Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 4: Mvts. 30-40
Discussions in the Week of June 27, 2004
Aryeh Oron wrote (July 1, 2004):
Article about SMP by Joshua Rifkin
It is about the time we shall resume our discussions of the Matthaus-Passion. We have agreed that the weeks from June 6 to August 1, 2004 would be dedicated to systematic discussions of this work, scene by scene. To enliven the discussion, I have put in the Bach Cantatas Website an interesting article about this magnificent work
Joshua Rifkin was the first to record the Matthaus-Passion BWV 244 OVPP. This milestone event happened in a live performance at the University of North Carolina in 1985, couple of years after his famous revolutionary recording of the Mass in B minor BWV 232. Alas, this important recording of Matthaus-Passion has never been released.
Years before he presented his OVPP theory, Rifkin used to write liner notes for many American releases of Bach's recordings. Among which I found an article about the St. Matthew Passion, published in the liner notes to the recording of the work by Hans Swarowsky (4-LP album, early 1970's). You would not find any mention of OVPP in the article, not even a hint. Nevertheless, this is an interesting article, focusing mostly on the historical background of the work: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/SMP[Rifkin].htm
Happy reading and listening & enjoy,
Juozas Rimas wrote (July 1, 2004):
Your favorite female alto?
Could you name your favorite female alto? A good test-piece could be "Erbarme dich" from SMP.
I enjoy von Otter in the the Gardiner's SMP just as I enjoy her in the Gardiner's Xmas Oratorio, but "Erbarme dich" was left for Chance (does it sound like a pun in English?:)
So I don't know who else sings this aria with a warm, feminine, like that of von Otter.
Another velvet-voice female alto whom I enjoyed was a Ms Catherine Patriasz in Herreweghe's SJP. On Aryeh's site her name isn't underlined, ie she's likely to have only one recording with a good conductor. It's a pity, her "Es ist vollbracht" features that same deep "mother-like" voice that is so different from countertenors and creates intimate atmosphere...
Ehud Shiloni wrote (July 1, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote: < Could you name your favorite female alto? A good test-piece could be "Erbarme dich" from SMP. >
Try Julia Hamari on Rilling I
antu Dec Silva wrote (July 2, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote: < Could you name your favorite female alto? A good test-piece could be "Erbarme dich" from SMP. >
I like Magdalena Kozena, Janet Baker, and Lorraine Hunt. But Kathleen Ferrier, of course, is unsurpassed.
Phlippe Bareille wrote (July 2, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] Aafje Heynis.
Jeremy Thomas wrote (July 8, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas]How do we distinguish between "true" altos and mezzo-sopranos on this question?
Juozas Rimas wrote (July 8, 2004):
[To Jeremy Thomas] It's not the main point: the female persons singing Bach's arias/recitatives written for alto voice :)
From what I've heard, including the suggestions, Kozena's singing with McCreesh was closest to my preferences of non-sharp, low female voice (although Kozena is a mezzo?). I've read lukewarm evalutions of the singer on this list, however.
I checked Heynis and found as good, except for those passages when she decides to sing loud - this is unpleasant. Kozena sings loud way better. And her low notes sound very amiable.
I hope to hear Hamari sometime - perhaps she will be THE singer for this aria?
Aryeh Oron wrote (July 3, 2004):
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 4: Mvts. 30-40 - Introduction
According to the planned 'Order of Discussion' for 2004, the topic for this week's discussion (June 27, 2004) is Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Scene 4: Mvts. 30-40. This is actually the first scene of Part II. The short notes below are based on W. Murray Young book's 'The Sacred Dramas of J.S. Bach' (McFarland & Company, 1994).
The main attractions of this part (except for the recitatives and the chorales; for the Evangelist part a special discussion is planned) are:
Mvt. 30  Aria [Alto & Chorus]: "Ach! nun ist mein Jesus hin!"
The Daughter of Zion (Alto 1) and the Faithful (Chorus 2) reappear here to converse in dialogue again, just as Bach had represented them both in Mvts. 1, 20 , 27a+b  and perhaps the Daughter of Zion alone in Mvts. 5 & 5.
The Daughter of Zion is now in despair; the Faithful try to comfort her. The distracted terror motif in her voice contrasts with the motif of calm in the choir's replies, both in words and the music evoked therefrom.
Mvt. 35  Aria [Tenor]: "Geduld!"
