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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 84
Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke
Discussions - Part 1

BWV 84

Philip Peters wrote (June 30, 2000):
[2] The other day I picked up an LP on Musical Heritage Society with cantatas BWV 84 & BWV 49. The conductor is William Ehmann who is unknown to me. The orchestra is not specified other than "Instrumental Ensemble" but the hobo player is none other than Helmut Winschermann. The choir is the Westfalische Kantorei.

I put it on and was in for a very pleasant surprise indeed. BWV 84, a profoundly beautiful work IMO, is sung by Agnes Giebel. I always liked Giebel in Bach (though not in Schubert!) but here I had stumbled onto a rare gem. I found this interpretation so moving right from the first bars - with the beautiful hobo - that I actually got tears running from my eyes which is not something that happens every day when I hear a piece of good music.

I compared it with Nancy Argenta's recording with Monica Huggett's Ensemble Sonnerie [10], which I always thought a wonderful performance. Ehmann takes it slower, as was to be expected, and it works for me. The combination of the tempo, the exceptionally moving singing by Giebel (which some may rightfully argue that from a purely vocalistic point of view is not technically flawless) and Winschermann's hobo has such a transcendental effect that is only sometimes reached by the very best performers IMO. Especially the interplay between Giebel and Winschermann is unbelievable. I have been playing BWV 84 over and over again now for two days and can't get enough of it. I even haven't come around to play BWV 49 (which has Giebel and Jakob Stämpfli, usually a fine Bach singer IMO).

I wonder if anybody here is familiar with this version (I hardly think it's reissued on CD) and could provide some more data about Ehmann, about which orchestra was used and about the recording date (which must be either in the late fifties or early sixties).

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 30, 2000):
[2] I have 4 LP's with Wilhelm Ehmann performing Bach Cantatas:

1. BWV 4 + 182 - on Vanguard
2. BWV 36 +64 - on Vanguard
3. BWV 49 + 84 - on Nonesuch (issued also by Musical Heritage Society)
4. BWV 37 +76 - on SDG

The German Cantate label originally recorded all these recordings. I have many other LP's of Bach Cantatas, which were manufactured by the German label Cantate in the 1950's and the 1960's. Some of them I have on the original label. Others were printed in the USA during the 1970's by labels like MHS, Vanguard and Nonesuch. Cantate label was re-launched couple of years ago together with Musicaphon and they even have a Web Site http://www.cantate.de/

So far they have reissued on CD only couple of the first Secular Cantatas cycle recorded by Rilling in the 1960's and issued in the US in the 1970's by Nonesuch. The Ramin's Cantatas (also originated from Cantate) were reissued on CD by Berlin Classics (only BWV 78, which I have on LP, is missing). AFAIK, none of the others was re-issued on CD so far. IMHO, they have historical importance to our understanding of the development of the interpretation of the Cantatas in the Modern Era.

Regarding their musical contents, some of them are Bach renderings of very high quality, although they are of course non-HIP. When I have the opportunity to review these recordings in the weekly cantata discussions, I do it gladly, because more than once I found those old recordings very satisfactory, even when compared to more recent recordings. Two of the Ehmann recordings were reviewed in the discussions about BWV 4 (look at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV4.htm) and BWV 182 (look at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV182.htm).
Next week I shall have the opportunity to review the Lehman's recording of BWV 76. Sorry, but BWV 49 & BWV 84 are not planned to be discussed in our group in year 2000. But I hope that both will be discussed next year, because both are charming small jewels. BWV 84 is a solo cantata for soprano, where BWV 49 is also a solo cantata - this time a duet for soprano and bass. For a full list of cantatas according to 'Order of Discussion', please look at the following Web page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Order.htm.

I thought that the event of 250 years to Bach's death would encourage Cantate label to do a project of re-issuing on CD all the Bach Cantatas, which have been originally recorded by them over the years. I could an even dream on a Box Set. I wrote to them couple of times, and their answer was:
"Thank you very much for your interest in CANTATE records. On my other label MUSICAPHON some of the mundane cantatas, performed by Helmuth Rilling, are re-released on CD in the meantime. Regarding the sacred cantatas there are no plans to re-issue in the next future as looking forward to the "Bach-Year 2000" there will be so many new releases on the market that it will make no much sense to come out with old recordings at that time…"

And about Wilhelm Ehmann, who proved to be a fine Bach conductor in all his cantatas recording, I know nothing. The linear notes to all of his recordings that I have do not say anything about him. The only piece of information I have is that he also recorded some vocal works by other composers, like Schutz.

