Cantata BWV 103Ihr werdet weinen und heulen
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of April 21, 2002 (1st round)
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 21, 2002):
The subject of this week’s discussion (April 21, 2002), according to Riccardo Nughes suggest list, is the Cantata BWV 112 ‘Ihr werdet weinen und heulen’ for the Cantata for the 3rd Sunday after Easter (Jubilate). After the discussion of last week about the value of the text in Bach Cantatas, we have another fine example of a poetic libretto. This one is not based on a Psalm, but it was written by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler (in her poetry collection of 1728), whose name is always a guarantee for a cantata of first rank. It seems that every time Bach used her text as a basis for his composition, his inspiration soared to new heights. BWV 103 is no exception, although in this case Bach emended the original text with the help of either Picander or Christian Weiss, Jr.
This Sunday’s Gospel is John 16: 16-23, the 20th verse of which is used for the opening chorus. The theme follows Bach’s usual overall pattern in many of his cantatas, beginning with a sadness-motif in the first four movements, and then changing to a joy-motif in the last two. The first chorus seems to represent the scheme of the whole cantata, because its initial tone of grief turns to rejoicing at the end of the movement.
In order to allow the members of the BCML being prepared for the discussion, I compiled a list of the recordings of this cantata, the details of which can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:
Cantata BWV 103 - Recordings
In the same page you can also find links to translations of the German text - to English (English-3), made by Francis Browne, and to Hebrew, by me. I hope that the English and Hebrew readers of the BCML will find the translations useful. Like last week cantata BWV 112, it has been a pleasure translating the text of this cantata. I repeat again my wish see other members of the BCML contributing translations to their languages (French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, etc.).
Three of the five complete recordings of BWV 103 come from the complete cantata cycles (Rilling , Leonhardt, and Leusink). The first of the other two is conducted by Ramin (early 1950’s). The second comes from the legendary German label Cantata, which recorded many Bach Cantatas during the 1960’s. Alas, most of these recordings have never been reissued in CD form. But BWV 103, conducted by Graulich, had a better luck. It was reissued last year with more cantatas from the same source by Baroque Music Club in a mini-series of 5 CD’s.
I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion. I have just finished the first round of listening to all 5 recordings in a raw. After this round I have already quintessential favourite. To know which recording is this, you will have to wait couple more days until I finish my review. In the meantime it is most recommended listening to this cantata in whatever recording you can put your hands on. Because this cantata is one of the most beautiful of them all.
Francis Browne wrote (April 23, 2002):
As always there is much to admire and enjoy in this cantata, but I must confess to a certain sense of disappointment and find myself unable to share Aryeh's opinion that 'this cantata is one of the most beautiful of them all.'
The text is not the problem ( as I think it may well be next week with BWV 207). As Aryeh points out the libretti written by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler are among the best set by Bach. I am loath also to ascribe to Bach an uncharacteristic failure to accomplish what he intended. Perhaps I can best define it as a failure of musical imagination on my part.
 I have as usual heard only the Leusink recording. Often in the past these recordings have given me great pleasure and where there were shortcomings I have still been able to sense the greatness and beauty of the music that were imperfectly realised. But with this cantata, for whatever reason, I am left with a feeling of frustration and incompleteness.
The opening chorus with its striking use of the piccolo and the sudden change of tempo for the beautiful setting of Ihr aber werdet traurig sein for the bass ought to have a marvellous impact, but I am too conscious of a degree of indiscipline in the choir and the occasional 'yodelling' as Tom Braatz usually terms it. Robertson argues that 'the shrill piccolo on the top line of the orchestral introduction...is the voice of an unbelieving world maliciously mocking the Christians apparently deserted by their leader.' I feel no sense of that in this performance , and Ramselaar, generally an able singer, seems ill served for what ought to be a moving and powerful intervention.
Similarly with the aria for alto. I do not share the harsh opinions that have often been expressed about Buswalda's abilities . I remember that it was through his singing that I first came to know and was deeply moved by, for example the Actus Tragicus and the wonderful aria for alto in BWV 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbaths. But here he simply does not have the emotional weight to make the aria succeed, and in this context the expressive writing for piccolo also lacks impact for me.
The irruption of joy at the beginning of the tenor aria is a marvellous moment in this and I suspect in any performance. The jubilation of the writing for trumpet is exhilarating. But little of this comes across in the singing of Schoch and when he struggles with the final repetition of Freude I am tempted to translate not joy, but torment.
And the chorale. I'm afraid that Leusink often conjures up a picture for me of the congregation gathering their hats and coats and umbrellas together to make as quick an exit as possible from the church. Surely, I feel, the function of the chorale is to express the congregation's (or our) heartfelt response and assent in timeless, traditional words to the great truths that have been presented in the liturgy and music i.e. they should generally be sung slowly, deliberately, with a full sense of the meaning of the words, and so round off perfectly the whole religious/musical experience. Not here.
Hence my failure of musical imagination. On this occasion with this recording I cannot go from what is to what perhaps may and should be, and so sense the greatness that Aryeh obviously sees in this cantata. I am most interested to see what recording will be recommended.
