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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 46
Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgendein Schmerz sei
Discussions - Part 1

Suzuki - Vol. 11

Ryan Michero wrote (December 17, 1999):
[7] Here is my review for Vol. 11 of Suzuki's complete cantata series, and it's a big one! Enjoy!

Volume 11

Suzuki is still working his way through Bach's first cycle of Leipzig cantatas. Many of these pieces are not well-known and were written under extreme time constraints. Hence, Bach's inspiration is not uniformly high--it is merely astoundingly high! In spite of some awkwardness in these pieces here and there, Bach still managed to craft some fine, unified works with many exceptional movements. There are some great moments in the cantatas on Suzuki's Vol.11, and all four are lovely, fascinating works if not "favourites." Additionally, I think some cantata recording devotees will be surprised by some of Suzuki's revelations in this volume. It goes without saying that Suzuki's exceptionally high standards are maintained here, and for fans like me this volume is self-recommending. On to the individual cantatas:

BWV 46 - "Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgend ein Schmerz sei"
This is a somewhat grim but satisfying cantata, illustrating the wrath of God at man's sin as well as the mercy of God through Jesus. This cantata parallels BWV 105, which was performed a week before this one, in mood and style. The opening chorus, a prelude and fugue form, is well-handled by Suzuki. The slow prelude, familiar as the "Qui tollis" from the B-minor Mass, is enhanced by a pair of recorders whose limpid phrases portray the weeping of Jesus at the fall of Jerusalem. After much harmonic twisting and turning, an intense chromatic fugue begins, representing the anger of God. Suzuki again proves he is a masterful conductor of choral fugues, and the BCJ choir is great. After an intense tenor recitative, there is a powerful "storm" aria for bass, trumpet, and strings, complete with rumbling harpsichord in the continuo. Kooy, of course, is fantastic, as is trumpeter Shimada (in spite of an insecure moment or two), both of them thrillingly executing their virtuosic parts. Wessel is again fine in the following recitative and aria. The aria has a strange but quite effective texture, with two cooing recorders, representing "chicks" ("Küchlein") shielded by mother hen Jesus, supported by a bass line of two unison oboes da caccia. The instrumental playing here is lovely. The final chorale is gorgeous, with recorders playing gently falling arpeggios between the phrases of the text. As at the end of BWV 105, uncertainty and tension fade into peaceful rest in the final bars. The transition is gentle and quite moving.

Comparisons --Leonhardt, Koopman

[4] Leonhardt's version is great, perfectly capturing the mood of the piece even though the singing and playing is not as polished as in competing versions. René Jacobs and the Leonhardt's recorder players (Brüggen? my notes aren't specific) are great in the "Küchlein" aria. The partnership of bass Hanns-Friedrich Kunz and unpolished but spirited slide trumpeter Ralph Bryant is also very effective. Leonhardt takes the final chorale very fast, making it seem more of a happy ending. This is an interesting and affecting recording.

[6] Koopman's version is fine, but not quite up to Suzuki's level. The bass aria, especially, drags, as if Koopman slowed down his tempo to make the difficult trumpet part easier to handle. However, his opening chorus is clearer than Suzuki's, making the difficult counterpoint easier to follow. Altogether, though, Koopman seems a bit more detached than his competitors.

Whew!

Piotr Jaworski wrote (December 17, 1999):
(To Ryan Michero) Ryan! You'll go straight to Heaven! Terrific job done! I'll have to suffer probably two more days before I get my copy of this volume. Many thanks.

 

Bach cantatas on Brilliant classics

Johan van Veen wrote (March 28, 2000):
Michael Osoffsky wrote:
[8] < Has anyone heard any of these sets of Bach cantatas. I am assuming they are on period instruments. How are the interpretations and playing? Is it worth getting all of the volumes? >
There are very different opinions on this series. I have bought them all (yesterday I purchased Vols.5 & 6), and have written about it in some Usenet-newsgroups and on a Dutch Bach site. It strikes me that some people get pretty angry when one has the guts to say that these recordings are basically disappointing (or worse). The recordings have been ill prepared. They didn't always have the Neue Bach-Ausgabe at hand. I understand that the soloists used their own scores, obviously sometimes old ones, since there are differences between the text they are singing and the text of the NBA (which is printed in the booklets). And then this only regards the text. Who knows how many wrong notes are played, compared with the NBA... They are recording all cantatas within one year. Everyone knows that that's impossible. Even people like Koopman and Suzuki who are working very hard, can't do that.

The choir is a good one - it has made some excellent recordings in the past, in particular with Händel. But being modelled after the English cathedral choirs it is less convincing in Bach. The articulation is not clear enough - it is more "sound" than "text".

