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Cantata BWV 43
Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Carl Burmeister wrote (January 12, 2000):
I have Fritz Werner conducting BWV 43 [2] and BWV 182 on an Epic LP and its one of my favorite cantata recordings. It's with the Heinrich Schutz chorale and the Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra. Epic BC 1276.

 

Discussions in the Week of May 25, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 28, 2003):
BWV 43 - Introduction

The chosen work for this week (May 25, 2003) is Cantata BWV 43 ‘Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen’ (God ascends with shouts of joy) for Ascension Day.

Background

The short background below is quoted from W. Murray Young’s book ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide’ (1989).

It is probable that the librettist for this cantata was the same unknown poet who had been writing libretti for Bach’s cousin, composer Johann Ludwig Bach of Meiningen. The work is long, having two parts with a total of nine solo movements, of which Bach himself is thought to have written two (Mvt. 2 & Mvt. 3). Because its length might be beyond the time allowed for performance (about 30 minutes), Bach set all the arias without da capo.

The Gospel for Ascension Day is Mark 16: 14-20, of which the 19th verse is quoted in a soprano recitative (Mvt. 4). All the other movements reflect on this last appearance of Christ and His Ascension. After this soprano recitative, all of the six following arias and recitatives are taken completely from an anonymous hymn ‘Mein Jesus hat nunmehr’ (My Jesus Has Now). This use of entire hymn within a cantata’s inner movements is unique in Bach’s cantata production.

Recordings & Music Examples
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/BWV43.htm

This cantata has seven complete recordings, 3 of which are traditional: Ramin (1951) [1], Werner (1961) [2] and Rilling (1981-1982) [6] and four HIP: Harnoncourt (1975) [5], Herreweghe (1993) [7], Gardiner (1993) [8] and Leusink (2000) [9]. The Werner’s recording [2], although once available in CD form, is OUP. All the others are easily available and two of which can be listened through the web. In the page of the Music Examples from this cantata: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV43-Mus.htm
you can find links to the recordings by Harnoncourt [5] (David Zale Website) and Leusink [9] (contributed by Leo Ditvoorst, and temporary located at the BCW):

Additional Information
In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to the original German text and various translations, four of which were contributed by members of the BCML: English (Francis Browne), French (Jean-Pierre Grivois), Hebrew (Aryeh Oron) and Spanish (Lorenzo Conejo). There are also links to the Score (Vocal & Piano version) and to commentaries: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide)) & Brian Robins (AMG), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

So you have the text, the score, commentaries and recorded music of this fine cantata, available online. That means that every member is well-equipped to listen and write his/her own impressions. I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 29, 2003):
BWV 43 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 43 - Provenance

Commentary [Dürr, Konrad Küster]

See: Cantata BWV 43 - Commentary

Rianto Pardede wrote (May 29, 2003):
This is what I feel while listening to Helmuth Rilling's rendition of the opening chorus [6]:

To me, the first section of the instrumental introduction always conveys some sense of longing for something and feeling of sadness at the same time. It "feels" flowing slowly and heavy, reflecting that two kind of feeling. It 's beautiful, though.

Then, onto the second section (timer clocks in at appr. 39 seconds) of instrumental introduction, a trumpet (is it a trumpet?) and an alto violin (is it? or is it a violoncello? ...), together in different fashions quickly break the gloomy atmosphere away, bringing the first notes of joy and triumph. (I'm blind to musical vocabularies, but I bet that this section does display and it must be, the kind of contrapuntal fire of Bach!. Awesome!).

Yes, the ascension of Jesus Christ is certainly a joyful experience to those who witness or believing in that event. A triumph, also. Because by His leaving, the prophesy is fulfilled. Because he who believes is certainly a victor at that moment of ascension. Then it is only natural that we celebrate that moment with the singing of Psalm 47, 5-6:

God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.

Glorious is the overall tunes of the following singing, except in the very short instrument interlude after the first round of shout:

"Lobsinget, lobsinget Gott! Lobsinget, lobsinget unserm Konige!/
Sing praises to God! Sing praises, sing praises unto our King!".

I can't help feeling that this interlude reflects the tinge of sadness coming back to the believer. Despite the triumph, he won't be seeing his King whom he loves and loves him, for a long, long time. But this is only brief, for he quickly realise that as the ascension is fulfilled, then other fulfilments will surely follow. So, the rest of the chorus remains triumphant. Satisfying.

