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Cantata BWV 61
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
Discussions - Part 1

Naxos Christmas Cantatas

Marie Jensen wrote (October 13, 2000):
[19] Christmas Cantatas, BWV 36, BWV 132 and BWV 61.
Terri Dunn (soprano), Matthew White (alto), John Tessier (tenor), Steven Pitkanen and Thomas Goerz (bass). The Aradia Ensemble from Canada is directed by Kevin Mallon (Naxos 8.554825).
The CD was produced last winter, and in a month or two it will be actual again. Yet the title "Christmas Cantatas" is misleading, because the CD contains three advent cantatas.

The ensemble is HIP. BWV 36 "Schwingt freudig euch empor" and BWV 132 "Bereitet die Wege" are performed OVPP and BWV 61 "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" by soloists singing throughout joined by ripienists in the choruses. The instruments are OVPP too.

The instrumentalists play great, so it is indeed a pity that only one of the singers is satisfying. Countertenor Andrew White is a great surprise. He has a very pleasant voice and sings wonderfully with no accent. The other soloists can be placed on a scale from unacceptable to nearly good enough. Worst is the tenor Tessier: Lots of accent and lots of vibrato. Unfortunately he is heard often. The bass Pitkanen sings very well but again with accent. The bass Goerz is heard once, and he seems to be better. The soprano Dunn sings without accent but with too much vibrato.

A nice little instrumental suite after the organ chorales "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" arranged by Mallon is played just before the cantata of the same name. A good idea which works fine.

So this CD has many plusses and minuses. I hope to hear more from countertenor White in the future. Wish Leusink had met him before Buwalda, what a Bach cantata cycle they could have made!


Discussions in the Week of December 3, 2000 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 3, 2000):

This is the week of cantata BWV 61 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. Every movement of this cantata belongs to the highest level of its kind. From the magnificence of the opening Chorus in the form of French overture, through the expressive arioso for bass, the melodic and danceable aria for tenor, the fine 'knocking' recitative for bass, the ardent aria for soprano, up to the concluding chorale with the fantastic division of voices between the sopranos and the basses. This is the kind of cantata, which you have to hear in one sitting. It cannot be splitted into pieces and is never over-played. Believe me, I heard it more than 30 times in the last week, and there are still many things for me to explore in this cantata!

Personal Viewpoint

The famous Chorale (hymn) 'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland', on which the opening Chorus of cantata BWV 61 is based, is my favourite Chorale in either of its forms. Bach used this chorale in two more cantatas - BWV 62 (twice) and BWV 36 (thrice). Bach used it also in many of his chorale preludes for organ, of which BWV 659 is the finest. Busoni made from it a transcription for piano, which was quite popular among pianists in the pre-HIP era. Various composers also transcribed it for other combinations of instruments. All these permutations deserve a special discussion. I do not have the room here, either to list all the various recordings of this Chorale, or to review them. I shall leave to other members of the group to elaborate the subject, if they wish.

Review of Complete Recordings

BWV 61 has become quite popular in the last decade of the past Millennium. Almost every year saw a new recording of this cantata. An interesting common factor between the new generation of recordings is that they are very similar in playing time - between about 13:30 to 14:15. Gardiner set the new standard in 1992, and although it looks at first as a break-neck tempo, all the following performers walked in his route and did not try slow it down. All the seven recordings from the 1990's are also using HIP instrumentation and in that sense it seems logical to compare between them as a group.