The orchestra contains many players who are also members of well-known baroque orchestras. The orchestral playing is technically good, but lacks in expression. I have no idea if this due to a lack of skills or to the approach of the conductor. It seems that the conductor supports a rather introverted approach. There is nothing wrong with that, although I prefer a more dramatic interpretation. But introvert doesn't mean without expression. And that is basically what is wrong with these recordings. There are exceptions - I return to that - but on the whole the aspects which make Bach's cantatas unique are underplayed. Just one example from one of the latest volumes. Cantata BWV 46 contains a bass aria (Dein Wetter zog sich auf von weiten), which in the booklet is rightly called 'furious'. That is in no way reflected in the actual performance, which is anything but furious. The tempo gives a good indication: the aria takes 3'58". Compare that with the Teldec recording - by Leonhardt, of all people, who has never been a speed merchant: he needs 2'57". In such a short aria that is a huge difference. (Snip)

Some cantatas in this series are pretty good, some are pretty bad, and the most are ordinary. The frustrating thing is that most of the performers can do better if they had more time (and maybe another conductor). I have heard good things from almost any of them. Whether it is worth purchasing these recordings is up to you to decide. I buy them because I want to know how they are, and because of Sytse Buwalda. But I would never buy any of them if they were more expensive than they are. Basically this isn't a bargain - a bargain is something you buy for a lower price than it is worth. This series isn't worth a penny more than its actual price.

 

Cantatas translations from German into English

Marie Jensen wrote (May 23, 2000):
(BWV 166) Back to Koopman: Though my knowledge of English and German certainly could be much better, I have to admit that I'm not satisfied with the translation of BWV 166 into English. The English version is reproduced so that meter and rhymes are the same as the original in stead of concentrating on translating the exact meaning. That meter and rhymes fit, is only needed if the cantata is supposed to be performed in a new language (and please don't!). Bach's word painting fits the text exactly. In the chorale for soprano the soul is compared with a bird lying in its nest ready to fly to Heaven when time comes. In the English version this beautiful image is gone. Sad because just there the music flaps its wings and flies up.

Ryan Michero wrote (May 23, 2000):
[To Marie Jensen, regarding BWV 166] EXACTLY! You've hit on a big pet peeve of mine regarding the translations of the German texts in the Koopman AND Harnoncourt/Leonhardt sets (they use the same translations, which Warner music apparently has the rights to). In my opinion, the English texts should be literal translations of the German--and that's all! No changing of words or meanings or symbols just to fit the meter or make a rhyme. I mean, we can read and hear the German texts with rhyme and meter intact and sounding much more natural--why should a translator try in vain to do this in English? It would be different if the text was SUNG in English, but neither Koopman nor H&L do this.

Here is another reason to collect Suzuki's cantata series--their notes offer clear, faithful, literal translations of the German text into English. Really, the quality of the liner notes should not be ignored when judging the merits of a recording.

You give a perfect example of the kinds of distortions this kind of translation causes. I remember another cantata ("Schauet doch"?) (BWV 46) from Suzuki's Vol.11 where the word "Küchlein" ("little chicks") was translated correctly in the Suzuki notes and ignored in the Koopman/H&L notes. And Bach uses two soprano recorders to score this aria, representing the chicks! I would've never caught this brilliant pictorial image were it not for the Suzuki translations.

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 26, 2000):
[To Marie Jensen & Ryan Michero] The problem of translation of Bach Cantatas texts from German into English has a very long history, since the second half of the 19th century. In general, I agree that it is much more important to understand the meaning of the words through good literal translation, rather than have a singable translation, which will miss the point. Because I do not read German, I try to understand the meaning of the original text through as many English translations I can put my hands on. As I have shown in the review of BWV 12, no translation into English is perfect. Lately I found a new book named 'J.S. Bach - The Complete Cantatas - in German-English translation' by Richard Stokes. The translations literal in good simple Modern English and are very readable. I took for example the Aria for Alto (No.5) from BWV 46, which Ryan mentioned.

Original German text:
"Er sammelt sie als seine Schafe,
Als sene Küchlein liebreich ein"

Koopman/L&H cycles translation:
"He gathers us as does a shepherd,
To keep and ever safe defend"

Rilling cycle translation (by Z. Philip Ambrose):
"He gathers them as his own sheep now,
As his own chicks, so dear, to him"

Suzuki cycle translation:
"He gathers all his sheep,
As well as his little chicks"

Richard Stokes translation:
"He gathers them together most lovingly,
As his own sheep and chickens"

Conclusion? I agree with Ryan that the Koopman/L&H translation misses a point here. However, I cannot say that Suzuki cycle translation is always my preferred one. Even here, Rilling cycle translation seems to me a little bit better. And I remember cases in the past where the Koopman/L&H translation seemed to me the best. Like in the comparisons of the recordings, there is not a definite translation, which is always the best regarding the true meaning of the original German text.

At least, the English readers have some options to choose from. We, the Hebrew readers, have none!