(If this recording were to turn out to be the 'quintessential favourite', I shall eat my hat. If also anyone has gained great pleasure from the Leusink recording, please do what I always do on such occasions - totally disregard such pestiferous, sourtempered quibbling)
Nick Kaufman wrote (April 24, 2002):
I have just been listening to this weeks Cantata - BWV 103 - and was struck by the rominent position given to the Flauto Piccolo. If I am not mistaken - and my translation of a newly acquired edition of Alfred Dürr's book is correct - this instrument is used once again in BWV 96. I was wondering whether or not Bach's had any specific reason for resorting to this instrument ? I cannot say that I felt comfortable with part assigned to the Flauto Piccolo (it sounds something like a modern day penny whistle) and noted that Bach himself felt it was also interchangeable having used different instruments in a later performance of BWV 103. Maybe the German speakers who have read Peter Thalheimer on the use of this instrument in Bach's music might be able to shed light on the matter ?
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 25, 2002):
BWV 103 “Fiauto piccolo”
Nick Kaufman stated and inquired:
< I have just been listening to this weeks Cantata - BWV 103 - and was struck by the prominent position given to the Flauto Piccolo. If I am not mistaken - and my translation of a newly acquired edition of Alfred Durr's book is correct - this instrument is used oncagain in BWV 96. I was wondering whether or not Bach's had any specific reason for resorting to this instrument ? I cannot say that I felt comfortable with part assigned to the Flauto Piccolo (it sounds something like a modern day penny whistle) and noted that Bach himself felt it was also interchangeable having used different instruments in a later performance of BWV 103. Maybe the German speakers who have read Peter Thalheimer on the use of this instrument in Bach's music might be able to shed light on the matter? >
I don’t think we need Peter Thalheimer’s input on this matter (I don’t have his book, but I think I will be able to put together a reasonable survey of ‘what is out there’ and add a few comments of my own..)
An interesting place to begin is with David Lasocki’s article [also 1st draft of article at http://members.iinet.net.au/~nickl/echo.html ] in the “Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach [Boyd] Oxford, 1999, under “fiauto, fiauto d’echo” in which he defines “fiauto piccolo” as a sopranino recorder (range from f’’ to g’’’’ with f’’ being the lowest note produced with all the holes covered), the next higher instrument above the soprano recorder (range from c’’ to d’’’’), this in comparison to the most frequently preferred treble recorder (range from f’ to g’’’), the latter being used in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti: BWV 1047 (Nr. 2) and a later version of BWV 1049 as the Concerto in F major for obbligato harpsichord, two recorders, and strings. [Nicholas Lander’s site also lists a “'piccolino' recorder in f''' (an octave above the sopranino). This is probably the smallest fully functional recorder ever made. To make it playable, the fingers of both hands interleave. It has a thumb hole. Although the player’s fingers are interleaved, the expected patterns for each hand still apply”]
The “fiauto piccolo” (Bach’s original designation), normally referred to as “flauto piccolo” or sopranino recorder, also appears in the earliest versions of BWV 8 and 96 in addition to its designated use in this cantata, BWV 103.
David Schulenberg, in his article on BWV 103 in the Oxford Bach book just cited above (pp. 238-39) calls this a recorder in A and Alfred Dürr in his book, “Die Kantaten” (p. 353) calls it a soprano recorder in D (d’’ as the lowest note, instead of c’’) thus making this a slightly higher (by one whole note) version of the soprano recorder and not quite what we would consider a sopranino recorder. Why does Dürr come to this conclusion? Because the Bach’s fiauto piccolo part for BWV 103 Mvt. 1 has quite an extensive range. But does this mean that an unusual instrument (most Baroque recorders were based on C and F, not D and A) must be used? No, see Rodney Waterman’s excellent article at http://members.iinet.net.au/~nickl/relative.html ]which explains how there are other ways to get around playing at a lower pitch as most HIP performers do and still use the standard C and F based recorders.
The role of the sopranino recorder in BWV 103
The sopranino recorder used in BWV 103, Mvt. 1 (and Mvt. 3) plays a pivotal role in making or breaking the introductory mvt. It is crucial in delineating the contrast between the opposites of ‘Weinen” and “Freude.” Although Bach succeeds musically in combining these diametrically opposed concepts in the vocal as well as the instrumental groups, it is left to the sopranino recorder to heighten the expression of these contrasts by the very nature of this instrument. Since I am aware of the sound quality of this instrument by having attempted to practice on in for a number of weeks in order to play some short pieces typical for this instrument, I was quite surprised, and for the most part, disappointed by what I heard on the recordings that I listened to: Ramin, Rilling , Leonhardt, and Leusink. If there is any instrument in the recorder family that can hold its own against all the other instruments in the usual Baroque orchestra, it certainly must be this one. Despite its diminutive size (my fingers had to be pressed together without any intervening spaces in order to cover all the holes properly; and you had better not have wide or thick fingers), the loud, penetrating sound that emanates from this tiny instrument is simply amazing. The characteristic sound is made even brighter by the strident overtones that can be heard as well.
