writ large." This is the first in Koopman's set at a truly intimate, chamber scale. Instead of an elaborate opening chorus, Bach gives us essentially a duet between soprano and tenor in a "pastoral" triple time. Bach even pares down his counterpoint from fugal texture to "call and response," like R&B's Sam and Dave or the final movement of Franck's violin sonata. The cantata presents a musical lesson that illuminates Matthew's "Judge not, that ye be not judged" and "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." The chorus pleas that its heart be softened to goodness and mercy; the relatively simple musical means illustrate this. However, the plea for a soft heart generally implies the supplicant hasn't got one, and the insight provides Bach the opportunity for a master stroke. Against the soloists, the choral sopranos enter with the chorale "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" (I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ"), a phrase at a time, also in triple meter. The chorale text equates the love of one's neighbor with the love for Christ, and the soloists' duet itself starts to take off musically from the chorale phrases, so that the disparate parts of the texture itself begin to move toward concord and sympathy. Despite incomprehensible diction, Koopman's sopranos electrify at each phrase, as the soul begs Christ to hear its prayer. I have no idea whether this is a balance problem due to Koopman or to his engineers: the sopranos are simply too distant.
The alto recitative which follows, continues the message in an exhortation that "hearts perverted to stone and granite" soften. Kai Wessel, the male alto soloist, just doesn't have the power to suggest the heart of stone (Bach roughens the harmonies here). It's as if there's a big hole in the voice through which breath escapes, and he tends to hoot. Nevertheless, he redeems himself in the aria "Sei bemueht in dieser Zeit / Seele, reichlich auszustreuen" ("Strive, O soul, to strew generously"), where the lightness and agility of his voice on the word "auszustreuen" conjure up little seeds scattered on the wind.
Mertens comes in once again like a young Fischer-Dieskau with the recitative "Das Eigenliebe schmeichelt sich!" ("Our vanity flatters itself"), particularly in the shadings he gives to the text. In the first line, for example, he manages to convey both anxiety and the sternness of a sermon. This is the didactic nub of the cantata. The recitative makes the lesson clear and directly communicative. Bach makes it difficult for the listener to lose himself in counterpoint or melody. Mertens sings it as if it were indeed the most important part of the cantata. He follows this with the aria "Das ist der Christen Kunst" ("This is the Christians' goal . . . not to forget one's neighbor"), at once exhortative and intimate.
The final chorale "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" presents the chorale tune whole, rather than, as in the opening duet, in fragments. The soul is now ready and composed to ask Christ to melt the heart. Koopman brings out a tasty violin obbligato I hadn't ever noticed before, syncopated against the four-square chorale rhythm. All things considered, a superior effort.
Discussions in the Week of July 16, 2000
Aryeh Oron wrote (July 17, 2000):
This is the week of cantata BWV 185 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. After the high picks of 3 long cantatas in the last consecutive weeks, we are now back to normal (?) routine. This is a short cantata (about 15 minutes), 6 movements only, less familiar and therefore more challenging for the occasional listener.
It is agreed between most Bach's scholars that he text written foe BWV 185 is uninspired. I have read carefully the relevant chapters in the Epistle (Rome 8: 18-23) and Gospel (Luke 6: 36-42). I think that there is some material there that could have been used as a raw material to write better text for the cantata to be performed on the 4th Sunday after Trinity. For example - the sighs and suffer of Creation through the labor pains (translated roughly from the Hebrew text). Instead of using such material as a springboard to an interesting libretto (description of birth?), Frank preferred to paraphrase a dry libretto, which is intended to teach the Christian some lessons. Since I am not a Christian myself, I do not have any interest in the texts of the cantatas regarding their religious meaning. I am learning them (and sometimes translating them Hebrew) only in order to try and capture what source of inspiration was it for the music Bach composed and to understand the connection between words and music. With the libretto of BWV 185, Bach must have had to use all his musical skills to set music to it. I find the results no less fascinating than in the cases when he had much more poetic text, such as in BWV 21, or in most of Marianne von Ziegler work. But that was the way Bach always used to work. When he had a good text, he worked hard. When he had a mediocre text, he worked even harder.
b. There are recitatives and there are recitatives. In BWV 21, which was discussed in this group last week, the recitatives are very melodious and inspired and are an integrated part of the whole cantata. IMHO, The recitatives of BWV 185 are simply not interesting enough to be analyzed and discussed.