[1] Fritz Werner (1961)
Here is a quote from the Gramophone review of this recording, when it was reissued by Erato in a 2-CD set together with other cantatas by Werner, back in the mid 1990's (this reissue is not longer available):
"Fritz Werner, conductor and composer, died in 1980 and were it not for enterprising releases such as this, we would have little cause to remember a man who championed Bach's cantatas in the 1960's and early 1970's with rare integrity and unaffected eloquence. This reissue of seven cantatas, chosen from over 50 he recorded from 1958-74, is skilfully conceived to cover all the important seasons of the church calendar. The Advent cantata is the magnificent Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 61), which is touchingly natural in its expression, from the subdued grandeur of the opening to the unforced chorale whose long-breathed phrases are typical of Werner's acute characterization—in this case the sense of longing and expectation for the Christ-child. The soloists here feature the sensitive singing of tenor, Helmut Krebs, who may not have an effortless vocal technique (but then neither did Ernst Haefliger) but his open-throated and committed performances are full of personality and his recitatives nobly delivered. Jakob Stämpfli is a fine and highly consistent Bachian—his Ich will den Kreuzstab (BWV 56) from 1965 with Karl Ristenpart is arguably still in the vanguard—with the resonance and instinctive shaping with which Kieth Engen provided Karl Richter in his early years, and most notably In the legendary 1958 recording of the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244).
Where Werner differs from Richter is that he is generally more circumspect and meditative, more content to let the music 'roll' than Richter, who could as easily convey an irresistible intensity and fervour as go off the deep end with something hard-driven or misjudged. If Werner is more temperate on the whole that is not to imply that his best performances are any less deeply felt. He certainly has less incisive choral forces at his disposal than Richter's Munich Bach Choir, though the soft-grained textures of the Heinrich Schütz Choir are often better suited to Werner's spontaneous and smooth Transitions and classical pacing." (Snip)

I shall add no more, because I simply agree with every word!

[3] Helmut Kahlhöfer (Mid 1960’s?)
I do not have this recording. But Kählhöfer is a fine Bach conductor, as we have seen in the review of the recordings of Cantata BWV 46. Kählhofer is head and shoulders above his rivals, the old as well as the new ones.

[4] Karl Richter (1970-1971)
Royal and dignified. First class singing.

[5] Helmuth Rilling (Early 1970’s?)
Slow, warm and soft-centred. Hearing this rendition after those of Werner and Richter, I feel that the singing of the choir lacks focus, and even the instrumental playing is not as clean as we have been learnt to expect from Rilling's forces. But we are compensated by beautiful and impressive singing of all the three vocal soloists. Helen Donath in the aria for soprano is the diamond of the crown. Last week I saw on the local TV a profile of the famous Norwegian actor Liv Ullman. If I am allowed to use a metaphor, I think that Donath conveys in her singing the same qualities that Ullman brings to her acting - warmth, humanity, sensuality and kindness, vulnerability combined with assertiveness.

[6] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1976)
This first HIP recording of BWV 61 is so different from the traditional recordings of this cantata, that it sounds as a different work altogether. In many ways it is one of the least successful of the modern recor. It is less polished, too fragmented, lacking flow and warmth. Although this recording is apparently faster than the previous ones, it sounds as if it is lagging behind them. Although he is equipped technically, the boy soprano is not emotionally capable of his role. Only Equiluz and Meer are doing their job competently.

[8] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1981)
Rotzsch's approach to this cantata reminds me very much that of Rilling. The singing of the choir is better, clearer and sharper. Yet, it could have been improved, had it taken some splendour and boldness from Richter, or sensitivity and spirituality from Werner. The soloists are all first-rate and they are giving the right weight to their rolls. One cannot refuse to the gentle Lorentz' knocking on the door. Augér singing penetrates the heart, where Donath (with Rilling) embraces you with her kindness. It is gorgeous to have both singers doing the same aria. None of the modern singers can compare with either of them.

[11] John Eliot Gardiner (1992)
Gardiner is energetic, intensive and jumpy. Sometimes I feel that he pushes too much and does not let the music speak for itself and 'breathe'. In many ways his interpretation simplifies the music, and I do not hear the multi layers, which I can find in other renditions. The singers are also not as good as many of the singers from the 'older generation' are. It is possible that they could do better, if they got more room to express themselves. Among the modern recordings of this cantata, Gardiner's is a one I shall not return to very often. I hope that Gardiner's has improved in the period that passed between the time he made this recording (1992) and the pilgrimage he is going to accomplish by the end of this year (2000). I am eagerly awaiting his complete Bach Cantatas cycle, which was recorded during the hard and exhausting tour (I believe that it is planned to be issued by a private label, and not by Deutsche Grammophone).

