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Cantata BWV 11
Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen
[Himmelfahrts-Oratorium]
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 12, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 13, 2003):
BWV 11 - Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen [Himmelfahrts-Oratorium]

Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (January 12, 2003) is the Cantata for the Ascension Day BWV 11 ‘Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen’ (Praise God in his kingdoms), known also as ‘Himmelfahrts-Oratorium’ (Ascension Oratorio). With this cantata we open the last stage of our 4-year traversal of discussing the complete Bach Cantatas. The members of the BCML have agreed that from this cantata onward we shall abandon the order of discussion according to the Lutheran Church Year, and discuss the remaining cantatas according to their BWV order. We shall usually adhere to this rule of thumb except for the few cases where a remaining cantata corresponds with a relevant event in the Lutheran Church Year. And what a magnificent cantata opens this last stage, one of the most impressive in the oeuvre cannon, a work that almost never fails to uplift the spirit and to touch the heart.

Background
The comprehensive and excellent commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to the original 2-LP album of Corboz on Erato [10], was written by Carl de Nys.

See: Cantata BWV 11 - Commentary

Recordings
The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 11 - Recordings

The earliest two recordings of this cantata appeared on LP only. However, the aria for alto from Jacques’ recording [2] was reissued on CD in Kathleen Ferrier Edition – Vol. 3. Most of the other 14 complete recordings are available in CD form. Among which we can find the three regular participants: Harnoncourt [7], Rilling [12] and Leusink [19]. Koopman and Suzuki, who record the cantatas chronologically, according to time of composition, have not yet reached the year 1735 (when BWV 11 was composed). But we are compensated for their absence by two other contemporary interpreters, not less respected: Herreweghe [15] and Gardiner [16]. Most of the other recordings belong to the more conservative camp: Kurt Thomas [5], Werner [6], Richter [8], Somary [9], Corboz [10], Ledger [11] and Funfgeld [21]. The remaining two are HIP: Leonhardt [14] from his mini-series of cantatas recorded during the 1990’s, long time after his joint cycle with Harnoncourt was finished and Parrott [13]. Variety of approaches allows us to investigate the cantata from different points of view.

You can listen to Harnoncourt’s recording [7] through David Zale Website: http://www.mymp3sonline.net/bach_cantatas/mp3.asp

Additional Information
In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
The original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website); two complete English translations by Francis Browne and Z. Philip Ambrose and one of the opening chorus only (San Francisco Bach Choir); Hebrew translation by Galia Regev;
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
If the above quoted commentary was not detailed enough, you can find three more on the web: by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), Brian Robins (AMG) and Dr. Carol Traupman-Carr (Bethlehem).

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Evan Park Luck wrote (January 14, 2003):
Brilliant Classics BWV 11 question

I have the 160 CD Brilliant Classics set, and haven't been able to find BWV 11 listed on either of the cantata boxes. Is it possible it's somewhere else in the set, or maybe they just didn't record it? Or worse yet, am I just overlooking it completely and am having some kind of mental lapse? Or even worser, am I going blind?

Dick Wursten wrote (January 14, 2003):
[To Evan Park Luck] I checked and couldn’t find it either. But it exists only we don't have it, because it was sold separately (just like the secular cantatas)
Bach Edition Vol. 17 - Vocal Works Vol. 2
Cantata BWV 11 - Recordings

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 14, 2003):
[To Evan Park Luck] Cantata BWV 11 is not included in the cantata box of the Brilliant Classics Bach Edition. However, if you have all the 160 CD's, it means that the cantata is at your disposal!

Look at the page of recordings of BWV 11:
Cantata BWV 11 - Recordings
In [19] you will be able to see that the recording of this cantata by Leusink is included in the box set 'Bach Edition Vol. 17 - Vocal Works Vol. 2'.

Enjoy, and I hope to see you participating in the discussion,

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 15, 2003):
[To Aryeh Oron] Is it included with the oratorios maybe?

Jane Newble wrote (January 16, 2003):
With parodies like this, who needs originals? Several times this week I have been listening to the three versions I have of this amazing Oratorio. They are Herreweghe [15], Richter [8] and Leusink [19]. With every hearing I have grown more fond of this beautiful music. 'Parody', yes, but so what? It is a mixture of deep sadness and joyful hope.

The opening chorus is a feast of praise. The incredible runs in the voices remind me of the dawn chorus of songbirds in full swing. It is not so noticeable in the Leusink performance, but very much so in Richter [8]. Yet I prefer Herreweghe [15] here, because he does not have the shrill trumpets, and the whole thing seems more integrated.