Here is what Alec Robertson wrote about the 3 aria movements of BWV 185 in his book - 'The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach':
Mvt. 1: Duet
Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe (Merciful heart of love everlasting)
Soprano, Tenor, Oboe (or Traverse Flute), Continuo
Frank drew on part of the Sermon on the Mount for his libretto, beginning with 'Be merciful, even as your father is merciful'. Bach gives the paraphrase on this line a lilting melody in 6/4 time with thrills in continuo and voice parts (not all marked but clearly meant). Near the conclusion of the first line of the text 'inspire, move my heart through Thee', the oboe begins the anonymous melody of Johann Agricola's hymn, 'Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ' which Bach uses complete in cantata BWV 177 for this Sunday.
Mvt. 3: Aria
'Sei bemüht in Dieser Zeit, Seele, reichlich auszustreuen, soll die Ernte dich erfreuen in der reichen Ewigkeit' ('Be at pains in this time, soul, plentifully to scatter (seed) abroad, (then) will the harvest thee rejoice in abundant eternity')
Alto, oboe, 2 Violins, Viola, Fagott, Continuo
Bach deals with this uninspiring text by painting a picture, adagio, of the seed being scattered. The profusion of trills are well in place here, and 'scatter', 'rejoice', and 'eternity' are given florid phrases.
Mvt. 5: Aria
'Die Eigenliebe schmeichelt sich' (Self-love deceives')
Bass, Fagott, Continuo
The text quotes Christ's words about the mote and the beam, and the blind leading the blind, and both falling in the ditch. In the last bar the continuo obliges with a muddy trill.
Review of the Recordings
I have 6 recordings of BWV 185. I am not aware of any other recordings of this cantata. This time I decided to check if there were any reviews of these recordings in the familiar classical magazines and books. I found some and wrote them down. Then I wanted to compare their views with mine and to see if we get at the same conclusions about the same recordings. See: Cantata BWV 185 – Recordings.
 Hans Grischkat (Early 1950’s?)
I am quiet sure that most of this group members do not have this recording. I have it on LP, which seems to be a bootleg copy of the original Renaissance record. I bought it in mid 1970's and have not listened to it much since then until this week. Inan old book named "The Guide to Long-Playing Records - Vocal Music" by Philip L. Miller, published in 1955, I found a review of this recording. It said: "This is an unusually attractive cantata, but the performance does not rise to its material. The opening duet, for soprano and tenor, is quite awkwardly sung, and the bass recitative and aria are almost metronomical. Plümacher, who sings a recitative designated for tenor, is the best of the soloists. The situation is somewhat relieved when we hear the chorale 'Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ' at the end."
To modern ears the singing of both the soprano and the tenor sounds even more awkward than it sounded to the reviewer of this recording in the mid 1050's. It is old fashioned, non-Bach oriented and tasteless singing. The voices themselves are not the problem, but the interpretation. Plümacher's singing in the aria for alto (it was not composed for tenor, as the reviewer claims) has too much vibrato and she puts too much expression into her singing, even where it is not appropriate. Hohmann's singing is indeed metronomic, heavy and uninteresting. The recording of the instrumental parts is not clear enough to get true picture, but my overall impression is that the punctuation does not show any understanding of Baroque playing. This recording is interesting only in historic terms, but not in musical enjoyment terms.