[12] Jeffrey Thomas & ABS (1994)
It is so refreshing to hear this cantata with OVPP approach. This rendition has freshness, sharpness and pleasant pungency. The choral movements (the first and the last) come out best and all the vocal (and instrumental) lines can be easily followed. The voices blend beautifully together, but in the solo movements one can hear that the singers are not penetrating deeply below the surface.

[13] Ton Koopman (1995)
The opening chorus of Koopman's rendering is quiet and tender. It is arresting, but it also lacks some depth. The vocal soloists are splendid, especially Prégardien and Mertens. They can respectfully stand at the side of the good male singers from the previous generation. Although missing somewhat in the dramatic side, this is an overall good recording, which can stand many repeated hearings.

[15] Philippe Herreweghe (1996)
Herreweghe put himself in head to head competition with Gardiner, when he made a CD with the same three cantatas for Advent (BWV 36, BWV 61, & BWV 62). But it should be better compared with Koopman's. Herreweghe's approach is very similar to that of Koopman, but he also adds the dimension of internal drama, and the whole performance gains from it. This recording has tenderness, subtlety and grace, which are to my liking. And we have also marvellous vocal soloists. We meet Prégardien again in good form and Kooy is a worthy substitute for Mertens. The main difference is the female soloist. Sibylla Rubens is much more expressive and sensitive to the text than Barbara Schlick is.

[16] Masaaki Suzuki (1997)
Although Suzuki is the fastest of them all, his rendering sounds to me less stressed than that of Gardiner. It has drama and poise, without forcing its approach on the listener. However it lacks something in grace and delicacy. I shall say no more about Kooy, who participated also in Herreweghe's recording. But I have to mention Ingrid Schmithüsen, who is committed and sincere in her aria.

[18] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
In this rendering all the good qualities of the Leusink's cycle come out and almost none of its shortcomings. Is it because I do not hear Buwalda here? Nevertheless, all the participants are in good form - the choir, the vocal soloists and the accompaniment. We have learnt to expect freshness from this group of performers, but in this cantata this is the main factor which differs it from the other recordings. And it is also so delicate and touching, almost on the level of Herreweghe's rendition.

[19] Kevin Mallon (2000)
According to the linear notes I understand that this is almost OVPP performance. This is the least polished rendition of this cantata. When there are so many previous recordings, we could expect to some originality. But nothing of that could be found here. The singing of the small choir, the vocal soloists and the accompaniment are not first rate. The main factors missing are some enthusiasm, drama and grace. One thing to note is that the vocal soloists (concertists) are joined here by the other singers (ripienists) in the choral movements. Indeed, this is a budget CD, but Leusink's is cheaper, and better!


Among the 'old generation' recordings I prefer Werner [1] and among the 'new generation' - Herreweghe [15].

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

Harry J. Steinman wrote (December 4, 2000):
I enjoyed this cantata. I have the Leusink [18] and Koopman [13] versions and I believe that I prefer the Koopman for a couple reasons. First, I enjoy Ruth Holton's singing in the soprano aria more than Barbara Schlick. I find Holton to be much warmer and I feel tenderness in Holton's voice that, well, makes me feel loved! I'm not sure about what the words mean as I only have the awful translation that accompanies the Koopman version. But I wonder what that aria is really saying because Holton sounds so tender and caring. The second thing about the Leusink recording that I prefer is the 'presence' of it all...sorry, I don't have the proper vocabulary, but the Leusink version feels more alive and I feel physically closer to the music. I feel somehow that the Koopman version keeps me at a distance. Go figure.

