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Cantata BWV 185
Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of May 8, 2005 (2nd round)

Thomas Shepehrd wrote (May 7, 2005):
BWV 185: Introduction

The cantata for discussion this week (May 8-15) is:

Cantata BWV 185
Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe

Event in the Lutheran church calendar: Solo Cantata for the 4th Sunday after Trinity

Composed: Weimar, 1715 | 1st & 2nd performance: July 14, 1715 - Weimar, possibly repeat performance in Weimar; 3rd performance: June 20, 1723 - Leipzig; 4th performance: 1746-1747 - Leipzig

Link to texts, commentary, vocal score, music examples, and list of known recordings:

Link to previous discussions:

Streamed over the internet, it is possible to hear Leusink's version of the whole cantata [6]:

From Tadashi Isoyama's 1996 notes for vol 4 of Suzuki's Cantata cycle on BIS records [5]:

"This cantata was first performed on the 4th Sunday after Trinity (14th July) in 1715. The libretto is by Salomo Franck and is dated 1715. It follows a chamber music structure, and while it sticks to its function as a part of the greater church service, is also shares certain features with BWV 165, the cantata written shortly before it. The Gospel for this day is the passage which follows after Jesus's famous teaching of 'love thine enemy'. The reading begins with injunctions to forgive and to not judge other, and continues, 'For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured unto you again' and 'Cast out first the beam that is in thine owe eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to remove the mote that is in thy brother's eye.' Perhaps because the text is very rich in material, Frank’s libretto incorporates with few changes the easy flow of Jesus's words, and this has elicited comments such as Schweitzer's 'due to the bland lesson-like libretto, [the beauty of this work] is diminished'. But we are bound to admire the emotional wealth with which Bach's music infuses the poetry. In that it gives living reality to a potentially dry text, this work may be numbered among Bach's masterpieces. It is known that there were performances of Cantata No. 185 in Leipzig in 1723 and in 1746/47, for which occasions the oboe part was given to a trumpet (clarino). We see a similar compositional structure, in which the work takes its musical frame from the instrumental presentation of the melody of the final chorale, in the Easter Day cantata for the same year, BWV 31. The sources for the present work are the Weimar score (part of which is an autograph) and original parts as well as the score from the Leipzig performances.

"The cantata begins with a calm siciliano-like duet (F sharp minor) for soprano and tenor. The theme of the piece is a musical exposition on the concept of 'mercy'; that the subject is often followed by its mirror form and both voices move in canon probably symbolizes that God's mercy is reflected in human pity. Then the oboe joins in with the melody of the last chorale and suggests the name of Jesus, the owner of the heart of love, hidden in the text. An elaborately set recitative for tenor follows (second movement), in which Jesus's teaching from the Gospel reading is brought to the human level. The core concept, 'As you measure, so shall others measure unto you', is emphasized in canon. This leads into an alto aria (third movement, Adagio, C major) in which the full-sounding accompaniment expresses the joy of the 'plentiful harvest' promised to the compassionate man. The instruments seem almost to be playing a phrase from an oboe concerto. The next movement is a bass recitative which summarizes Christ's words from the second half of the Gospel text A tone of rigid warning is prominent The aria in the fifth movement (Vivace, B minor) speaks of 'the Christian's an'. Bach uses the characteristic motif from the first line of the text as a mono, and its repetition serves not only to secure the musical cohesion of the movement, but also to emphasize the weightiness of the words. The concluding chorale (sixth movement, F sharp minor) is the call to Christ of Christians who have made the decision to follow the path of righteousness. Taking the first verse of Johann Agricola's 1529 hymn Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I call to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ), Bach sets it for four voices, with a descant-like solo line for the first violin."


The performance examples I have chosen this week are of the first movement. It would seem very early in the cantatas that Bach mastered and perfected the aria (either as a solo or duet) with instrumental accompaniment which includes a slow measure chorale as part of the texture. (In recent weeks BWV 12-M6, BWV 172-M5 - a duet, BWV 31-M4. Next week BWV 163-M5 - a duet).