 Helmuth Rilling (1976)
Augér and Baldin voices match well in the opening duet, although Augér is somewhat more in front and Baldin a little bit behind. They make the most out of this lovely duet with the right balance between love and joy. The oboist (Günther Passin) playing is fantastic, as we are already used to expect from Rilling. Laurich's voice sounds somewhat hollow to me, but her tasteful expression and the colorful playing of the fagottist compensates. There is no fagot in the aria for bass, in which Huttenlocher is trying to do his best, but does not succeed in making this aria interesting.
 Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1989)
The music critic NA wrote about this recording in Gramophone magazine in 1989:
"With Vol.43 of the Teldec Bach Cantata Edition on my desk I feel that the finishing post is well and truly in sight. (Snip) Most of the music here is at best seldom heard and I suspect that some of it, at least, is unfamiliar to all but the most ardent and well-seasoned of Bach cantata connoisseurs. (Snip) The cantata Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe (BWV 185) is a Weimar composition dating from 1715. Bach later adapted it for performance at Leipzig, but Harnoncourt gives us the earlier version, though with minor adjustments; he prefers, for example, an oboe d'amore to the oboe of the Weimar score, both on account of key and tessitura. The work has two arias, the first a lyrical adagio in A major for alto voice with oboe obbligato and strings, the second for bass with continuo only. Paul Esswood gives a finely sustained performance of the first with affecting melismas, while Thomas Hampson provides a strongly affirmative account of the second. Helmut Wittek and Kurt Equiluz are vigorous in their declamation of the opening duet and the Tölzer Boys' Choir are fresh sounding in the brief chorale, "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ", appropriate to the 4th Sunday after Trinity for which Bach designated the cantata."
I tend to agree with this review, but I have some small reservations. The opening duet sounds less melodious and less flowing than that of Rilling. Interesting to see that the voices of the boy soprano and Equiluz match very nicely, but the fragmented approach of Harnoncourt is killing the liveliness of this duet. The playing of the oboe d'amore in the aria for alto may be more authentic, but it is less rich and less expressive than that of Rilling's oboist. Esswood singing in this aria is delicate, charming and tasteful. Hampson is indeed much better and interesting than Huttenlocher is. He is helped by lively continuo.
 Ton Koopman (1994)
The music critic RW wrote about this recording in Gramophone magazine in 1995:
"The little-known BWV 185, written in Weimar, is, alone among these works, a predominantly solo cantata, with the chorus confined to the closing chorale. Mertens' incisive singing makes the best case for the dry bass aria, while Wessel is polished and elegant, if a shade anonymous in the lovely alto aria, with its pictorial evocation of the scattering of seed. But the work's high point, the beseeching opening duet for soprano and tenor, is surely too sluggish rhythmically, its dance lilt virtually negated."
I tend to agree also with this review. The performance of the opening duet is the best so far. This couple (Schlick and Mey) is enjoying singing together. In this recording this duet indeed becomes the high point. Wessel put even more emotion into his singing than Esswood does. I do not think that he has to be blamed for the anonymity of his aria. The problem is the text and not his singing. When Mertens is teaching you something (aria for bass), you really want to listen.
 Masaaki Suzuki (1996)
The music critic NA wrote about this recording in Gramophone magazine in 1997:
"The 4th volume of the Bach Collegium Japan’s cantata project contains four works from Bach’s Weimar period. (Snip) The remaining three cantatas on the disc, BWV 163, 165 and 185, are much more rarely heard and, even today, can be found only in completed or ongoing cantata surveys. Readers of these pages will know that I feel considerable enthusiasm for the performances of the Bach Collegium Japan. The level of vocal and instrumental artistry is consistently and fairly uniformly high, and the many editorial decisions that have to be made in a project such as this have been taken practically and sensibly. (Snip) The three remaining cantatas are all smaller in dimension than BWV 199. For the most part they come over well though neither Aki Yanagisawa nor Akira Tachikawa perhaps quite match Suzuki in tonal allure. Makoto Sakurada and Stephan Schreckenberger both make strong contributions. It would be remiss of me to conclude without commending the excellence of oboist, Alfredo Bernardini, one of only two Europeans taking part in the enterprise, the fine continuo playing and the beautifully balanced one-to-a-part vocal ensemble comprising the soloists, which provides the chorale element. In short, here is another first-rate offering from the Bach Collegium Japan under its director Masaaki Suzuki. Deeply felt, sincerely expressed performances such as these are unlikely to tarnish with the passage of time, but meanwhile deserve to win many friends."
