Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

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 70
Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!
Cantata BWV 70a
Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of November 24, 2002

Robin Crag wrote (November 22, 2002):
BWV 70 - Recording

[1] I have a recording thats not on your site:

Ingeborg Reichelt (Soprano);
Sibylla Plate (Contralto);
Helmut Kretschmar (Tenor);
Erich Wenk (Bass);
with Kantorei der Dreikoenigskirche, Frankfurt, and
Orchestra of the Collegium Musicum,
conducted by Kurt Thomas.

(side1: BWV 68, side2: BWV 70)

Its on an L.P. (maybe no CD exists?), so I don;t know if this is any use to you.

If you want timings etc, just shout..

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 25, 2002):
[To Robin Crag] Thanks for the info.

[1] Additional information needed:
TT (Total playing time) of each cantata
Month/Year of recording

And it could be nice if you can send me (off-list) a photo of the front cover.

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 25, 2002):
BWV 70 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (November 24, 2002), according to Thomas Shepherd’s suggested list, is the Chorale Cantata BWV 70 ‘Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!’ (Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!). After the gloomy and even frightening cantata of last week, BWV 90, we can be encouraged with a festive one, full of joyful and happy moments, although not free of sombre and contemplative ones. But so is life!


The background below, quoted from the liner notes to the CD reissue of Erato recording by Erato, was written by Nicholas Anderson:

See: Cantata BWV 70 - Commentary


The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 70 - Recordings

The opening chorus of this cantata sounds so familiar that I expected it to have many recordings. I was surprised to find out that there are only nine. But, what am I to complain? In the world of recorded Bach Cantatas nine is indeed many. Since this is an early cantata, five of these recordings come from recorded cantata cycles (Rilling [6], Harnoncourt [8], Koopman [10], Leusink [11], and Suzuki [12]). All the other four come from veteran conductors: Felix Prohaska [2], Fritz Werner [5], Kurt Thomas [1] (Robin Crag was very kind to inform us about this one), and Karl Richter [9]. Furthermore, the legendary Thomaskantor Karl Straube recorded the first half of this cantata in 1931, which means that this is one of the earliest recordings of any Bach cantata ever.

You can listen to Harnocourt’s recording through David Zale Website:

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
The original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website); two complete English translations by Francis Browne and Z. Philip Ambrose, and one of aria for tenor (Mvt. 8) by Ebenezer Prout; French translation by Walter F. Bischof; three (!) Hebrew translations: by Amit Gidron, Irit Schoenhorn, and one by unknown translator (taken from programme notes to Abu-Gosh Festival, 1972);
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide); in Dutch (by Johan De Wael); in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Jane Newble wrote (November 27, 2002):
Maarten 't Hart writes about this cantata:
"A work that originated in Weimar. From beginning to end it is fascinating, but the robust tenor aria is the most beautiful. That aria is always called 'Händelian', but has Händel ever composed an aria that sounds like this one? I don't know of one!"

[2] Several years ago I bought the Prohaska CD in one of the old English cathedrals, and it has never failed to fascinate me. It becomes more interesting, beautiful and meaningful with every hearing. I remember one of the list members calling it a recording from the Stone Age! But it has a wonderful depth and vitality.

The opening chorus of the cantata is a masterly way of arousing curiosity. Something very exciting is surely going to happen. But no, perhaps not yet. The voices come in melodiously: 'Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!' Yet the instrumental part still builds up our expectation, behind the voices telling us to watch and pray in anticipation. It reminds me of a child who has been promised an exciting trip somewhere, and then hangs around waiting for ever for the adults to get ready. But Bach certainly has a way of making the watching and praying time an interesting one. It is a wonderful chorus that sets the scene for the whole cantata.

The bass comes in with a frightening warning to those who are not prepared, but changes into the 'doch euch', a soft, tender promise for those who belong to God and have nothing to fear. The slow cello in the alto aria, and the 'jammervolles Ach' in the tenor recitative make it all too clear that we are not there yet. There is a danger of going to sleep and forgetting to watch.

The positive soprano aria wakes us up again. It definitely is going to happen, even though it may seem a long time, and with the tenor recitative we are almost in heaven already. This is a beautiful way of leading up to the chorale with full instrumental backing.

It is my favourite chorale tune, as we used to sing Psalm 42 to it in the church in Holland. Prohaska takes it very slowly and solemnly, almost twice as slowly as Leusink [11]. The bass voices in his choir are wonderfully deep. The tenor aria is lovely, but I personally prefer the following bass recitative, and the aria with the dramatic interval depicting the judgment of the world, as a contrast to the serene and sure hope of being led into the heavenly mansion. The final chorale focuses on the one who has made the believer free from judgment, and ends on a beautiful high note for the strings.