In addition to joining in the concertato motif where it plays an octave higher the unison passage given to the oboi d’amore and the violins, the sopranino recorder also introduces the “Freude” [“joy”] motif consisting of 16th notes that jump quickly up and down the chordal structure, single long notes held for two measures, the chromatically descending pattern representing “weinen” [“crying”], and even a special spiraling-downward figure representing sadness in the recitative section. Bach certainly had the unique qualities of this instrument in mind in all these instances, but the ‘crowning glory’ occurs in the final two major fugal sections (skip the initial short fugue which barely finishes as it picks up motifs from the initial ritornello section). In these final, major fugues you will hear each voice enter with the fugal subject which is doubled in the instruments, but the fifth and most glorious entrance (very similar to movements in which the trumpet plays this role) is assigned all alone to the sopranino recorder! Remember that, at this point, as the full choir is singing vigorously accompanied by the full force of instruments, this tiny instrument (less than 10 inches long and under an inch in diameter at its widest point) takes over and literally ‘rules the day.’
Here is what you hear in the HIP recordings:
 Leonhardt has one of the best flautists with special expertise in recorder playing, Frans Brüggen, who plays a Thomas Stanesby, jr. instrument made in London, c. 1720. This is perhaps the greatest disappointment that one can experience with this mvt. Long passages in the mid and low range are lost entirely because they are not audible. The beginning of each fugal entrance is lost as well. I estimate that at least half of all the notes in the flauto piccolo part are inaudible or just barely audible. Perhaps this original museum piece should have remained in the museum, or some terrible catastrophe may have befallen it. Perhaps Leonhardt feared the strident quality of the instrument might overshadow his effort with the choir and remaining orchestra and decided to have blankets hung around Brüggen to help muffle the sound, or perhaps the sound engineers were instructed to cut back or mute the high treble sound of the sopranino. The result, in any case, is that Bach’s special effect for this cantata has been emasculated giving us only a wimpy occasional presence of this instrument.
 Leusink copies some of Leonhardt’s (and Harnoncourt’s) techniques generally, but Anneke Boeke’s presentation is at least a slight improvement over Brüggen’s. Generally her instrument sounds weak but audible with the exception where the instrument plays in the lowest octave of the range allotted to it (which happens rather frequently.) Yes, the fugal entrances can be heard, but the sound of the instrument is feeble and relatively soft. Since I know what this instrument is supposed to sound like, I am surprised by the lack of character and definition of this instrument on this recording. It sounds as if the audio engineers had cut out all the wonderful overtones that this instrument can produce. This is one aspect of the Leusink series that I could never understand: there is such a lack of brightness in the sounds of the instruments. Do baroque oboes, for instance, really sound that dull in a live performance (as pleasant as that sound might be otherwise)? One thing I do know is that the sopranino rwould normally wake up any congregation that would happen to be listening. Not in this recording, however!
 Ramin, in addition to struggling to keep his almost-unrehearsed forces together for a one-time radio broadcast, could not find a player to master this part completely. He decided to have a modern transverse flute complement and support the unnamed sopranino player. When both are playing together simultaneously, you hear the sopranino recorder an octave higher. [Actually, this idea is not so far-fetched: Ramin may have noted that Bach had both parts in his set of original parts. But later, after Ramin, it was clarified that the transverse flute or violin part was added years later for another performance of this cantata.] In the low range, or whenever the part becomes very difficult to play, the transverse flute plays alone. The sopranino adds some sparkle in the high range (despite the poor recording techniques (dubbed from a radio performance) in those days.) Because of audio overload, there are times when both instruments ‘disappear from the radar screen’ altogether.
 Rilling has captured the true essence and sound of this instrument. Some listeners may think that he had a special mike placed before the instrument. Let me assure you, when played properly and recorded naturally without interference from the sound engineers, such an action is utterly unnecessary. This sopranino recorder played by Manfred Harrer or Hartmut Strebel [Why two names? They certainly did not play together at the same time. Probably one of them did the 1st mvt. and the other the 3rd] has all the chiff and overtones that ought to be present in such an instrument. Now this piece can have all the necessary effects that Bach intended. The chromatically-descending figure sends chills up and down my spine as it should when it represents human beings crying and wailing. The joyful figure sparkles with happiness and delight. Were all the notes that Bach put down on paper played as well (no cheating or muffling as in the other recordings)? Yes, all but two 16th notes in ms. 25 and 153. I assume that the sopranino player was using the f’’ based instrument, which is the baroque-type recorder commonly manufactured today, and simply decided not to transpose this low passage by suddenly jumping up one octave simply in order to play this otherwise non-existent note on the recorder he was using. If the 1st mvt. simply does not ‘grab’ you at all in any of the other recordings, try the Rilling version . It may give you an entirely different insight into this wonderful cantata mvt.
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 25, 2002):
BWV 103 What all the fuss is about
If you listen to Mvt. 2, the tenor recitative which consists of only a few measures, you will nevertheless be able to ascertain the difference between the HIP and non-HIP way of performing secco recitatives.
 Ramin (non-HIP)
The harpsichord in the continuo is rather prominent here (perhaps the single mike used in those days was relatively nearby. As the chords are played, the sound of the harpsichord quickly dies out, but the violoncello (and perhaps even a double bass) continue holding the bass note in the basso continuo for its full value before moving on to the next note. The tradition in Ramin’s time was still in favor of using the harpsichord in all of Bach’s church cantatas. This practice has been abandoned in favor of using an organ unless Bach indicated the harpsichord specifically.
