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Cantata BWV 47
Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of October 7, 2001

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 9, 2001):
Introduction

The subject of this week's discussion (October 7, 2001) is Cantata BWV 47, the last one in Peter Bloemendaal's proposed list of cantatas for discussion. In order to allow the members of the BCML preparing themselves for the discussion, I arranged a list of the recordings of this cantata. This cantata is included only in the 3 already completed cantata cycles - H&L [3], Rilling [4], & Leusink [5]. I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Background

As a background to this relatively unfamiliar cantata I shall use this time Alec Robertson’s book ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’:

See: Cantata BWV 47 - Commentary

Review of the Recordings

[3] Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s approach to Bach Cantatas was a cause for much controversy in the BCML lately. But I believe that there is nothing to critisize in his approach here. In his hands the fugal movements of the chorus (Mvt. 1) rise and fall in the instruments and in the voices to resemble the tone-painting of the proud and the humble, depicting also how their status will be reversed. Up and down, back and forth. Harnoncourt does it better than any other version. And after this splendid rendition of the chorus (Mvt. 1), we have a boy soprano whose singing is a joy to hear, even in the relatively long aria (Mvt. 2) (some would say, too long). Bach must have thought about Peter Jelosits’ kind of treble when he wrote this aria. Jelosits commands long, clean, lovely divisions. He has a beautiful tone and excellent coloratura. There is no thinning out as he rises to A. he essays no trills, yet one feels that with a little encouragement he could easily have managed them. With cogent words he announces the qualifications for calling oneself true Christian. Ruud van der Meer is excellent too, preaches in the recitative and humble in the aria. It could be interesting to hear these two in a duet. Alas, Cantata BWV 47 does not include one.

[4] Helmuth Rilling
Rilling takes, as could be expected, larger scale approach. His thickness and legato blur the contradiction embedded in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1). I do not hear the rise and fall, the bach and forth movements, as clear as hear them with Harnoncourt. Furthermore, this rendition is somewhat dragged and lacks the internal drive and momentum that Harnoncourt has. Augér has the ability to hold the attention of the listener even in long and not too varied aria. However, I was so not as fascinated with her this time as I was with Jelosits. Maybe I am getting used to her interpretations, or perhaps the too prominent playing of the organ disturbed me. Huttenlocher is on the same par with van der Meer.

[5] Pieter Jan Leusink
Leusink is better that Rilling in the opening chorus (Mvt. 1). He uses smaller forces and gains in clarity. Where Rilling is somewhat heavy and too serious, Leusink sounds light and almost too cheerful. However he walks only half a way in Harnoncourt footsteps, and does not emphasizes the internal movements in this chorus (Mvt. 1) as sharply as Harnoncourt does. Ruth Holton (Mvt. 2) is the weakest of the three sopranos. Indeed she has angelic voice, but she does not manage to put enough expression into it and to vary her interpretation in the long aria. One can hear a trill here and there, but that is not enough to cause the whole performance being arresting. The delicate playing of the organ is the good part of the aria in this rendition. I also find that Ramselaar’s singing is less interesting than either van der Meer or Huttenlocher.

Conclusion

Definitely Harnoncourt [3] is my preferred rendition of this cantata, in every aspect.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 9, 2001):
BWV 47 - Commentary

See: Cantata BWV 47 - Commentary

The Recordings:

This week I listened to Harnoncourt (1975) [3], Rilling (1982) [4], and Leusink (2000) [5]