Philippe Bareille wrote (November 28, 2002):
Cantata BWV 70 Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! is less gloomy than some of the previous cantatas discussed recently (BWV 26, BWV 90). There is a ray of light at the end of the tunnel (soprano, tenor and bass arias and choral), providing one prays (opening chorus) and despite the frightening prospects of the final judgement (recitative bass), the downfall of the world (alto and bass arias) and the snares of the worldly pleasures (tenor recitative). This cantata is incredibly rich with a magnificent introductory chorus, 4 arias, 4 recitatives and 2 chorales. Ludwig Finscher wrote "The opening chorus- a da capo aria in form- in the virtuoso, light choral setting, emphasises the contrast between "wachet" (watch) and "betet" (pray) in ever new paraphrases, while in the orchestral setting there are signal motifs of the last judgement trumpets." Klaus Hofmann undelines the "rousing drama of the the introductory chorus that surprises with its sudden harmonic confusion that suggests something of the threat; the signal-like motifs from the solo trumpet have a decidedly militant accent"

I have listened to Harnoncourt [8], Suzuki [12] and Richter [9].

[8] Harnoncourt gives an exhilarating performance from beginning to end. This cantata is perfectly suited to his natural sense of drama. In the introductory chorus, the Austrian conductor captures perfectly the spirit of the music with incisive playing supported by a dazzling and bchoir. Listen to the uplifting declamation of the boys (probably 4 sopranos and 4 altos) of the words Wachet ! Betet ! !! Their eloquence, conviction and diction are unrivalled. It is even better to listen to it with the score in hand because Harnoncourt brings out the transparency of the scoring like nobody else. The 4 soloists used by Harnoncourt are excellent also. It is perhaps the young soprano Willi Wiedl who steals the show this time with his great assurance and expression. There is no need to dwell on Kurt Equiluz who is first rate as usual. I was agreeably surprised by the bass Ruud van der Meer who conveys admirably the apocalyptic prospects (Resound, bang, the last stroke) as well as the more soothing and lyrical passage (blessed day of refreshment). He gives a robust and sensitive performance impressively partnered by the trumpeter Josef Spindler. I am usually a bit annoyed by Van der Meer vibrato or rather lack of control of it, but not this time. I like the timbre of his voice. I would like to add the remarks on the performance by N Harnoncourt:" In this case, minor supplementary adjustments were made to the articulation in the first, second, fifth and eighth movements. The alto aria was performed in the version for obbligato cello with organ and bassoon continuo. At the same time the articulation was incisively supplemented and the rhythm adjusted 9/8 time. In this cantata also the chorales have to be played by the slide trumpet; during Bach's performances the trumpeter who played the solos set for trumpet on the natural trumpet probably changed the instrument."

[12] Suzuki rendition may be much more polished technically and smoother but he is not as convincing as Harnoncourt to my ears. The contrasts are less marked and the rythmic texture less emphasised. The choir doesn't enliven the first movement the way the Tölzer does. The soprano Yukari Nonoshita has a nice and pure voice. She sings with poise and conviction but Wield (for Harnoncourt) has better diction, is more expressive and has even a stronger voice. The other singers are good but are not in the same league as their counterparts with Harnoncourt and Richter. However, the instrumental support is excellent throughout.

[9] Richter rather romantic approach is not my cup of tea. It is too heavy and earthbound for my ears. The introductory chorus is marred by an intrusive organ and sounds too massive with too much legato. Moreover, he makes heavy weather of the alto aria. However, this CD is worth listening to, for Schreier (equal to Equiluz) and the sublime DFK.

To sum up: A superb performance by Harnoncourt [8] and DFD with Richter [9].

Robin Crag wrote (November 29, 2002):
Another beautiful cantata... I know, I know, I say that every time. But it's always true! I get the feeling that this cantata is more intense than many of the other cantatas I've listened to. But maybe I just think that because of the recording I have, which is more intense than the Leusink’s recording [11].

[1] The recording is with Kurt Thomas +co. It is on an LP, which is at least twice as old as I am. It has lost some of its clarity with time. There are crackles, fuzzy noises, and strange echoes. But who wants sterility? The record has become a wonderful object itself; it has something more than any CD will ever have...
But back to Bach.

Mvt. 1: Coro. Timing under Thomas 4'22" (according to my watch)
The music is full of anticipation here (Marie Jensen pointed this out too). Well, its meant to be, as the text is about anticipating the end of the world. The anticipation is most intense in the beginning, before the choir comes in, because we are waiting too: What will the cantata be like? When will they start singing? etc etc. Bach conveys "wachet" + "betet" in the music, as has already been said by various people. I feel here, that Bach conveys the hard work involved in the watching and praying with all those repeated notes on the instruments. The performance is passionate and convincing. The crackles hide the counterpoint somewhat though.