Well...that's all for now!

Harry J. Steinman wrote (December 4, 2000):
Hi...I meant to say that I prefer the Leusink [18]. Shoot! I have a hard time keeping my name straight!

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 4, 2000):
Harry Steinman wrote: <
I enjoyed this cantata. I have the Leusink [18] and Koopman [13] versions and I believe that I prefer the Koopman for a couple reasons. First, I enjoy Ruth Holton's singing in the soprano aria more than Barbara Schlick. I find Holton to be much warmer and I feel tenderness in Holton's voice that, well, makes me feel loved! I'm not sure about what the words mean as I only have the awful translation that accompanies the Koopman version. But I wonder what that aria is really saying because Holton sounds so tender and caring. (Snip) >
For your convenience, here is the English translation of the aria for soprano (No.5) from BWV 61. It is taken from Richard Stokes book 'J.S. Bach - The Complete Cantatas - In German-English translation' (Long Barn Books, 1999). This is a good translation in simple and Modern English, which is very faithful to the original German text. The book is recommended to every one who loves the cantatas and does not know German. Generally speaking, I agree that the translations in the Teldec and Erato cycles are something to avoid.

5. Aria (for Soprano)
Open up, my whole heart,
Jesus comes and enters in.
Though I be but dust and e,
He shall not despise me,
But takes delight
To see that I become His dwelling
Oh how blessed shall I be.

Regarding the text, I agree very much with you that Holton (with Leusink) [18] is preferable to Schlick (with Koopman) [13]. She interprets the words in much more convincing way, with warm, love and tenderness. Schlick sounds almost bland in comparison. But my first priorities in this aria remain Helen Donath (with Rilling) [5] and Augér (with Rotzsch) [8]. Both understand very well what they are singing and perform the aria with similar approach to that of Holton. But they also add extra dimension. The first adds sensuality, where and the second adds melancholy. I love them both.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (December 4, 2000):
Is there anyone who can compare to Herreweghe [15]?

I compiled the three Cantatas for 1st Advent by Leusink [18] on one CD, which I will do for the next Sundays as well

Harry J. Steinman wrote (December 4, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks, Aryeh...the translation you provided makes a difference. (I don't know why some translators feel compelled to create rhymes when they do the translation; it reminds me of a linguistic contortionist!).

I wish I spoke or understood German; I believe that (1) recitatives, which just leave me cold, would be more accessible and (2) I could be more discriminating in differentiating different recordings of the same arias and choruses.

Maybe in my next life...

Johan van Veen wrote (December 4, 2000):
Aryeh Oron wrote, regarding (Harnoncourt) [6]:
< This first HIP recording of BWV 61 is so different from the traditional recordings of this cantata, that it sounds as a different work altogether. In many ways it is one of the least successful of the modern recordings. It is less polished, too fragmented, lacking flow and warmth. Although this recording is apparently faster than the previous ones, it sounds as if it is lagging behind them. Although he is equipped technically, the boy soprano is not emotionally capable of his role. Only Equiluz and Meer are doing their job competently. >
Strange how the perception of a performance can differ. When I first heard this recording (that was just after it was released, on LP) I didn't like Master Kronwitter's singing. Contrary to what you say I think his technique leaves something to be desired, in particular his breath control. But since this is one of my favourite cantatas, and this particular aria is my favourite part of it, I have listened to it many times. The more I heard it, the more I liked it, and the more I saw the reasons Harnoncourt took this voice - well, that's what I like to think; maybe there just wasn't a better singer around at the time! This is a very tender and personal, almost pietistic aria. It is a direct reaction to the preceding recitative, where the bass - here in the role of Vox Christi - says: "Look ye! I stand before the door and knock thereon. If any man shall harken to my voice and shall open it, then I will come in unto him and will bide there and sup there with him, and he with me." It is a very personal invitation to let Jesus enter your life. The pizzicati of the strings represents the knocking of Jesus on the door of the heart. It is a pity that knocking motif isn't realised in the playing of the basso continuo in the aria in this recording. (I have a studio recording of Musica Antiqua Köln where the chords are played staccato, which has the same effect as the pizzicato in the strings). Therefore in my view the aria is about receptivity: the "I" of the aria has to open his heart to receive Jesus. This reminds me of the story in the gospels, for example St Matthew 18:2-4: "And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (King James Version) Receptivity is a characteristic of children. I have no idea how old Seppi Kronwitter was when he recorded the aria, but he sounds very young and "childish" (in the neutral sense of the word) to me. Therefore I find this performance totally believable. Although I generally prefer boys in baroque sacred music, I can accept a (good) woman's voice as a compromise. But I find it almost impossible to accept it here. This is a rather "naive" aria (in the positive sense of the word) and an adult voice just lacks this kind of naivety. Just my personal thoughts on this aria.