[3] Harnoncourt:
Despite his efforts to do so, Harnoncourt was unable at this early stage to enforce fully his Harnoncourt Doctrine upon the singers of this choir that had obviously been trained to sing properly before they were subjected to Harnoncourt's strong accents with final syllables lopped off. Without Harnoncourt's influence this choir would nevertheless have problems with such a challenging choral composition as Mvt. 1. The only clear winner in this group is the soprano part, all the others have considerable problems with the range and depth required of them. The tenors and basses are very weak, and the altos can only hold their own when they are singing in the higher part of their range. The instrumental ensemble has already absorbed much of Harnoncourt's theory on HIP practice: they cut the note values prematurely, particularly the long held notes, thereby fracturing the musical line. The oboes are noticeably shaky which means that their vibratos are covering up for the fact that they are not squarely on the correct pitch for a given note - the vibrato swings either to high or too low. A vibrato helps to cover up these deficiencies, unless, of course, you are aware of what the correct pitch should be. In Mvt. 2 Alice Harnoncourt hits the final dotted high note with too much emphasis as if the dotted note also had a wedge over it. Jelosits gives a very respectable performance with a trumpet-like sound in the high register. As expected, he is weak in the low range, but at least he sings in tune and does not have a vibrato that is very distracting. Van der Meer has a very disturbing vibrato that is very fast (like an automatic weapon firing) and sounds at times like a sheep bleating. This is very difficult for me to listen to without being distracted. The aria begins with good balance between the solo instruments making up the trio sonata that begins the mvt. Unfortunately the oboe has problems trying to play a straight note. Van der Meer's coloraturas sound awful. The final chorale (Mvt. 5) has some legato reminiscent of an Un-Harnoncourt vocal/choir tradition, but there are pauses where they do not belong (Harnoncourt imposing his will on this choral group.)

[4] Rilling:
Surprisingly the oboes sound shaky here as well, and what is worse is that they are rather weak in volume. This means that they will not be able to stand out sufficiently when needed as in the independent announcement of the fugal theme. The vocal balance and clarity of musical lines is superb. My usual complaint still applies: certain voices stand out with too much vibrato. This means that a unified choral sound is lacking as individuals strive to make themselves and their part heard. Rilling uses the original organ part for the soprano aria (Mvt. 2) which Augér sings quite well with a controlled operatic style that is not objectionable. Unfortunately Huttenlocher is quite a different story as he attempts to put too much expression into the words that he sings. The result is that everything becomes simply an act that anyone can see/hear through. The feeling that he wishes to project does not sound genuine. The aria is only slightly better at those times when he sings lyrically, but the moment he reverts to expression by applying more volume, he spoils any listening pleasure that I mightbe experiencing. The final chorale (Mvt. 5) is very good.

[5] Leusink:
The tempo is too fast and leads directly toward a very 'lite' version of this piece. Such lightness is completely inappropriate for a monumental mvt. of this nature. The oboes are good. The choral singing is very unsatisfactory for many reasons already mentioned in previous cantata discussions: The yodelers steal the show with their leaps to high notes which they land on with a vengeance or cry out as if being pinched from behind, however, when Bach asks them to sing in the low part of their range, there is nothing there. There is great imbalance between the voices. At times the basses are almost non-existent. Holton's low range is very weak. Although she sings all the notes accurately, her voice is rather expressionless. There is simply insufficient reserve in this voice when Bach calls for more. Ramselaar also is weak in the low range, but otherwise he is easier to listen to than the other two basses encountered singing this cantata. Very disappointing is the extremely weak violin solo in the aria which should begin as a trio sonata with all three parts being equally balanced. Sometimes I almost think that a viola rather than a violin was used. The bc is much too thick and heavy (the double/string bass is at fault here.) In the final chorale (Mvt. 5), as a final insult to the listener, Leusink copies Harnoncourt's [3] style.

Summary Rating:

Rilling [4], then Harnoncourt [3], and finally Leusink [5].

Andrew Oliver wrote (October 14, 2001):
I just wanted to say that I particularly like this cantata, and it deserves to be better known. Both Harnoncourt's recording [3] and Leusink's [5] are well worth listening to. I was particularly impressed by Jelosits, Harnoncourt's boy soprano, in the first aria (Mvt. 2). That movement doesn't seem to be the best vehicle for Ruth Holton's particular talents (for Leusink), but I found Ramselaar's bass solo (Mvt. 4) very pleasant to listen to.

Both the arias remind me of other works. There is a degree of similarity between parts of the soprano aria (Mvt. 2) and the first chorus of part six of the Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248) (Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben), composed eight years later than this cantata, but I have not been able to discover why the bass aria (Mvt. 4) sounds familiar. The same chorus from the WO does include a falling phrase rather like it, so maybe Bach borrowed ideas from both these arias when writing that number. Perhaps someone else has another suggestion?

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 47: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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

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