Mvt. 2: Bass Recitative. Timing: 1'20"
The repeated notes in the accompaniment are to scare us. Then for the "Gotteskinder", everything is more gentle, until it turns into a rhythmical song of joy. But then we have the scary accompaniment again, to depict destruction, and the grandeur of the God.

Erich Wenk: He has a big deep voice, like a giant or something. I think he's really good. He suits the dramatic role he has to play in this cantata. But he doesn't take it too far, I think he has a good feel for the music. Having said that, sometimes, he is so keen to produce a big-scary-man-noise, that he produces unmusical grunts. This is worst in the last aria.

Mvt. 3: Alto Aria. 4'44"
Bach portrays the anxious longing of the believer wonderfully (I mean the longing for the day we can run away, and also, later, the longing looking back ("es ist die lezte Zeit" etc)). The cello is just the right thing here. Maybe, if it was played faster, the music would portray the rushing, too? I'm not sure. The performance is good, but I feel the lack of the higher octave of the continuo (I think they are just using a double bass and a harpsichord, with no bassoon)

Sibylla Plate: I can put up with her singing, but I don't really like it. It is a bit unstable, there's too much vibrato.

Mvt. 4: Tenor Recitative. 0'45"
Full of strange modulations etc. Bach portrays the "Jammervolles Ach" particularly well.

Helmut Kretschmar: I like his singing. I think he has a good feel for the music and the words. There is something strange about his voice, though. His upper notes are squeaky. When he goes from a low note to a high one, it sounds like he's yodelling! (Which is obviously a little off-putting)

Mvt. 5: Soprano Aria. 4'44"
Is it true that this is by Händel? I like it anyway, but not as much as the other arias in this cantata. The bassline plods away steadily, while the 1stviolin(s) "throws" some wild shapes at us (maybe the violin line is the mocking tongues?)

Ingeborg Reichelt: I'm sorry, I just don't like her.. She is constantly vibrating; she should concentrate on singing purely. (I'm not a musical sexist btw, I do like some female singers. Maria Stadter for a start...)

Mvt. 6: Tenor recitative. 0'39"
(See what I said about the singing in m.4)
I think ms. 4+6 are performed well here. There is obviously none of the cutting off of the continuo (Which Thomas B has commented on in hip performances). But there isn't any of the over -elaboration and -dramaticization that I have heard with Richter [9] either.

Mvt. 7: Choral. 1'19"
Bach portrays the words "jubiliren" and "triumphiren" wonderfully with moving notes in the middle voices. The performance takes its time, I think this is good.

Mvt. 8: Tenor Aria. 3'54"
It's beautiful! The music is full of joy, and a very genuine sort of consolation. It is very sentimental, and relatively light (I think). But who says Bach can't do sentimentality too? For example, that semiquaver figure, with the note repeated 3 times, across the beat.

Mvt. 9: Bass Recitative. 2'07"
Bach conveys the words in a wonderfully dramatic way (but without overdoing it). The way he weaves in the Choraltune on the trumpet.. It's weird and amazing! Sometimes it blends in, sometimes it clashes. When it comes in first, it plays the role of the last trumpet. Later it is a light of consolation. There is another joy-song here, this time he uses flowing semiquavers.

Mvt. 10: Bass Aria. 3'26"
I think that the aria and recitative are very much connected here. They have the same instruments playin. It seems to me like one long dramatic movement.

The outer parts of this aria are beautiful, like a quiet prayer.

The middle bit is VIOLENT and NOISY and SCARY and DESERVES CAPITAL LETTERS. Bach does this well. He pays special attention to the word "Truemmern".
(See my thoughts about Eric in M.2)
(Performed well by Wenk, Thomas +co, imho)

Mvt. 11 (the last one): Choral. 0'58"
A heartfelt ending. We are left with the words of the believer, "Meinen Jesum lass' ich nicht". Bach has the instruments moving freely for a change, but around the normal sort of 4 part Choral. It works well.

The performance is genuine, and well measured.

A general thought:
This is a short cantata in terms of time, but there is so much in it! (It seems much longer than 26'40"). I think Bach had thought about the end of the world a lot. But although I can "feel" Bach's beliefs, this cantata does not really inspire my own beliefs that much. I see here some of the unfriendly side of christianity.

I'll leave you now,

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 31, 2002):
BWV 70 - The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 8 recordings of Cantata BWV 70:

[2] Felix Prohaska (1957)
[5] Fritz Werner (1970)
[6] Helmuth Rilling (1970)
[8] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1977)
[9] Karl Richter (1977-1978)
[10] Ton Koopman (1998)
[11] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
[12] Masaaki Suzuki (2000)

Prohaska [2], Werner [5], Rilling [6] and Richter [9] can be called traditional, while Harnoncourt [8], Koopman [10], Leusink [11] and Suzuki [12] are all HIP.

Background & Review

Only the arias (Mvts. 3, 5, 8 & 10) are reviewed.