Galina Kolomietz wrote (December 5, 2000):
Pieter Pannevis wrote:
< Is there anyone who can compare to Herreweghe [15]? >
*** In this particular cantata, Ruth Holton [18] may be preferable to Sybilla Rubens on the Herreweghe [15]. Holton sounds the closest to a boy soprano for whom Bach probably wrote this soprano aria. But I find Rubens to be very good too. She has a warmer sound than I normally prefer, but her singing is certainly very pleasing and lyrical. Considering that I don't understand German, her intonation seems right (strictly from the standpoint of fitting the words to the melody, I guess... I can read the translation but it's hard to feel the original words). To me, the main advantage of the Herreweghe is Christoph Prégardien. He does a wonderful job of the tenor aria. His singing is assertive, almost declamatory, which, I think is very appropriate to the words. Herreweghe also benefits from having Peter Kooy. Even though the bass in this particular cantata has only one minute to sing, Peter Kooy nearly steals the limelight with just one minute. It's quite a stunning recitative, isn't it? Herreweghe's opening chorus is also very well done - the best of the three versions I have.

Luckily, this cantata has no parts for an alto. Sytse Buwalda couldn't ruin this one [18].

In addition to the Leusink and the Herreweghe, I also have the American Bach Soloists/Thomas [12], a one-voice-per-part ("OVPP") version. Singers: Julianne Baird, Drew Minter, Benjamin Butterfield and James Weaver. This is a pretty good recording overall. Julianne Baird compares well to Sybilla Rubens on the Herreweghe, although I find Baird's singing here to be a little soft around the edges. Drew Minter seems on relatively good form in the "choruses." But on balance, even though I generally prefer all things OVPP, I think Herreweghe is much better. Butterfield and Weaver, in particular, couldn't hold a candle to Prégardien and Kooy.

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 5, 2000):
[6] [To Johan van Veen, regarding Harnoncourt's recording of BWV 61 with the boy Soprano Seppi Kronwitter] Following your message, I listened again to this cantata in Harnoncourt's recording. I tried to hear it through your point of view. I still do think that the boy (Seppi Kronwitter) is equipped technically to do the job. By that I mean that he can cope with all the notes, and he does not sound screaming when getting out of range, as some other boys in this series do. He even passes well the small coloratura part. Like most of the boys he has, of course, short breath, but it does not disturb me, because it suits Harnoncourt's fragmented approach. Regarding his interpretation, it indeed sounds naive and innocent, and this match your idea of the little kid enters the kingdom of heaven. However, his emotional range is very limited and I feel that this aria suggests more depth, to which the boy's singing cannot get. But some of the female singers dig inside and reveal the internal layers of this aria. On the other hand, both approaches are valid, and I accept both as legitimate. We are getting here another proof for the endless possibilities which Bach's musicoffers us.