Enjoy and of course, you are also invited to contribute to our weekly cantata discussions.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 18, 2000):
Philip Peters wrote:
(2) < The other day I picked up an LP on Musical Heritage Society with cantatas BWV 84 & BWV 49. The conductor is William Ehmann who is unknown to me. The orchestra is not specified other than "Instrumental Ensemble" but the hobo player is none other than Helmut Winschermann. The choir is the Westfälische Kantorei. >
Wilhelm Ehmann was a very famous German conductor. I don't know whether he is still alive. Here is some information from an encyclopedia:

Born 1904 in Freistadt, near Hannover. Musicologist and choir master. From 1940 to 1945 he was director of the Institute of Musicology in Innsbruck. In 1948 he founded the Landeskirchenmusikschule in Herford (Institute for Church Music) which he headed until 1972. He is a prominent figure in modern developments in German church music and has done much (both in theory and practice) for choir and in particular church music. He also had a huge contribution in making accessible early German church music. He was the founder and director of the Westfälische Kantorei.

I would like to add that from the 1950's to the early 1970's he made many recordings - a number of which first modern performances - of the music by Schütz. He was a key figure in the Internationale Heinrich-Schütz-Gesellschaft, which has done much to promote Schütz' music.

 

Discussions in the Week of February 11, 2001 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 11, 2001):
Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 84 according to Andrew Oliver's suggestion. As a background for this cantata I shall use the linear notes of the re-issue of an LP from the German Cantate label by the American label Nonesuch in the early 1970's. These linear notes were written by Joshua Rifkin, a well known authority in the Bach vocal works field, long time before he started to record Bach Cantata and other Vocal works by himself. I find these linear notes concise and straight to the point.

"Bach wrote the cantata Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke early in 1727 and performed it for the first time on February 9, Septuagesima Sunday. The Gospel for the day, Matthew 20: 1-16, tells the story of an estate owner who hired workers for his vineyard at various timesduring the course of a morning and afternoon; when evening came, he paid those whom he hired last the same fee for their day's labour that he had agreed upon with those whom he hired first. Bach librettist - possibly his frequent collaborator Picander, who published a closely related poem a year later - interprets this parable as an exhortation to be content with what God provides and not envy others who have more. The unpretentious, gracefully written text consists of a pair of arias and recitatives followed by a hymn strophe, the 12th stanza of Wer weiss, wie nahe mir main Ende, by Ämilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt.

The music of the cantata, modestly scored for soprano solo, oboe, strings, and continuo, with chorus in the final chorale, follows the libretto is a straightforward fashion, Bach composes the arias as modified da capos and presents the chorale (using the melody Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt waiten, by Georg Neumark), in a simple four-part setting. As usual, however, he fills these common moulds with strongly characterized musical substance. The first aria achieves remarkable richness through its gracefully elaborated contrapuntal lines and subtle rhythmic and harmonic detail. In the second aria, the poet's dactylic verses provide a springboard for a delicate dance-like movement. The work as a whole seems an object lesson in making much out of little - a perfect embodiment of the message conveyed by its text."

And to these words I must add that IMHO, the last sentence can be applied to Rifkin's description of this cantata as well.

Complete Recordings

During last week I have been listening to 7 complete recordings of BWV 84 and 4 individual movements from it. Almost 50 years are separating the first and the last recordings of this cantata! See: Cantata BWV 84 - Complete Recordings .

[1] Hermann Scherchen with Magda Lászlò (soprano) (1952)
Scherchen's recording of this cantata is the slowest of all 7. But in his impressive and authoritative approach he is holding your attention along his entire rendering, and convincing you to think that his is the right tempo. Magda Laszlo voice is warm, bright, rich and appealing and its slight heaviness suits very well Scherchen's approach. I do not speak German, but even I can hear that her diction is far from being prefect. You can read a short biography of her in the New Archive Site in following page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Laszlo-Magda.htm. The parts of oboist in the first aria and the added violinist in the second aria are given the right weight in both arias. This is a must have recording, as actually all of Scherchen's Bach recordings are, although it is quite different from the modern recordings, mainly in tempo and the non-HIP instrumentation.