The background below is taken from the following sources:

Sidney Finkelstein: liner notes to the Prohaska’s recording on Vanguard (1993?),
Alec Robertson: ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972), and
W. Murray Young: ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1989).
The English translations are by Francis Browne.

Mvt. 3 Aria for Alto
Violoncello, Fagotto e Continuo
Wenn kömmt der Tag, an dem wir ziehen
(When does the day come, when we depart)

Finkelstein: The first aria, for alto, is a particularly wonderful example of how Bach expands and develops the continuo, giving the cello an inexpressibly beautiful melody under the voice.
Robertson: The righteous are depicted in the Epistle and in the Gospel fleeing from Sodom, and so they are in this aria, which does not, however, seem to have inspire Bach.
Young: sings a rather uninspired solo with cello obbligato, bassoon, and organ continuo. Bach must have had some problem with this text, as it seems to suit recitative more than an aria treatment. The singer’s message is that we should wake up before destruction befalls us. The Biblical references are realistically depicted, however, in the metaphors concerning the exodus of the believers from Egyptian bondage, and in the fiery death of the sinners of Sodom.

Timings: Prohaska [2] (4:30), Werner [5] (4:28), Rilling [6] (4:18), Harnoncourt [8] (3:41), Richter [9] (5:32), Koopman [10] (3:43), Leusink [11] (4:01), Suzuki [12] (3:24)

The four traditional renditions use contralto/mezzo-soprano singers, while all the HIP recordings use counter-tenors. Barbara Scherler, who sings with Werner [5], is in a class of her own among the women. She has strong and rich voice with depth, and she manages to put emotion into an aria, which for some commentators seems to be uninspired. With her interpretation I find this aria heart-rending, reflecting distress and uncontrolled fear. Wien’s voice (with Prohaska) [2] is so unstable up to prevent any enjoyment from hearing her. Both Gohl (with Rilling) [6] and Schmidt (with Richter) [9] are too operatic to do justice with this fragile aria. Landauer (with Koopman) [10] is the best of the counter-tenors. From this recording and the few others he has done with Koopman, I have the impression that he has the potential of developing to become one of the prominent counter-tenor singers of our time. His main asset is, of course, his voice, which sounds natural as much as the voices of Scholl and White do. But he has also taste and understanding of the Bach idiom. His rendition of the aria definitely sounds inspired. Esswood (with Harnoncourt) [8] is fluent, cultivated in style, but sometimes uneven in timbre and his rendition is not very interesting. Blaze (with Suzuki) [12] is too gentle and polite to hold the listener’s attention.

Personal preference:
Contraltos: Scherler/Werner [5], [gap], Schmidt/Richter [9], Gohl/Rilling [6], [gap], Wien/Prohaska [2]
Counter-tenors: Landauer/Koopman [10], [gap], Esswood/Harnoncourt [8], Blaze/Suzuki [12], [gap], Buwalda/Leusink [11]

Mvt. 5. Aria for Soprano
Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto e Continuo
Laßt der Spötter Zungen schmähen,
(Let the cynics' tongues utter abuse)

Finkelstein: The soprano aria has a haunting melodic accompaniment for oboe and strings, this time in obbligato, trio-sonata style.
Robertson: Bach here unmistakably adopted a bass solo aria from Händel’s early opera Almira but the theory that the material of the whole cantata is based on this source has been shown to be erroneous.
Young: Beautiful imagery and music, although Bach took the vocal and the instrumental themes from Händel’s bass solo found in his first opera Almira, 1705. The uplifting, confident mood of joy seems to transform the previous dismal threatening into rapturous hope. The florid statement of the final words in the first and the last lines is noteworthy. […] Almost as in a religious painting, Bach creates sound-image of Jesus in Heaven through these lines in the middle of the stanza.

Timings: Prohaska [2] (3:02), Werner [5] (2:57), Rilling [6] (2:37), Harnoncourt [8] (2:36), Richter [9] (2:53), Koopman [10] (2::43), Leusink [11] (2:47), Suzuki [12] (2:42)

Augér [6] excels in every Bach’s piece singing she is singing, and this aria is no exception. As a human being she is not perfect, but other singers can take lessons of the right way to singing Bach by listening to her recordings. Although she has full technical control on the proceedings, she also manages to load them with the right amount of emotion. This combination is what makes her renditions so fascinating. If there is a singer who can match Augér excellence in this aria, it is Felbermayer (with Prohaska) [2], whose rendition has many similarities to her younger follower. Graf (with Werner) [5] is not in their league. Her voice is weaker and her expression is flatter. Harnoncourt’s boy soprano [8] has the right timbre and bold execution. However, he has some technical problems in sustaining the tone and his lines tend to be choppy. Mathis (with Richter) [9] sings OK the musical line, but she does not manage to put any meaningful emotional content into it. Rubens (with Koopman) [10], although not as emotionally loaded as Augér or Felbermayer, as if she is keeping something to herself, manage to convey the message of the aria with taste. Holton (with Leusink) [11] sounds somewhat lightweight and pale in comparison. Nonoshita (with Suzuki) [12] has stable voice with some depth and that sounds beautiful along the whole range, and she conveys convincingly the right spirit of the aria.