Marie Jensen wrote (May 27, 2000):
Aryeh wrote about cantata translations:
< At least, the English readers have some options to choose from. We, the Hebrew readers, have none! >
You can't avoid it. You have to learn some German to listen to a Bach cantata with full profit. Grammatically German is much more complicated than English, but so long you only have to understand the meaning and not express yourself it is not so difficult. Both languages are members of the Germanic family of languages. I must however admit, that my mother tongue Danish is a member too, and that gives me an advantage.

If this discussion had been going on in German, I would never have contributed, though I would understand most of it. I learned German in school for 3 years, many many years ago, but that is enough to understand most of the meaning of the cantata texts. And while reading them I learn more, the same way as writing to this list I learn more and more English.

Understanding texts while listening without reading a translation at the same time gives me concentration and energy to flow and be caught immediately, when Bach begins his word painting. Off course there often are details I have check with the text-book or even have to look on the English texts or use a dictionary, but not knowing one word while listening would be awful. Perhaps that's why I'm not caught by Bach's Italian cantatas BWV 203 and BWV 209. I have learned a little Latin. Without that the b-minor Mass would not be the same.

The Stroke and Ambrose translations of BWV 46 are IMO best. They catch all the words, while Suzuki's translator forgets "liebreich".

The worst Bach translation I have ever heard, was the Coffee Cantata sung in Swedish! After five seconds I turned off the radio (sorry Patrik!).

Ryan Michero wrote (May 28, 2000):
In the light of our recent discussion of English translations of Bach's cantata texts, I would like to mention a great online resource for all of us. Aryeh's comparison of different translations of BWV 46, No. 5 were very instructive. I agree with Marie that Ambrose's translation is probably the best for making sense of the German text. Luckily for those of us without Rilling's cantata set, Prof. Ambrose has made all of his superb translations of Bach's vocal music available online: http://www.uvm.edu/~classics/faculty/bach/

Here is a quote from his site:
"Some of my translations originally appeared in The Texts to Johann Sebastian Bach's Church Cantatas (Hänssler-Verlag: Neuhausen-Stuttgart, 1984). To these are added now the remaining works. The translations are unrhymed but follow the meter and word-division of the originals exactly so that they match their musical placement. While this means that they could be sung, they are not meant primarily for singing but as an aid to performers and listeners for interpreting the original texts."

This is exactly what I want out of an English translation. I am guilty of forgetting about this site while discussing cantata texts in the past, but I will be sure to visit it with every new cantata discussion now. He does not include the German texts, but this is hardly a problem as these are readily available in every cantata set. I urge everyone to check his site out.

JohSebastianBach wrote (May 28, 2000):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Rilling cycle translation (by Z. Philip Ambrose):
"He gathers them as his own sheep now, As his own chicks, so dear, to him" >
Please remember that these are designed also to be singing translations.

 

Discussions in the Week of August 27, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 27, 2000):
Background

This is the week of cantata BWV 46 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. According to Spitta: "This cantata is companion piece to BWV 105 (which was discussed in this group last week), and they were undoubtedly composed at the same tome. They are alike in structure and in the feeling too, so far as the different characteristics of the subjects admit". As a background for the review of the various recordings of this marvellous cantata, I shall use this time the linear notes to the LP issued by Vanguard in their series 'Everyman Classics'. The name of the writer is not mentioned. This record includes also BWV 65, by the same performers.

"Bach wrote the fiery cantata BWV 46, Schauet doch und sehet, shortly after he began his duties at Leipzig, and performed it for the first time on the 10th Sunday after Trinity, August 1, 1723. The first half othe Gospel for this day (Luke 19: 41-48) tells how Christ wept over Jerusalem and prophesized the destruction of the city; the second half, how he purified the Temple. The opening chorus is a harrowing lament employing declamatory theme with powerful, often dissonant stresses on individual words, like 'Schmerz' (grief) and 'Jammer' (sorrow). Its first part, which Bach later adapted for the 'Qui tollis' of the B minor Mass (BWV 232), is freely polyphonic, and its second part, on 'Denn der Herr', is a choral fugue. The urgency of the movement is intensified by the unusually rich scoring, of two recorders, two oboes da caccia and horn doubling the sopranos.

The vivid pictorialism continues in the tenor recitative, where the repeated semiquaver figures of the two recorders over sustained string chords evoke the 'tears' spoken of in the text. It reaches a dramatic climax in the following bass aria. The trumpet over the strings symbolizes the almighty power, the dotted rhythms and decreasing note values of the vocal line portray the menacing, gathering storm; the descending scales evoke the stroke of doom. The alto aria, introduced by a short recitative, is a touching contrast in mood and colour, for the trumpet is absent, the recorders are heard again, and the feeling of pastoral 'innocence' is furthered by Bach's replacement of the instrumental bass instruments with two oboes da caccia in unison. For the closing chorale, to give full weight to its message of trust in God, Bach employs an unusually elaborate treatment, with interludes for four recorders in two parts separating the vocal lines."