[2] Wilhelm Ehmann with Agnes Giebel (soprano) (Mid 1960’s?)
Giebel's voice is smoother and her singing is more flowing in comparison to Laszlo. With her fluent rendition, the German sounds as a language created for singing, like Italian. Where the previous recording convinced you with its authority, this one is captivating you with its charm. This is also a relatively slow rendering, but you do not want it to come to an end. Ehmann is an excellent accompanist. All the focus is given to creating an overall balanced picture, without any component shadowing the others. You could not guess who the conductor is, because he does not have any special marks. The music is the most important thing and everything is done to serve it in the best way. Modesty is the subject of the cantata and that is the main reason I like Ehmann's rendering so much - it is humble.

[6] Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Wilhelm Wiedl (boy soprano) (1979)
Harnoncourt's opening instrumental prelude is not very promising. It is fragmented and does not flow, and even the internal pulse is not very well held. But the main problem of this recording is the boy soprano. Such a demanding solo cantata should not be given to a boy, but to a more experienced woman soprano, like H & L cleverly did in Cantatas BWV 51 & BWV 199. The boy soprano here does not have the breath to hold the long lines of the first aria, neither the virtuosity needed for a successful performance of the second aria. In the upper register he is simply screaming. During listening to this recording, I had the feeling that the boy was really suffering from the weight and difficulty of the task. His singing disturbed me so much, that I could not pay attention to the other components of this recording.

[8] Helmuth Rilling with Arleen Augér (soprano) (1983)
According to its text this cantata should belong to the more optimistic ones. But if the words are telling us one story, than the music is telling us another. No doubt that the singer expresses in the first aria her joy over her blessing that she has received from God. There is a fine motif of felicity and pure contentment breaths throughout her singing. But there is also a slight sadness behind all this, almost unseen. Is it the contemplation of death, which will be revealed in the 4th movement? Is it the comprehension that the happiness will not last forever, even if you are ready to be satisfied with whatever is given to you by God? I do not know. What I do know is that through the singing of Arleen Augér this hidden side of the cantata becomes much more prominent and the whole cantata is seen as something quite different from what we thought we knew about it through the experience of listening to it in other recordings. Through the multi-layered playing of Passin, the first aria transforms into wonderful and touching duet. The feeling of pain is strengthened in the ensuing recitative, but nothing can stand in the outburst of joy in the second aria, when the violin is joining to the celebration, and the three voices (singer, oboe, violin) are interweaving between themselves in their combined mutual pleasure.

[9] Max Pommer with Venceslava Hruba-Freiberger (soprano) (1986-1987)
The first thing that popped into my mind when I heard this recording is ' Ho much this recording resembles the one by Rilling's. And then Hruba-Freiberger entered and I realized immediately the difference. Although she has a very pleasant and warm voice, it is less delicate, sensitive and penetrating than Augér's voice. She has also tendency to extend the vocal lines in certain places in operatic and I found this aspect of her singing somewhat disturbing. And although the other solo voices (oboe, violin) can be clearly heard, I had the impression that the whole performance sounded as a singer with instrumental accompaniment rather than duo (first aria) or trio (second aria). To summarize, this is a rather ordinary recording. A short biography of Venceslava Hruba-Freiberger can be found in the New Archiv Site in the following address: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Hruba-Freiberger-Venceslava.htm

[10] Monica Huggett with Nancy Argenta (soprano) (1993)
Following a discussion about the recordings of BWV 199 not a long while ago, I re-listened to this recording. I did it again for the purpose of this review. I can summarize by saying that I did not like Nancy Argenta's voice and singing then, and I still do not like them now. You can call it a personal taste, but everything is personal, isn't it? There is certain dryness in her voice and her expressive range is very limited. I know she is trying hard, but one should be judged by the results and not by the efforts. This recording has another fault and this is its speed. There is a tendency among the modern performers of Bach Cantatas to identify joy with fast tempo. I do not understand this phenomenon. Scherchen aEhmann showed that much richer sides of this cantata could be revealed through slower tempi. I am curious to see what Koopman [15] and Suzuki will do with this cantata when they record it. Judging by previous messages to the group, I believe that one can enjoy this cantata through this recording. But if that is the only recording he has I warmly recommend him or her to purchase also one of the better of the other recordings.