Personal preference: Augér/Rilling [6], Felbermayer/Prohaska [2], [gap], Nonoshita/Suzuki [12], Rubens/Koopman [10], [gap], Graf/Werner [5], Holton/Leusink [11], Mathis/Richter [9], Wiedl/Harnoncourt [8]

Mvt. 8 Aria for Tenor
Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola e Continuo
Hebt euer Haupt empor
(Lift up your heads)

Finkelstein: Part II begins with a tenor aria in which Bach again unfolds a different style. Here the melodic line is wholly carried by the singer.
Robertson: This delightful aria is Handelian in idiom, but it certainly signed by Bach.
Young: Frank’s original 1716 text had a third line which Bach omitted in setting his 1723 version: ‘Der jüngste Tag wird kommen’ (The last day will come). Probably, as Spitta says, ‘this omission is a fresh proof of how completely his mind was directed solely to the illustration of the main sentiment”. Händel’s influence appears again in the tenor’s happy song of confidence in God, indicated by repetitions of ‘seid getrost’ (be comforted) to the pious, who can now lift up their heads. The aria exudes a springtime atmosphere of plant-growth, metaphorically indicated for the pious souls, who will flourish in God’s garden of Eden.

Timings: Prohaska [2] (3:41), Werner [5] (3:38), Rilling [6] (3:17), Harnoncourt [8] (2:47), Richter [9] (3:41), Koopman [10] (3:05), Leusink [11] (3:10), Suzuki [12] (3:01)

What a strong roster of tenor singers we have in this cantata! I have to single out Schreier (with Richter) [9] and Equiluz (with Harnoncourt) [8] who are as good as ever. Surprisingly, perhaps, I find that Huber (with Werner) [5] is on the same par with them. His singing is characterised by a certain kind of arresting simplicity, combined with sensitivity and care for details. He gives a really moving performance here. There is not much to choose between the others, either from the old or the modern schools. Meel (with the Leusink) [11] as the least interesting of them, although his rendition can also please.

Personal preference: Huber/Werner [5] = Equiluz/Harnoncourt [8] = Schreier/Richter [9], [gap], Meyer-Welfing/Prohaska [2] = Harder/Rilling [6] = Prégardien/Koopman [10] = Türk/Suzuki [12], [small gap], Meel/Leusink [11]

Mvt. 10 Aria for Bass
Tromba, Violino I/II, Viola e Continuo
Seligster Erquickungstag
(Blissful day of refreshment/new life)

Finkelstein: The final bass aria starts in a lordly Handelian vein, when suddenly, in a presto, “the end of the world bursts in, the organ surges, trumpet calls sound through tumult”, and then the adagio returns, which, as Spitta says, “transcends everything earthly in the expression of feeling”.
Robertson: The simplicity of the beautiful melody set to these words makes an overwhelming effect. It is followed by a final dramatic outburst picturing the destruction of the world, and even of the heavens! Then comes the utter peacefulness of the words, ‘Jesus guides me to calm, to the place where delight abounds’ set to an even more lovely adagio melody.
Young: again a contrast between hopeless terror and confident happiness. He begins, in a quietly peaceful tone, to greet the Resurrection day; then comes the crash of the trumpet, with full orchestra, to signal the world falling in ruins; finally, we hear a return to a moment of calm ecstasy, as Jesus leads him to peace.

Timings: Prohaska [2] (3:20), Werner [5] (3:13), Rilling [6] (2:34), Harnoncourt [8] (2:33), Richter [9] (3:03), Koopman [10] (2:39), Leusink [11] (2:59), Suzuki [12] (2:48)

All the four bass/baritones singers from the traditional school are to be preferred to those from the HIP recordings. Stämpfli (with Werner) [5] is a model of tasteful singing with deep understanding of the content he has to convey, rich voice and authoritative expression. He does not miss anything, and the way he is doing it sounds so natural and spontaneous. If I am not mistaken Rilling [6] preferred using Nimsgern in his cantata cycle when the subject was connected to horror and fear. His timbre of voice suits this kind of roles perfectly. And indeed, here he is almost second to none, even not to the great DFD who sings this cantata with Richter [9]. Nimsgern knows the secret of restraint. DFD sounds as if he is trying to put much into his part, rather than let the music being expressed more naturally. Foster (with Prohaska) [2], although singing with full voice as the other three, is the least satisfactory, because his voice lacks the flexibility which enriches the singing of the others. There is not much difference between the four bass singers from the HIP school. Their voices are lighter than the their older rivals, and their performances have less authority.