 Rilling (mainly non-HIP)
Here you can hear the arpeggiated chords in the harpsichord with the violoncello continuing to hold the bass note for the full value. At no time is the singer left without the support of this note.
 Leonhardt (HIP)
The organ and the violoncello barely hold the chord for one beat before breaking off entirely, despite the fact that Bach indicated that the bass note should still be sounding until the next note takes over. At no point do these hiatuses occur in Bach's score.
 Leusink (HIP)
Essentially the same thing happens. The only difference that I can detect is that Leusink holds the chord in the organ and cello for slightly more than one beat, but not much longer than that. The hiatuses are still quite apparent. This is not what Bach intended.
Aryeh Oron wrote (April 25, 2002):
The background below is based on several sources (mostly Robertson and Young) and something of my own. The English translations are by Francis Browne, a member of the BCML.
See: Cantata BWV 103 - Commentary
Review of the Recordings
This time I shall exceed my usual procedure of reviewing the recordings chronologically and describe my impression of the recordings according to my personal preferences, starting with the least satisfactory to my quintessential favourite. During the first round of listening to this cantata I consolidated my initial impression, and with every repeated listening this impression has only strengthened.
Ramin takes his time in the opening chorus. Although it sounds heavy and certainly unpolished, I find in it dignity and sincerity. Alas, this rendition does not bear repeated hearings and should be used only as reference point to how a Bach Cantata was performed before HIP, before Richter, before Rilling, even before Prohaska and Scherchen. This is the only recording of this cantata, in which the bass part of the opening chorus is sung by the choir, and I find no logical reason why did Ramin choose to do so. After all, the voice of Christ should be performed by one singer.Gert Lutze’s approach is very operatic, both in the recitative and the aria for tenor. That means that he over-interprets everything. In first hearing it might sound interesting. But after couple more listenings you want him to sing simpler, and let the music sings itself. Eva Fleischer has a good contralto voice, but she does not manage to put some tension and interest into her two movements.
Superficiality is not usually a property, which characterises Rilling’s recordings of the cantatas. After so many cantatas with Rilling, I find that most of the times his opening choruses are impressive and colourful, full of lights and shades, with focus on the dramatic aspect. Therefore it seems to me somewhat peculiar to admit that just as all the components for a good and solid rendition exist, Rilling fails. First the singing of the choir is not clean and their expression is weak and not varied. Everything is jolly and happy and performed on the same level. Unless you know the words you will barely realise the contrasts between sadness and joy. Walter Heldwein in the bass lines, does not improve this overall feeling. The soloists in the ensuing movements are the best part of this recording. Doris Soffel is captivates with her simplicity, almost naivety, although she does not reveal the inner depths of her aria. She also passes easily the coloratura passage. Schreier is excellent, as usual both in the short recitative and in the aria.
The opening chorus is more varied and moving than Rilling. The singing of the choir has some problems of intonation and internal balancing. But the spirit is there. In these circumstances Ramselaar sounds as the right man in the right place at the right time. Knut Schoch and Sytse Buwalda have both voice problems: Buwalda’s is fragile and unstable, and Schoch’s is not the most beautiful tenor voice I have heard. Singers in other renditions show that there is more depth in the four movements for soloists, than both singers in this recording manage to bring out. The instrumental playing along the whole cantata is first-rate.
From the first notes I knewthat this is not Harnoncourt. From time to time in their joint cycle, Leonhardt seems to exceed from Harnoncourt’s route. This is one of those cases. The opening chorus is cohesive, serious and smooth, with convincing expression from all the participants: the choir, the accompaniment, the piccolo flute and the bass Max van Egmond. The contrasts between the moods, the sharp change of tempo, the thrilling entry of the bass - are all getting excellent treatment under Leonhardt's hands. Paul Esswood and Kurt Equiluz have always been fine Bach singers. Here they are also very moving.
One has only to hear the first few notes of this recording to realise that this is the right one. It stands head and shoulders above all the others. It grabs you in the throat from the very beginning and does not leave you till the very end. And when it is finished, the only thing you want is to relax a little bit and to listen to it all over again. Why so it is hard to explain. The instrumental ritornello with the shrill piccolo above, symbolising the world of an unbelieving world. Than the choir enters as if from nowhere and your breath stops. Their lamentation is so sorrowful that you want to weep. The sudden entry of the August Messthaler with his warm and deep bass voice is comforting and calming. All the lines of fugue are clearly heard and much care is given to every detail and to precision of performance, but you hardly notice it because the main focus is on expression. Raimund Gilvan knows how to deliver the message (mourning in the recitative; happiness in the aria) with the right amount of expression. The flute accompanying the aria for alto is so moving that you want its playing to last forever. Than enters Margarete Waldbauer with beautiful contralto voice and conveys the despair of the prophet until so deeply that you feel that no hope was left. I could continue on and on, but time is running out.