Rilling: Arleen Augér (Soprano), Aldo Baldin (Tenor) [2]:

Harnoncourt: Helmut Wittek (Boy Soprano), Kurt Equiluz (Tenor) [3]:

Suzuki: Midori Suzuki (Soprano), Akira Tachikawa (Counter-tenor) [5]:

Leusink: Ruth Holton (Soprano), Sytse Buwalda (Counter-tenor) [6]: (1st movement)


I hope to see many of you enjoying the music and joining in the discussion about this aria or any other aspect of the cantata.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 9, 2005):
BWV 185: opening duet

I do not consider than any of the recordings (kindly supplied by Mr. Shepherd) do justice to this - what could be a very interesting - duet.

Rilling's recording [2] is marred by particularly ugly sounding continuo strings - I don't know what has gone wrong with this recording. Also, if you have singers - Auger and Baldin - as strong as this, perhaps the altenative trumpet would be more satisfactory for presenting the instrumental chorale in a powerful version of this duet.

But if his continuo strings are ugly, the slower tempo adopted by Rilling at least allows the direction of the continuo notes to begin to make sense; ie, while it is poorly phrased and thus lacks shape (a problem in Rilling), it is better, from the point of view of allowing the listener to understand the direction of the continuo's notes in relation to the movement's structure, than the faster HIP examples, with the possible exception of Leusink.

I can't get much volume (on my computer) out of Harnoncourt's example [3]. There is sufficient vibrato from the singers to make comprehension othe vocal lines difficult; and as noted above, the continuo line seems to go no-where, or is indiscernable. The toy organ is back with those inane little chords. (What happened to the team that realised the continuo in Leonhardt's alto aria of BWV 165?).

Suzuki's singers [5], though combining satisfactorily, and the oboe, are overshadowed by a foggy, shapeless continuo line. I consider this movement has to be slowed down, in order to get some direction and expression into the continuo line.

With Leusink [6], the oboe is very weak, and the cello strings are struggling to bring some shape to the continuo line at this fast tempo. I must congratulate them for almost succeeding, in comparison to the other examples. The vocalists are fine. The portable organ has an unpleasant raspy timbre in places.

That's my view of the situation, anyway.

John Pike wrote (May 12, 2005):
BWV 165 and 185

I have been listening to 3 recordings each of BWV 165 and BWV 185, while reading e mails at the same time, so I only had a little of my attention on the music. I listened to L/H [3], Rilling [2] and Leusink [6]. I enjoyed all as background music, but most of all wanted to say how much I am enjoying my new complete cantata box set of Leusink's recordings. For 2 years I was put off acquiring these (cheap though they are) because of some critical comments on the list, but early experience has shown that they were a wise investment and I would recommend them to anyone looking to buy a complete cantata set at budget price. While they may not be the best recordings around, there is nevertheless much to enjoy. Try

Neil Halliday wrote (May 13, 2005):
BWV 185

As already noted, the difficulty with the opening duet is to present the 'busy' continuo so that it has shape and direction.

None of the examples are entirely successful in this regard.

Re the remainder of the cantata: Rilling [2], Harnoncourt [3], Leusink [6].

#2 (accompanied recitative). All satisfacory. (I prefer the sound of Rilling's modern strings).

#3 (alto aria). This is the highlight of the cantata. It's a beautiful A major aria, marked adagio, and scored for strings and oboe (and alto). Those delicious 247 (dis)chords (in bar 4, 6, etc) show up again, as was discussed in BWV 54.

I like Harnoncourt's slow tempo, but I note what I perceive as a 'lack of flow' in the music. Laurich with Rilling uses too much vibrato (her voice is attractive when she avoids this); Leusink, with the intermediate tempo (of the 3 recordings), should please those who like the period sound.

#4 (continuo recitative). Suprise, surprise: Leusink gives us a lovely orchestrated version of this 'secco' recitative, with legato organ chords and long held cello notes as notated. Ramselaar's expressive voice sets the accompaniment off nicely. The improvement over Harnoncourt's method is remarkable, IMO.

Huttenlocher with Rilling sounds more appropriate for the opera hall.

#5 (bass aria). Leusink is a clear winner here. The lovely 'walking' tempo, Ramselaar's gentle approach, and the clear continuo add up to quite a pleasing aria.

Harnoncourt overdoes the staccato articulation; but I like Hampson's gentle voice, in this 'chamber' aria.

Same remarks as above apply to Huttenlocher.

#6 (Chorale). This features an attractive separate part for the 1st violins, and some complex harmonies in the vocal parts.

1. Rilling [2]. 2. Leusink [6]. (gap) 3. Harnoncourt [3].


Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 185: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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