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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 78
Jesu, der du meine Seele
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Brent Peterson wrote (April 21, 2000):
As we know from published scores and record jacket commentaries, Bach's cantata BWV 78 is based on a hymn text by Johann Rist. The opening and closing choruses are the actual opening and closing verses of the hymn, while the inner movements are "paraphrases" of the inner verses.

I am now looking for the original hymn text (obviously the inner verses). I can find it in none of the hymnbooks available to me, and further research has turned up nothing. Possibly one of you has access to it? I would owe you a very large favor!

English or original German would be fine.

 

Goldberg quadlibet and Cantata 78

Jim Morrison wrote (October 16, 2000):
I should have added that a Bach composition that I find soulfully related to the Goldberg quodlibet is the soprano/alto duet 'Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten' from the cantata BWV 78 'Jesu, der du meine Selle' as performed by Julianne Baird and Allan Fast and conducted by Rifkin [16].

That's another great joyous composition by Bach.

 

Discussions in the Week of September 16, 2001 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 18, 2001):
Pre Review – Personal Viewpoint

This is a relatively long review, although there are many aspects of the recordings of Cantata BWV 78 that it does not cover. It was almost not written. I sent my review of last week cantata (BWV 164) on Monday night. The day after was a day every human being will remember to the rest of his life. I went to work, because I had to, but at home watching the TV was almost the only thing I could do in the next two days. Looking at the list of the recordings of BWV 78, the length of the cantata (21 to 26 minutes), and the time left for listening to the recordings and writing the review, I almost gave up. Looking at the subject of the cantata, and knowing that many members, me included, will find comfort in the music of Bach, I decided to pull myself together and find the time to listen to this cantata and write about it. I do not regret, because for me it was a purifier experience.

Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 78 according to Peter Bloemendaal, the seventh one in his proposed list of cantatas for discussion. In connection with last week’s horrible events, I believe that many members of the BCML would find comfort in this cantata, both its text and its music. It includes one of the marvellous opening choruses in the form of a fantasia, one of the best duets Bach has ever written, two recitatives which seems to be taken directly from a passion, two wonderful arias, variety of moods, and more surprises and delights. The main theme of the cantata is consolation and that is something all of us need now. As a background to the review of the recordings of this magnificent cantata I shall use this time the linear notes to the recordings on Vanguard Classics (Prohaska) written by S.W. Bennett, and on Teldec (Harnoncourt) written by Ludwig Finscher. In some way these notes are complementary, because they look at the cantata from different angles.

See: Cantata BWV 78 - Commentary

Review of the Complete Recordings

BWV 78 is one of the popular cantatas, and justly so. There are at least 15 complete recordings of this cantata, most of them are largely available. See: Cantata BWV 78 - Complete Recordings. Among the conductors who recorded the cantata there are three Thomaskantors (Ramin, Mauersberger & Rotzsch). Both Koopman [21] and Suzuki have not yet recorded it, but Herreweghe did. There are OVPP, small choir and big choir recordings to choose from. Half of the 16 conductors come from Germany, and the rest are split between the USA (3), Austria (2), Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland (1 each). In short, something for everybody's taste. The power and the beauty of the cantata are transferred through every one of its renditions. I have listened to each recording at least three times, and there was not a single moment in which I wanted to stop listening in the middle of a certain recording, and moving on to the next one. With so many recordings I had to limit myself in the review somehow, although I have listened to each recording at least three times. Therefore, instead of comparing the recordings, movement by movement, I summarised the main impressions I had with each one of them.

[2] Günther Ramin (1950)
I believe that you will have problems locating this recording. It is included in a 5-LP set on Ariola Eurodisc, which was issued in France in the 1970’s. This set (Vol. 2) and its companion - Vol. 1 (also 5-LP) include 20 Bach Cantatas recorded by Günther Ramin and his forces. All the other cantatas in these 2 sets have been reissued in CD form, the latest edition appeared on Leipzig Classics last year as Volume 1 in the series ‘Bach Made in Germany’. But the recording of BWV 78 was omitted somehow without any explanation, and actually has never been reissued in CD form.

Ramin performs the opening chorus with slow pace and dignity, and deep inner conviction. The singing of the choir is not up to the level of modern boys’ choirs, even not up to the level of later versions of the same choir, but they sing with captivating sincerity. It is difficult to follow the vocal lines, but who cares? Music should move you, and in that sense Ramin and his forces succeed. I hear more than one boy singing each part in the duet. AFAIK, nobody follows Ramin by adopting this formula, but it works! We do not feel lost, as sometimes might happen with one boy singing a solo aria. Ramin’s boys convey the vitality and joy of this duet with sense of spontaneity. The tenor and the bass soloists singing in the four ensuing movements seem to be taken from another world. They are almost over expressive, changing tempi during their respective movements, and of course using a lot of vibrato. But maybe this is not another world, but simply the world of Bach singing as it was about 50 years ago. But as I can enjoy Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet in a movie, which was done around the same years, so I can enjoy their singing.

[3] Rolf Reinhardt (Early 1950's?)
I do not have this recording. AFAIK, it has never been reissued in CD form.

[4] Felix Prohaska (1954)
Clarity in performance and reproduction is chief among the virtues of the choral portions of Prohaska’s recording. It is also blessed with unusually effective soloists, and the delicious duets is sung by solo voices. The two female singers are in their prime and their voices blending wonderfully together. This movement is performed here in fast tempo, and the continuo played on the organ gives the music a unique character. The speed is quite in keeping with the text, but the loss in lightness of texture neutralises some of this gain. The tenor and the bass soloists are superior to many others, who would sing their movements in the years to come. They are exceptionally good by any standards. This is not a modern recording but it has no weak point, and it is among the best of its kind.

[6] Karl Richter (1961)
Look at names of the soloists. Look at the year of the recording. Do you know what it means? It means that Richter picked up for his recording Bach singers of the highest rank, not only in their generation but also of all time. And if the name of John van Kesteren is less familiar to you, do not worry. Here you have first rate tenor of the Evangelist type, and these characteristics are what the two movements for tenor need. Following a private mail that was sent to me about a year ago, I discovered this unique singer. He has a penetrating and very expressive voice and a timbre which reflects all the pain and agony in the world. Among his too few Bach recordings that he did, one can find the Johannes-Passion (BWV 245) under the baton of Hermann Scherchen. I have yet to hear another tenor performing the Evangelist in the Johannes-Passion, who will move me as van Kesteren does. Hearing him singing the recitative and aria for tenor of this cantata, I am fascinated by the way he is taking care of every small detail and every nuance, so that I have to hold my breath, in order to avoid losing anything. The general approach of Richter is very similar to that of Prohaska, he maintains the same high level of performance and inspiration, and it is difficult to choose between the two. But who want to choose? We can have both!