This is a relatively long review, which does not say much about the performing of each individual movement of BWV 185. Among the various recordings of this cantata, Suzuki's overall approach is the most dramatic. It is a joy to hear Midori's singing opens the duet, and it is a double pleasure when Sakurada joins her. The playing of the wonderful baroque oboist (Bernardini) contributes to the success of this rendering. Tachikawa's singing in the aria for alto is pleasant and sensitive, although in terms of expression and ability to variegate he is not (yet) in the same league as Esswood and Wessel are. Schreckenberger's singing in the aria for bass reminds me very much that of Huttenlocher (with Rilling), although his voice has slightly softer edge. The playing of all the instrumental parts, including the continuo, is first rate along the whole recording.
 Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
The singing of Holton and Schoch in the opening duet is light and flow smoothly and pleasantly ahead. Quite a different approach than all their predecessors, but it sounds justified. The oboist playing less prominent here. Buwalda does not try to put into the aria for alto too much meaning, which is not existing there. He does not take risks and his economic approach makes this aria even more pleasant to hear. The least interesting singing comes from Ramselaar, who has given us so many successful renderings in the precious cantatas that were discussed in this group. It sounds as if he does not really know what to do with his part. The whole performance is light and airy, and calls for repeated hearings.
Although this cantata does not have too many memorable moments, I could listen to it many times without getting bored. With each repeated hearing, I found myself enjoy more and more both Suzuki  and Leusink  recordings.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Andrew Oliver wrote (July 17, 2000):
As is usual with Bach's music, there is more to this cantata than appears at first sight. I wondered why he needed to decorate the duet in the first movement with so many trills, but then I realized that these illustrate the effect of 'Erregung' and 'Bewegung' (excitement and emotion). The two voices following each other depict the final clause of the next movement: "Wie ihr messt, wird man euch wieder messen". The two recitatives recount the Gospel for the day. They are separated by an aria, the text of which is a paraphrase of Psalm 126 vv 5,6. I said last week that BWV 21 reminded me of the Brahms Requiem. This third movement of BWV 185 does the same, as those two verses also appear in the Brahms, although the musical setting is quite different. The alto aria is one of my two favorite pieces from this work, the other being the closing chorale, with its lovely counterpoint added by the violin. Simple but effective. Roy, if you haven't already got it, I can recommend the double CD set of Purcell Choral Works, recorded by Simon Preston with The English Concert and the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford back in 1980/1981 and now released on the Archiv label, 459 487-2.
Jane Newble wrote (July 26, 2000):
Coming back from holiday meant usual chaos. I wrote a few notes, and then could not find them. Anyway, here they are, a week late! In order, I listened to Leusink (6), Koopman (4), and then Gardiner (7), who was on the BBC.
Mvt. 1: Duet
What struck me first of all, listening and reading the score at the same time, was the illustration of the text about the flames of love in the instruments. I could see and hear the flames flickering, and was amazed at how Bach picks out the essence of the text in his music. This divine love has to warm our hearts and to light the flames of love in them. Although I am definitely no admirer of Leusink's Kurt Schoch as tenor, The wonderful voice of Ruth Holton softens the effect, and it sounds good. I felt that in the Gardiner performance there is too much vibrato, and it is much too theatrical. What is Gardiner trying to do? Make Bach into a romantic?