Opinion of a guest
Last week I had a guest from the USA, whom I easily convinced to join me for one round of listening to this cantata. How astonished was I to find out that he saw eye to eye with me, regarding the relative merits of each recording. He had one word or two to say about each recording: Graulich - ’resonant’, catching from the first note; Ramin - ‘plodding’; Rilling - ‘lightweight’; Leonhardt - ‘flowing and serious’, much better the previous one (Rilling); Leusink - ‘fresh and interesting’
GRAULICH ! (and it is avaliable in CD form)
As always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 27, 2002):
BWV 103 - Provenance
See: Cantata BWV 103 - Provenance
Review of the Recordings
This week I listened to the following recordings:
Ramin (1951) ; Graulich (1960’s) ; Rilling (1980-81) ; Leonhardt (1980) ; Leusink (1999) 
When reporting on the sopranino recorder part, I did not mention the Graulich recording which I had overlooked. I then listened again to Ramin’s recording for comparison. Here is what I discovered: In Mvt. 1 of Graulich’s version there is no sopranino and when I listened again to the Ramin version with both flauto traverso and sopranino, it became clear to me that both Ramin and Graulich use a regular treble recorder which sounds the notes an octave lower than the sopranino for which Bach wrote the part specifically. Although Graulich uses only a treble recorder and it can be heard throughout much more clearly, the effect is diminished. There are still sections where it can not be heard at all and the 1st entrance of this treble recorder with the fugal theme is rather weak. The sparkle of joy has been decidedly reduced. In addition the recorder sometimes sounds flat.
[Mvt. 2 Secco Recitative uses organ and cello in the bc. There is no shortened accompaniment in the Graulich recording.]
A comparison of timings of Mvt. 1 are in order:
 Ramin - 7:35 [treble recorder and transverse flute to complement each other]
 Graulich - 8:08 [only the treble recorder which is fairly prominent]
 Rilling - 6:07 [sopranino recorder is clearly heard throughout]
 Leonhardt - 6:02 [sopranino recorder only audible in certain passages]
 Leusink - 6:03 [sopranino recorder still weak, but better than Leonhardt’s]
What this means is that the slow tempi cause a greater emphasis upon sadness and crying than the joy which should also be expressed in this mvt. Beginning with Rilling a balance between the two contrasts is achieved. Graulich makes use of very legato singing which is fine for “weinen und heulen” but does little to bring about happiness when the joy figures occur. In the latter case, the running 16th notes are all slurred as part of long phrases lasting for a number measures. The notes tend to become indistinct even at this slow tempo Rilling and the HIP recordings are definitely faster, thus also giving better support to the joy motif
This relatively early cantata recording is mainly of historical interest. It demonstrates, as Aryeh pointed out, what some of the earliest recorded cantatas sounded like. For anyone interested in hearing a pre-HIP version with all of the excesses normally attributed to the late romantic performance style such as a larger body of instruments, and with unusual ritardandi where you would not expect them as before the entrance of a soloist or the choral group. Contrary to expectations, the choir is relatively small and consists only of boys and young men (the St. Thomas Boy’s Choir – ‘die Thomaner’ or ‘der Thomaner Chor’ as they are known throughout Germany.) This adds a brighter quality to the upper voices, brighter, for instance, than Graulich’s mixed choir. Sometimes, in the case of the ‘Thomaner Chor,’ I am bothered by the unsteady restlessness in the upper voices caused by vibratos. This problem is compounded by sloppy attacks and releases. The 1st mvt. gives the feeling of trying to remove a heavy weight (a millstone?) from around one’s neck, because the musical forces seem so unwieldy. Both Fleischer (the alto accompanied by a transverse flute and not a sopranino) and Lutze (tenor) are rather operatic, with Lutze being distressingly so, for he seems unable to execute interval jumps without resorting to sliding or swooping (glissando) toward the higher notes. He strains to reach the high notes. This sounds utterly out of place in Bach’s sacred music. In Ramin’s defense, the recording techniques used here are very primitive and detract from the listener’s ability to enjoy this performance directly.
In Mvt. 1 the choir sounds quite belabored. Everything is very slow, very deliberate, and very legato. This leads to a lack of clarity in the vocal parts which is not enhanced by an audio distortion caused by the re-recording techniques used. The joyful half of Bach’s antithesis in this mvt. is lacking for the most part due in part to the extremely slow tempo. In Mvt. 3 (alto aria, here with a regular transverse flute instead of a sopranino recorder), Waldbauer demonstrates great expressive capabilities with a voice that has great depth and warmth. The tenor, Gilvan, also has a clear, strong, full voice with an expressive range rarely found nowadays. The final touch to this version is the chorale which is taken at a dirge-like tempo that might be more appropriate for one of Bach’s passions than here where “Freude” [“joy”] is referred to numerous times in text of this chorale.