(5) Fritz Werner (Early 1960's?)
I do not have this recording. AFAIK, it has never been reissued in CD form.

[7] Wolfgang Gönnenwein (1965)
I do not have this recording. AFAIK, it has never been reissued in CD form.

[8] Erhard Mauersberger (1970)
Mauersberger, who succeed Kurt Thomas, who succeeded Ramin as Thomaskantor, outdoes Ramin in the opening chorus. The singing of the Thomanerchor had improved in the two decades that passed between the two recordings. The playing of the members of the famous Gewandhausorchester is also better here, and much more details can be heard. But the most important parameter for me is the expression, and Mauersberger is using his forces to the best to touch the human heart. The two female soloists in the ensuing duet are good (although their vibrato is too prominent), but not on the same par with either Prohaska’s or Richter’s soloists. But the two male soloists – Schreier and Adam, leave nothing to be desired. Nevertheless, their movements can be done even better, as we can hear in other renditions.

[9] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (Mid 1970’s?)
With this recording we meet another Thomaskantor. This recording appears on a CD titled ‘East German Revolution’. It is not included in the 11-CD set of Bach Cantatas conducted by Rotzsch on Berlin (or Leipzig) Classics. According to the liner notes it was recorded by the East German Radio, and was buried in their archives until the revolution. In 1990 the label PILZ produced a series of about 30 CD’s to show the Western world the beauties of the musical life in Eastern Germany. AFAIK, this is the only CD of Bach Cantatas they produced. It is only logical to assume that they have more such treasures in their vaults. It is strange that the recording year is not mentioned. I am guessing around what year it was recorded according to the line of soloists, most of whom participated in some of the recordings on Berlin Classics series.

This is a relaxed and also captivating rendition. The opening chorus is flowing naturally, but it lacks inner tension. The voices of Werner and Rieß blend well and they sing lightly and effortlessly. I am disturbed only by the slight instability in the singing of the alto. The tenor Peter Menzel is fantastic. I do not recall hearing his name anywhere else. Is his name a pseudonym to more famous tenor singer? I wonder. Anyhow, he sings with confidence and calmness, with rich expression, and he manages to bring out most of the inner feelings of his recitative and aria, from guilt and sorrow to consolation and joy. The bass Polster is authoritative and pleasant, but he gives the impression that he does not give his fullness in terms of expression. Actually, the general impression I have of this rendition is that although it is on high level of performance musically, it is on lower profile emotionally.

[10] Michel Corboz (1976)
Corboz’ approach shows a sensitive imagination and commitment. The choir in the opening chorus is excellent, for its intonation, diction and phrasing are all admirable. The strings and the woodwinds also supply beautiful playing along the whole cantata. The relative weakness of this rendition is lying with the soloists. The tone and the legato line of the soprano Uta Spreckelsen are the only exception. The vibrato of the alto Naoko Ihara is too strong, and therefore the duet sound unbalanced. The tenor John Elwes is trying too much and sounds strained in the upper register. Although I prefer a deep bass voice in this cantata, and Huttenlocher is more a baritone than a bass, he still manages to move and to give meaningful interpretation in his recitative and aria.

[11] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1978)
As I have declared in previous discussions, I am open and actually even curious to hear the interpretation of Harnoncourt in every cantata. Sometimes he succeeds, but sometimes he fails. And here he really disappoints. The opening chorus sounds heavy and phlegmatic. I can imagine an untrained country boy trying to dance with heavy boots to the wrong music. This effect is achieved by shortening the notes and stressing the beats. Is Harnoncourt right and all the other conductors of this movement are wrong. It can happen, but I can hardly believe that this is the case here. The main fault for me is that the ‘spirit’ of the movement is getting lost. No consolation can be found here and no mercy. Am I missing something? I am ready to hear other opinions, which would open my eyes. With the ensuing duet things are getting even worse. The balance between the instruments is not good; the singing of the boy is flat and lacks any feeling. Esswood cannot compensate for the rest. One can feel revelation in the safe hands of Equiluz and van de Meer, who give satisfying renditions of the recitative and aria of each. But they are not helped by the accompaniment Harnoncourt gives them, because it lacks drive and momentum and lacks any real interaction with the soloists.

[12] Helmuth Rilling (1979)
The relatively fast tempo, which Rilling takes in the opening chorus, helps to focus the optimistic aspect of this movement. But all the other dimensions are not revealed - the sombreness, the pain, and the consolation. Although the Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart is good, most of the clarity, usually identified with this choir, is also getting lost. Augér and Watkinson shine in the duet, adjusting very well with each other, encouraging each other to express their merriment. They manage to perform the duet delightfully and effortlessly, despite the fast tempo. The tenor Aldo Baldin is also fine, expressing fear in the recitative and joy in the aria, with his pleasant voice. Schöne is the best of the crop. The right man for the demanding recitative and aria for bass. His real bass voice embodies the sorrow of the recitative and the calmness of the aria with conviction and tender power.

[16] Joshua Rifkin (1986)
The use of OVPP approach seems to me appropriate in this cantata. All the vocal soloists have individual parts to sing in the recitatives and arias. The opening chorus can be interpreted as a personal plea. The question is if Rifkin succeeds in balancing the various components to complete unity. My answer is yes. He definitely succeeds in this term. The performance gains in clarity and the opening chorus sounds more personal than usual. The singers were cleverly chosen. They are ready to sacrifice something of their prominence for the benefit of the group, and their voices blend very well. The playing of the instrumentalists is also of high quality. But I feel that something is lacking in this rendition, and this is not volume but emotion. The cantata is about strong human feelings, and here we get them in low volume, not only in the opening chorus, but also along the whole cantata. Rifkin is over-cautious. He is ready to take the risk of using minimal forces, but does not allow his singers to bring their souls out. It is interesting to note that the phenomenon of over-caution happens also with other musicians with Jazz background (Rifkin made his fame by recording the complete rags of Scott Joplin) when they approach the Classical repertoire - Benny Goodman playing Mozart, Keith Jarrett playing Bach, etc.