BTW, few boys in the H&L cycle are equipped both technically and emotionally and this could be the ideal solution. But I am aware that such phenomenon is very rare indeed. Another solution could be using a mature woman with boyish timbre of voice, like Ruth Holton [18], who performs this aria in Leusink's recording. But hearing her after Donath (with Rilling) [5], Augér (with Rotzsch) [8], or Rubens (with Herreweghe) [15], I feel that something is missing. There is more to this aria than she conveys. So many possibilities. Probably there is not an ideal solution after all!

Jane Newble wrote (December 5, 2000):
[6] [To Johan van Veen] After what you wrote, I must somehow get hold of Harnoncourt's version. I have 4 versions of this cantata, all with sopranos, and I don't like any of the soprano arias. It is as you say, the childlike receptivity is not very well represented by a woman's voice, and I just cannot 'connect' with it in this case.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (December 6, 2000):
Just a quick postscript to my earlier comments about this week's cantata. I just got the Herreweghe recording [15] from Amazon, and in comparing it with the Leusink [18] and the Koopman [13] recordings, I find that I still prefer the Leusink. I find that there is an urgency in the Leusink's opening chorus that I prefer; that Ruth Holton's tender and expressive treatment of the soprano aria catches my emotions more than Herreweghe's soprano, Sibylla Rubens, does. However, I prefer Prégardien to the Leusink tenor and ditto for bass Peter Kooy. But overall, I still prefer the Leusink.

However I do like the Herreweghe version and the fact that that CD (HM 901605) [15] includes BWV 62, another "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" and it's enjoyable to go from one to the next. For those of you who don't have the Herreweghe recording, it's interesting because the 3 cantatas (BWV 36 is the third) are all Advent cantatas-all written for the same Sunday, but for three different years.

Of the three recordings I have, only Koopman's left me uninvolved.

PS. I just got another CD, Coin's recording of BWV 180, BWV 49, BWV 115. It's got a cool typo on the packaging: The outer cover lists BWV 118 instead of BWV 180. Go figure!

Ehud Shiloni wrote (December 6, 2000):
Harry Steinman wrote:
< However I do like the Herreweghe version and the fact that that CD (HM 901605) includes BWV 62, another "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" and it's enjoyable to go from one to the next. >
Of my six [all HIP] versions, I, like Harry, will take Herreweghe's to the proverbial "Desert Island". In my opinion this CD represents Herreweghe's best Bach effort, with all his strong talents present and none of his weaknesses [such as a tendency to appear overly "dreamy" and mellow at times].

The test of the cantata conductors is primarily the large-scale choruses. While an aria rises or falls on the quality of the singer[s], the chorus section is where the musical concept and the success of the performance are most evident. In BWV 61 we have an exciting "opener", with the choral tune "supported" on a base of a "French overture", and including a lively fugal midsection. Here are my thoughts on the opening chorus performance of the six I have:

[6] 1. Harnoncourt: Quoting from Aryeh: "Fragmented...lacking flow". Also the boys voices fail to convey the premonitions of the eventual tragedy, which are intertwined with the jubilation in the choral tune.

[11] 2. Gardiner: The sound is somewhat muddy and lacks brightness. This material is ideal for JEG's strong qualities but he fails to deliver a really effective performance.

[13] 3. Koopman: Every aspect - voices, instruments - sounds nice. Every sub-section sounds nice. However the combined overall effect does not connect, and the piece lacks unity and fails to excite.

[16] 4. Suzuki: Very good sound, clear and purposeful, but just a notch below Herreweghe in drama.

[15] 5. Herreweghe: Dramatic. Exciting. Involving. Great colour from singers and instruments, well balanced, and a relentless sense of forward thrust. I can listen to this strip over and over again. Give us more like this one, Maestro! [see at the end].

[12] 6. Thomas: You already know that my choice for the "Desert Island" is Herreweghe, but if I am allowed two then I'll take Thomas too, because the OVPP "Effect" is very special and effective in this chorus. When Julianne Baird enters the fugue, holding a long note with a bit of coloratura at the end, I get goose pimples.

