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John Eliot Gardiner & Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists
Funeral Cantatas
Cantatas BWV 106, BWV 118b & BWV 198


J.S. Bach: Funeral Cantatas


Cantatas BWV 106 [18:43], BWV 118b [9:11], BWV 198 [30:32]

John Eliot Gardiner

Monteverdi Choir / English Baroque Soloists

Soprano: Nancy Argenta; Counter-tenor: Michael Chance; Tenor: Anthony Rolfe-Johnson; Bass: Stephen Varcoe

Archiv Produktion 429782
Archiv Produktion 463581

Sep 1989

CD / TT: 58:50

Recorded at St. John's, Smith Square, London, England.
See: Cantatas BWV 106, 118b, 198 - conducted by John Eliot Gardiner
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Ehud Shiloni wrote (March 4, 1998):
Hi to the list and especially to J.E.Gardiner's foes and fans.

I'd like to add a point, but first - a warning: I cannot read music, cannot play, cannot sing, and my musical ear is very limited. My contributions must therefore be limited strictly to personal emotional reaction to music, so, please - I can take some stone-throwing, but kindly refrain from actual crucification...

I find many Gardiner's recordings outstanding, while others are only so-so, and I think this is only natural.

Let me bring to the discussion his recording of BWV 198 - Trauerode. I was first introduced to this piece thru Herreweghe's recording and was immeditely taken by it. I later listened to Rilling, Thomas (American Bach Soloists), and Koopman with mixed feelings. Only then I came across Gardiner's version, and, frankly, I was stunned and overwhelmed by the experience. Checking recommendations at The Bach Page I noticed critics taking exception to Gardiners quick tempo ( "racing" ). My own thoughts, trying to "explain" to myself the "reasons" for my enjoying this version, were different: True, this is indeed funeral music, but does that mean "slower is sadder"? When one checks into the text it becomes obvious that the mourners are summing up the ecceptional life of an examplary personality, drawing solace and guidance from her story. There is a strong underlying optimism: "No, Queen, you do not die" in the final chorus. For me Gardiner's interpretation captures the true emotions of the moment, while most other performers deliver only a textbook "slow-is-sad" renditions which miss the point. My "ranking":

Gardiner - just 30 minutes for the whole cantata : Captivating.
Herreweghe - about 34 mins.: Beautifull choir sound, but doesnt really rise to the occasion.
Koopman (whom I generally like and devotionally collect): over 38 minutes!!... I fell asleep.

Would anyone react with his/her reaction and point of wiew?

I will be delighted to have your suggestions as for other recommended recordings of this beautifull cantata!

Mark Dennison wrote (March 4, 1998):
Hi to the list. Like Ehud Shiloni who drew our attention to the beauty of the Funeral Cantata, BWV 198, I don't read music or play. So the same provisos apply. I'm just a self-confessed Bach fan(atic). I also love the Funeral Cantata and have a couple of recordings - one by Rifkin and the Bach Ensemble (I'm a particular fan of his recordings) and one on LP by a small ensemble on Harmonia Mundi (coupled with Telemann's Funeral Cantata) whose name escapes me at the moment as I haven't played it for years. I like the small scale approach to Bach - one voice to a part - and having heard Rifkin in concert remained convinced. Is anyone else a supporter of this approach...?

Gardiner cantatas

Benjamin Mullins
wrote (February 28, 1999)::
For those of you who have heard it, what is your opinion of Gardiner's recording of cantatas BWV 106, BWV 118b, & BWV 198? And is there any more news of his year 2000 cantatas project?

Ryan Michero wrote (March 2, 1999):
< Simon Crouch wrote: For me, the BWV 106 is a letdown - it just comes over as dull and JEG seems not >to know what to do with the quiet movement endings. Compare this with, for example, Leonhardt (one of the highpoints of the Teldec complete set), and there's really no competition. >
I love Leonhardt's version of Cantata BWV 106--spiritually intense and quite moving. However, I have always thought something was missing from it, probably due to my inherent dissatisfaction with Harnoncourt and Leonhardt's performance practices. To the point, I want women to sing the high voices, especially the achingly beautiful cries of "Ja, Komm Herr Jesu", which never fail to move me when sung by the right voice. Recently, I found what is for me the perfect recording of the "Actus Tragicus", and it is by Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. I suppose the volume on which it is included is as good a place as any to begin my series of reviews of the Suzuki cantata cycle. I know at least one of you (are you listening, Ehud?) has been awaiting these, and, although I have been slacking on the writing end of it, I have been doing some careful listening lately. I'll begin posting soon!

Andrea Klassen wrote (March 5, 1999):
I know this thread has come and gone but here's my two cents (canadian funds). I'm responding because I can't believe all the negative postings about this recording.

< Benjamin Mullins wrote: For those of you who have heard it, what is your opinion of Gardiner's recording of cantatas BWV 106, BWV 118b, & BWV 198? And is there any more news of his year 2000 cantatas project? >
This is the fist Bach recording I ever purchased and it remains one of my favourites. I think the recording is extremely dramatic (especially the ending of the soprano solo in 106) and Gardiner's interpretation of Bach's symbolism can be heard. My only quam with this CD is that the altos sing a significant phrase of their cantus firmus melody very out of tune on the low side (Wie Gott DIR verheissen hat). Gardiner captures the depth of BWV 106.