The 4th movement is a jewel. Haunting, plaintive, and extremely beautiful. It is Anna Reynolds in Richter [8] who really pulls at the heartstrings. Well, mine, anyway. The violins and continuo echo the voice in their complaint. Richter has nearly 10 long glorious minutes of it, Herreweghe 7.25 [15], and Leusink [19] rushes through it even more with 6.41. 'Ach, fliehe nicht so bald von mir!' Bach lets us feel the pain of the parting of someone so dear and close. It is indeed "das allergrößte Leiden."

I like the chorale, like all Bach chorales. Yesterday I was reading about his fight against innovations in worship, and his struggle to hang on to the old chorales of the Dresden Gesangbuch. This chorale tells us what momentous things have happened in the Ascension, and reflects the opening chorus of praise.

In the following recitatives the pain is taken away, and hope put in its place. All leads up to the light and cheerful aria without bass continuo. The bodily presence has gone, but love, comfort and hope have stayed behind. None of my versions have a soprano I like. Perhaps I should try L & H?

Then there is the dazzling last movement. This deserves to be turned up as loud as possible! Both Richter [8] and Herreweghe [15] are wonderful. I don't think I will ever get tired of this! The voices, instruments and the whole rhythm is loaded with dancing joy. The Saviour has left, but He will come again!

One of my dreams......to bang away on the kettledrum in this Oratorio!!!

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 17, 2003):
BWV 11 Himmelfahrts=Oratorium - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 11 - Provenance

Commentat: [Little & Jenne, Eric Chafe]:

See: Cantata BWV 11 - Commentary

Christian Panse wrote (January 17, 2003):
Yesterday I listened to the two recordings of BWV 11 which can be found in my household, assisted by a pocket score. That Karl Richter [8] and Pieter Jan Leusink [19] act in different worlds needs no further explanation. Here are my impressions:

[8] RICHTER

Mvt. 1. Coro: The most noticable thing here is the very good trumpet playing, besides the
joyful tempo.

Mvt. 3. Rec.: This is too slow, and I have my problems with Baritones singing Bass parts.

Mvt. 4. Aria: From the general approach, I have Stokowski connotations here. All these string players are way too numerous for a two-part accompaniment. Anna Reynolds' singing is wonderful: she fills all of the wide range of this aria effortlessly (though it is audible that the studio technicians helped her out a bit) and does it with understanding. Too bad, that voice and accompaniment don't become one united thing.

Mvt. 5. Chorale: Recorded like this, a chorale really sounds like a congregation singing: Loud, laymen-like. Perhaps not exactly what we want to hear on LP/CD ;-)

VII. Duetto: Peter Schreier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau don't manage to sing with each other nor to transport anything of the direct speech. It is just loud, nothing else.

X. Aria: Richter starts to create a very delicate mood in the orchestra (closing my eyes, I saw and felt something like a warm rain in the awaking light of an early summer morning); unfortunately everything is destroyed when Edith Mathis sets in. Her singing is so one-dimensional, sharp, undifferentiated, it's a pity.

XI. Chorale: Again, a very joyful tempo is chosen, and with the exception of the strings who act with a lack of temperament, all instrumentalists do a fine job, again the trumpets have to be mentioned in particular. Regrettably, the recording technique is not well-balanced: the flutes are in the foreground, the trumpets far away - these are too artificial sound characteristics. The accelerando starting with the coda is a superb idea, even if hardly backed by the sources. But this isn't HIP, so what?

[19] LEUSINK

Mvt. 1. Coro: What superb trumpeters - unbelievable! Such a delicatezza! But the other instrumentalists are fine as well, especially the oboes. The whole movement becomes nicely transparent, and I like it that the choir doesn't dominate the whole.

Mvt. 3. Rec.: I believe Bas Ramselaar every word he sings about parting - very well done.

Mvt. 4. Aria: This movement is played a bit too fast. Buwalda's Voice is (even if not very euphonic) well-controlled (with some exceptions in the upper range) and matches the affect of the text.

VII. Duetto: Schoch and Ramselaar blend well, but completely miss the chance to shape the direct speech. They just sing the notes.

X. Aria: Leusink shows us no big overall sound, but the polyphonic structures of this movement - which I like. Marjon Strijk is far from singing this aria in a competent way. She even pronounces a word wrong ("vor'aus": no need for a glottis in the middle). Her voice isn't more than a fourth instrument, not bad-sounding, but definitely below the possibilities.

XI. Chorale: This movement produces the impression as if played with applied brakes. All the playing and singing is quite calm. The result is something unspectacular, what could otherwise have been a worthy response to the first movement.

Hugo Saldias wrote (January 17, 2003):
[To Jane Newble] Thanks for your lines.