Personal Viewpoint

a. Jerusalem
For us, the Israelis and the Jews, the issue of Jerusalem has been a political, religious and symbolic issue for over two thousands years. This is not the right place to start a political debate about this subject. But the opening chorus is taken from Lamentations (in Hebrew - 'Eicha'), a book from the Bible, whose main and only subject is the lament about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. And in the Gospel of the day, a Jew, called Jesus, is weeping about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The difference is that Lamentations is a lament about the first destruction of Jerusalem, where in Lukas Jesus is weeping about its coming second destruction. This city has been destroyed end rebuilt many times since then. It is now unified and a Holy City for the three western religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I do not believe that anybody in the world would want it to be destroyed again.

b. Sheep and Chicks
In the second half of May 2000, we discussed in this group the issue of translations of the cantatas' texts from German into English. This discussion followed a discussion about the various recordings of BWV 166, but the main example used to illuminate the differences between the various translations, was the aria for alto (No.5) - "Er sammelt sie als seine Schafe, /Als sene Küchlein liebreich ein" from cantata BWV 46. I would not like to repeat that discussion here, but in due time I intend to include it in the page dedicated to BWV 46 in the Archive site.

Review of the Recordings

[3] Helmut Kahlhöfer (1966)
The tears are flowing without interruption and flooding everything in the instrumental introduction, and when the voices enter, this picture is even intensified. Such expression of lamentation without inhibitions is rarely found in the modern recordings of the Bach cantatas. And then starts the fugue, accompanied by the continuo only. And then the sopranos enter, and the sorrow is becoming more and more profound, up to being oppressive. When such a deep mood has been set in the opening movement, Jelden cannot refrain himself from weeping in the recitative for tenor. And he is equipped with the vocal and intellectual means to perform his task in the most convincing and touching way. The pain continues in the ensuing aria for bass, where the picture of storm is almost frightening. And no one can match Stämpfli, who combines his endless rich voice and numerous means of expression, to expose every meaning and nuance hinted in this aria. He manages to express in his singing the contradictory feelings of tenderness and anger, fear and frightening, and sorrow and joy. There is still sorrow underneath the surface in the aria for alto, but Wolf-Matthäus transfers also the gaining confidence with sensitive singing that gives the right accentuation to every word. The colourful accompaniment supplies the pictorial mood (sheep, chicks, etc.). Suddenly she converts into outburst of vengeance, so that all you want to do is running away from her anger. She is a fantastic dramatic singer, who knows also how to be tender when necessary. The full comfort comes only in the concluding chorale with its unusual structure. To sum up, Kählhofer chose intelligent singers, who were not shy of singing with full expression. His conducting and guiding of the choir is a source for their inspiration.

[4] Gustav Leonhardt (1975)
The first movement sounds almost neutral, after the high picks and uninhibited expression of the previous recording. But it has a special affinity of its own. Through the playing of the old woodwind instruments, I can almost smell the stones of Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, which I know so well. This impression continues also in the second movement - the recitative for tenor, in which Equiluz, usually a very expressive singer, is really trying, but simply not convincing in his sorrow. The trumpet playing in the aria for bass is impressive, but the singing of Kunz is uninspired. I am glad that Leonhardt chose Jacobs, rather than the usual Esswood, to be the alto singer in the aria 'Doch Jesus will auch bei der Straufe der Frommen Schild', because he has a unique timbre of voice and he is very interesting and original singer. The tenderness of his singing suits very well the mood of this aria. The change in his rendering to the outburst of vengeance against sinners is less surprising than with the female alto singer of Kählhofer, because this transfer is done in a very natural way. The concluding chorale is short and dry. In short, a rendering that fails to get the most out of the potential of this cantata.

After writing this review, I was looking in my library, trying to find something in writing about this recording, and I found! In a book called 'Records in Review - 1977 Edition' Andrew Porter wrote: "René Jacobs is a wonderfully deft alto; he is a singer to cure anyone's possible dislike of countertenors, with a voice firm, virile, pleasing in timbre, perfectly secure, sounding true divisions not al all fluttery but struck our exactly as if by little hammers. He has a good trill. He is the only singer who ventures little embellishments of the vocal line (this is said about the alto aria of BWV 45, but applies to the alto aria of BWV 46 as well). The voice 'peaks' a little at C and above, acquires a force that can disturb the evenness of line. There are moments, when I feel he is ar-ti-cu-la-ting the melody a little too carefully - like an organist giving out a fugue in a very resonant building - but this is keeping with Leonhardt's general approach… Leonhardt's endings can also be abrupt - especially the close of BWV 46, which seems suddenly to break off. But one can usually find some reason in the music that has prompted his particular treatment, for he can also be large and broad… In BWV 46, Kunz has a storm aria, 'Dein Wetter zog sich auf', with slide trumpet obbligato, which he sings brilliantly." I agree with the first two observations, but not with the last one.