[12] Pieter Jan Leusink with Ruth Holton (soprano) (2000)
Leusink is clever enough not to use the brisk tempo adopted by Monica Huggett and Ensemble Sonnerie, and his rendering gains as a result. We have here two of the best parts in Leusink's cycle - the charm, delicacy and freshness of the orchestra and the angelic voice of Ruth Holton. We have also learnt in previous reviews that this cycle varies in quality, and that its best results are achieved in small-scale cantatas, which require minimal means, as BWV 84 is. The delicate texture created by playing f the oboe and strings in the instrumental opening, is and ideal springboard for the sensitive singing of Holton. Her voice is pure, clear and light, but her expression is full-blooded. I heard in her singing the same extra dimension of sadness that I found in Augér's rendering with Rilling. She tackles easily and effortlessly the virtuosic obstacles of the second aria. Her dialogues with the oboe in the first aria and with both the oboe and the violin in the second aria are lessons in mutual and emphatic listening. This is the best among the modern (HIP) recordings of this cantata. Leusink and Holton are putting here a big challenge for Koopman and Suzuki.

Recordings of Individual Movements

I found 4 recordings of individual movements from BWV 84, and if I am not mistaken there are a few more. All of them chose the second aria from this cantata. Maybe because it is a kind of showpiece, which illuminates the technical powers of the soprano singer. I like the first aria much more, because I find its emotional content more substantial. See Cantata BWV 84 - Recordings of Individual Movements .

[M-1] Bach Aria Group with Susan Davenny Wyner (soprano) (1980; Mvt. 3 only)
[M-2] John Nelson with Kathleen Battle (soprano) & Itzhak Perlman (violin) (1989-1990; Mvt. 3 only)
[M-3] The Aulos Ensemble with Julianne Baird (soprano) (1993?; Mvt. 3 only)
[M-4] Marek Štryncl with Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano) (1993; Mvt. 3 only)

Conclusion

Among the 'old' recordings - Scherchen, Ehmann and Rilling [8] - each one of them has its own merits.
Among the 'modern' recordings - Leusink.

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

Harry J. Steinman wrote (February 12, 2001):
I have just the Huggett/Argenta recording [10] and must make do. Fortunately, I like Argenta's voice, although I have nothing to compare it with...except for a recording of Bach arias sung by Kathleen Battle and accompanied by Itzhak Perlman ("The Bach Album" Deutsche Grammophon - #29737) [M-2]. It was interesting to hear: Battle is clearly a singer head-and-shoulders above Argenta...and clearly out of her element! Too much vibrato and too operatic.

In any event, I really enjoyed the cantata, and the second aria in particular. I enjoyed the lively pace that Huggett sets but I have nothing with which to compare it.

Sigh. I hope that this cantata discussion will go through the full five yearly cycles; perhaps by then I'll have enough recordings to do the kinds of comparing that some others on this List are able to do!

Roy Reed wrote (February 13, 2001):
Yet another of the beautiful solo cantatas for soprano. Short but sweet. Strange that it is usually excluded from the soprano "collections."

[10] I have but one recorded performance, that of Nancy Argenta with Monica Huggett and ensemble Sonnerie. Just about as nice as it gets, I would suppose. Well balanced forces, appropriate tempos, delightful sounds from excellent players, and Nancy Argenta is one of my favorite sopranos for this repertoire. For these reasons:

1. Hers is what I call a "true" voice. That means several things. If the first place, it means that she finds the true pitch. Argenta is right on. This is not easy for music that gets all over the staff, as does #1 in this cantata and much of JSB, especially for soprano. This means more to some than others, but it means a lot to me. She goes reaching for a note, and bingo, there it is. Secondly, "true" means for me that the sound of the pitch delivered does not wobble from side to side obscuring the true pitch. This is especially important for HIP performance where one wants to approximate the sound in St. Thomas in l727. The voice of the boy soprano would not have a lot of vibrato.

2. Nancy Argenta exhibits great flexibility in her singing. Take #1 here, again. This requires great vocal agility. The singer really has to bounce around articulating these 16th. notes. Now, there are two "extreme" possibilities for this. The singer can punch out the notes individually, accentedly, in staccato style, or appositely, she can slur them together so that the particular notes are obscured as the shape of the line of the music is maintained. Argenta's art lies right in the wonderful middle: careful articulation of each note with respect to the shape of the melodic line. I should add under this heading, appreciation for her skill in the execution of ornamentation.