You really know what good music is and know how to enjoy it.

Philippe Bareille wrote (Jaanuary 18, 2003):
Another work that contains music of great beauty.

I have listened to Harnoncourt [7] and Richter [8]. Neither of the two versions is entirely satisfying especially in the choruses and the soprano aria. Harnoncourt's choir is incredibly "messy" even though they admirably convey the sense of occasion of the first and last movements. Richter has a mechanistic approach that I find unpleasant at times. The sopranos may think that there are singing the Verdi Requiem or something equivalent. However I must admit that there is something uplifting in this rendition that is very effective and persuasive even though it is no longer what our ears are used to listening.

The poignant, grief laden alto aria is sung superbly by Anna Reynolds for Richter [8]. I prefer a woman alto to a countertenor but Esswood despite his usual shortcomings convincingly conveys the sadness and intensity of the music.

The moving soprano aria brings a sense of peace and comfort. The unnamed soprano singing in Harnoncourt' recording is out of his depth here and has some intonation problems. Mathis characterisation (for Richter) lacks some purity of tone to convince. She is simply too operatic to shape convincingly the melodic phrases of this magnificent music.

The few minutes with van Egmond and Equiluz [7] are a delight.

The gem of those recordings: the alto aria sung by Anna Reynolds [8].

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 18, 2003):
BWV 11 Ascension Oratorio - The Parodies:

The 1st mvt. is a parody of the opening mvt. of a St. Thomas School Initiation/Dedication Cantata (BWV Anhang 18) “Froher Tag, verlangte Stunden”

The original text by Johann Heinrich Winckler is as follows:

Froher Tag, verlangte Stunden,
Nun hat unsre Lust gefunden,
Was sie fest und ruhig macht.
Hier steht unser Schul=Gebäude,
Hier erblicket Aug und Freude
Kunst und Ordnung Zier und Pracht.

[O joyful day, hours that we have awaited,
Now our desires have found that
Which makes them a firm and steady.
Here is our school building,
Here your eyes and your inner joy will look upon
Art and discipline as well as ornamentation and splendor.]

This becomes in the opening mvt. of BWV 11:

Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen,
Preiset ihn in seinen Ehren,
Rühmet ihn in seiner Pracht!
Sucht sein Lob recht zu vergleichen,
Wenn ihr mit gesamten Chören
Ihm ein Lied zu Ehren macht!

[Again, see translations on Aryeh’s site. Notice the repetition of the noun ‘Pracht’ = ‘splendor’]

Both arias of BWV 11 are parodies of arias from a wedding cantata, “Auf! Süß entzückende Gewalt” BWV Anhang I 196 (lost) that Bach composed a decade earlier. The author of the text was Johann Christoph Gottsched whose text, “Serenata | Auf die Homann und Menckische Hochzeit in Leipzig” in which Nature and Modesty engage in a poetic conversation. Nature comments at first about the power and driving force of love, of passion, of primal urges (Trieb.) In the first aria, which later is transformed into Mvt. 4 (alto) of BWV 11, Nature sings the 1st aria:

Entfernet euch, ihr kalten Hertzen,
Entfernet euch, ich bin euch feind.
Wer nicht der Liebe Platz will geben
Der flieht sein Glück, der haßt das Leben,
Und ist der ärgsten Thorheit Freund;
Ihr wehlt euch selber nichts als Schmertzen;
Entfernet euch, ihr kalten Hertzen,
Entfernet euch, ich bin euch feind.

[Remove yourselves from my presence, you cold hearts,
Leave me, I am hostile towards you.
Whoever does not want to make room for love
Flees from his own good fortune, hates life,
And is a friend of the worst kind of folly;
You are choosing for yourselves nothing but pain;
Repeat 1st two lines.]

This becomes in BWV 11:

Ach bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben,
Ach fliehe nicht so bald von mir!
Dein Abschied und dein frühes Scheiden
Bringt mir das allergrößte Leiden,
Ach ja, so bleibe doch noch hier;
Sonst wird ich ganz von Schmerz umgeben.

[For a translation see Aryeh’s site. Note the reappearance of the verb ‘fl’ = to flee and the noun ‘Schmerz’]

The music for this aria appears once again in the B minor Mass BWV 232 as the “Agnus Dei” with the following text:

Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis.

Both this mvt. from BWV 232 and Mvt. 4 from BWV 11 go back to the original in the now no longer existent wedding cantata.