[14] Philippe Herreweghe (1987)
Although Philippe Herreweghe has participated in many recordings of the H&L project, his approach to this cantata differs greatly from that of Harnoncourt. With him we find lightness instead of Harnoncourt’s heaviness, flow instead of static nature, warmth instead of dryness, and emotion instead of neutralism. In the opening chorus Herreweghe is using mid-sized choir, but with him they manage to sound almost as crisp and clear as Rifkin’s soloists. This is a typical Herreweghe’s rendition with the ‘dreamy quality’ (a term I borrowed from Ehud Shiloni), but also with deep emotion and drama that comes from within the music and is not compelled on it. A slight more boldness would make this rendition hard to surpass. The voices of soprano Ingrid Schmithüsen and counter-tenor Charles Brett match nicely and their joint singing glow. Nevertheless, it could have been even better with a little bit more enthusiasm (comparing with of the other versions). But with the tenor and the bass singing I miss nothing. Crook is impressive both technically and emotionally. And Kooy here outdoes his usually high level. Such level of expression, which reveals every hidden corner of his two movements, combined with such technical finesse, are hard to surpass.

[17] Jeffrey Thomas (1995)
As Michael Grover noted, Jeffrey Thomas is using here small choir (3VPP) and not OVPP as could be expected. It could have been interesting to compare between two OVPP recordings of the same cantata. Anyhow, Thomas uses his choir to the best. He is doing something very interesting. Instead of striving to homogeneous sound, he is letting his singers be as expressive as they can. The result is one of the most moving and sincere renditions of the opening chorus I have heard. The pungent playing of the instruments adds to very satisfying rendition. Soprano Catherine Bott and counter-tenor Daniel Taylor perform the duet very fast, but they do not lose control for a second. You find yourself being swept with them. As a singer I found Thomas pleasant but not exceptional. William Sharp is using his impressive voice to give the right weight to every word he is singing, with authority and conviction. The whole rendition of the cantata should be noted for its boldness and vigour.

[20] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
Captivating and charming playing characterises the ritornello that opens the first movement. The singing of the choir is characterised by spontaneity. But the balance between the components is not good. Sometimes the instruments cover the voices; in other places the separation between the voices is not as sharp as it should be. The match between Holton and Buwalda in the ensuing movement is fine. You can hear the vocal line of each one of them clearly and when needed their voices blend beautifully. I miss in this rendition some of the sweeping quality, which I find in the best performances of this duet. Nico van der Meel singing in his two movements is satisfactory technically, but not enough interesting to hold the listener’s attention. Ramselaar is reliable as usual, but in terms of expression he has done better in other cantatas.

[19] Elizabeth C. Patterson (1999)
I discovered this relatively new recording through a message by a member of the BCML, who sent a message to the group, saying that this was the ugliest CD cover he had ever seen. But if the CD cover is indeed ugly, the music is definitely not, and the performance is passable, without any hint of pretentiousness or mimicry. The singing of the choir in the opening chorus is clean and impressive and they got the spirit of the movement. What sounded peculiar to me were the short pauses they made at the end of each phrase. At first it is surprising, but after couple of listenings it is disturbing. The anonymous singers are competent, but not up the task. They are carried along their movements by the flow of the wonderful music, but contributing nothing from themselves to the events. The playing of the instruments is not clean and they miss notes here and there.

Recordings of Individual Movements

See: Cantata BWV 78 - Recordings of Individual Movements.

Conclusion

My personal preferences:
Mvt. 1 & 7. Chorus & Chorale – Richter [6], Mauersberger [8] and Jeffrey Thomas [17]
Mvt. 2. Duet for Soprano and Alto - Teresa Stich-Randall & Dagmar Hermann (Prohaska) [4]
Mvt. 3 & 4. Recitative & Aria for Tenor – John van Kesteren (Richter) [6]
Mvt. 5 & 6. Recitative & Aria for Bass – Wolfgang Schöne (Rilling) [12] & Peter Kooy (Herreweghe) [14]

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

Marie Jensen wrote (September 18, 2001):
[10] I found a forgotten gem between my old tapes recorded from the radio in the Bach year 1985.The only word about the performers is Corboz, the conductor. In those day all that mattered to me was B A C H !!! so I often forgot to write the names of the soloists down. And it is a pity, because especially the bass is great! But reading Aryeh’s pre-review I see it probably is Huttenlocher.

It is certainly NON-HIP . Some would call it too romantic and sentimental, but the performers do what I always like: go deep into the text and express it, without giving sterile priority to stylistic matters.

Listening to BWV 78 I have a feeling that Corboz has chosen this cantata out of nearly 200, because he loves it. This is not just another item in a big production.

I like the opening chorus very much. The tenor recitativo is too fast, but the bass recitativo and aria are fantastic.

In St. Matthew passion (BWV 244) there is a halo of strings around the words sung by Jesus. In the bass recitativo here it is the same. I believe it is because the recitativo deals with the passion too. It is sung slowly with attention paid to every word, so the hair raise on my head. ..Die Wunden.... Nägel...... Kron und Grab....Die Schläge, so man dort dem Heiland gab...., it begins. This recitativo is a masterpiece: travellling from to the cross to Judgement Day until it lands in the present. It is sung so intense .. and some people skip the recitativos because they find them boring!

Suddenly as a surprise the oboes shout with joy their dance of victory. The bass sings the final aria and intensivates it even further finally stating:

Wenn Christen an dich glauben,
Wird sie kein Feind in Ewigkeit
Aus deinen Händen rauben.

Actual words indeed! Sung so convincing...

After rewinding and playing this last sequence again and again, I listened to Leusink’s Ramselaar [20]. He does not reach these heights but he is not bad either.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 18, 2001):
Some specific quotations from the cantata text that seem to connect with last week's (September 11, 2001) events:

Aus des Teufels finstern Höhle ("out of the dark cave of the devil") (Mvt. 1)

Sei doch itzt, o Gott, mein Hort! ("O God, be my protector now!") (Mvt. 1)

Ruft mich der Höllen Heer zum Streite, ("If hell's army forces me to fight")
So steht Jesus mir zur Seite, ("then Jesus will stand by my side")
Daß ich beherzt und sieghaft sei. ("so that I will be brave and victorious")
(Mvt. 4)

Nun du wirst mein Gewissen stillen, ("Now you will calm my mind/conscience")
So wider mich um Rache schreit ("As others are crying out for revenge against me") (Mvt. 6)

Accolades:

This is one of Felix Mendelssohn's favorite cantatas, the group of favourites consisting of BWV 7, BWV 8, BWV 68, BWV 78.

Spitta praises "the calm control of all the artistic means and methods of composition, that have a deep masculine earnestness imprinted upon them.All this can only come from such an abundant artistic life such as Bach's."

Schweitzer: "One of the most expressive cantatas ever written by Bach."

Simon Crouch quotes from a Marshall essay, "I can think of no more spectacular demonstration of Bach's powers of synthesis, his unparalleled combinatorial genius."

The opening mvt. which sets the tone of most cantatas, particularly those of the chorale cantata cycle, is singled out for special commendation:

Smend: "One of the most powerful chorale mvts."

Simon Crouch: "One of the most glorious choruses in all music."