[5] Helmuth Rilling (1978)
Rilling succeeds in capturing the heart-rending lament mood of the opening chorus, and exploit it to its maximum. Everything I wrote about the opening chorus of Kählhofer recording applies also to Rilling's. Kraus takes the stick from this point and continues the weeping in one of his most movperformances. Schöne's interpretation is very similar to that of Kunz (with Leonhardt). He has enough authority to convince that he can stand against the gathering storm, and to express the wrath, but not enough sensitivity to convey the pain and fear he feels in the coming ruin. The glowing playing of the trumpet in this aria is fantastic. And now we here Watts, in the recitative and aria for alto, and we realize what a good dramatic singer she can be. With her penetrating and rich voice she handles easily the various moods of her aria, when all the layers of her soul are reflected in her singing. The sudden transfer to anger is even more shocking than that of Wolf-Matthäus (with Kählhofer). The oboes and flutes paint the accompaniment with beautiful colours. The warm and full singing of the chorale at the end, with the interludes for bubbling recorders between the vocal parts, is comforting and gratifying. In short, this performance is second only to Kahlhöfer.

[6] Ton Koopman (1998)
The instrumental introduction starts beautifully and calmly, yet the expression revealed, by both the orchestra and the choir is not as deep as with Kählhofer and Rilling. I am impressed with the high level of singing and playing, and charmed by the various colours they produce, yet they do not captivate me. Dürmüller has a nice voice, but he does not penetrate beneath the surface. In the aria for bass, the trumpet playing lacks bright, it should have, but Mertens is doing fine. He combines the tenderness and the audacity needed for good performance of the complicated and magnificent aria. Bartosz is a nice surprise. Her rendering of the recitative and especially the aria for alto are the picks of this recording. She has that penetrating quality found in the singing of Watts (with Rilling), although her voice is lighter. She crosses easily and effortlessly all the obstacles and pitfalls of her challenging aria. The delightful playing of the flutes is felt along the whole concluding chorale. In short, a performance that is almost there.

[7] Masaaki Suzuki (1998)
The opening instrumental introduction in Suzuki's recordings is clearer than most of the previous recordings, yet it is also very profound and moving. I feel as if Suzuki, at this stage of his ambitious project, learnt how to free himself from some restrictions he put on himself at earlier stages. He is letting now the emotions to be openly expressed. The results are that his recordings are now almost always at the highest level of this more and more competitive field. Sakurada is indeed weeping, although not at the same level of conviction as both Jelden and Kraus do. Kooy is impressive and authoritative, but he cannot match Stämpfli or Mertens in the aria for bass, because his singing lacks that extra dimension of variety of expression, which would give his rendering extra meaning. Yet, the portrayal of storm in this aria by the various instruments is indeed very impressive. Wessel is somewhat light, regarding both his voice and expression. He lacks the dramatic factor, from which his performance would have gained a lot. The warmth in the singing of the choir in the concluding chorale, combined with the charming playing of all the instruments, make this movement, together with the opening chorus, the picks of this recording. The instrumental playing along the whole recording is on the highest level - multi-layered, clean, sensitive and delightful. In short, a fine recording that is almost almost there, closer than even Koopman is.

[8] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
Poor Leusink. Although his recording can satisfy, when we hear him after so many fine recordings, which have already biased our ears, we cannot hear him freely and openly. We hear loud and clear the unclean playing here and there and the problematic balance between the various components. Above all these faults, with most of which I can live, the main problem of the opening chorus in this recording is that it simply not getting into our heart. Some weeping is sweeping into the singing of Schoch in the recitative for tenor, to make this the best movement of this recording. Ramselaar, usually a fine bass singer, suffers from poorly played accompaniment in his aria. As a consequence his performance stands in its place and misses the whole matter. The task of the recitative and aria for alto is above the existing powers of Buwalda. He has, neither the maturity, nor the confidence, needed to perform them successfully and convincingly. He is doing his best, yet he fails to understand the meaning of the text, and to sing not only the right notes but also to deliver the right expression. The problems of the opening chorus are reflected also in the concluding chorale. In short, this recording is far from being satisfactory, yet if that were the only recording of this cantata you knew, it would still be pleasing and touch your heart.

Conclusion

This cantata is strong enough, both in its textual and musical contents, to hold even mediocre performances. And I could not find any such rendering in the 6 recordings of this cantata I have listened to. But good as most of the modern recordings of this cantata are, I found out that the most convincing rendering of them all, from every aspect, is the first - by Kählhofer and his forces. The same performers, on the other side of the record, should heap similar praises also to the rendering of BWV 65. This cantata was already discussed in this group in January 2000. If you can find this LP, grab it. This is another treasure from the rich repository of the German Cantate label. This recording, like most of the other recordings of Bach cantatas from Cantate label, has not yet appeared in CD form, and according to the owners of the label, there are not any plans to transfer them to that form in the near future. There will be enough recordings of Bach cantatas in the market, so they said. How frustrating!