I also listen to Herreweghe's version of the chorus [7]. I like it. But, I always enjoy Rilling's [6] more than Herreweghe. IMHO, to my ears the emotions radiating from the sound of instruments and vocals in Herreweghe are a bit less convincing. I've got this feeling that the forces in Herreweghe's are too cautious. As if they focus too much attention to the delivery of the text and the notes, I guess. But, I do like it, nevertheless. Whereas the Rilling sounds big and fuzzy (I mean the vocal parts), Herreweghe is clearer, thus easier to follow.

... got to stop rambling.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 30, 2003):
BWV 43 - More Commentaries: [Voigt, Schweitzer, Peter Wollny]

See: Cantata BWV 43 - Commentary

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (May 30, 2003):
Ascension and Inspiration

Yesterday we had our annual dew-grass tennis tournament, all participants gathering together for breakfast in the clubhouse at 7 a.m. Later that morning, one of my opponents in the mixed doubles tried to outlob me in spite of my 6 ft 5. Looking up to smash the ball back onto his court, I looked into the sun, got temporarily blinded and produced a marvellous miss-hit. Under hilarious laughter I could not help thinking about the lark ascending and the disciples on Mount Olive being just as blinded looking into the sun, long after a cloud had received Jesus out of their sight. Since you can not play a game of tennis staring into the clouds, I focused my eyes on the ball again and nevertheless lost the game. Back home I figured out it must have been my repeated listening to cantata BWV 43 the previous day that had projected this association on my mind. Recalling that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, I realized that in spite of Jesus’ departure from them they had had a very inspirational momen, quite the contrary from mine earlier that day. And then the magic of Pentecost was still to come.

And I wondered how Bach got his inspiration, when he was composing all these wonderful works that have been preserved and the other ones that have not come down to us. And I thought “beg, steal and borrow”. Borrowing from his own works, stealing hymns from the church hymnal, everything being perfectly accepted at the time. No accusations of plagiarism, but covered under the term “parody”, about which some very worthwhile contributions can be read on the Bach Cantatas Website under the heading General Topics [See: Parodies in Bach’s Vocal Works]. But he did an awful lot of original composing as well. And again questions crossed my mind. How would he have done this? How did he find inspiration? When composing, did he play things on his keyboard or was the entire process a piece of his mind? In an earlier contribution I said: “Imagine him working in his study, sitting at his desk, at times pacing up and down the tiny room. What would he look like without wearing a wig? Would he go rummaging in old manuscripts to find inspiration? Could he be looking for some piece in particular he wanted to adapt for a new cantata or would he just sit there, having it all inside his head, just waiting to come out?“ Is there some truth in this? Did he hear things in his mind or was it just a contrapuntal puzzle he had to solve? Did he know beforehand in what key he was going to compose this particular work? You often hear: composing is more perspiration than inspiration. It is a craft one has to learn. Where does this leave Bach? And us? Is this trivial or essential?

Is there any evidence or can we only guess?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Ascension [General Topics]

Philippe Bareille wrote (June 2, 2003):
This cantata full of drama and contrasts is worth listening. The moving soprano aria is another good example of the exacting demands that Bach imposes on his singers. Peter Jelosits (with Harnoncourt [5]) shapes his lines expressively and with great virtuosity He is the ideal soprano for Bach and outshines probably most of his most experienced female colleagues. I would like to take issues with Koopman' s claim that boy sopranos lack expression. For example Jelosits, Henning and others in this series are more engaged with the text that many of the sopranos used by Koopman. Harnoncourt orchestra playing is fine by me but will probably irritate his detractors. He provides some interesting notes on the performance. The alto aria is another highlight of this cantata.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 2, 2003):
BWV 43 - Recordings

Last week I have been listening to 6 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 43:

[1] Günther Ramin (1951)
[5] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1975)
[6] Helmuth Rilling (1981-1982)
[7] Philippe Herreweghe (1993)
[8] John Eliot Gardiner (1993)
[9] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)

The four arias – Background and personal preferences

This complicated cantata has four arias, all of the highest quality, the common denominator of them being the lack of da-capo. They are different from each other in almost every other parameter: structure, message, mood, presentation of the theme and its development, the relation between voice and instruments, and the instrumentation. The first aria is for tenor with two violins in unison; the second, for soprano with two identical couples of violin and oboe; the third, for bass with trumpet, and the fourth, for alto with two oboes. The short background, preceding the list of my personal preferences for the recordings of each aria, is quoted from Alec Robertson’s charming book ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972).