First Performance: The KB of the NBA indicates that it was most likely on September 10, 1724.

Authentic Source, Text:

See: Cantata BWV 78 - Provenance

Form and content of each mvt.: [Spitta, Voigt, Schweitzer, Smend, Dürr, Nicholas Anderson]

See: Cantata BWV 78 - Commentary

The Recordings.

I have listened to the following versions this week: Richter (1961) [6], Mauersberger (1970) [8], Harnoncourt (1978) [11], Rilling (1979) [12], Rifkin (1988) [16], Herreweghe (1987) [14], and Leusink (1999) [20].

[6] Richter:
Mvt. 1: This early recording is not the usual Münchener Bach Chor, but rather a group called "the Soloists of the Ansbach Bach-Week." No, this is not OVPP! The recording took place in the Heilbronn Cathedral. There is a good balance between the instrumentalists and the vocalists and also between the vocal parts. They sing not only with clear diction and excellent pronunciation of German, but also convey the various facets of the text with expressive power. I was particularly moved by the subtle, but effective entreaty as they sing, "sei doch itzt mein Hort." There is a genuinely felt emotion that is conveyed to the listener. Richter does not always follow Bach's markings in the score - he does not have the orchestra play 'piano' in measure 17, the 1st violins in 45 do not play staccato as marked. In the bc throughout he will render the 8th and 16th notes as staccato although not marked that way, and he uses the option of a pizzicato string bass coupled with a bassoon to give him more punch on the upward moving motifs. Otherwise Richter's treatment is legato throughout.

Mvt. 2: These voices are a good match and blend well, if you can put up with the operatic style of singing. The tempo is appropriate and there is an interesting organ continuo part played by Richter. This alone makes this version worth hearing at least once.

Mvts. 3 & 4: van Kesteren has a strange sounding voice with a thin quality that tends to be almost nasal. This voice will take some getting used to as far as I am concerned. In the aria the bc ist too thick and loud. This tenor has good coloraturas, but I do not sense much expression in the voice here in the aria which is taken at a good tempo.

Mvts. 5 & 6: Engen has a wide vibrato with insecure intonation. The recitative is rather slow with the andante arioso being given a very romantic interpretation. In the aria Richter gives the bc a staccato bass which is not marked that way. Although this is a full voice, a deep bass with low notes that are clear and loud, he misses some opportunities for expression as on the words, "um Rache schreit." The coloraturas are very good.

Mvt. 7: Richter has many long fermatas, but sometimes he skips a fermata, creating an enjambement which is breath-taking. An example of this occurs with a line ending in "schauen," but the meaning should really be extended to the next word at the beginning of the next line, "dich," which has a comma after it. Richter does this here and also continues without a break from "Streit" to "In." This is very unexpected at first, but makes sense if you are following the words carefully. This version is rather romantic, but I like it nevertheless.

[8] Mauersberger:
Mvt. 1: Mauersberger follows Bach's indications more closely than Richter. The Thomanerchor with all male voices exhibits a clarity of all the vocal parts. There is excellent balance within the choir and also between the choir and the orchestra. Here the horn can be heard reinforcing the cantus firmus. Mauersberger uses slightly different phrasing (detached 8th notes, but tying them in the oboes,) but since these were unmarked, it is left up to the conductor. The various nuances of each line of verse are expressed with dignity and religious reverence. This is a solid performance.

Mvt. 2: This is one of the few versions (Harnoncourt's is the worst) that made me so uncomfortable that I wished that this otherwise wonderful duet should end sooner than it did. The tempo is slower than most, but this is not the problem. The alto is not a good match for the soprano who had intonation problems coupled sometimes with a slow vibrato and at other times a howling quality.

Mvts. 3 & 4: Schreier's "Ach" in the recitative is a bit too forceful for my taste, but he has excellent expression of the words. In the aria the bc is too loud and punchy. The tempo is very deliberate which I find more appropriate than the many faster versions of this aria that I listened to. One thing that impressed me because of its attention to detail and that demonstrates the degree to which a unification of the various parts is achieved happens in the coloratura phrasing by which Schreier emulates the phrasing and staccato markings that Bach indicated in the flute part. Now both parts really fit together because Schreier maintains the same pattern that the flute plays. I did not hear this in any other recording.

Mvts. 5 & 6: Theo Adam may have a strong full voice, but he is frequently too operatic as he uses a wide vibrato that is so wobbly that intonation suffers. In the aria he does well with "um Rache schreit," but his coloraturas are difficult for me to listen to.

Mvt. 7: Very good, straightforward version that preserves the sacred element in a large setting of a church with a congregation that is listening and singing along inwardly.

[11] Harnoncourt:
Mvt. 1: From the very beginning this mvt. sounds different. The once grand and serious passacaglia theme has now been transformed into courtly dance. This is accomplished by using stronger accents, exaggerated phrasing (not indicated in the score) with larger pauses in between the phrases. When the choir enters, it is apparent that the main goal is expression of words while disregarding almost every other musical aspect. This type of expression rapidly becomes affectation. I was particularly disturbed by the manner in which the choir sings the words, "Hast durch deinen bittern Tod." The way this boys' choir sings, "Hast," can best be described by remembering how a group of boys standing on a street corner would shout this word tauntingly at another group or individual that they wish 'to put down.' Add to this the fact that the vocal lines are unclear despite the fact that each quarter note is being hammered as a separate entity so that everything threatens to break down continually. This is not a performance with reverence and respect for the words and music. There is no evidence of any understanding whatsoever of a singing style that truly can move a listener. Everything is disconnected from everything else. Harnoncourt is a deconstructionist in the realm of Bach's music. As he dissects everything, he also destroys all the existing links and stubbornly attempts to impose upon the music his own misguided, untenable HIP theories. By micromanaging every element in the cantata, nothing hangs together in a convincing manner. Harnoncourt is a Sorcerer's Apprentice who thinks that by holding fast onto his ill-advised theoretical concepts, the musical results will be noteworthy and memorable. Once he had set things into motion by recording one cantata after another, he founhimself unable to stop the forward momentum and was forced to make one bad recording after another. In particular the two mighty columns of a Bach cantata (the 1st and last mvts.) suffered because he was unable to invoke the key words that he had forgotten: a musically singing line or phrase. The result of this is a grandiose failure to achieve an interpretation that might have lasting value. As it is, Harnoncourt's interpretation of a mvt. such as this one serves only as an example of what a Bach cantata should not be. It is a caricature exhibiting a grotesqueness that should have no place in the sanctuary of Bach's sacred music.