Personal preference: Nimsgern/Rilling [6], Stämpfli/Werner [5], DFD/Richter [9], Foster/Prohaska [2] [gap], Mertens/Koopman [10] = Kooy/Suzuki [12], Meer/Harnoncourt [8], Ramselaar/Leusink [11]


This cantata is so full of gems, and it has so many first-rate recordings, that I find it difficult to choose only one movement in one rendition to take away. And due to certain limitations (time, or lack of it, is the main factor) I have not covered in my review the stunning opening chorus, the splendid recitatives, etc.

Here are my choices of movements to take away:
The aria for alto with either Scherler [5] or Landauer [10]
The aria for soprano with either Augér [6] or Felbermayer [2] (peralso Nonoshita [12])
The aria for tenor with Huber [5], Equiluz [8] or Schreier [9]
The aria for bass with either Stämpfli [5] or Nimsgern [6].

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 1, 2002):
BWV 70 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 70 – Provenance

Commentaries: [Dürr, Eric Chafe, My comment]

See: Cantata BWV 70 - Commentary

The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Rilling (1970) [6]; Harnoncourt [8] (1977); Richter [9] (1977-78); Koopman [10] (1998); Leusink [11] (2000); Suzuki [12] (2000)

The Choral Mvts. (Mvt. 1 and the two chorales - Mvt. 7 & Mvt. 11):

[6] Rilling:
This is a non-HIP version with modern instruments and trained singers. Here all the contrary-moving 16-note passages in the various voices are clearly audible and in balance with each other. No easy feat to duplicate based upon hearing all the subsequent recordings on my list. What is missing here is the clean, clear attack on the longer notes with unwavering, accurate intonation that boys’ voices are sometimes able to accomplish (and even then many boys’ choirs are unable to improve on what is heard here, because they, as well, may have a number of voices with vibrato and/or tremolo that create a similar effect.) The chorales are given a smooth, legato rendition, but lack the enthusiasm, joy and intensity found in the Richter chorales.

[8] Harnoncourt:
The choir sound here is very harsh and unpleasant. The boys have been pushed into trying too hard to follow Harnoncourt’s admonishments to make music sound more like speech. The ‘seid bereit’ section is notoriously weak in vocal control, but is soon followed by a return to the 1st section where the upper voices scream more than they actually sing. The blaring sound of the tromba should be recognized as one of the early attempts at playing a modern reconstruction of a Bach natural trumpet (tromba); but this primitive method of playing this instrument is not the way this instrument is supposed to sound. Now, 25 years later, we know that this is not how Bach must have heard this instrument played. The chorales are good examples of Harnoncourt’s fracturing and dismantling of Bach’s chorales by heavy, plodding accents on almost every note. These chorale versions never really get off the ground because of all the musically ‘dead’ spots that are sprinkled throughout each line.

[9] Richter:
With modern instruments in this non-HIP rendition, the sound of the orchestra is nevertheless quite clear and enthusiastically played. The large choir gives a exiting performance that engages the listener and would be capable of rousing this listener to action. The main drawback here (aside from that perceived by those who generally do not like non-HIP presentations) is Richter’s obtrusive organ accompaniment (playing colla parte most or all the vocal parts) employing the very high, shrill stops of an organ. If there only were some way to remove this blemish from this recording! Even in the chorales it stands out way too much. Otherwise these chorale renditions are among the best versions that I have heard in these recordings. There is real joy to be felt here!
Every note and every chord is built upon a strong foundation just as Bach would have wanted it. There is no cheating (shortening of notes, singing sotto voce, etc.) and no attempt at fracturing the musical line with heavy accents and unnecessary hiatuses, traits most often exhibited by HIP practitioners.

[10] Koopman:
Koopman takes a rather lively tempo with more dynamic variations than most other recordings. The choir singing is crisp and accurate with the parts very well balanced. The tromba, however, often creates a blaring sound that really is not necessary and shows a lack of control on the part of the trumpet player. Koopman’s chorale versions are of his usual ‘lite’ type, lacking much in the way of conviction, but sung cleanly, if not with occasional breaks where they are not really necessary.

[11] Leusink:
Bring together a group of tired, worn-out voices who are asked once again ‘to give it everything that you’ve got’ and the result is a choir sound with a very unique quality in the world of Bach cantatas: raspy, strained, wobbly, chirping voices ‘button-hole’ the listener who will continue to listen with disbelief that such a message can be delivered more with comedy than serious import. The blaring trumpet with occasional weak notes lends the final touch to this HIP rendition. The only thing remarkable about the chorale renditions is that Leusink did not cut off the fermati prematurely.