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Marie Jensen wrote (August 28, 2000):
I love the words "Flauto Dolce" which tell much more of the sweet sounding instrument than the words "Recorder" or "Blockflöte" ever will. The Flauto Dolce sound of BWV 46 vibrates with a heavenly sweet transparency, and except from one aria and one recitativo it is there all the time. It is simply so beautiful, so much that both the lamentations of Jeremiah "and Jesus" turn into a sweet sorrow, like the tears already were getting wiped away. (Rev 21: 4)

SEE IF THERE BE ANY SORROW LIKE UNTO MY SORROW, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.

^Luke 19: 41: And when he (Jesus) was come near, he beheld the city (Jerusalem), and wept over it… (The gospel for 10th Sunday after Trinity)

I listened to the opening of the cantata last Sunday when the whole world waited to hear news from the submarine Kursk, and for my inner eye I saw lots of golden bubbles slowly finding their way to surface on a background of a cold black sea. Pain was no more.

In the second part of Messiah Händel uses the words of Jeremiah in a tenor aria, which is more worldly in its expression, though it also carries a "beyond sound" in its strings. In BWV 46 it is a divine sorrow falling along with the theme from Heaven.

The flauto dolce sound stands again as a consolating divine glow around the dramatic b-part of the opening and the following austere recitativo, but in the "Dies Irae" aria "Dein Wetter zog sich auf von weiten" it is quiet. Other more dramatic wind instruments take over. Try to pay attention to the word "unertraeglig" or "Rache Blitz". Later in BWV 46 Jesus appears as the shepherd to take care of his poor sheep and chicken, and of course in such a pastoral setting the flauti dolci are back. In the final chorale they surround the prayer like bells or guarding angels wings.

I cannot but love this cantata for its sweet anat the same time dramatic sound world of its own. Bach uses flauto dolce elsewhere, but never with such intensity as here.

Both Koopman and Suzuki deliver wonderful results this week.

Andrew Oliver wrote (August 29, 2000):
Should the title of this cantata be 'Bach on Bäche'? That is what it seems to be about, mainly. Streams of tears and torrents of wrath.

There are just two points I want to make, and the first one concerns the alto aria. We are given various similes in the libretto, Jesus being likened to a shield, a shepherd gathering his sheep and a mother hen sheltering her chicks. I think Bach gives us another one, which exists only in the music. There is no continuo in this movement. The oboes da caccia provide a base, rather than a bass. But, see what happens when we reach the words 'Wenn Wetter der Rache die Sünder belohnen, hilft er, daß Fromme sicher wohnen'. For the last few words, the voice itself becomes the foundation. Is it too fanciful to suggest that Bach is pointing us here to the parable found in Matthew 7: 24-27? This concerns the house founded on a rock contrasted with the one built on the sand, and what happened to them when the floods came and the winds blew. There could also be undertones here of Deuteronomy 33.27 - 'Underneath are the everlasting arms'.

The other point is to note what Bach does in the chorale. He makes us notice the words 'schwere Pein' by giving us the opposite of what we should expect. Simple, soft major chords instead of anguished minor ones. This seems to me to be deliberate, almost saying 'He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth'.

Roy Reed wrote (September 1, 2000):
BWV 46 "Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow. Lamentations 1:12...Here represented as speech of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. And who hasn't wept over Jerusalem? For centuries and agonizingly today. "On the 10th Sunday after Trinity 'in the Vesper service the history of the destruction of Jerusalem was read...and the preacher also admonished to penitence and improvement'..." Günther Stiller reports this in his study on "JSB and Liturgical Life in Leipzig" (Deutsch, 1970; English trans., 1984.) The information is from the "Leipziger Kirchen-Statt: Das ist, Deutlicher Unterricht vom Gottesdienst in Leipzig" (1710). So Bach in his first year on the job is faithfully creating just what is expected of him for this day. Jerusalem is for at least three religions not only a place, but also a symbol of inexhaustible meaning. The good news in the hermeneutic that governed the interpretation of this text (Lukas 19: 41-48) is that Jerusalem is seen not only as a destroyed capital, sinning and worthy of destruction, or the place of the rejection of God, or the place of God's final rule, the Kingdom of God, or as a heavenly Jerusalem...but as Leipzig. Guess where there is a city which God weeps over and which you ought to weep over? YOUR CITY! This text has, of course, great opportunity of interpretation, which is partisan and nasty. Such a jolt to turn it back upon yourself.