Mvt. 2: From the very beginning this is a disastrous performance with almost nothing in it to make it recommendable, except perhaps as a novelty similar to the recordings of Florence Foster Jenkins (RCAV Gold Seal 61175.) While Esswood tends to sing flat, Wiedl has trouble finding his notes. The accompaniment is on an organ that sounds like a circus calliope. To this recording Bach would have said: "es werde des Auctoris Dreckohr gereiniget, und zur Anhörung der Musik geschickter gemacht werden." 10.12.1749 In this case (Harnoncourt "will have to get his dirty ears cleaned out so that he, in time, can then apply his ears to hear music properly.")

Mvts. 3 & 4: The only good thing here is that Equiluz is singing. The recitative is treated à la Harnoncourt: abruptly terminated long notes in the bc. In the aria the transverse wooden flute has problems with intonation with an inclination to be too sharp at times. Reason? Either the instrumentalist has not mastered playing the instrument, or the instrumentalist does not hear what is wrong, or Harnoncourt wants a primitive sound, in which case you, as an instrumentalist do not need to try very hard when playing the instrument.

Mvts. 5 & 6: Van der Meer does not have much of a voice at all. There were some notes that he sang that almost did not exist in the audible world. There is no volume on the low notes at all. For a serious text as that at the end of the recitative, Harnoncourt takes the andante too fast. He does not recognize the seriousness of this text. The aria suffers from a tempo that is too fast, from a shaky oboe that can not play a steady note, not even in the running 16th note passages, and from van der Meer's fast vibrato. The coloraturas are unsatisfactory because he can not produce the tones properly. Some notes are simply swallowed up in the loud orchestral accompaniment.

Mvt. 7: A typical Harnoncourt version with chop, chop, hit, hit, bang, bang. Listen to the tone in the voices on the words, "trauen" and "schauen." If someone were to speak/sing that way directly to me, I would say, "I think you have an attitude problem. Get control of yourself, before you talk to me."

[12] Rilling:
Mvt. 1: Rilling must have one of the fastest tempos of the recordings that I listened to. The result of this is a feeling of being rushed at times, but very energetic throughout. The choir seems to be 'very much in front' ('in your face') with some voices, for instance, the tenor voice, trying too hard for expression. This coupled with vibrato in the other voices detracts from a unified choral sound. When the choir sings, "und mich solches lassen wissen," it is easy to imagine a turba scene in one of the passions. This choir has one of the best versions of "kräftiglich herausgerissen" because they sing it with such force and conviction. The general emotion that I perceive coming from the choir is one of angry determination. At the opposite end of the spectrum would be Herreweghe's interpretation. Rilling does not follow all of Bach's indications: (measure 17 has a 'piano' marking that is not observed and at 45 he does not follow the staccato markings in the 1st violins.) In general his bc is uncontrolled, much too loud with an overly punctuated bass.

Mvt. 2: This version is much too fast. The virtuoso performance sounds rushed and forced. The fact that both artists, particularly the alto, have too much vibrato also detracts from enjoyment. Would you believe vibratos are used even in the coloratura passages with swiftly moving notes? The bc is heavy and not at all 'nimble' as the text describes this motion.

Mvts. 3 & 4: Baldin is very good when he sings softly, but otherwise, when he tries sing with greater volume he uses to much vibrato just as an opera singer would and when he goes into the high range his voice becomes very narrow and unpleasant. The aria's tempo is much too fast with a punchy bc. Again, in the high range he screams the notes rather than singing them. His coloraturas are ok.

Mvts. 5 & 6: Schöne's voice is full and very operatic, but he is much better than Theo Adam. The aria is exemplary and truly worth listening to.

Mvt. 7: Excellent, except that a single soprano voice with vibrato stands out when it should not. This destroys the unified choir sound and causes the listener to think, "Who is that, trying to steal the show?"

[16] Rifkin:
Mvt. 1: Rifkin observes carefully all of Bach's indications. The OVPP individuals disappoint me somewhat for a mvt. which demands a grandeur that is lacking. This version is not suitable for a large church, it rather belongs to the intimate arena of a chamber performance. The vocal balance did not always succeed. I was particularly disturbed by the weak cantus firmus (soprano) which is supported colla parte by a horn and a flute! There is still too much vibrato that detracts from having a solid sound. The tenor is the worst offender here. The bass sings with a constricted voice, one where it sounds as if he sings with his chin resting on his chest. The instrumental ensemble is very, very good.

Mvt. 2: Here you have two very beautiful half-voices singing at a very appropriate tempo. These voices blend together very well. In measure 77 to 79 they are not really singing. Everything at this point is very sotto voce. This would never do in a large church, but with today's recording techniques you can turn up the volume and enjoy a non-operatic version where most of the notes (when you can hear them - there is too much careful tapping or touching of notes without singing them fully) are in tune and there is precision in attacking the notes as well as a great effort at ensemble playing and singing. I enjoy this version very much. The final "zu dir" is the best that I have heard.

Mvts. 3 & 4: Kelley uses too much vibrato in the recitative and sings sotto voce much of the time. This detracts from the expressive qualities of the voice. In the aria he has some good coloratura passages. The flautist's intonation is good and there is no vibrato. This is simply proof that HIP can be done properly if that is the goal of the conductor. With Kelley's half voice the entire aria becomes a chamber music piece, but not a performance suitable for a large church.

Mvts. 5 & 6: Opalach does not have a distracting vibrato and even gives a vocally stronger (not expression wise) performance than Kooy. The aria is, however, too fast and light. This aria deserves a stronger treatment than this.

Mvt. 7: This is simply wonderful as an intimate chorale rendition that goes directly to the heart. I am reminded of similar treatments in the Suzuki cantata series: Vol 3 (BWV 162) Track 16, or better yet, my absolute favorite -- 35 seconds of breathtaking joy in which everything, particularly the passing notes are a thrill to listen to: Vol. 4 (BWV 165) Track 14.

[14] Herreweghe:
Mvt. 1: Somehow Herreweghe achieves a depth of feeling without the strength evident in the other recordings. This sounds much more like the mood created in the passions: there is crying and I can feel more of this here in the chromaticism than in other versions. What is missing? Force and conviction. This becomes quite apparent when the choir tries to sing "kräftiglich herausgerissen" where these words seem abstract and without content. Beginning in measure 88, the word, "und," at the beginning of each fugal enis barely audible. Sometimes I think that I can not hear this word and the note associated with it at all. Herreweghe often makes no distinction between 'piano' and 'forte' that are clearly marked in the score. In measure 17 the bc is too loud, particularly with a choir that tends to sing ethereally rather than with both feet on the ground.