Mvt. 2: Recitative
The voice of Sytse Buwalda expresses our stony unfeeling hearts incredibly well. And also the judgement on hearts untouched by divine love. Gardiner's alto (Nathalie Stutzmann?) has a beautiful depth of voice, but again, too much vibrato for my liking.
Mvt. 3: Aria
Such tender music of hope, expressed by the oboe. What we do now has a bearing on eternity. I very much like this aria in all three performances.
Mvt. 4: Recitative
The bass in Gardiner's performance (Nicolas Test?) struck me as having a peculiar "antique" voice, as if he is singing Brahms' Lieder. To my feeling, this had nothing to do with Bach.
Mvt. 5: Aria
Bas Ramselaar here is hesitant, as if he has not learnt it properly, or as if the timing is too slow. Klaus Mertens is wonderful. The ornamentation and conviction in his voice is incredible.
Mvt. 6: Chorale
Here Koopman is to me the absolute winner, but then I have always liked the choral singing on his CD's.
The Leusink (6) recording is my favorite, but Klaus Mertens (4) my favorite soloist.
Another cantata I shall love listening too!
Jill Gunsell wrote (July 14, 2000):
Gardiner - BWV 24 and BWV 185 on BBC Radio 3
BBC Alert! Music Features 15-21 July 2000
BBC Radio 3
Sat, 15 Jul, BBC Radio 3, 1930-2045
Live from the Royal Albert Hall, London. A concert of music by Bach. Miah Persson (soprano), Magdalena Kožená (mezzo), Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto), Paul Agnew (tenor), Nicholas Teste (bass), Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner. Orchestral Suite No 4 in D, BWV 1069; Cantata BWV 24 `Ein ungefärbt Gemüte'; Brandenburg Concerto No 1 in F, BWV 1046.
Ryan Michero wrote (July 14, 2000):
Sorry for not writing lately to the list--I've been terribly busy. I plan to do some catching up tomorrow.
But this can't wait: Tomorrow BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting live a concert of Bach's music performed by John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir. Included in the program is the cantata for next week's discussion, BWV 185 !
Here are the details of the program:
Suite No.4 in D major, BWV 1069
Cantata BWV 24, 'Ein ungefärbt Gemüte'
Brandenburg Concerto No.1 in F major
I N T E R V A L
Cantata BWV 185, 'Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe'
Magnificat in D major (BWV 243)
Miah Persson soprano
Magdalena Kožená mezzo-soprano
Nathalie Stutzmann contralto
Paul Agnew tenor
Nicolas Teste bass
English Baroque Soloists
Sir John Eliot Gardiner conductor
"Sir John Eliot Gardiner is devoting the whole of 2000 to celebrating the music of Bach. Here the joyous Magnificat and popular orchestral works join two cantatas composed for this weekend in the liturgical year."
I'm especially excited about this, as Persson, Kozena, and Agnew are three of my absolute favorite singers! Too bad I don't live in London so I could see it live.
You can listen to Radio 3 online if you go to <http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/> (you'll need Real Player). The first part of the program will be broadcast Saturday at 7:30 P.M. in the UK and the second part at 9:05 P.M. Go to <http://www.timezoneconverter.com/> if you want to figure out what time that will be in your area.
Matthew Westphal wrote (July 16, 2000):
I heard the concert over the Net. Did anyone else? What did you all think?
Ryan Michero wrote (July 16, 2000):
(To Matthew Westphal) It was a fine concert , and I wish I could have been there. I do have my complaints, though.
The instrumental pieces, the Orchestral Suite No.4 and Brandenburg Concerto No.1, were very nicely played, especially in the brass department (I'm glad the commentator described the elaborate painted embellishments on the players' horns, too.). Gardiner's interpretation of these pieces was pretty middle-of-the-road though--strange, as his vocal music recordings are anything but, with extreme tempi seemingly the norm. The instrumental pieces were nice but obviously not the raison d'etre of the concert.