So far for my personal feelings about BWV 61 and its opening chorus. Now I want to add a word about BWV 62, because if I wait for its turn in our "order of discussion" I'll have to wait at least a whole year until next Advent!... What I want to say is that everything said about the Herreweghe performance holds true for his rendition of the opening chorus of BWV 62 on the same CD. Here Bach takes a different treatment of the famous choral, and the result in Herreweghe's hands is beyond description - I can only describe it as either "hypnotic" or "electrifying". It is on my short list of "Best single movement recordings" in my collection, and I cannot recommend it too highly.

Andrew Oliver wrote (December 12, 2000):
Different recordings of this cantata offer widely differing interpretations of its message. I possess the Rilling [5] and the Harnoncourt [6], and I have been lent the Herreweghe [15] and the Leusink [18].

The Gospel for the day is Matthew 21:1-13, which tells of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 - "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee." However, Bach's cantata deals with much more than this. The opening chorus quotes from a hymn by Luther, the opening line of which seems to me to be a prayer and plea for the fulfillment of other Old Testament prophecies, in particular Isaiah 49:6 - "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth". The recitative which follows then proclaims the fulfillment of that prophecy, and is followed by an aria which utters a different prayer, asking for the presence of Jesus (in spirit) with his church on earth. This is one of those 'lilting' arias spoken of by Simon Brewer (on 18th November). I think Herreweghe takes this much too quickly. Compare the times: Herreweghe 3'24 [15] Leusink 3'59 [18] Harnoncourt 3'59 [6] Rilling 5'00 [5]. These arias are usually written in 6/8 or 12/8 time.

The bass recitative which follows is very effective. It speaks of Christ knocking at the door of the heart (Revelation 3:20), and Bach paints this beautifully using pizzicato strings. Although for the most part I do not like Harnoncourt's version [6] as much as the others, I do like his subtle interpretation of this number.

The second aria (No.5) responds to the recitative by expressing a desire for the heart to be opened, and the brief closing chorale simply confirms and reinforces this desire. The point I like most aboutthe closing number is the scurrying motion of the orchestral parts.

All four of the versions I have heard have their good points, but overall I like the Rilling [5] best, for the warmth of the opening chorus, for the generally steadier tempi, which seem to be unnecessarily rushed in some other versions, and also for the marvellous voice of the tenor Adalbert Kraus.


BWV 61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland / Öffne

Boyd Pehrson wrote (November 30, 2001):
Andreas, thank you also for loading this BWV 61! I'm finally getting 'round to listening to these uploads. Though the recording is not the best, and the performance is not "greatly inspired" this not a "look" (or listen) to what one may have heard in Bach's time at the Nikolai Kirche?

Master Hinz' performance shows a nice emotional connection with the music, and I detect he is in voice change (correct me if I am wrong). I think it is really a marvellous example of what a well trained boy can do with soprano arias. I think many people listen to these boys in the wrong way. I am an electronics technician by trade and an artist at heart, so it is not difficult for me to overcome the audio frequency limitations of certain recordings, as these are made self evident, and having enjoyed innumerable concerts in various church architecture, as well as the sound of boys live, it is not difficult for me to fill in any existing audio gaps. I actually enjoy hearing the audience noise, as it reminds me that these Cantatas were first performed under similar conditions in Leipzig 275 years ago, and the congregation had their own noises to contribute. It is always difficult for me not to engage in time travel while listening to these wonderful compositions, and boys like master Hinz make it even more difficult for me to stay focused on our own century- (one that now seems to make the 18th Century's problems look somewhat 'charming' by comparison).

Parts of cantata BWV 61 "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland". "Ich stehe vor der Tür" Recitativo (Panito Iconomou), "Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze" Aria (Maximilian Hinz) and the final choral "Amen, Amen, komm du schöne Freudenkrone". Tölzer Knabenchor, Concerto Köln, Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden. Private recording, December 1998.