Mvt. 2: Herreweghe's instrumental accompaniment is great and he has taken an appropriate tempo. Unfortunately the voices do not live up to the expectations set by the instrumental introduction. Both have intonation problems. The alto is flat much of the time, has an unpleasant high register, and too much vibrato. Both voices go flat in the middle section. What disturbs me most is the appoggiatura on the last note ("zu dir") at the conclusion of the piece. It simply does not fit. I do not know why anyone would want to include it here. Does Herreweghe think it would be too boring to repeat this beautiful phrase two times without attempting an embellishment the second time through?

Mvts. 3 & 4: Crook has a wide vibrato that interferes with the expressive qualities of this voice. He changes the word "ich" into "und" in the recitative. The accompanying instruments are appropriately balanced (not too loud), but unfortunately the flute is out of tune in itself. This does not have to be this way.

Mvts. 5 & 6: Kooy, for some reason that I can not figure out (did he lose his voice, was he placed too far from the microphones?) lacks necessary volume and seems to touch most of the notes in a sotto voce fashion. In the recitative the strings are too loud, too prominent. In the aria the voice is simply not strong enough as the orchestra almost overpowers Kooy. I simply do not know what went wrong here.

Mvt. 7: There is good balance and intonation, but the chorale lacks strength and conviction, because the vocalists only lightly 'touch' the notes that they are singing.

[20] Leusink:
Mvt. 1: Leusink version has many irregularities. There is no distinction between 'piano' and 'forte.' Occasionally he will heed a marking in the score, but later overlook it again. This is an inconsistency that is to be expected when making many cantata recordings in a short space of time. The bc is too loud. There is a general lack of choral unity which is upset by certain voices that suddenly stand out (tenor) or disappear (alto in the lower range) One example of a real joke occurs in the passage beginning with "kräftiglich" where the tenor, alto, bass are hardly (or is it very carefully not exerting themselves because the passage is difficult?) singing, but suddenly, out of nowhere, the bass voice has a high D sung with such fervor that it practically knocks everyone off his or her pew.

Mvt. 2: Leusink's instrumental accompaniment is appropriately soft because these half-voices only lightly tap the notes that they land on. They do not sing with a full voice because their voices are quite limited. Buwalda's voice does not always blend with Holton's. Some notes are almost inaudible. Leusink copies Herreweghe's appoggiatura!

Mvts. 3 & 4: In the recitative the bc long notes are abruptly terminated according to the Harnoncourt Doctrine. Van der Meel sings "und" instead of "ich." He sings all the right notes without much expression. The aria has a soft accompaniment which is suitable for this half voice. The flautist uses a funny sounding vibrato which sounds out of place here, but the intonation is better than some of the other HIP flautists encountered in these recordings. The performance as a whole is clean, but there is nothing to get excited about here.

Mvts. 5 & 6: Ramselaar does not have the expressive power that many other basses have. The string ensemble is very good in the recitative, but in the aria the bc is too loud and heavy. Perhaps the tempo is a bit too fast as well. This is a typical light-weight treatment that sound more like a dance. This conception does not agree very well with the interpretation of words that have to do with revenge.

Mvt. 7: The usual problem occurs when the final syllables of words at the end of a line are dropped to the level of a schwa. (Schwachen, machen, trauen, schauen.) This is a major flaw in Leusink's interpretation of a chorale.

No Summary

Roy Reed wrote (September 20, 2001):
Hello all, BWV 78 holds a rather special place in my affections. I am indebted to it, in a sense, for a livelihood. Back in 1962 I was asked by the then dean of the theological school in Claremont California if I would make some sort of illustrated (musically) lecture on Bach and Luther. They were putting together some sort of series of presentations on theology and the arts. I decided to make BWV 78 the basis of the thing. I would describe it musically and as an exposition of Luther's theology. This I did in the spring of 1963. I was then a pastor at a church in La Crescenta, Calif. About a week later I received a call from the dean of a school of theology in Ohio who was looking for a professor of liturgy and music. I met him in San Francisco and was subsequently invited to the school for an interview. Outside of one faculty member who had been a colleague at Boston Univ. and was at Marburg the same time I was at Mainz, nobody knew me from Adam and so I was asked to make a presentation before the faculty. I gave them BWV 78. No one on the faculty knew much about music, save one, and he was hochgebildet in the art. Lots of them knew Luther pretty well. Anyway, I got the job and taught there 35 years. Thank you, Johann Sebastian!! I will put this lecture in the "record" but I can't do it right away. My body is somehow rebelling against typing. Left hand in some trouble. I need to rest it no doubt. My wife and I will be traveling in October... should be ideal rest for the hand.

I have 6 readings of BWV 78. Personal preference (at least on this Wednesday) for over-all performance I would rate them:

[14] Herreweghe
[17] J. Thomas
[20] Leusink
[12] Rilling
[16] Rifkin
[11] Harnoncourt

On individual performances:

Mvt. 2
Schmithuesen/Brett (Herreweghe)
Baird/Fast (Thomas)
Holton/Buswalda (Leusink)
Auger/Watkinson (Rilling)
Bott/Taylor (Thomas)
Wiedl/Esswood (Harnoncourt)

Mvts. 3 & 4
Crook (Herreweghe)
Thomas (Thomas)
Equiluz (Harnoncourt)
Thomas (Rifkin)
Baldin (Rilling)
Meel (Leusink)

Mvts. 5 & 6
Ramselaar (Leusink)
Kooy (Herreweghe)
Schoene (Rilling)
Opolach (Rifkin)
Sharp (Thomas)
van der Meer (Harnoncourt)

My favourite performance over-all was Bas Ramselaar [20], especially in the aria. He always seems to have a sort of understated way, but to me, very convincing. And he is the very best, and really elegant, with the ornamentation.

I enjoyed all the duets, but whoever realized the figured bass at the keyboard with Herreweghe [14] managed to add a bit of interest. If ever there was a case for acting up a bit with a FB, it is here. I was surprised and disappointed that very little fun was had here. It ought not always to cower in the corner.

One has a choice with the opening movement to go with the sense of the opening prayer or with the freedom out of the devil's grasp. Contrast Herreweghe [14] with Rilling [12], for instance. I guess in doing it (I never did) I would, admittedly somewhat romantically (heresy) take advantage of both....making some difference, for instance, between the first and second phrases and getting pretty agitated from ms. 76....and making the most of the eloquent contrast between the soaring melody up top and the melancholy chaconne below, with which the piece begins. Sorry about that sentence!