The cantatas were overall wonderfully sung and played. Paul Agnew  was particularly fine here, and the bass Nicholas Teste was also very convincing. I was disappointed by Nathalie Stutzmann, though. She is one of the old school contraltos, of a kind you don't hear very often in Bach nowadays (thankfully, in my opinion), with a heavy, constant vibrato.And she sang altogether too much in these cantatas, taking probably the two most important arias in both BWV 24 and BWV 185. Too bad, as the wonderful mezzo Magdalena Kožená was there and could have easily sung either of these pieces. I especially wanted to hear her in the gorgeous alto aria of BWV 185 (as it was, she only sang in this work's opening duet--sigh). Otherwise, I liked Gardiner's approach in these works. Anyone familiar with Gardiner's Bach recordings would recognize this brand of dramatic, high-octane performance tempered with moments of great gentleness and beauty. The choruses were really astounding, with the central chorus in BWV 24 taken at a breakneck pace that was really thrilling and must have left his audience (not to mention his singers) gasping for breath!
Gardiner  cleverly closed the concert with the biggest crowd-pleaser, the D-major Magnificat, giving it a very exciting performance. I was surprised that Gardiner's interpretation of this work has changed so little since he recorded it in the early 80's, with all of his sometimes joltingly fast tempi intact (working better in the context of a live performance than it does on record). Finally, Kozena and the superb soprano Miah Persson were given chances to shine here, with their respective readings of "Et exultavit" and "Quia respexit" both highlights of the concert. (Interestingly, these singers can be heard singing these same movements on record, Kozena on her Bach "Arias" recital and Persson on Suzuki's Magnificat (BWV 243) recording.) Agnew and Teste were again great, and Stutzmann even excelled in her duet with Agnew, "Et misericordia" (though I didn't like her singing in the otherwise gorgeous "Esurientes"). The chorus and orchestra were fantastic in the final movement, which must have brought the audience to their feet.
All in all, this was a great concert that makes me terribly upset at DG for not releasing all of Gardiner's cantata pilgrimage recordings on CD as was originally planned.
But you're the professional reviewer, Matthew--what did you think?
Matthew Westphal wrote (July 17, 2000):
Ryan Michero wrote:
< But you're the professional reviewer, Matthew--what did you think? >
I'm the professional reviewer? That doesn't mean much at all, except that (a) I knew the right people at the right time, and (b) I can string words together to make coherent sentences and paragraphs (a virtue not as common as it should be).
Anyway, I'm afraid Ryan liked the concert much better than I did. Am I the only one who notices that the Monteverdi Choir hardly sounds like the magnificent high-precision machine it was in its glory days? (That's circa SOLOMON and the Christmas Oratorio, before Gardiner turned to Beethoven, Schumann and Verdi.) The choir's ensemble and even tuning sometimes sound woolly -- not, of course, by the standards of American amateur or semi-professional choirs, but definitely by the standards of English professional choirs (granted, probably the highest standards in the world, but the ones we can get in this repertory).
I did think the instrumental pieces went well, although it seemed to me there wasn't a whole lot of feeling behind the speed. (That's a very subjective thing, I know.) I did like the soloists other than Stutzmann quite a lot. I usually don't look forward to hearing Stutzmann in Baroque music at all; like Ryan, I find her sound too plummy and her vibrato too wide and prominent. I thought that was something of a problem in BWV 24, but in the Magnificat I thought Stutzmann sounded quite nice and blended very well with Agnew. Esurientes was OK, much better than I expected, and I thought the trio Suspect Israel was the loveliest thing of the whole evening. I think this means I must change my assessment of Stutzmann: she can control her vibrato, so why does she choose so often not to do so?
Ryan Michero wrote (July 17, 2000):
Matthew Westphal wrote:
< I'm the professional reviewer? That doesn't mean much at all, except that (a) I knew the right people at the right time, and (b) I can string words together to make coherent sentences and paragraphs (a virtue not as common as it should be). >
Very true. However, you shouldn't underestimate yourself. Such intensive and intelligent listening as one must do in a reviewer's position must increase one's critical acuity, right?