Mvt. 3 Aria for Tenor
A delightful feature of this tuneful aria is the repeated notes in the melody on the violins (e.g. GG, DD, BB) suggested by the opening words.

Preferences: Equiluz/Harnoncourt [5], Harder/Rilling [6], Prégardien/Herreweghe [7], [gap], van der Meel/Leusink [9], Rolfe-Johnson/Gardiner [8], Lutze/Ramin [1].

The first three tenors have different timbre of voice: Harder’s is the darkest, Prégardien’s the lightest and Equiluz’ somewhere between the two. But all three give commanding performance, which combines inner confidence and sensitivity for details.

Mvt. 5 Aria for Soprano
The first verse of the anonymous hymn. It does not appear in the great collection of Bach’s four-part chorales and nothing is known of the melody that must have been associated with it. Pomp and circumstances are absent here. As Whittaker, with his unfailing sympathy, says, ‘the image is of Christ, Bach’s Friend and Companion, in the arms of His Father’.

Preferences: Jelosits/Harnoncourt [5], Augér/Rilling [6], Holton/Leusink [9], Schlick/Herreweghe [7], Argenta/Gardiner [8], Birmele/Ramin [1].

Jelosits deserves nothing but praise. He is a clear proof that a qualified boy soprano has the potential of giving more convincing and moving performance than a female soprano. And he has tough competition in this aria, because all four women following him in the list were in their prime when they recorded this aria. Jelosits has long, clean and lovely lines, beautiful voice in all registers and excellent coloratura. Most important of all, he conveys emotion in a way rarely to be found among boy singers. Along all the 180 something cantatas that have been discussed in the BCML so far, I cannot recall a boy soprano who surpassed Jelosits. Is he an exception who proves the rule?

Mvt. 7 Aria for Bass
A majestic start, quietening at mention of the price paid for the victory ‘full of affliction, torture and pain’, but ending triumphantly.

Preferences: Kooy/Herreweghe [7], Ramselaar/Leusink [9], van der Meer/Harnoncourt [5], Huttenlocher/Rilling [6], Varcoe/Gardiner [8], Oettel/Ramin [1].

None of the bass singers really excels, neither of them disappoints.

Mvt. 9 Aria for Alto
This is the longest and the most beautiful aria. The oboes move frequently in thirds up to and in the second section. This speaks of ‘lamentation, distress and shame which the Christian recalls as he gazes yearningly after his Saviour.

Preferences:
Contraltos: Hamari/Rilling [6], [big gap], Patriasz/Herreweghe [7], Fleischer/Ramin [1].
Counter-tenors: Chance/Gardiner [8], Esswood/Harnoncourt [5], Buwalda/Leusink [9].

Hamari is in a class of her own, considering alto singers of both genders. Such a warm and rich voice, such balanced expression, and such intelligence!

Conclusion

Movements to take away: the aria for soprano with Jelosits/Harnoncourt [5] and the aria for alto with Hamari/Rilling [6].

Neil Halliday wrote (June 3, 2003):
[To Philippe Bareille] I agree with everthing Philippe says regarding this cantata.

This is one of Harnoncourt's better recordings [5]; easily enjoyable, without the excessive staccato and other mannerisdisplayed in some of his recordings.

Jelosits is pleasing in the soprano aria - probably much better than Edith Mathis (I have not heard her in this cantata), with her too overpowering vibrato, in the Richter series. I note Philippe's preference for this boy soprano's voice over the female sopranos in the Koopman series.

The only movement that is 'marked down' by Alec Robertson, in his book on the Church Cantatas, is the recitative, of which he says: "A curiously routine setting of words that one would have expected to stir Bach to better music", but Harnoncourt [5] goes some of the way in showing what can be made of the movement, with vigorous punctuating chords given via a strong organ registration. All that's missing , in my view, is an expressive cello playing the continuo notes as written...

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 3, 2003):
BWV 43 - The Recordings:

The past week I listened to the following recordings:

Ramin (1951) [1]; Harnoncourt (1975) [5]; Rilling (1981-2) [6]; Gardiner (1993) [8]; Leusink (2000) [9]

Mvt. 1 Chorus

Due to a lack of time I will discuss only Mvt. 1

The Timings (from slowest to fastest):
(Typically the HIP recordings are all faster than the non-HIP.)