Andreas Burghardt wrote (September 21, 2001):
I have just read the interesting reviews about "Jesu, der du meine Seele". In my collection I have several versions of the cantata BWV 78:

K. Thomas
[7] W. Gönnenwein
[9] H.-J. Rotzsch
[11] N. Harnoncourt
[20] P.J. Leusink

However, among them there is only one which is really appealing to me. It is the Harnoncourt version [11]. I am disappointed, about the ignorant and disgusting defamation taking place in this group to this outstanding musician and some of the interprets on this recording. Harnoncourt has done incredible work of cleaning the Bach cantatas from the dust of romanticism. His approach is always very transparent and proofs his great knowledge about Baroque music. The use of historical instruments, boy choirs and boy soloists is not only historical correct, the result is, at least for me, absolutely convincing. Of course it is possible to perform cantatas with convential instruments, a mixed chorus of men and women and female soloists, but it is like performing Shakespeare in German. Why should one listen to a performance of Shakespeare in German, when you have access to the original? The only reason I can imagine is that one is not able to understand or not familiar with the the original. Well, in any case it is better than not performing Shakespeare (or in this case the Bach cantatas) at all.

[7] PS: The Gönnenwein recording was reissued on CD by EMI together with 11 other cantata recordings of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in a package of 4 CDs titled "J.S.Bach 12 Kantaten".

Wolfgang Gönnenwein
Süddeutscher Madrigalchor / Consortium Musicum
Soprano - Edith Mathis; Alto - Sybil Michelow; Tenor - Theo Altmeyer; Bass - Franz Crass
EMI Electrola 1965 CD / TT: 24:29 (EMI CZS 25 2278 2)

Marcus Song wrote (September 22, 2001):
I have been a fan of Bach's music for many years and occasionally I am reminded of how versatile and flexible his music responds to the manifold interpretations of conductors and performers. The Harnoncourt [11] and Rilling [12] recordings of the Duet - "Wir eilen mit schwachen," illustrate this point.

[12] My first exposure to this Duet was the version by Rilling on the Hänssler Bach-Edition sampler disc. Despite not having a translation of the text or understanding German, I was delighted by the spirited rhythm and dancing effect of the music - the 'chiffy' organ strangely evoked images of a merry-go-round!

[11] Then I acquired the Harnoncourt recording and heard a dramatically different interpretation. I was disappointed. However, after reading English translation duet for the first time, I began to appreciate the music from a different point of view. The weaker, more hesitant playing of the continuo and voices of the singers in this recording seems to better match the text. Even the tempo is a little wobbly... cleverly evoking the effect of "...eager, yet faltering footsteps"! (whether by design or pure luck of the conductor is left up to one's bias!)

Both interpretations are equally successful from a musical standpoint:

"We sprint with quick, and confident footsteps" by Rilling or,
"We hasten with eager, yet faltering footsteps" by Harnoncourt.

At the same time, I can't help but wonder which interpretation is closer to what Bach intended?...maybe both?...does it matter? :-)

Jane Newble wrote (September 22, 2001):
Marcus Song wrote:
< Both interpretations are equally successful from a musical standpoint:
[12] "We sprint with quick, and confident footsteps" by Rilling or,
[11] "We hasten with eager, yet faltering footsteps" by Harnoncourt. >
[14] As a Herreweghe fan, I have his interpretation too, which is:

"We hasten with confident, but elegant footsteps"

Looking at the words, I really can't think that that was Bach's intention.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 22, 2001):
Andreas Burghardt wrote:
< I have just read the interesting reviews about "Jesu, der du meine Seele". In my collection I have several versions of the cantata BWV 78:
K. Thomas >
[17] Do you mean Jeffrey Thomas. AFAIK, Kurt Thomas did not record BWV 78.

[11] < [snip] However, among them there is only one which is really appealing to me. It is the Harnoncourt version. I am disappointed, about the ignorant and disgusting defamation taking place in this group to this outstanding musician and some of the interprets on this recording. Harnoncourt has done incredible work of cleaning the Bach cantatas from the dust of romanticism. [snip] >
Please, let us not start the Harnoncourt debate all over again. Let us avoid personal offendings. There is no room for this in our group. AFAIK, no one in our group will deny the enormous importance of the pionnering work of Harnoncourt to the development of modern interpretation of Bach's works. The interpretation of a listener to any rendition of a piece of music derives from his/her personal taste. We should respect various opinions. We all benefit from the diversity of opinions, which enrich us all.

[7] < [snip] PS: The Gönnenwein recording was reissued on CD by EMI together with 11 other cantata recordings of the late 50s and early 60s in a package of 4 CD’s titled "J.S.Bach 12 Kantaten". >
Do you know where this 4-CD album can be purchaced?

Peter Petzling wrote (September 23, 2001):
Jane Newble wrote:
< As a Herreweghe fan, I have his interpretation too, which is:
"We hasten with confident, but elegant footsteps"
Looking at the words, I really can't think that that was Bach's intention. >
I don't see how this could be either.

I consulted the "Texte zu den Kantaten, Motetten, Messen, Passionen und Oratorien von J.S.Bach" prepared by Christine Fröde , Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig, 1986

The aria text for BWV 78 reads:
"Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten,
o Jesu, o Meister, zu helfen zu dir."

This can only be rendered as "We hasten with feeble but eager steps..."

[14] Furthermore my Herreweghe recording - the one from 1988 on Harmonia Mundi [HMC 901270] is very clear :

Wir eilen mit SCHWACHEN, doch emsigen Schritten.....
So where is the source for the other text, which appears to be so very much out of place.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (September 23, 2001):
[To Peter Petzling] Translations on Bach cantatas (in the LP days certainly and I don't see why it should have changed) are "creative"; they give what feels good to the translator or whatever and often have NO connection to the meaning of the original. There is simply a tradition of this. These days when I read trilingual or quadrilingual notes and texts to many CD’s (Bach, opera, Mahler, or otherwise), I often have to consult all 3 or 4 to get the meaning. Ofttimes the meaning in the English or German or whichever makes little sense and then you see that the notes are translated. Sometimes there is only a translation of notes and no original. Yes, I realize that annotative notes are different from text. But same lack of respect for translation.

Andrew Oliver wrote (September 23, 2001):
[14] [To Peter Petzling] I think that Jane meant that the style of Herreweghe's musical interpretation gave the impression of hastening with confident but elegant footsteps, in contrast to the meaning of the text. In other words, his interpretation sounds very good musically, but does not reflect the correct meaning of the words.

Marcus Song wrote (September 24, 2001):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] As Andrew has noted, my previous post and Jane's reply - I believe - were comparing the musical interpretation of the text, not the actual translation. However, you have brought up an interesting point on non-English to English translations. I have the Teldec set of cantatas and I am slightly disappointed by the inconsitant translations provided. Sometimes they are almost word-for-word liter, and other times it seems an entirely different cantata was translated!

Obviously I'm exagerrating, but I really wonder if anyone prefers an 'interpretive' translation over a straight-forward literal one?