Well, instead of saying "you're the professional", perhaps I should've just said I want to hear what you have to say about it?
< Anyway, I'm afraid Ryan liked the concert much better than I did. Am I the only one who notices that the Monteverdi Choir hardly sounds like the magnificent high-precision machine it was in its glory days? (That's circa SOLOMON and the Christmas Oratorio, before Gardiner turned to Beethoven, Schumann and Verdi.) The choir's ensemble and even tuning sometimes sound woolly -- not, of course, by the standards of American amateur or semi-professional choirs, but definitely by the standards of English professional choirs (granted, probably the highest standards in the world, but the ones we can get in this repertory). >
True, the Monteverdi Choir is not as impressive as it used to be, alas. But this was not as obvious to me in this performance due to the poor sound of the Internet streaming audio.
< I did like the soloists other than Stutzmann quite a lot. I usually don't look forward to hearing Stutzmann in Baroque music at all; like Ryan, I find her sound too plummy and her vibrato too wide and prominent. I thought that was something of a problem in BWV 24, but in the Magnificat (BWV 243) I thought Stutzmann sounded quite nice and blended very well with Agnew. Esurientes was OK, much better than I expected, and I thought the trio Suspect Israel was the loveliest thing of the whole evening. I think this means I must change my assessment of Stutzmann: she can control her vibrato, so why does she choose so often not to do so? >
Indeed! She was much more palatable in the Magnificat than in the other pieces. Why does she insist on using the heavy vibrato? Or perhaps the more appropriate question is why do early music conductors insist on using her?
Matthew Westphal wrote (July 17, 2000):
Ryan Michero wrote:
< Such intensive and intelligent listening as one must do in a reviewer's position must increase one's critical acuity, right? >
In the sense that practice makes perfect (or at least better)...
< True, the Monteverdi Choir is not as impressive as it used to be, alas. But this was not as obvious to me in this performance due to the poor sound of the Internet streaming audio. >
Yes, but we have the evidence of the appalling Vol.1 of the Cantata Pilgrimage series. (Vol.2 is a re-issue; Vol.3 is considerably better, thanks largely to better soloists; I have Vol.4 but haven't heard it yet.)
< Indeed! [Stutzmann] was much more palatable in the Magnificat than in the other pieces. Why does she insist on using the heavy vibrato? >
Until I heard that Magnificat, I thought that she couldn't help it -- that was the voice and training she had.
< Or perhaps the more appropriate question is why do early music conductors insist on using her? >
That was always my question before. Now that I've heard that Magnificat (BWV 243), my question is "If she can do better, why doesn't she?"
Ehud Shiloni wrote (July 24, 2000):
I was present at that concert and I can add some input to the various points raised [sorry for being late with this]:
Re Natalie Stutzmann: I read in the local press in London that she was a late stand-in for Claudia Schubert who was originally in the program [no reason was given why Schubert could not make it]. My impression was that Stutzmann started real awful with the opening Alto aria of BWV 24, but her voice grew better as the evening progressed. I agree with you, Matthew, about the trio "Suscepit Israel", except that I think that it was more than just"lovely" - it was really, truly amazing and magical!
Re Monteverdi Choir: Their performance of the vigorous prelude and fugue chorus "Alles nun, das ist wollet" in BWV 24 was riveting! The type of stuff you want to go to a live performance for - goose pimples and all. On hearing that, I immediately forgave Gardiner his less-than-inspiring recording of BWV 6 on the first "pilgrimage" CD! However, despite the overall great effect, I understand what you say about them sounding "wooly" - the voices don't stand out as clear as they do with Suzuki's BCJ [more on that later]. The acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall may have contributed to that problem, because it is actually a huge, circular arena, and the reverb effect is quite dry [Galina said about her Easter concert there: "For a large barn, though, the acoustic seemed to be okay"...].