BWV 118b flows along beautifully. They perform two verses of the chorale prelude type concept with clarity and grace. It's a breath of fresh air between the two heavies.

BWV 198 is vibrant to my ears. Bach's funeral music is always so joyous (a true Lutheran) and I think Gardiner captures the spirit of the music and text.

< Simon Crouch wrote: For me, the BWV 106 is a letdown - it just comes over as dull and JEG seems not to know what to do with the quiet movement endings. Compare this with, for example, Leonhardt (one of the highpoints of the Teldec complete set), and there's really no competition. >
I also find this unbelieveable. I have yet to find another soprano who can pull off the ending of the solo with the alte Bund fugue. Nancy Argenta fades away into nothing and leaves me hanging on this unresolved leading tone that waits for Jesus to come because the Law states that mankind will perish: I find tension unbearable. This cantata offers so much and I can't find another recording which is up to the challenge. Suzuki's is good but too mathematical and I can't remember if Herreweghe has recorded it or not but I'm looking for it, he can do it if noone else can. I haven't heard the Leonardt recording but I have this block regarding that set which I'll get over some day. Anyway, There it is.

Cantatas BWV 1+198

Adam N. LaSpata wrote (October 14, 1999):
Can anyone recommend a recording of the Actus Tragicus and Trauer Ode? What are some opinions on the JEG recording? Thanks.

Donald Satz wrote (October 14, 1999):
Adam asked for recommendations for recordings of BWV 106 and BWV 198. The only recording I'm aware of that has both these Cantatas is the Gardiner on Archiv. That's a fine recording, but I do have reservations about Nancy Argenta. BWV 106 is on Koopman's series, volume 1, but that has Barbara Schlick and I consider her voice relatively unpleasant to listen to. That leaves me with the American Bach Soloists on Koch and Suzuki on BIS for BWV 106; either one should provide much pleasure.

Concerning BWV 198, Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi is the one to go for as I consider Herreweghe the leading conductor for Bach Cantatas. But, the Koopman and the Parrott on Sony are very good as well.

Jacco Vink wrote (October 14, 1999):
I saw that Cantus Cölln have recorded BWV 106 for Harmonia Mundi French. I am not if it is already available. So it might be worth waiting for. I have myself Suzuki in BWV 106, which I like very much. It is coupled with Aus der Tiefen (BWV 131) and Gott ist mein König (BWV 71). In this discussion group the performance of BWV 106 by Leonhardt was discussed favorably. I do not know it myself.

In general, I find Gardiner's Bach a bit too extreme. He has an excellent choir that sings perfectly, even with a fast tempo, but usually his tempi are too fast for my taste. It seems sometimes he is showing off. So for the Trauer ode I would go for Herreweghe.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (October 14, 1999):
(To Adam N. LaSpata) If you search the Archives you'll find lots stuff about these two. My own "rating":

BWV 198
1. JEG (Torrid pace. Not to everyone's liking).
2. Jürgens
3. Herreweghe

Others: Koopman - A bit too slow. Parrot - Lethargic.

BWV 106
1. Rifkin (One-voice-per-part. Not to everyone's liking).
2. JEG

Others: Koopman, Suzuki, & Gönnenwein.

Leonhardt (which I don't have) was highly praised by most everybody.

Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne wrote (October 15, 1999):
This (BWV 106) is the first CD of Gardiner that I've bought (though I have had the Magnificat on tape already) and I was totaly enraptured by the inetrpretation. It was for me a revelation of Bach. I don't consider his tempo fast at all. We have to consider that in Bach's time (especially for him as a very religious person) death was something he considered from a very different perspective as we do today. Hence the faster tempo has a entirely other meaning than a slow one. I always have a feeling listening to Gardiner recordings (and not Bach only!) that this man does the incredible amount of research before he undertakes the studies of scores and later recordings. Therefore I can not accept a fact or notion that the tempi he uses are fast only (or partly) because his singers in Monteverdi Choir can sing like crazy and instrumentalist play respectively. I think JEG is far too clever for such an enterprise.

And I absolutely adore Nancy Argenta and what she does in the end of a choir (Ja, komm, Herr Jesu). Her voice just evaporates into that desperate cry - do come Jesus already!

Wim Huisjes wrote (October 15, 1999);
(To Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne) I don't see your point. These are religious works and should be performed and listened to as such. From which perspective should we listen to it today, whether you are religious or not? Why should it be faster from "today's perspective of death". Please, elaborate.

As has been mentioned on this list quite a while back: Gardiner makes Argenta sound like an angel. She shouldn't be one in BWV 106. Gardiner has his Reformation theology up side down in this one and therefore, IMO, it is a bad performance, no matter the tempi and regardless of how beautiful it sounds.

If you mean to say it should NOT be performed from Bach's perspective, why should Gardiner bother with HIP? Others do/have done a lot of research also and come up with different tempi. Why should he be the only one who's right ?