Ramin (4:17) [1]
Rilling (3:45) [6]
Harnoncourt (3:35) [5]
Leusink (3:32) [9]
Gardiner (3:12) [8]

[1] Ramin:
What is striking about this recording, if you are able to hear beyond the atrocious sound quality caused by the primitive audio reproduction from a live radio broadcast, is the striking contrast between the ‘Adagio’ section, which is delivered with great solemnity and dignity at a very slow tempo, and the vivacious intensity of the festive atmosphere created by the trumpets and timpani which are clearly audible and the boys choir with its very clear lines in the soprano and alto parts in particular. The lower voices provide a good balance to the whole.

[6] Rilling:
Rilling has a relatively quiet and somewhat faster ‘Adagio’ section. Some of the power that Ramin was able produce is missing here. There is less intensity overall. This may partly be due to the ‘Strahl’ [a ‘shining’/’beaming’ quality] which is missing in female sopranos and altos. Of course, the audio quality 30 years later than Ramin’s recording allows everything to be heard with greater clarity. Rilling adds to this effect by having the choir use a very precise enunciation with quite distinct attacks of each note (‘stoßen’) in the running 8th-note coloraturas. It is nevertheless amazing, that with all this greater clarity and balance between all the parts, there is less energy and less a sense of true conviction. There is a decided ‘studied’ effect with everything under control, but the great enthusiasm and unique sound of the Thomanerchor is not present here.

[5] Harnoncourt:
Now here there is so much concentrated effort going into this performance that it shows (it becomes too obvious.) Harnoncourt is trying so hard to bend, twist, exaggerate this music with overladen gestures that this mvt. threatens to come apart at the seams. At the beginning of the fast section the upper voices are literally screaming the text, but, when the choir sings “praise to our king,” the word “Könige” is given 3 half notes by Bach, but Harnoncourt has the last syllable die away (become deemphasized) because he thinks music must resemble normal speech (an ill-begotten misunderstanding of Mattheson’s term “Klangrede.”) It is typical for Harnoncourt and his epigones to allow dry theory to dictate such artificial gestures that lack commonsense. It would be like saying in a loud voice “Long live the king!” with the word “king” pronounced at half volume with a decrescendo effect. In contrast to Rilling’s clear, almost too-pronounced ‘he-he-he-he’ effect of the running 8th notes, Harnoncourt opts for a ‘slithering’ effect which becomes sloppy singing at times because not all the singers for a single voice part are slithering with glissandi the same way. This proves once again Harnoncourt’s lack of experience and understanding of vocal production and choral singing. The trumpets, as usual, are having a difficult time with the instruments creating blaring sounds and searching for the correct pitch of their notes. The lower voices are weak. The only positive factor here is the use of the boys’ choir which adds a necessary ingredient to the upper voice parts in this mvt. There is not much contrast between Harnoncourt’s light treatment of the ‘Adagio’ section and the ‘allabreve’ that follows it. When the 1st trumpet is supposed to play a held-over note for 4 beats (ms. 54-55), Harnoncourt shortens it to only half the value in the score. This is a blatant disregard for Bach’s intentions, the type of disregard that certain performers wish to arrogate to themselves by pointing to musicological treatises (often from periods and countries unrelated to the 1720’s when Bach composed most of his cantatas and those few musicological documents that do pertain have been misinterpreted or continue to be disregarded) or by claiming musical intuition from supposed experience with this music that will allow them to exaggerate and overstate musically what Bach had already put into the music.