My resources this week: Suzuki [7], Koopman [6], Rilling [5] and Leusink [8]. What's not to like? Well, Kai Wessel, and some slippery intonation from Peter Kooy in the Suzuki reading. Otherwise, some great singing and playing. What to say? Rilling has such great soloists: Helen Watts, Wolfgang Schöne. They both really get into the roles. I could listen to them for a good long time with pleasure. Wonderful sound and agility, takes those measures of 16th notes in one breath. For Schöne that is 9 mss. in one spot. And the lot of them do that: Kooy, Mertens, Bas Ramselaar. Formidable! And speaking of this last singer... The Leusink performances have come in for a lot of negative comment. This BWV 46 is pretty good. Ramselaar is a fine singer and manages this part very well. Bit of a different sound, but that is what makes the world go round. I like their alto, Sytse Buwalda. Nice clear, ringing sound, good style. The playing is in general quite good, if the ensemble is not quite together. I liked the performance and I particularly liked Leusink's tempos. Over all, though, Koopman gets the gold ring in my estimation. His alto, Bogna Bartosz, gives what to me is a stunning performance.

The usual interpretative sense of this piece is that it is a sort of allegorical presentation of Luther's fundamental doctrine of law and grace. It is the law that whacks you down (No.1-4) and it is grace that can pick you back up (No.5-6). This sort of bad news - good news pattern reminds me of some of the Psalms, you know the ones that start off with a lot of negative carrying on about the ratty state of things, and then comes round with eloquent confessions of faith, e.g. Ps. 73, etc. With Luther, unlike Calvin, the law does not have a positive role. It is not really there to help you. It convicts you, leaves you guilty, sorrowful. It drives you to grace, and it is unmerited grace that saves you. I experienced something of a parable of this Luther-Calvin difference about the role of law in two successive days when I was a student. I was stopped by a policeman in Mainz, because my brake light wasn't working. Ironically I was about a block and a half from a service where I had just had this repaired, just minutes ago. He was monumentally unimpressed. I invited him to accompany me back there. What an indignity for him. He just went on chewing me out up one side and down the other. I repeated my story, and concluded, "Man tut was man kann". He bawled back, "Man muss besser tun!" It was hard not to laugh, but I didn't dare. After feeling assured that he had properly humiliated me he sent me on my way. The very next day I was in Basel, Switzerland. I didn't know the city and was wandering around trying to find an address. I was headed up hill on a narrow street when, seeing a sign, I was suddenly aware that I was headed uphill on a street that was one-way...down. Coming at me down the hill was a police car with four policemen in it. I knew I had had it. There we were, radiator to radiator. I got out of my car. They got out of their car. They looked me over. They looked my car over. And they broke down laughing...convulsed. Here was this American in a French car, with a German license, in Switzerland, going up hill on a street that was one-way down hill. It was too much for them. Recovering they gave me precise directions on how to get out of this mess and they helped me do it. We parted with laughter and handshakes... The law that helps. I wouldn't want to push this parable too far in characterizing the German and Swiss police, but at the time it spoke to me about the difference between Luther and Calvin concerning the function of law.

Just a few comments about the music. The opening chorus...Where Have I heard this before? Lo and behold, here are the building blocks out of which Bach created the "Qui tollis peccata mundi" in the B Minor Mass (BWV 232). Wow. I had not been familiar with this cantata and it was great fun and illuminating to compare the scores. The orchestral mix is rich: flutes, strings, then "corno da tirarsi" and a pair of oboes da caccia get into the act beginning at ms. 30. Nice effect. I guess no one quite knows what sort of horn the "da tirarsi" was. Suzuki and Co. made up one of their own. Sounds fine to me. A horn with a slide. What next? And lovely fugue...if it does go on a bit. In No.2 the recitative, arioso really. Don't you wonder if Bach didn't get some little piece of fun setting the word "bäche" with that little rippling stream? I like to think so. Anyway, the whole business is not too funny. God's judgement...law...and the news is bad! City of sin! The little 5 note pattern with the flutes? "Klage," lament, the "Stab," rod, perhaps? No.3...The trump of judgement. Like the flash of lightning. Wotreatment of the word "Strahl." Such a fun, bravura piece. Bad news, yes, but good news for the musicians. Playing the bad guy is always more fun. (I loved the guy who played the devil in the York Mystery Plays we saw in June. What a fun part. Did he get more laughs than Jesus? Does the Pope wear a funny hat?). It was a treat to hear the fine singers on my CD's. No.5 is such a thorough wedding of text and music that it seems superfluous to comment. The last movement, the chorale is very interesting on at least two levels: What key is it in? Starts on a D major chord; ends on a D major chord. So why is the key signature 2 flats? And do you really feel you are at the end when you get there? I have also seen this chorale written out with a key signature of one flat. It is a modal melody of course, and Bach's harmonization leaves our tonal ears (major keys and minor keys) quite a bit stretched out. Wouldn't you be happy if that D major chord at the end of the chorale would resolve itself to G minor or even G major? A lot has been written about Bach's harmonizations of modal melodies. I adore his chorale harmonizations of all kinds of tunes, and I don't know much about the theories, except to say that Bach stood in a space in-between times when it gets down to many things concerning musical theory. He inherited the tradition of polyphony and all that the 17th century did to it. Among other things this involved a deep familiarity with the modes and ways to mix the horizontal and vertical lines in creating marvellous vocal lines that are tunes disguised as chords. But the 18th century was headed in a different direction, a tonal direction, which leaves Bach's amazing modal harmonizations sounding rather quaint to our tonal ears. Another thing about the chorale. The flute lines, sounding by themselves...with continuo...hark back to the dolce flutes in the opening chorus. The horn and the strings sound with the choir. So you have something of the law and grace contrast capsulated in this last movement. Bach was good at that. Cf. the concluding chorale of the first cantata of the Christmas Oratorio.