Of course he doesn't choose fast tempi just because his choir and orchestra can do it. If that were the case, we'd have a SMP performance that would take maybe 40 minutes. Advantage would be that it would fit on one CD... Besides, others can do that also.

Donald Satz wrote (October 15, 1999):
< Wim Huisjes wrote concerning Bach sacred cantatas: “These are religious works and should be performed and listened to as such.” >
Being totally non-religious, I can't possibly listen on a religious level. I listen on a dramatic and/or theatrical level. That does it for me. And, I don't deny that the level upon which a person listens can significantly impact the judgement of a particular performance.

I've heard some folks say that Gardiner is not for them, because his interpretations slight the religious aspects of a sacred work. I understand that, but it is not applicable to my listening, and as a result, I can and do greatly enjoy Gardiner's recordings of Bach sacred works. Works performed in a highly "pious" manner are not likely to get my seal of approval.

Jan Hanford wrote (October 15, 1999):
(To Donald Satz) Nicely said, I completely agree.

Wim Huisjes wrote (October 15, 1999);
(To Donald Satz) OK, you'll have no problems with me. Let me re-phrase the line you quoted: "These are religious works and should be performed as such". Everyone is entitled to listen the way they want.

Luis Villalba wrote (October 15, 1999);
I, being also non-religious, add myself to your views. I don't remember who was the extremely wise man who said God should have existed, just to listen to what Bach composed for him.

Wim Huisjes wrote (October 15, 1999):
(To Luis Villalba) A similar (or maybe the same quote is intended), precise quote comes from Klemperer: "If God did not exist, Bach invented him".

To make my view clearer: Bach was making a point, and in understanding his music I think the listener should at least try to have some idea on what that point was, whether you believe it or not. If one considers his cantatas etc. as drama, theatre or whatever: one should at least know what it's about. The same goes for the performer. Judging Klemperer's performance of SMP (BWV 244): I think he got it right, though he didn't necessarily believe it.

Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne wrote (October 17, 1999):
Firstly I have to explain and warn that I have no intentions and it would be utterly improper to start another 'tempi-discussion' so I will really shortly explain what I meant with my previous post.

The conception of death in the Bach times (as indeed before and later) was a different one that we have nowadays. Today death is perceived as something that people fear and a death experience is for those close to the deceased somehting extreemly sad. In those days death was a salvation from this (unperfect, sinful)world and the beginning of an eternal life in heaven - under a condition of course that you reached it. I do not mean people died gladly, nor that they didn't mourn over the deceased. This is what I meant by the saying that since Bach was a very religious person he felt this perhaps even stronger than others (bearing in mind that he was an artist too). His funeral music is therefore written in somewhat different motion as we are used today. And if we consider this hapothesis of mine, perhaps we see that the funeral music needs not to be as dark and sad in order to translate it to the cultural language of today. Listen to Purcell Funeral sentences and you will notice the very simmilar feeling. I hope I haven't been to philosophical, and I might add that I have not been raised in any religion aam an agnostic.

I'm not saying that she sings as an angel - for me she is the desperate cry (in the night, if you will) for God.

Quite 'au contraire' my friend - his interpretation absolutely fits my hypothesis on Bach perception of death.

My, my, you are a militant chap. I never claimed his is the only right one. I personaly believe that music is a matter of taste. However, Early Music is a subject to heavy disputes simply because we have so little knowledge of the performance practise. There is enough of so called HIP, so that you have the ability to choose the one you like most. JEG just has that something for me that he persuades me with his interpretation as well as answers my questions rather sufficiently.

Wim Huisjes wrote (October 17, 1999):
(To Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne) Thanks for the clarification. I understand what you mean now, though I don't necessarily agree. I'm still having trouble with the concept of "today's perception of death". IMO today there is no such generally accepted concept. At most, any perception of death is more individually determined than in Bach's time and the society he was part of. One extreme: for some, little has changed. Another extreme: for others Bach's perception may seem as coming from another planet. So, on your conclusion we agree: what we prefer in performances is determined very much individually.

As others do: I also hope Gardiner will record more cantatas. My comment was focused on his performance of BWV 106.

John Eliot Gardiner: Short Biography | Monteverdi Choir | English Baroque Soloists
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Newsletters
Cantatas BWV 106, 118b, 198 | Cantatas BWV 140, 147 | Cantatas BWV 11, 37, 43, 128 | Cantatas BWV 6, 66 | Cantatas BWV 72, 73, 111, 156 | Cantatas BWV 82, 83, 125, 200
Bach Cantata Pilgrimage:
BCP - Vols 1&8 | BCP - Vol. 6 | BCP - Vol. 14 | BCP - Vol. 15 | BCP - Vol. 21 | BCP - Vol. 22 | BCP - Vol. 23 | BCP - Vol. 24 | BCP - Vol. 26 | Bach Cantata Pilgrimage DVD | DVD John Eliot Gardiner in Rehearsal
Other Vocal Works:
BWV 232 - Gardiner | BWV 244 - Gardiner | BWV 245 - Gardiner | BWV 248 - Gardiner | BWV 1127 - Gardiner
Table of recordings by BWV Number

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