[8] Gardiner:
Gardiner, like Harnoncourt, begins with a soft-spoken ‘Adagio’ as if the disciples are casually awakening from a nap. There is not much contrast here either. With the ‘allabreve’ (Gardiner probably read too many books on cut time) he commences with the fastest tempo ever with the very obvious result that much is lost in the process. This does not deter Gardiner who has made his mark in the recording world by pushing his choral group to these extreme tempi. Gardiner does not even stop for a moment to reflect on whether Bach really would have wanted it this way. What does it matter if the trumpets are barely heard and are unable to create a truly festive atmosphere? Who cares if he also allows the 1st trumpet player to not play 2 of the 4 beats of the held note in ms. 54-55? Is pushing his choir to this extreme really successful here? No, there are some ugly choral sounds to be heard, despite the fact that they sometimes sing lightly (on “lobsinget” = ‘sing praises.) Why should ‘singing praises’ be treated lightly, almost sotto voce? Does this fit the text and the context in which it was sung in Bach’s time, or is this simply Gardiner saying “gesturing” is more important than anything else in this music. The audience will perk up because they would normally expect a strong statement of praise, but to get the attention of the audience, Gardiner tries to create effects which are the opposite of what the audience would expect. The focus of such HIP conductors as Gardiner seems to be of a lower order, it has a very mundane objective: at all costs, make certain that any listener will hear something very different and something that will become apparent even to those who might be ‘sitting on the ears.’ Instead of uplifting the listener to the higher plane of Bach’s music, the emphasis is upon playing down to the level of the audience, the intelligence of which and the capability for growth of which are continually being underestimated.

[9] Leusink:
Leusink’s ‘Adagio’ is even lighter and faster than the others with the 2nd violin/oboe and viola creating the mechanical ‘ticking’ of a clock (the staccato markings are made too short here.) It is as if the listener might be tapping his fingers impatiently while waiting for this brief, light ‘Adagio’ section to end. Any sense of contrast between the ‘Adagio’ and the ‘allabreve’ is almost completely losthere. The trumpets are only slightly more in evidence here than in the Gardiner recording, but they are unable to create a truly festive atmosphere as they seem to be cautiously holding back and even doing a disappearing act at times when things get difficult. The uneven choir sound I have characterized in many of the previous cantata discussions. Simply having loud timpani is not sufficient to really get this performance off the ground. This performance lacks coherence as there are simply too many loose ends that still need to be tied together.

Other mvts.:

I agree with Aryeh’s assessments; particularly in regard to Hamari [6] whose style of singing a Bach alto aria generally will put almost any counter tenor to shame, not to mention the numerous, awful female voices that are unable to leave their operatic mannerisms behind them when they try to sing Bach.

Hamari, in her aria in this cantata, is about as close to perfection as it is possible to achieve. What a glorious aria and what a wonderful performance! No special ‘gesturing’ is needed here; that is reserved only for those performers who do not really know what to do with the music [Bach included all the proper phrasing and {terraced and echo} dynamics – his word painting {the repeated notes and chromaticism} which need no overly dramatic, operatic treatment or special ‘gesturing’ in order to reach directly {even in a large church} into the listener’s heart.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 4, 2003):
Of the three surviving Ascension cantatas, BWV 43, for May 30th 1726, is the last and the most lavishly scored, with three trumpets and timpani besides the regular basso continuo, strings and oboes. The first, dated May 1724, is BWV 37 – “Wer da gläubet und getauft wird”. Here the focus lies on the words of Jesus spoken to the disciples before his departure from Mount Olive. The message is (St. Mark 16:16) that no one can be saved by his own good works but only by believing in Jesus Christ and being baptized in the name of Jesus. “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein”, BWV 128, dating from May 1725, deals with the meaning of Christ’s ascension. His return into Heaven is the foundation of a Christian’s faith. Therefore there is a strong desire to leave this world of misery and join Jesus in Heaven. The Christmas Oratorio BWV 11 – “Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen” – dates from 1735 and pivots round Ascension Day. The theme is an even stronger wish to be with Jesus, both on earth and in heaven. Prior to Christ’s elevation, his followers beg him to stay a little longer. Once He is in Heaven, their prayer is for him to come back soon, meanwhile looking forward to the day they will join him.

This week’s cantata, BWV 43, is an elaborate song of praise in honour of Jesus for the day of his triumphant homecoming. The first part depicts Jesus as a victorious war hero returning to the capital of his Kingdom, using Old Testament texts from Psalm 47:6,7, Psalm 68:19 and Daniel 7:10. The conqueror is being hailed by his subjects for the many blessings he has showered on them. Images reminiscent of Elijah’s last words on earth when a whirlwind took him into Heaven. (2 Kings 2:11,12) The second part pictures Christ’s victory over Satan and death. Having regained his divine position in heaven, He will defeat his enemies and help his servants by preparing a place for them in Heaven.