Re Kozena and Persson I second every one of Ryan's superlatives - both are practically perfect.
Two more visual points about "theatrical" effects which Gardiner used in the Magnificat: The choir was seated during the "Quia respexit", and stood up only on the very last bar before breaking into the "Omnes", and in the "Deposuit" Gardiner made the entire violin section perform while standing up. Nice gestures. Overall, the performance of the Magnificat was more moving and satisfying than any of the [many] CD versions that I have. I'd say that Gardiner did deliver a live-performance-home-run with this one , and it is a shame that DG will not record all the concerts. If they did, they could then decide to release only the successful, "special" pieces, and skip the less exciting efforts [such as the poor Easter concert that John van Veen heard].
And, finally: Just four days after hearing the Magnificat (BWV 243) live with JEG, I heard the same piece live with Suzuki/BCJ in the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv! Also on the program were BWV 147 and Orchestral Suite #1. In short: A very-very good concert, the smaller choir sounding clearer and with better "color", but somehow I was not as moved as I was in the Albert Hall...
Johan van Veen wrote (July 27, 2000):
The Prom concert by Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists on July 15th has been written about here (I think). Tonight Belgian radio broadcasted the concert. Considering the fact that some on this list were quite positive about this concert I was looking forward to the recording. I have to say that I am totally speechless about the positive opinions on this concert. My negative view on Gardiner's Bach-interpretation, which I wrote about earlier in reference to the concert in Eisenach were confirmed. Yes, technically it was slightly better - not a lot better, though. The violino piccolo in the 1st Brandenburg Concerto was anything but perfect. On the whole the performance of the two orchestral works was characterized by too much legato playing, a lack of rhetorical accents and wrong articulation and phrasing. I haven't heard such a boring and smoothed-down performance of the Brandenburg Concerto for a long time.
The vocal works were not any better. When I heard Nathalie Stutzmann I immediately knew why I dislike most female altos. That dark voice, "inward looking" as I would call it, is just the wrong type of voice for Bach. You can hardly understand a word she is singing. It is more like "mumbling" than singing. There were quite a number of textual errors in the tenor recitative of cantata BWV 24. There were errors in the pronunciation as well. The worst in that respect was the bass Nicolas Teste. Errors were all over the place in the bass recitative in cantata BWV 185 ("doch recht" sounded like "do' recht"). He wasn't able to keep up with the fast tempo of the basso continuo. The following aria (Das ist der Christen Kunst) was just a caricature. It reminded me of Polyphemus' aria "Oh ruddier than the cherry" from Handel's Acis and Galatea. I could say more about the cantatas (p.e. the wobbly singing of the choir), but I won't. Only a couple of things about the Magnificat (BWV 243). The only aspect of the whole concert I was really pleased about was the excellent singing of Miah Persson. She has exactly the right kind of voice for Bach. Phrasing, articulation and pronunciation were flawless. Magdalena Kožená was acceptable (better than in cantata BWV 185), although I don't like her vibrato. The other soloists didn't impress me at all. And why on earth is Gardiner using the Italian pronunciation of Latin in a work by a German composer? In a way the performance was old-fashioned, in particular in the long sustained closing chords of most sections. That is a habit of the past. And here again: no dynamic accents, a lot of legato playing and singing, and therefore a complete denial of the rhetorical, language-based character of Bach's music.
I am very sorry if messages like these are upsetting people. Nobody needs to agree with what I am writing. But I can't see it in a different way. I don't like to write things like this, but I feel very sorry that gifted musicians - for whatever reasons - seem not to be able to do justice to what I am sincerely convinced is the character of Bach's music.
Thomas Boyce wrote (July 27, 2000):
(To Johan van Veen) That's all right, man, you write 'em as you see 'em.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 185: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3