[12] Suzuki:
Despite a generally wonderful performance there is some lack of clarity in the parts being sung by the choir. This may be due to the overly-live acoustics available in Suzuki’s recording ‘arena.’ It may be that cantata mvts. with less fast-moving 16th notes create less of a problem, but here it becomes evident that something is not quite right. At times the exaggerated bc overwhelms the individual lines of the choir. Perhaps these voices are less able to sing with a full voice? The chorales are much better, although the sound of the strings in the final chorale seems a bit too thin.

Choral Mvts. Preferences (in order): Richter [9], Rilling [6], Koopman [10], Suzuki [12], Harnoncourt [8], Leusink [11]

Bass Mvts: (Mvt. 2, Mvt. 9, Mvt. 10)

[6] Rilling (Nimsgern):
Nimsgern has an even more powerful voice than Fischer-Dieskau. One can feel how this voice expands itself completely into the surrounding space. The more deliberate tempi give this voice a chance to unfold. Most of the HIP basses are glad to have faster tempi because they lack Nimsgern powerful voice and presence.

[8] Harnoncourt (van der Meer):
In the recitatives, when very loud and excited, van der Meer’s voice disintegrates into shouting/speaking as Harnoncourt probably instructed him to ‘give it all you’ve got’ much to the detriment of the music because these loud sections begin to sound rather ridiculous. In the slow sections of the aria, he does manage to put more expression into his presentation than most of the half-voices in the HIP category. In the presto section his voice is lost in all the tumult.

[9] Richter (Fischer-Dieskau):
In the recitatives, it soon becomes apparent what a rich range of different voices Fischer-Dieskau has at his disposal. Every word receives a special treatment which represents exactly what the text is attempting to say. Such intelligent singing! Where other basses have trouble making much out of the Molt’ adagio section of the aria, with Fischer-Dieskau it becomes memorable event in stark contrast with the Presto section.

[10] Koopman (Mertens):
Mertens is able to achieve greater contrasts than Kooy without having to resort to too much sotto voce. As a result his version is more expressive and convincing than Kooy’s, for instance. Of course, there still quite a difference between the HIP basses’ presentations and those of the great bass voices such as Fischer-Dieskau and Nimsgern.

[11] Leusink (Ramselaar):
Ramselaar tends to ‘overdo’ his interpretation of the text so that his tone of voice begins to sound ‘very precious.’ There are moments when he will sing with his full voice (which is nonetheless a ‘half-voice’) and in doing so his interpretation is quite acceptable, but then he will resort to his ‘bag of tricks’ which include singing sotto voce or almost at a whisper. Not only does the interpretation suffer because such a voice would not carry sufficiently in a larger setting, but the listeners will perceive that this is all ‘part of an act.’ Another bass who usually falls into this same category, is Philippe Huttenlocher, although the latter does have a stronger voice than Ramselaar’s. In the adagio section of the aria, the text as he sings it is rather unfulfilling and in the presto section there are moments when is voices is practically overwhelmed by the loud noise created by the orchestra.

[12] Suzuki (Kooy):
Kooy’s half-voice is quite apparent as it has trouble holding its own against a minimal HIP orchestra in the recitatives. In the low range he is hardly able to come through. This limited range means that he has to use quite a bit of sotto voce in order to gain some expression. Listen to the extended sotto voce singing in the Molt’ adagio section of the aria! This lacks conviction and conveys only a beautiful melody to the listeners. In the presto section his voice is covered by the tumult of the instruments.

Bass Preferences (in order): Nimsgern [6], Fischer-Dieskau [9], Mertens [10], Kooy [12], van der Meer [8], Ramselaar [11]

Alto Aria (Mvt. 3):

[6] Rilling (Gohl):
This voice and the interpretation of the text are simply going nowhere (perhaps this is the perfect interpretation of the text.) While listening to this voice struggling to control its vibrato and the laborious rendition that Rilling gives this aria, one seeks also ‘to flee out of this Sodom’ that this recording presents.

[8] Harnoncourt (Esswood):
With all the ‘hacked-off’ (which sound forced because has to give them a hard accent) notes that Esswood sings and with his wobbly voice (slightly insecure in intonation, this version has very few redeeming qualities as all these factors detract from a complete immersion into the music and text. There are very few countertenors who would be able to sing this aria without sounding just a bit ‘funny’ as Esswood does here.

[9] Richter (Schmidt):
The dark, deep, somber quality of Schmidt’s voice is just what the text of this aria needs. The low range is just as strong and marvelous as the high range. This is not the light type of voice (usually male) chosen for the HIP versions which tend to make a dance out of this mvt. rather than one for serious contemplation as this rendition reveals.

[10] Koopman (Landauer):
Landauer’s voice is quite similar to Blaze’s, if not perhaps with greater depth and fullness, but there is still a lack a general lack of expressiveness. Just singing the notes is not enough.