According to Alberto Basso in the accompanying booklet to the Herreweghe CD’s [7], the writer of the libretto is probably pastor Christoph Helm. The cantata is unique in its structure:

Part I:

Mvt. 1. Chorus, on words of Psalm 47:6,7
Mvt. 2. Tenor Recitative, referring to Psalm 68:18 and Ephesians 4:8
Mvt. 3. Tenor Aria, referring to Daniel 7:10, Psalm 68:17, 2 Kings 2:11,12
Mvt. 4. Soprano Recitative, from the appointed gospel reading for the day, St. Mark 16: 19
Mvt. 5. Soprano aria - Poem Stanza 1, ascension theme

Sermon

Part II:

Mvt. 6. Bass Recitative - Poem Stanza 2, hailing the hero theme
Mvt. 7. Bass aria - Poem Stanza 3, winepress theme from Isaiah 63:3 ff.
Mvt. 8. Alto Recitative - Poem Stanza 4, Jesus crowned King of Heaven, Hebrews 2: 7-9, Rev. 14:14
Mvt. 9. Alto Aria - Poem Stanza 5, St. Stephen ‘s vision from Acts 7:55
Mvt. 10. Soprano recitative - Poem Stanza 6, Jesus our agent in Heaven, St. John 14:2
Mvt. 11. Chorale, consisting of stanzas 1 and 13 of Johann Rist’s hymn “Du Lebensfrst, Herr Jesu Christ” (1651).

The aforementioned Alberto Basso also informs us that the musical realization of the concluding chorale, note by note, is not by Bach but by a certain Christoph Peter (1655).

Exceptional is the inclusion of a poem in six stanzas, bridging the two parts before and after the sermon. After the opening chorus there is a regular alternation of recitatives and arias ( for tenor, soprano, bass and alto), and an additional soprano recitative leading up to the concluding chorale. The arias all miss the da capo repetition, probably because Bach wanted to keep the length of the cantata within reasonable limits.

My Impressions:

The opening chorus is formidable, both in structure and in the use of the instruments. I listened to Ramin [1], Herreweghe [7] and Leusink [9]. Ramin’s recording is interesting for historic reasons. You can hear this was a great performance in those days (1951) by a great conductor (Günther Ramin) with a renowned orchestra (Gewandhausorchester Leipzig) and the famous Thomanerchor Leipzig. Time flies, and with it views and insights change, both with performers and audiences, who in the process are continually changing Bach himself and his music. Bach must be quite happy about it. He is not a museum artifact. He is still alive, indeed gives life by time and again inspiring new generations. Messages on the BCML are also flying concerning the questions related to these changes, the legitimacy of them, and the effects they have, detrimental or enriching.

Well, my Mum would have loved Ramin [1], but his pace is really too slow for modern ears. The sound of the BC is dominated by the harpsichord played by Karl Richter. I do not know if this is the great Karl Richter himself, but it is a welcome change to hear a harpsichord in the BC. Fear of not being heard must have led the producer to over-expose the harpsichord. Yet I think, those radio technicians did a great job. I can easily detect the various voices in the choir and the orchestra.

The photo on the front cover of my Berlin Classics booklet is quite moving, Ramin [1], standing between his choristers of the Thomanerchor, a statue amidst statuettes, carefully placed in the centre with some space around him to single him out from the singers.

Ramin’s adagio of the first movement [1] sounds too mournful for comfort. The powerful strings and the heavy plodding basso continuo create an image of horses drawing a heavy cart-load uphill. Leusink’s adagio [9] is just fine with me, breathing an atmosphere of melancholy and contemplation. Herreweghe’s opening [7] is very balanced, great playing and singing. Someone implied the Belgians are lacking real joy and enthusiasm, which I do hear in Holland Boys Choir in spite of their less refined singing. Yet, after listening a sand a third time to the Collegium Vocale I must say I do not miss anything in this performance. Great dynamics, quite convincing.

The tenor with Ramin [1], Gerd Lutze, has a nice timbre but he has to strain his voice at certain high notes. Singing half a tone higher than the other tenors, he has fewer problems with the low notes on “schmiegt’ and “erliegt”. His diction is really over the top and the coloraturas sound as if he is having great trouble in producing them. Nico van der Meel, although having some troubles with the extreme highs and lows, gives a pleasant rendition of the thousand times thousands who are singing praises to Jesus. Still, I would prefer a more expressive presentation. Christoph Prégardien is really world class and he is no doubt the primus under these three tenors.