There was an article in today's Columbus Dispatch (newspaper) with the headline, " Middle-East leaders may put God in charge of Jerusalem sites." The idea is, apparently, that declaring God sovereign over the holy city's shrines might help defuse the most emotional dispute in the peace talks. Could that work? God sovereign with some temporal authorities having local jurisdictions. How wild is that? Maybe wild enough to work. Shalom,

Roy Reed wrote (September 1, 2000):
I should have noted that the description of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. read in the vesper service in Leipzig on Trinity 10 was the mostly eyewitness account of Josephus (c.37-c100). His book on the "Jewish War" was written in 77-78. He was a Roman citizen and a friend of emperors. A man of divided loyalties. I guess I should also note that the Gospel lesson for this day, Luke 19: 41-48 is regarded by great many scholars as highly dubious as a genuine dominical saying. What is the likelihood that this speech is something which post-dates the destruction of 70 c.e.? In my own opinion, something like 100 percent. Can it still "preach," as they say? Yes, and just in the way that Bach and his librettist do it.

Roy Reed wrote (September 2, 2000):
(To Andrew Oliver) I think that these are very helpful insights. Bach does hold on to notes for a purpose. Some very obvious, e.g. BWV 67 "Halt im Gedächtnis" or the long pedal point in the beginning of the St. Mt. Passion (BWV 244). In this case a steadiness in the storm. Wonderful contrast with the vocal line.

Jane Newble wrote (September 2, 2000):
As a Christian, I would publicly like to state that I in no way support Arafat's claim to Jerusalem, contrary to what he has been saying recently. Also, it is in the Hebrew Bible that the nations of the world are invited to worship God in Jerusalem, not in the Koran. And thirdly, it is the God who is revealed in the Hebrew Bible, who is and always has been in charge of this unique city, where you can 'feel the prayers', and 'smell the tears' (quoted from a Dutch rabbi). When I went there, I agreed.

Having got that off my chest, I have several times listened to BWV 46, and I find it reminds me strongly of some of the Lamentations in other early music, of course concerned with the first destruction of Jerusalem.

Whenever I study a new (for me) cantata, I am struck with the many 'faces' of Bach. It is incredible how he takes the theme and expresses it in music in a timeless way. Listening to other cantatas of the time in which he lived, I find they are often 'dated', but Bach's cantatas have a relevance even to our times and lives.

I don't feel that I have got 'into' this cantata enough to be able to say anything meaningful about it, especially after all the wonderful comments and comparisons already from others. But I did want to rave about Bach.

Harry Steinman wrote (September 3, 2000):
I discovered that I didn't have a recording of BWV 46, so I had to order the 8th volume of the Koopman series [6], so I could hear what I was missing...and I like what I hear!

Marie, I too have come to appreciate what the recorders do in this cantata. I notice that there is a 'phrase' (if I can use the word thusly) that the recorder repeats in the first recitative that appears again in the final chorus. Forgive me for sounding a bit poetic (melodramatic?) but I hear this as I might experience a mighty power shedding energy...the energy (wrath?) to destroy Jerusalem? The author quoted by Aryeh writes of these phrases as 'tears' and I guess that could be tears being shed.

I noticed also that here and there, the strings picked up this same 'phrase' and I enjoyed that. I also enjoyed the long sustained passages in the bass aria.

All in all, this is another cantata about which I was ignorant until this week.

Well, till next one!

Jill Gunsell wrote (September 3, 2000):
Harry Steinman wrote:
[6] < I discovered that I didn't have a recording of BWV 46, so I had to order the 8th volume of the Koopman series >
Who is the alto on this recording?

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 3, 2000):
Harry Steinman wrote:
[6] << I discovered that I didn't have a recording of BWV 46, so I had to order the 8th volume of the Koopman series >>
< Jill Gunsell wrote: Who is the alto on this recording? >
Here are the details:
[6] Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Alto: Bogna Bartosz, Tenor - Jörg Dürmüller, Bass - Klaus Mertens
(Erato, recorded 1998). TT: 16:51

Jill Gunsell wrote (September 3, 2000):
[6] [To Aryeh Oron] Thanks, Aryeh!

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 46: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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