I come back to this recording again and again. Each time I am amazed at the appropriate balance within and between the musical groups, at the clarity of the individual vocal lines that do not ‘get lost in the shuffle’ at times as in the other recordings. I have the feeling that the time spent in preparing and rehearsing this music is ‘paying off’ for all concerned, but particularly for the listener who will listen to this recording more than once. Of course, I still wish that the sopranos could sing a straighter line without the flutter of various vibratos competing with each other, but this is minor in comparison to everything else that has been accomplished here. There is intensity and a forward-driving movement that I love to hear in the fugal sections. Heldwein’s ‘vox Christi’ has the necessary firmness that allows one to believe that these words are spoken/sung by Christ. In the alto aria, Soffel, with the appropriate sopranino recorder accompaniment, gives a performance that for an operatic style voice may not be earth-shaking, but at least she is a step above Fleischer’s (Ramin) version of this aria. Schreier’s performance in his aria with trumpet is superlative in every way. I don’t see how it can get any better than this. You won’t even notice how he sings the long coloratura passage (7 long measures with 102 notes!) in one breath, a feat accomplished by only one other singer in this group, Schoch (Leusink.) Does this mean that Schoch is in the same class as Schreier? No, because one is actually singing with a full voice and the other simply moves sotto voce through the same passage with a half-voice and very little attempt at any expression.
My impression of Leonhardt’s opening mvt. is not as favorable as Aryeh’s. To be sure, if Harnoncourt had conducted this cantata himself, the failing would be much more obvious. However, the Harnoncourt influence is nonetheless present in the form of the ‘boom, boom, boom’ or ‘punch, punch, punch’ treatment of the opening fugal subject that is repeated later on. While this is going on, the bc is also overemphasized with exaggerated booming sounds that are out of proportion to everything else that is going on in the music. And, of course, my greatest disappointment was in Frans Brüggen’s performance, half of which was not even audible. The choir sang rather well otherwise, but there were some passages where the basses were weaker than they should have been. Someone explain to me how these excessive accents relate to the text and enhance the message that Bach was attempting to deliver to his audience. These unnecessary thrusts do not make me feel sad or happy, perhaps only angry because they appear to be so out of place here. In the alto aria (Esswood), you will at least get to hear the sopranino recorder and Frans Brüggen’s excellent performance (in contrast to the 1st mvt. where he was missing or very weak most of the time.) For various reasons I have trouble relating to Esswood’s voice most of the time. At least his usual intonation problems are not so apparent here. Equiluz’ voice encounters some difficulties in such arias which are less lyrical and demand greater strength in jumping from interval to interval. As he begins to push himself more than he would like, it becomes apparent that the music is conquering him rather than the other way around. In the long coloratura, he needs to break into the vocal line to draw a breath on two separate occasions. This, then, is evidence of how this type of aria exhausts him. There are other arias where he does extremely well, but here he has met his match and begins to struggle a bit.
Leusink’s treatment of the 1st mvt. is lightweight and does not carry enough conviction. Hearing the various voices straining or losing vocal control does not give the listener a sense of confidence that the message Bach is trying to convey is really coming across properly. Generally all the solo voices, as half voices, also lack the necessary ability to evoke within the listener the feelings of sadness and joy commensurate with the text that Bach is presenting. These solo voices generally have a ‘dead’ quality. This may be due to a number of factors: 1) insufficient time to truly acquaint oneself with the music [I can almost hear someone objecting here and pointing out that the “Thomaner” under Bach’s personal direction also had very little rehearsal time. To this I can only say that they must have had better and more intensive musical/vocal training, that their voices may have been different in some way from those of the present day, that their attitude toward their music-making was more intense and infused with religious devotion, an attitude that is almost impossible to recapture in this present day and age. Bach may have been charismatic as a leader of the musical ensemble, thus making things happen musically that we would consider nigh impossible today.] 2) the voices are untrained, slightly trained, or improperly trained so that bad vocal habits have been formed (voices that are forced into the throat or voices pushed into a falsetto range, where they threaten to break apart at any moment.) 3) the goal of the voices is to try to hit all the notes correctly, but beyond that not much energy, strength, or volume is left to inflect the tone with emotional content as needed. The voices essentially are used as instruments and the words are essentially impediments that stand in the way of the primary goal, which is to ‘hit all the notes’ correctly. 4) These voices have a limited range which usually means that the lower part of the range is very weak indeed and may not even be heard properly when singing with instrumental accompaniment. 5) When given longer notes to sing, these singers generally do not know what to do with a long note, given the fact that some sing without a vibrato much of the time. 6) Singing sotto voce most of the time, these singers at times drop off to an even lower level of sound production (very soft, barely audible) hoping thereby to create some emotional effect which is lost on the audience because it can not really hear what is being sung.
It is not the failure of a listener’s imagination when this type of performance is recorded for public consumption and fails to stimulate within the listener many of the things that Bach had originally intended. My fear is only that some listeners who make their first acquaintance with Bach’s cantata output through Leusink (or the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series) will get the impression that this is really all there is to these Bach cantatas. Unless they get really lucky and happen upon a single mvt. where everything seems to click (which is rather rare in these two series), they may judge Bach’s cantatas by what they hear in this recordings and leave it at that. This would be unfortunate indeed.
1st mvt. & Chorale: Rilling  in a class by itself
Just average or mediocre: non-HIP – Ramin , Graulich ; HIP – Leonhardt , Leusink 
Waldbauer  (above average, unusual voice);
Soffel , Fleischer  (average)
Esswood , Buwalda  (below average)
Schreier  (excellent, in a class all by himself)
Gilvan  (above average)
Equiluz  (average)
Lutze , Schoch  (below average)
Basses (vox Christi):
Heldwein  (above average)
Messthaler , (average)
Egmond , Ramselaa (below average)
David Smith wrote (April 28, 2002):
Here are some thoughts on the theme of BWV 103, illustrated by some excerpts from Luther's sermons on the gospel for the fourth Sunday after Easter. I hope it need not be said that these are offered without any religious partisan spirit. Spiritual truths must be in some sense universal.