In the Gottsched text, Modesty responds by saying that it may sense longing, but many of Nature’s statements offend the sense of virtue that Modesty perceives. In her aria Modesty sings:

Unschuld, Kleinod reiner Seelen,
Schmücke mich durch deine Pracht.
Keine Laster, keine Flecken,
Sollen mir das Liljen=Kleid
Unberührter Reinigkeit,
Durch der Liebe Schmutz bedecken
Der auch Schnee zu Dinte macht.

[Innocence, the gem of pure souls,
adorn me with your splendor.
Let no vices, no blemishes cover
My lily-like dress
Of untouched purity
With the filth of love
Which can also transform snow into ink.]

In this early form, Bach used transverse flutes 1 & 2 with 2 Oboi da caccia playing in unison the ‘bassetchen.’

Marie Jensen wrote (January 18, 2003):
This oratorio goes from the highest joy into deep sorrow and back again. After an opening full of praise, Jesus says good bye to the mourning disciples. Two angels visit them, and it all ends in the joyful expectation of His return.

I have Gardiner’s [16] and Richter’s version [8].

Gardiner’s opening [16] is slimline, very elastic, bright, transparent, rather fast. I like it . Richter has certainly never been slimline, but nevertheless also very elastic (listen to the bas), and enthusiastic. The fast notes of the trumpet fanfares skip on golden waters. Praise is a Richter speciality [8].

The sad departure:
Perhaps it is caused by the period instruments, but I don't think (Gardiner/ Michael Chance) [16] go deep enough into the emotional aria "Ach Bleibe doch" (The Agnus Dei - maxi version). The Richter strings [8] perhaps have a romantic approach, but the intense changes from forte to piano and back again carry me away: Now Jesus is close. Now he is far off. They underline the departure situation and Anna Reynolds sings wonderfully.

The joyful expectation comes from Jesus always watching us with grace ( the soprano aria): I like both versions, perhaps the (Gardiner/Nancy Argenta) [16] a bit more than (Richter/Edith Mathis) [8].

The evangelist links it all together:
Antony Rolfe Johnson (Gardiner) [16] rather whispers the Bible words as precious secrets. The approach is :Oh listen to this! It is like seeing him sitting in an armchair telling the story for a child, who hears it for the first time. This whispering attitude can be found again in the Ascension Choral in the middle of the oratorio.

Richter [8]: My favourite evangelist of all, Schreier sings with dedication too, and with authority: Oh, listen to this! This is the truth!

I like both of these very different versions, but my favourite is Richter [8].

Jesu, Deine Gnadenblicke
kann ich doch beständig sehn
(BWV 11)

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 19, 2003):
BWV 11 - The Recordings:

The recordings that I listened to this week were the following:

Jacques (Ferrier) (Mvt. 4 only) (1949) [2]; Kurt Thomas (1960) [5]; Werner (1966) [6]; Harnoncourt (1972) [7]; Richter (1973-5) [8]; Rilling (1984) [12]; Parrott (1989) [13]; Gardiner (1993) [16]

[2] Jacques:
Kathleen Ferrier, although singing the text in English, gives us an example of a full-voice with a phenomenal tonal capacity that does not change from one part of her range to another. Take, for comparison, Cecilia Bartoli whose voice has gaps which she tries to bridge intelligently, yet it is very apparent in her low range that she has an obviously different voice quality than in her middle or high range. This, of course, should not be, but in opera she can split her personality and voice as she shifts from one register to another and from one personality to another. However in a Bach aria such a shift is never appropriate as one person sings a limited number of controlling thoughts that come from the perspective of one person. Bartoli also does a lot of fudging or cheating on high notes which she sings sotto voce. Her gift is in being a chameleon. Ferrier’s unified voice, however, has no need for all the vocal tricks and extensive training to overcome the shortcomings that most voices have. The intensity and volume is always present and she sings more from a soul quality than out of sheer technical artistry that often stands in the way between the artist and the listening audience. Even in this old recording with the more primitive recording technologies available at that time, Ferrier puts all the other altos in this set of recordings to shame. Yes, Reynolds is very, very good, but Ferrier is in a realm all by herself. This has to be heard in order to be believed. There are no ‘rough edges’ to this voice even when she needs to project certain words or phrases more than others. When she sings delicately, it is enough to put a shiver into your heart. This is very moving singing indeed and well-suited to singing Bach’s sacred music.