3. Argenta's voice is one which can be heard amid the Bach orchestration without her need to force the volume. In playing one of the Bach chorale preludes on the organ, where the melody is some form of solo, one is tempted to find a louder sound for the melody than for the accompanying counterpoint. This is usually a mistake. Better to find a stop on the organ with a distinctive sound which can be heard against the counterpoint without overwhelming it. Argenta has a sort of sharp, clear, reedy quality to her voice which allows her to be heard well in the mix of things. Very helpful, especially in this literature.

4. Nancy Argenta has a gift which is in some ways the most necessary thing in music, namely, a great sense of what the rhythm is. Whether fast or slow, she really gets with the program. She has a great "feel" for the sense of the music. For Bach, I think that this is a large part of getting hold of the music emotionally. Check out her reading of #1 in BWV 202 (same CD) to see how this goes in lento as well as allegro. I find her versions of Bach very emotionally satisfying. I would not like the style for Brahms or Strauss, but for Bach it seems to me ideal.

So much for my paean to one lady soprano. Allow me to suggest a little exercise which I think deepens enjoyment and understanding of this music. Bach is usually pretty complicated stuff, even when it is just tripping happily along its way. Take the aria, #3 in BWV 84. We have 4 lines of music dancing along: an oboe, a violin, a cello (with continuo realization) and a soprano voice. Easy to hear and enjoy. It is fun and rewarding to dig deeper. Listen to the aria four times, each time concentrating on one musical line...just to hear it as it alone is. Then hear it again with enhanced appreciation for the whole of it, which, of course, is what it truly is. With this aria, all of these lines are easy to hear, but the violin is a bit of a challenge, stuck in the middle as it is and not as distinct as the oboe. But you can find her, and she is very important and she will reward your attention.

The Gospel lesson for BWV 84 is Matthew 20: 1-16,usually called the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. It might better be called the parable of the master of the vineyard, because the story is really about him. I think that the key to understanding the parable is to realize that the vineyard is a symbol for "Israel," and that the harvest is judgment and the coming kingdom. More workers are needed because the harvest is near, and latecomers receive the same reward as those longer at the task. Also, as one commentator puts it, "The parable of the good employer defends Jesus' special concern for the marginal in Jewish society (a friend of tax collector and sinners," according to Matt. 11:19). Like in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus defends the employer's action by appealing to the generosity of God. This unusual payment practice might be called "the parable of the affirmative action employer." This latter will be understood only by Americans. It would take too long to explain.

I have complained about several of the scriptural interpretations of cantata librettists and partner Bach. This one I can rejoice in. Thank God for grace.

Andrew Oliver wrote (February 17, 2001):
This is a happy cantata, since, even when it is not overtly joyful, it is still quietly content, as would be expected from the title, and I like it more with each hearing.

I have three recordings, Wiedl (boy soprano) with Harnoncourt [6], Argenta/Huggett [10] and Holton/Leusink [12], and all three are worth having. I agree partly with Aryeh's assessment of Harnoncourt's boy soprano, but not entirely. I think he gives a good account of himself in the first aria, but I don't like his performance in the second aria as much, mainly because of the exaggerated expressiveness he uses, which makes the melodic line very unbalanced with the sudden and unnecessary changes from forte to piano and vice versa. Also, much of the aria is sung in a staccato manner which is inappropriate. But, I repeat, the first aria seems fine to me.

Roy is justified in his admiration for Nancy Argenta. She is indeed very proficient technically, and it is difficult to fault her at any point. However, I prefer Ruth Holton's rendering with Leusink [12]. Her voice does not have the same forcefulness as Nancy Argenta's, having, as I have said before, a sort of vulnerability about it, yet despite this it is still easy to hear her vocal line amid the other strains of counterpoint. I also like the decoration she adds to the recapitulation of the first section of Mvt. 3. This, I understand, is perfectly acceptable and was done in Bach's day. Indeed, it was often expected of soloists, both vocal and instrumental, that they would add improvised decoration and embellishment to the repeat sections of solos.

I would summarize this cantata as a song of thankfulness and praise to God for all His goodness to us, in giving us all we need, whether much or little, and I in turn am thankful that this cantata has been preserved for our enjoyment.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 84: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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

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