There is a pictorial quality painted by the obbligato cello in this da capo aria. An overall motif of calm includes a speaking motif with coloratura, which must have been suggested to Bach by the words 'falsche Zungen' (false tongues) and 'rächen' (avenge).
Mvt. 39  Aria [Alto]: "Erbarme dich"
This da capo aria is one of the most beautiful that Bach ever composed. The lingering melancholy of the grief motif combined with a tear motif, plus the flowing harmony accompanied by pizzicato strings make a lasting impression on the listener.
Whenever I hear this aria I am reminded of Jonathan Miller's words in a TV programme about J.S. Bach:
"There are many pieces that surprise and jump me and I never know what will get me, except one that always gets me, even if I prepare myself to it, or at least trying to resist it, to hide myself, not to ashamed myself of sobbing, and that's the 'Erbarme dich'. I don't know why it always gets me. Every time I even think about it tears start in my eyes, even now, and I don 't know what it is… It is about what it expresses. This moment of knowing, that you have forgotten that somebody said something about what you are going to do, that he will betray you. You have gone through all this dark horrible night, as was predicted. You did it, it is all done, and you only ask for some forgiveness. But the music in which it is expressed, that violin… And it does not matter if you are atheist or a Jew, by being an educated member of the eastern European culture. This is the most famous story. It is in your blood in a way that no other story is. It happens to be the most intense story of them all. You can read it again and again and again and it is never fails as a piece of drama. A priest might say that it has everlasting truth, and that this truth is religious, and you accede to it despite the resisting to the religious belief within you. It is not like that at all. It is something that is permanently there, whether you believe it or not, and that is that we are here to suffer and our designation is to die."
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.
Lex Schelvis wrote (July 4, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Jonathan Miller expresses much better than I would ever be able to, my thoughts and feelings about the 'Erbarme dich.' When people ask me why I love the music of Bach so much, I let them hear this aria, but when no Cd-player is at hand, I have to try with words, but never have my words been so to the point as those of Miller. Thanks Jonathan, and thank you Aryeh for writing them down.
Normally I prefer a HIP-version, but this time my favourite is Michel Corboz.
John Pike wrote (July 5, 2004):
Aryeh Oron Some more wonderful music in this section. What can be said of the "Ebarme dich"? It is for me the jewel in the crown. I, too, am always reminded of Jonathan Miller's comments on this aria. Of the recordings I have listened to (Gardiner, Richter 1958, Harnoncourt, Hennig (1727 version) and Herreweghe 1, the latter is my favourite recording of the Ebarme dich...beautiful singing and playing; the phrasing and tempo are just right and it is very deeply moving.
Juozas Rimas wrote (July 6, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Mvt. 30  Aria [Alto & Chorus]: "Ach! nun ist mein Jesus hin!" >
A digression: how come the image of a tiger (!) appears in SMP? ("mein Lamm in Tigerklauen") Is it a biblical image? Did tigeever inhabit the Palestine region?
< Mvt. 35  Aria [Tenor]: "Geduld!"
There is a pictorial quality painted by the obbligato cello in this da capo >
I found this aria cruder and less powerful than "Ich will bei meinen Jesu wachen".
Lex Schelvis wrote (July 6, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I listened to four versions of the Matthew Passion: Koopman, Herreweghe 1, Corboz and the DVD-version of Cleobury, that I recorded from Television. It should be the same as the one from Brilliant Classic, but the Dutch broadcasting company gave the impression in the preceding documentary that they filmed it themselves. So maybe they are different.
Negative about the Cleobury-version is that it has some technical problems that make it sound worse than the other ones. But the 'Erbarme dich' is great, like always. This aria is so touching that no one can spoil it. It would probably touch me when I hear it on a little transistor radio. Positive is that you can see what you hear; you see for instance how musicians react on each other. And you can see the concentration on the faces of musicians and sometimes the joy. But if a good sound is essential to you: try another version.
The other three are technical OK, so there the quality of interpretation is important and there's nothing wrong in all three of them. Normally I like HIP-versions more than the non-HIP ones, and I like Herreweghe a bit than Koopman, but sometimes it is different, and in this part of the SMP it is. In 'Erbarme dich' the violin-playing in Corboz has never been surpassed IMO. And in this aria the violin part is essential; the melody the alto has to sing is beautiful, but I notice that it is the violin that attracts my attention; it's the part that I always hear in my head. So though I like the singing with Koopman and Herreweghe more, my favourite version of this aria is Corboz. Wessel (Koopman) equals Jacobs (Herreweghe) but I prefer the violin with Herreweghe, so here it is: 1. Corboz, 2 Herreweghe and 3. Koopman. One thing I noticed: when people hear "Erbarme dich' for the first time, they often prefer Corboz.