To reduce my risk of being completely off-topic for this week, here are two contransting examples from the Teldec set for Cantatas BWV 51 and BWV 1. :^)

BWV 1:
Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern / Voll Gnad und Wahrheit von dem Herrn
How beautifully shines the morning star / Full of grace and truth from the Lord

BWV 51:
Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren / Gott, Vater, Sohn, heiligem Geist!
With honor, praise and glory / Exalt the blessed Trinity

Jane Newble wrote (September 24, 2001):
Peter Petzling wrote:
[14] < Furthermore my Herreweghe recording - the one from 1988 on Harmonia Mundi [HMC 901270] is very clear :
Wir eilen mit SCHWACHEN, doch emsigen Schritten.....
So where is the source for the other text, which appears to be so very much out of place. >
Sorry, I did not mean to show this as another text, but as the way he interprets it in the music. If you listen to the Herreweghe version, you might notice that he interprets this duet in a very measured and elegant way, in contrast to Rillings hastiness [12], where you can almost hear them getting out of breath. That is why I felt that the actual German words do not warrant an 'elegant' approach, and that this could not have been Bach's intention. But perhaps Herreweghe can't do it any other way. I still love him though!

My apologies for being so ambiguous in the fist place!

Jim Morrison wrote (September 24, 2001):
[To Thomas Braatz] I just joined the Bach Cantatas list so that I could search through their archives and look for your comments on Bach's Cantata BWV 78 and found in there a statement (among many) by you that resonates greatly with me.

[16] Concerning the Rifkin/Baird/Fast version of the soprano-alto duet you mentioned how impressed you were with the final "zu dir." Count me in as well. Those few seconds amount to one of the fondest musical moments that I have in my entire collection. The word 'radiant' comes to mind. I also admire the cello playing throughout the movement, and I'm impressed by the restraint shown by the organ player in a supportive role.

Michael Grover wrote (October 1, 2001):
[17] I know I'm behind. BWV 78 was reviewed the week before last, but I have been out of town and am just now catching up on my email. Despite the fact that the list has moved on, I absolutely love this cantata and wanted to say a few words about the one recording I have, which is the American Bach Soloists conducted by Jeffrey Thomas. Here is Aryeh's review: (mine is farther down the email)

< BWV 78 - Jesu, der du meine Seele
Jeffrey Thomas
American Bach Soloists (Choir & Orchestra)
Soprano - Catherine Bott; Counter-tenor - Daniel Taylor; Tenor - Jeffrey Thomas; Bass - William Sharp
Koch International 1995 TT: 20:31
As Michael Grover noted, Jeffrey Thomas is using here small choir (3VPP) and not OVPP as could be expected. It could have been interesting to compare between two OVPP recordings of the same cantata. Anyhow, Thomas uses his choir to the best. He is doing something very interesting. Instead of striving to homogeneous sound, he is letting his singers be as expressive as they can. The result is one of the most moving and sincere renditions of the opening chorus I have heard. The pungent playing of the instruments adds to very satisfying rendition. Soprano Catherine Bott and
counter-tenor Daniel Taylor perform the duet very fast, but they do not lose control for a second. You find yourself being swept with them. As a singer I found Thomas pleasant but not exceptional. William Sharp is using his impressive voice to give the right weight to every word he is singing, with authority and conviction. The whole rendition of the cantata should be noted for its boldness and vigour. >

This is a wonderful recording! This disc, which also includes BWV 140 & BWV 80, is very possibly my favorite Bach vocal disc. Some impressions on each movement:

1. Chorus -- I agree with Aryeh's observations. It is very moving and the HIP instruments blend marvelously along with the small, chamber-sized choir I find the sopranos and the tenors especially pleasing. My only complaint is that it's very difficult (nigh impossible) to hear the flute through the oboes, although the oboes are so bright and well-played that it's hard to complain about hearing them too much!

2. S/A Duet -- Wonderful! Stupendous! Amazing! OK, OK, so maybe I'm getting a little carried away. But this is one of the best vocal performances I've heard and one of my favorite Bach tunes of all. I love Daniel Taylor's voice - especially considering that I almost never like countertenors. His voice is so natural and smooth and beautiful, I had a hard time forcing myself to tear my ears away and listen to Catherine Bott. But when I did, I was similarly pleased. They blend perfectly. The instrumental backing is also wonderful to listen to. It is a little different than the score I am looking at (Dover) but for the better, I think. Thomas has put a harpsichord in the "organo e violoncello" line and given the organ the responsibility of improvising! At least, to my untrained ear, I can't see the organ following either that line or the "violone" line. The organ instead is tooting away pleasantly with another tune of harmony.

3. T Recitative -- First of all, I'll get my one pet peeve out of the way: Jeffrey Thomas' pronunciation of German leaves something to be desired. He routinely becomes lazy at the end of words and doesn't get the 't' out in 'nicht' or the 'r' in 'wer', etc. Too much rolling of the 'r's, and those 'Ach's sure are throaty and guttural, if you know what I mean. Typical American pronunciation - as an American myself, I'm sure my German is even worse. But he certainly puts his heart and soul into his singing. When he sings, "D'rum nehm' ich der Suenden Schmerz und Pein und meiner Sorgen Buerde," it is with such deep pathos and emotion that the listener literally feels the pain and grief. It is seriously emotive in a way that I haven't really heard from HIP singers, but I like it.

4. T Aria -- The instruments grab you from the very beginning and don't let go. The solo flute, played by Kathleen Kraft, appropriately conveys the message of the text, which is that through Jesus, one's heart can feel light again and be set free. The organ continuo is pleasingly augmented with an archlute, played by Michael Eagan. The effect is marvelous. As for Thomas's singing, the pronunciation problems continue -- 'durchstreicht' is a disaster. But his voice is again pleasant enough and full of emotion.

5. B Recitative -- William Sharp has an impressive and expressive voice, but he almost sounds more like a baritone to me than a bass. He hits the higher notes with much more confidence and clarity then the lower.

6. B Aria -- The oboe is wonderful, played by John Abberger. One of the good things I like about it is the lack of extraneous mechanical noises that I have tended to notice occur rather frequently with HIP oboes. Maybe the engineers did that? Whoever, all that's left is the music and it is good. I am less impressed with Sharp. Overall his singing doesn't move me as much as the other soloists. The instrumental parts of this movement, when the bass takes a rest, are the best parts.

7. Chorale -- The choir returns to close the cantata with a strong and straightforward performance of the hymn tune. I again like the archlute in the continuo.

That's it -- an enthusiastic recommendation from me. If you see this recording anywhere, don't hesitate to grab it.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 78: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Article:
Program Notes to Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78 [S. Burton]

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