Mvt. 1: The Opening Chorus
Bach sets musically the dramatic conflict between the weeping and wailing that the disciples will undergo and the rejoicing of the world. What is represented here could be any suffering of the believer in the world, but in the Lutheran ethos it seems that it mainly represents the troubled conscience of the believer, deprived for a time of the comfort of the felt presence of the saviour Christ. The development of the cantata text would seem to bear this out. Some excerpts from sermons by Martin Luther on the gospel reading for the Third Sunday after Easter (John 16:16-22) might serve as illustrations for the essential conflict of this cantata. The excerpts are taken from the 8 volume Baker House edition of Luther's Sermons. The first excerpt starts from the illustration from the gospel reading about the woman in travail.
"Notice how God deals with a woman suffering in childbirth. There she is left alone in her pain by everybody, and no one can help her. Yes, nothing whatever is able to rescue here from her agony; that rests in the power of God alone. The midwife and others around her may indeed comfort her, but they cannot avoid the agony. She must go through it, and venture and freely hazard her life in it, not knowing whether she shall die or recover, because of the child. There she is truly in the perils of death and completely encompassed by death...
Just so it is also when the conscience is in agony or when one lies in the perils of death. Then neither reason nor anything else can help. No work, whether this or that. There is no comfort. You think you are forsaken by God and everybody; yea, you imagine how God and everything are against you. Then you must restrain yourself to quiet and cling only to God, who must deliver you. Besides him nothing else, neither in heaven nor upon the earth, can deliver. The same God gives his help when he thinks it is time, as he does to the woman in travail. He gives her cheer when she no longer thinks of her pain; then joy and life are where death and all distress reigned before. In like manner God makes us happy, and gives us peace and joy where before there were misery and all kinds of sorrow."
Here we see both sides of the conflict in the opening chorus: the weeping and wailing of the believer whose conscience will condemn him when he loses his grasp on Christ, and the rejoicing of the world, using two contrasting musical motives. The world's rejoicing might seen as the way in which condemnation seems to surround the believer when grace seems absent ("you imagine how God and everything are against you").
Mvt. 2: The First Recitative
The taking away of the beloved is the felt absence of the saviour. But the saviour "pays no attention" to the pain his absence causes. Why is that? Because such times of absence are necessary to bring true faith and hope. Luther says it this way:
"For when he is believed in as the Saviour the heart rejoices, and aside from this belief there is no help, no counsel, nor any comfort at hand. This we see in the case of the beloved disciples when they fled and forsook and denied the Lord, and shockingly fell into the sin of unbelief. Then there was no longer a Saviour before their eyes. Comfort had departed, Christ had fallen out of their sight, counsel and help were no longer present, and they would have had to remain in this grief and doubt forever had not Christ again caused them to rejoice; for besides this Saviour there is none other. Hence, when he is removed, there is no other comfort to be had, and nothing but anxiety, need, despair and hell itself must be there. This was the real anxiety, grief and sorrow of the disciples.
In like manner God deals with his children today. Whenever he wants to comfort them, he first plunges them into similar anxiety and temptation."
Note that the absence of Christ, in both Luther and Bach, is in some sense intentional.
Mvt. 3: The First Aria
The believer knows that there is no other place to turn but to Christ the physician. He is plunged between despair and hope. Despair because nothing but the presence of Christ will actually provide consolation, hope because of the promise of Christ that he will return. Luther:
"It is agony unbearable when the conscience passes sentence against one. The heart and every refuge fail and anxiety penetrates every nook of the conscience. Anguish and fear consume the marrow and bone, flesh and blood, as the prophet David often laments in his Psalms.
Therefore, should a person come into like fear and misery of conscience, he ought to call to mind these words and say: Well, a change is taking place. Christ says, A little while and ye shall see me again. It will not last long. Keep calm. It is a matter of only a short time and then Christ will permit us to see him again. But where the conscience is so terrified, one cannot grasp nor understand these words of comfort, even if he hears them."
The aria expresses the plaintiveness of the believer, who submits to the absence of Christ even though he cannot bear it, and asks for Christ's presence even though he does not deserve it.
Mvt. 4: The Second Recitative
The comforting words of faith begin to bring the believer back towards a state of peace. In the gospel, Christ brings this comfort by the giving the disciples the example of the woman in travail. Luther:
"[The Lord] takes an example of a woman in the labor of childbirth, and in such labor that she does not die from it, but brings a happy sight to the world. This is also very
comforting and is spoken in order that the disciples may not despair when overtaken by temptation or fear, but may remember that, like a woman lying in travail, it will soon have an end; it is pain for only an hour or so. Christ thus, by means of this parable, makes their sorrow and trouble sweet and beautiful to his disciples."