[11] Leusink (Buwalda):
It is difficult to concentrate on the text with all the strange vocal mannerisms that Buwalda demonstrates. This version is anything but convincing. It is more of an oddity.

[12] Suzuki (Blaze):
Blaze’s thin half-voice has serious problems with the low range of this aria because the voice lacks depth and conviction. Sometimes his vibrato/tremolo is simply too much and becomes distracting. Expression is almost entirely lacking.

Alto Preferences (in order): Schmidt [9], Landauer [10], Esswood [8], Blaze [12], Gohl [6], Buwalda [11]

Soprano Aria (Mvt. 5):

[6] Rilling (Augér):
Augér, in trying to become dramatic, as the text seems to require, begins to sound somewhat forced on some of the high notes that she reaches for. Once she gets into this dramatic mode, she has trouble trying ‘to turn it off.’ She should have been able to express a firm belief without constantly thinking of the ‘tongues that may be ridiculing’ her. Rilling’s very angular interpretation does not help matters here, as he too, seems stuck on the same idea.

[8] Harnoncourt (Wiedel):
Poor breathless Wiedl is struggling all the way through this aria, fighting to get all the words in, trying to hold long notes without losing the proper intonation (he does not always succeed.) Wiedl throws the notes about carelessly making quite clear that this is way beyond his capabilities. He should never have been asked to sing this aria, as it is painful to listen to.

[9] Richter (Mathis):
This voice is disastrous and easily destroys such an aria as this. Everything is overdone with a voice that at most has a few beautiful sustained notes, but all the faster moving notes give evidence of a voice completely beyond its prime, one that should never have been used in a Bach cantata. In Richter’s time certain artists were ‘under contract’ and the conductor was required to use them until their time was up. The results of this type of policy are quite evident here.

[10] Koopman (Rubens):
In trying hard to put expression into the words that she is singing, Rubens overdoes it and loses some vocal control in the process (too much vibrato.) As a half-voice she has a bit more to offer than many other voices of this type.

[11] Leusink (Holton):
Leusink’s very heavy bc is much too strong for this very obvious half-voice. In her low range there is almost nothing. In no way does she give credence to the words that she sings: “Christi Wort muß fest bestehen.” This ‘tippy-toe’ version of hitting the notes lightly (with almost no sound production, as if singing only to herself) is an example of the worst direction that some HIP have taken us in recent years: a ‘lite’-entertainment style which can no longer do justice to the marvelous, and in many cases, serious texts contained in the Bach cantatas.

[12] Suzuki (Nonoshita):
This is another half-voice which is sometimes shrill and thin in the high range and lacking much in the low range. There is almost nothing in the way of expression.

Soprano Preferences (in order): Augér [6], Rubens [10], Nonoshita [12], Holton [11], Mathis [9], Wiedl [8]

Tenor Mvts. (Mvt. 4, Mvt. 6, Mvt. 8):

[6] Rilling (Harder):
Harder may do a very fine job of interpreting the text in the recitatives, but his voice (generally very nasal) becomes penetrating in the high range where he definitely sounds as if he is straining for the notes he wishes to sing. In his aria, Harder is much better and gives one of the best performances (even better than Equiluz) in the group of recordings I have listened to.

[8] Harnoncourt (Equiluz):
In the aria the orchestra tends to drown out Equiluz’ voice and at this fast dance-like tempo (why do the HIP conductors try to transform almost aria into a d? I have found no evidence that this was done in Bach’s time) Equiluz has to push his voice harder than he might like and it begins to sound forced. This is not one of his best productions.

[9] Richter (Schreier):
Such an intelligent interpretation of the recitative texts! And moving as well! Schreier gives one of the best performances of the aria as well.

[10] Koopman (Prégardien):
This is one of the best tenor voices currently singing recitatives and arias for the current HIP cantata series that have or are being recorded. If there ever can be a replacement for Equiluz (which probably can not happen) or near equivalent, then Prégardien might be a good choice. He combines many admirable qualities, a stronger, well-trained voice, with great expressive capabilities and excellent German diction.

[11] Leusink (van der Meel):
The recitatives are cleanly sung without much in the way of expression and whatever expression there is does not always sound natural. The aria makes manifest the fact his voice is limited, particularly in the low range.

[12] Suzuki (Türk):
Türk sometimes engages in sotto voce presentation, much to the detriment of the recitative texts. In the aria his half-voice capabilities are unable to stand out over the orchestral ensemble and his low range is very weak, thus creating a not so convincing version of the text.

Tenor preferences (in order): Schreier [9], Harder [6], Prégardien [10], Equiluz [8], Türk [12], van der Meel [11]


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 70 & BWV 70a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 70 | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 70 | Details of BWV 70a | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýDecember 29, 2012 ý12:27:01