The soprano, Gertrud Birmele [1], has even worse problems. Her ascending tones are obviously too high for her and therefore disturb the image of Christ’s majestic homecoming. It sounds as if Jesus is climbing a ladder to Heaven and the steps are too high for him. Ruth Holton shows again she is one of the best Bach sopranos, always in control, her singing always in complete harmony with the text. And as to her pronunciation of the German words, I doubt if there are many native Americans who can match hers, even those with German roots. Barbara Schlick with the guys from Ghent is very good in the simple recitative and also her aria singing is not bad at all. When she can keep her operatic coloraturas under control she is a fine cantata singer.

The bass recitative after the sermon has a very powerful start in the Ramin recording with the recitative by Johannes Oettel [1], who has a great voice, but his rendering of longer phrases and coloraturas leaves a lot to be desired. Yet, Oettel’s dramatic approach is quite befitting the theme of Jesus as the conquering hero returning home. The trumpeter does a great job, considering the fact this is a live recording. Bas van Ramselaar has no problems with the technical demands of his aria. I like his singing a lot, but here he should have a bit more of the dramatic presentation of which Oettel may have a bit too much. The same can be said of Peter Kooy. Again a fine performance, but a bit too polished also in the instrumental accompaniment. I do not hear enough triumph in the recitative and in the aria there is certainly gratitude and the incitement to crown Jesus with the wreaths of victory, but somehow it sounds like there is no real commitment.

The alto Eva Fleischer presents a convincing recitative and as far as female altos go in Bach, she sings a real good aria. You sometimes hear her breathing problems, but then these recordings are very direct and honest, even merciless for a singer. I am sure the people in the Thomaskirche would not have heard anything wrong here. And again, I also like what Sytse Buwalda does with this aria. Fine oboe playing all along. The alto Catherine Patriasz is a real pleasant surprise. Never heard her before, but I think I find her the best of the three.

The final chorale shows the Thomaners are a good choir, but unfortunately the sound quality in this choral movement is awful. Both the efforts of Collegium Vocale and Holland Boys Choir with the Netherland Bach Collegium are very rewarding.

This may not be one of Bach’s finest cantatas. He has been more expressive in other cantatas and could have done more with the theme of Jesus, the triumphant hero. (oops, who am I to say such a thing?) Yet, we have this wonderful opening chorus, and the bass movements, just after the sermon are also quite appealing. And when you are a Western-European Christian of my generation, not being frustrated by the old-time religion, the final chorale brings back happy childhood memories, when you would be sitting in church between your parents, singing the same hymn in your mother tongue.

Bradley Lehman wrpte (June 4, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
< (...) The aforementioned Alberto Basso also informs us that the musical realization of the concluding chorale, note by note, is not by Bach but by a certain Christoph Peter (1655). >
Nifty! I see my stylistic guess yesterday at:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/5281 and
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/5284
was off by only about 50 years (I'd guessed the Melchior Vulpius era, c1605), but in any case it's long before Bach's lifetime. I shall pencil this information into my copies of Riemenschneider. Thanks!

Good to see reasonable stylistic guesswork (always a hazardous venture) backed up with historical verification....

It still looks to me like an "earlier" style than Scheidt's in the Goerlitzer Tabulaturbuch (1650)...or, at least, considerably simpler. Those Scheidt settings get quite elaborate with rhythmic independence of the voices.

Uri Golomb wrote (June 4, 2003):
< The sound of the BC [in Ramin's recording [1]] is dominated by the harpsichord played by Karl Richter. I do not know if this is the great Karl Richter himself, >
Yes, it is. Karl Richter was a student of Straube and Ramin, and often played continuo in Ramin's recordings (until his move to Munich in 1951) -- usually on the harpsichord. Ramin also appointed him organist at St. Thomas (a position he himself held before his promotion to Kantor).

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 4, 2003):
[To Uri Golomb] Thanks Uri.
I am a great admirer of Richter's, so I will treasure the Ramin recording [1] even more now.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 5, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal reported:
>>According to Alberto Basso in the accompanying booklet to the Herreweghe CD’s [7], the writer of the libretto is probably pastor Christoph Helm. The cantata is unique in its structure:<<

And

>>The aforementioned Alberto Basso also informs us that the musical realization of the concluding chorale, note by note, is not by Bach but by a certain
Christoph Peter (1655).<<
I have found Alberto Basso’s commentaries on the Bach cantatas in the "Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach" [Boyd] notably unreliable. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV97-D.htm

Neil Halliday wrote (June 6, 2003):
BWV 43 - A "Modern" view? (+133)

Notice these two different views:

1. " ....the striking contrast between the 'Adagio' section, which is delivered (by Ramin [1]) with great solemnity and dignity at a very slow tempo, and the vivacious intensity of the festive atmosphere created by the trumpets and timpani.." (Thomas Braatz), and

2. "...Ramin's adagio of the first movement [1] sounds too mournful for comfort. The powerful strings and the heavy plodding basso continuo create an image of horses drawing a heavy cart-load uphill..." (Peter Bloemendal).