Mvt. 5: The Second Aria
The believer plays a role in his own recovery. Given comfort by the words of faith, he rebukes his "senses" - the feelings, the outer man - and calms himself. This effort coincides with the joy of Jesus appearing again - "O joy that nothing can equal". The whole experience of solitude and struggle has been for the good and has been necessary. As Luther puts it, the experience of suffering the absence of Christ has brought the believer to the Father.
"You must come to the moment of trial, when Christ does not stand by you and does not die with you, when you cannot help yourself, just like the woman in travail. When this takes place, then you come to the Father. That is, you are filled with his power, and be makes a new man of you, who thereafter is not afraid, whose character is already here a heavenly character, as St. Paul calls it in Phil 3, 20; and this has its beginning here, by faith. Then you become courageous and brave, and can say as the prophet in the Psalm, "I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people," and "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil." Why all this? Because you have come to the Father. Who can now overthrow God's omnipotence? No one. Aye, then no one can do anything to you or cause you any harm.
This no one will understand until it has come to pass. Have you been encompassed by death and been delivered from it, then you will say, I was in death, and if the Lord had not delivered me, I would have remained in death's grasp forever."
Mvt. 6: Final Chorus
What has been artistically represented in the cantata has not been the isolated experience of an individual but is the experience of the church as a whole. This of the experience is reassuring and is represented by a verse of a hymn of the church (written by Paul Gerhardt) which expresses the same truth.
 I listened to the performance by Leonhardt, the only version I have. I enjoyed it very much and found what many members of the group have no doubt found before me – that any recording of a Back cantata is a lot better than no recording, whatever the limitations of the recording might be. But I wonder if Leonhardt isn't somewhat too operatic and extrovert, particularly in the first movement, if the essential conflict of the cantata is in fact within the conscience. Coming at the cantata from a different angle I also found myself wondering, with Thomas Bratz, "how these excessive accents relate to the text and enhance the message that Bach was attempting to deliver to his audience." Are the "weeping and wailing" of Leonhardt's version more appropriate to a warning about the invasion of a hostile army or some other physical threat than to a struggle within the heart?
Dick Wursten wrote (April 30, 2002):
I listened to the only version I have of this cantata, Leusink. In the evaluation of the 'performance' I comletely agree with what Aryeh wrote about it on 26/04. So I will only comment on some other aspects I noticed.
1. I was much surprised by the enormous richness of this cantata, both in its musical aspect as in its text. Bless Mariane von Ziegler: she is able! 'The first mvt struck me as almost being a 'gospel-motet' on its own, very well fit to the reading of that sunday. The big surprise of course the sudden intervention of the bass.... with his recitativo (arioso?).. Ihr aber werdet traurig sein..
I don't agree with Aryeh, who says that the bass is the voice of Christ. The whole text is an exact quotation of John 16: 20, which as a whole is a word of Christ to his disciples. I noticed in Dürr (Seite 53) that Bach himself reduced the text of Mariane so that the gospel-quotation was restored...
By the way: The reading of this part of the Gospel of John is traditional for the sundays before 'ascension-day' and the sunday between Ascension-day and Pentecost (orphan-sunday: John 14:18): Chapters 14-17 form a literary unity, the so called: farewell-speech of Jesus, warning and conforting his disciples while preparing them for 'living without his physical presence'. (ch. 18 begin the passio)
The prominent role of the sopranino is nice. I like the sound, so clear, so pleasantly penetrating. Anneke Boeke plays it very well, and to me the balance of this smallest of all instruments with the rest of the orchestra is satisfactory.
About the continuo-accompanimet in recitative mvt 2 I don't want to say anything anymore (Enough is said, and that is okay with me. I like to hear different opinions but:) The goal of a continuo is that things are continued. So let's continue. The use of an accompaniment is not to attract all attention to itself. So let's look at what is said/sung: Well Mariane makes a shift: She wonders why all that crying, howling and weeping and she understands perfectly: it is because 'the loved one' will be going away. Bach stresses the 'Schmerzen' that this departure always causes: The soul falls ill: love-sickness...
And indeed: love-sick and full of longing and 'Heimweh' sounds the next aria. Beautiful the sopranino. Anneke Boeke really plays it very well. (a pity of Buwalda, i'm sorry)... Again the agonizing long note appears, it goes straight through 'marrrow and bones' (Dutch expression, hope you understand what I mean). I see the lonely lover wanderling through the hills of Gilead to look for a cure, a medicine (Gilead was famous for it's medicine, it's balsam... of course spiritualized, this already in Jeremiah 8:22)...
Then the volta happens (mvt 4) : All things are turned upside down. The soul clings to the Promise of the Lord (favorite Lutheran term: 'Verheissung' (promise)... Nothing insecure about that: "In Christ all Gods promises are Yes and Amen" (quotation, somewhere in the epistles) and now not 'Schmerzen' is stressed, but 'Freude' instead. Bach again pictures this emotion vividly..
the outburst with tromba in mvt 5 is a splendid part of music. who said Bach can't write joyous music ? Listen to this mvt and you'll never say that again (oh Schoch, why do you always sound so 'squeezed'??).
Bach had a good nose for fitting chorales, as he proofs here: It's a perfect fit. and ends this wonderful cantata, divers and 'einheitlich' (in unity with itself) at the same time.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 103: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5