'Ach! nun ist mein Jesus hin' includes one of the most tender choir parts that I know. And for me in expressing tenderness and choir sound Koopman always excells, so in tender choir sounds Koopman is at his best. I like the solo voice with Herreweghe more, though. The choir and alto in Corboz are very good, the instrumentation not more than average. 1. Koopman, 2. Herreweghe, 3. Corboz
In 'Geduld' the cello with Koopman is IMO splendidly played by Jaap Ter Linden and Pregardien sounds better than Blochwitz. Corboz simply can't match here. 1. Koopman 2. Herreweghe and 3. Corboz.
Wow, this is much harder than I expected.
John Reese wrote (July 7, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] "Geduld" bears an unfortunate resemblance to a novelty song from the 50's or 60's called "Beep, Beep". I wish I could get that out of my mind, but I can't.
Juozas Rimas wrote (July 7, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote: < Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 - Part 4: Mvts. 30-40 - Introduction
The main attractions of this part (except for the recitatives and the chorales; for the Evangelist part a special discussion is planned) >
As the planned discussion will consider the evangelist part in the scope of the whole SMP, I'd like to point what I found especially notable in the mvts. 30-40, besides arias.
Despite the domination of "Erbarme dich" in this chunk of SMP, there is indeed other marvelous material in it:
No. 34: the tenor recitative, which is given the impetus by the preceding evangelist phrase "Aber Jesus schwieg stille" and then steps along steadily with tenor's beautiful declamation on top of it.
No. 37: "Wer hat dich so geschlagen" - one of Bach's best chorale tunes.
No.38: The long evangelist part about Peter denying Jesus three times. One of the best examples of a recitative that should be listened to attentively and isn't just a link between arias.
I have heard several renditions of this evangelist part, and Pregardien's take with Harnoncourt (2000) appears to be the one where the performer paid extreme, meticulous attention to all nuances, determined by the composer. He sings "kraehete", "kraehen" quite harshly, imitating the rooster; "hinaus" with a very thin voice indicating the outward/upward direction of movement; "weinete" leaves you in no doubt that sorrowful crying is depicted (the voice is edgy, as if on the verge of breaking - the voice indeed breaks when someone's speaking in tears); the calm "bitterlich" gives a sense of conclusion.
I think it's a good example of how Bach paid a lot of attention to detail in the music-text relation and the musician didn't ignore the composer's effort in his performance.
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244: Details
Recordings: Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001 | Individual Movements
General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | BWV 244a | BWV 244b
Systemetic Discussions: Part 1: Mvts. 1-8 | Part 2: Mvts. 9-20 | Part 3: Mvts. 21-29 | Part 4: Mvts. 30-40 | Part 5: Mvts. 41-50 | Part 6: Mvts. 51-57 | Part 7: Mvts. 58-63b | Part 8: Mvts. 63c-68 | Part 9: Role of the Evangelist
Individual Recordings: BWV 244 - Bernstein | BWV 244 - Brüggen | BWV 244 – Cleobury | BWV 244 - Fasolis | BWV 244 - Furtwängler | BWV 244 - Gardiner | BWV 244 - Gönnenwein | BWV 244 - Goodwin | BWV 244 – Guttenberg | BWV 244 - Harnoncourt | BWV 244 - Herreweghe | BWV 244 - Karajan | BWV 244 - Klemperer | BWV 244 - Kuijken | BWV 244 - Lehmann | BWV 244 - Leonhardt | BWV 244 - Leusink | BWV 244 - Max | BWV 244 - McCreesh | BWV 244 - Mengelberg | BWV 244 - Münchinger | BWV 244 - Ozawa | BWV 244 – Ramin | BWV 244 - Richter | BWV 244 – Rilling | BWV 244 - Scherchen | BWV 244 - Solti | BWV 244 - Spering | BWV 244 - Suzuki | BWV 244 - Veldhoven | BWV 244 – Walter | BWV 244 - Wöldike
Articles: Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 [by Teri Noel Towe] | Two Easter St. Matthew Passions (Plus One) [by Uri Golomb] | St. Matthew Passion from Harnoncourt [by Donald Satz] | The Passion according to Saint Matthew BWV 244 [By Joshua Rifkin]