A case of different strokes for different folks?

I haven't heard the Ramin [1], but this matter keeps arising in a consideration of performance practice.

I first came across this phenomenon when I read, 20 years or so ago, of someone who considered that the overture to the Messiah always put him to sleep, until the advent of the HIP versions.

I was flabbergasted by this view, because, from even my teenage years, I had been impressed by the solemnity and dignity of this overture; but the newly arrived HIP versions seemed to me to produce lightweight versions of little consequence.

I am amused by Peter's differentiation between his mother's (implied)'old-fashioned' love of Ramin's performance style [1], compared with his "modern" appreciation of (HIP) versions of the same music, but does really depend on the age of the listener? Are all young (modern?) people unable to deal with the solemnity and dignity engendered (in certain music) by slow tempos on modern instruments. (Modern instruments, old fashioned sound!).

Conversely, presumably some of the HIP conductors were (are) senior citizens; this begs the question, were they driven more by scholarship than inclination?

A quick view of BWV 133: I found Harnoncourt's scratchy strings and endless staccato unlistenable: Leusink was an improvement in the first movement, where his light approach to this non-serious, happy music works well, with the 'chirpy' oboes sounding quite charming behind the relatively sweet sounding upper strings. But the
light, 'brittle' sound of the violins in the 4th movement (soprano aria), had me longing for a rich 'cantabile' of a kind available only on modern strings, the better to express what Robertson described as "... one of the finest pieces of sustained and exquisite lyrical writing in the whole range of the cantatas."

Johan van Veen wrote (June 10, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I am amused by Peter's differentiation between his mother's (implied)'old-fashioned' love of Ramin's performance style [1], compared with his "modern" appreciation of (HIP) versions of the same music, but does it really depend on the age of the listener? Are all young (modern?) people unable to deal with the solemnity and dignity engendered (in certain music) by slow tempos on modern instruments. (Modern instruments, old fashioned sound!). <
Even though I am not what is considered 'young' anymore I certainly have always been able to appreciate solemnity and dignity, but only where it is appropriate. And I consider it a misunderstanding that solemnity and dignity necessarily means 'slow'. As far as modern instruments are concerned, I find them nearly unbearable, not only in early music, but per se. For me modern instruments are far inferior to early instruments. In comparison with the wide range of colours and the richness in nuances of baroque instruments their modern equivalents are extremely dull and limited in expression.

They are only bearable if played in HIP-style - but ony just, and if there isn't a better alternative.

Tom Brannigan wrote (June 10, 2003):
Johan van Veen wrote:
".....As far as modern instruments are concerned, I find them nearly unbearable, not only in early music, but per se. For me modern instruments are far inferior to early instruments. In comparison with the wide range of colours and the richness in nuances of baroque instruments their modern equivalents....."
Although I can agree to your premise to a degree, listening to Mahler, Bartok, Stravinsky, or Schoenberg on 18th century instruments would really be an experiment in hubris. Such an approach to more modern works would rob the music of it's message.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 10, 2003):
[To Tom Brannigan] You are absolutely right. Playing music of the late 19th century on 18th century instruments is just as ridiculous as playing music of the 18th century on late 19th century instruments. What puzzles me is why almost everyone agrees with the first statement and many people disagree with the second.

But I have no problems at all with late 19th century music played on late 19th century instruments - as long as I don't need to listen to it/them.

The instruments are one of the reasons that I stay away from music composed after around 1850 (with the exception of some pieces). Most music composed after 1850 sounds as horrible to my ears as the instruments they are played upon.

Bob Henderson wrote (June 11, 2003):
Dear Friends, I too could sink most of the 19th Century off the port bow. Yet I have an affinity for much of 20th Century work. I wonder, do others a liking for Stravinsky perfectly compatible with a love of Bach? If so, why?

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 43: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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