Period strings: getting it right (with BWV 12 , and 61)

Neil Halliday wrote (October 5, 2003):
Cantata BWV 12 - Music Examples

Compare the Heinrich Schütz Ensemble, and Ton Koopman, in the sinfonia from BWV 12.

With Koopman, we can hear all the notes in the upper strings; whereas Schutz takes the 'strong-note, weak-note' doctrine to ridiculous lengths, so that one begins to imagine one is hearing two notes instead of four.

In the chorus, with Cantus Cölln, we have an anaemic staccato treatment of the upper-string chords; this is unfortunate, because this OVPP choir packs a lot of power and emotion into this glorious, sombre music.

Compare with:

Here, Suzuki shows a sensible semi-legato treatment of the string parts, which complements the pathos in the choral writing.

Suzuki's treatment of the sinfonia is also satisfactory; one can hear the violas as well (there are two viola lines in this sinfonia score).

The American Bach Soloists (BCW link, above) give a good account of the sinfonia, but use the inappropriate staccato upper-strings' articulation in the chorus.

For the ultimate light, 'jerky' performance of a French overture, check out the American Bach Soloists version: Cantata BWV 61 - Music Examples.

(Back to my dictionary for the meaning of 'grand', 'royal' 'majestic' etc.)

Thank God for Richter and Rilling (and others)!

Neil Halliday wrote (October 5, 2003):
Only the top link appears to be working.

For the Suzuki, try:
and press the volume 3 details button.

(If that doesn't work, go to, and select 'classical music' and type in: BIS AND Suzuki AND Vol.3.

For the ABS [12] and BWV 61 (overture), go to the BCW and select 'music' in the left-hand column.


Regarding BWV 61

Juozas Rimas wrote (April 18, 2004):
From Simon Crouch's site I didn't quite understand whether the intro chorus from BWV 61 "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" is original music by J.S. Bach or just his arrangement of an already written hymn.

So is it Bach's original?

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] The congregational hymn 'Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland', sung on the 1st Sunday in Advent before the intonation of the Gospel's reading, was Luther's adaptation of the Latin hymn 'Vnei Redemptor gentium', and its plainsong, ascribed to St Ambrose. Bach used it in the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 61, twice in Cantata BWV 62, 3 times in Cantata BWV 36, as well as in many of his chorale preludes for organ, of which BWV 659 is the finest. This chorale prelude was transcribed to piano by several composers (including Busono, Friedman, Kempff) and has become well-known in the beginning of the 20th century through these transcriptions.

On the other hand, Bach used most of the hymns in his choral movements as a springboard for his own inspiration... propertised them. The opening chorus of Cantata BWV 61 is only one evidence of many to prove this.


BWV 61, aria "öffne dich"

Jim Stewart wrote (January 11, 2005):
The American Bach Soloists [12] are coming to town in a week or so, so I loaded up the mp3 player with BWV 61, BWV 131, BWV 182 and BWV 4 (Ton Koopman) to get familiar with their program.

I'm listening to BWV 61 for the first time and I come to the aria "öffne dich". I'm stunned. I play it again. I'm more stunned. This is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.


Sybrand Bakker wrote (January 11, 2005):
Personally I still believe the boy soprano in the old Harnoncourt recording [6] makes the most of it, especially if you know 'schlechte' in modern German is 'schlichte'. The boy is really struggling to sing this aria, and that is exactly what I like so much about it.

DDD wrote (January 12, 2005):
I have the "in progress" edition by Suzuki [16]. I have to admit I've not been "so" impressed by this aria, even listening it again after reading your post. Sorry (mainly sorry for myself!)

Maybe that in the Koopman edition [13] there is a better interpretation of this piece: i'll start investigations!


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 61: Details
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Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 06:15