[5] Kurt Thomas:
There is a compelling aspect to this recording, perhaps because this comes closest to the choral sound that Bach might have envisioned. This is not to say that every recording by the Thomanerchor under its various directors since the early 50’s will have the same effect upon the listener. There are many slight imperfections here and there that will need to be overlooked/overheard (sloppy entrances, intonation problems, etc.), but beyond all these things, if they can be excused, is a general sense of enthusiasm and commitment to the words and music being sung. These boys sing with such enthusiasm and end on an entirely positive note (not duplicated by most of the other recordings below, except Richter.) It is interesting to listen to Rotzsch’s voice (he does quite well here) and there is a very good duet between Rotzsch and Adam. Höffgen’s alto aria is spoiled by the lack of voice control as she ‘pours on’ all the operatic techniques that she can muster. This version becomes very difficult to listen to as a result of this. Giebel’s voice in my recording has a ‘Fistel’ which is a thin reedy sound that runs parallel to the voice in this recording (audio technology at fault here?), or, otherwise, she was having problems with her voice when she recorded this. Also, her vibrato is quite pronounced and not ethereal enough for an aria of this type.

[6] Werner:
Although the choir and orchestra do not reach the heights of intensity and joy available in the Richter recording, there is overall clarity and precision between all the elements that come together in such a way that this recording is well worth listening to. The 4-pt. chorale (Mvt. 6) is presented in a moving and meaningful way. There is a single tenor who sticks out of the otherwise coherent choral blend of voices. In the final chorale mvt. there is joyous, legato singing that admirably conveys the necessary affect of joy. It is wonderful to hear the notes held out in undiminished fashion for their full values. The tenors and basses are somewhat weak in their performance here, but the choir ends on an affirmative note. Huber, the tenor with a full voice, has some intonation pro(flat) but otherwise gives a very sensitive rendition of the text of the recitatives and duet. Stämpfli is definitely worth listening to as a full-voiced bass. Scherler’s alto aria comes close to Reynold’s performance (see below), but she has an occasional ‘glottis Anschlag’ indicating a bit of trouble in controlling the voice. The duet of the two men in white clothes is performed well by the tenor and bass until they get to the final note which both sing flat. Graf’s voice is admirably suited for singing this type of soprano aria. There are some insecure moments along the way, but, as a whole, Graf is one of the few sopranos with a round sound (not penetrating). She modulates the high notes beautifully, but the intensity of feeling is not entirely conveyed here.

[7] Harnoncourt:
If people want to hear the ‘rough edges’ of a HIP performance, let them listen carefully with score in hand and be amazed. Without trying to attribute an ulterior motives to Harnoncourt for creating a recording such as this, I think I have finally discovered an aspect of recording technique that may shed some light on what I, and perhaps others, are able to hear in this rendition: there is a significant disparity between the clarity of the instruments, particularly the upper range instruments – trumpets, violins, oboes, flutes, where all the necessary overtones are present so that it is easy to distinguish between the straining trumpets, the squeaky, scratchy, thin-sounding violins, the wobbly oboes that are uncertain and unstable in maintaining accurately-pitched notes, the breathy, slightly waterlogged transverse flutes, and the clear voices of the boy sopranos on the one hand and, on the other hand, the booming bass instruments with timpani, and the lower voices (altos, tenors, basses) all of which sound muddy and unclear as if the microphones were aimed in another direction to catch their sounds only upon reverberating and bouncing off the secondary walls. This latter group sounds so blurred so that it becomes very difficult to distinguish the parts clearly one from another. The reaction I have, when listening with the score in hand, is “I think I can hear that something is going on in the lower parts, but looking at what any given part should be singing, it simply is not clearly audible.” There is a distinctly cottony quality about their singing that reminds me of van Egmond’s muffled solo voice cloned many times over. The overtones that are necessary for a clear reception of the music have been almost entirely removed except for the higher ranges. Either the audio equipment was completely substandard (perhaps the microphones directed at the choir were defective) or the audio engineer should have been fired right after recording Cantata BWV 1 in this series. Unfortunately, now listeners who are confronted with these recordings will be forced to endure over and over again the bad choices (poor acoustics or bad sound engineering) that were made in producing this series. When you add to this all of Harnoncourt’s HIP mannerisms, such as his heavy accents, his ‘wood-chopper’ style of treating even the simple musical line of a Bach chorale, etc., then the result becomes almost a catastrophe when measured by some of the better recordings that are available. What a dull treatment of a simple 4-pt. chorale in Mvt. 6! The final, glorious chorale mvt. ends with a whimper, not as the magnificent conclusion to a festive cantata (oratorio). You would not believe how much you are really missing from ms. 41 to the end! This is a sick and anemic performance! Even the soloists leave much to be desired. I do not want to get into all the details for this conclusion as I have discussed the performances of these soloists many times before. Esswood has a very fast, trembling vibrato that I find rather disturbing. Also, he tends to sing on the ‘flat’ side of notes. The boy soprano soloist sings relatively clearly and in tune, but he is insecure and tentative about the notes he should be singing. It is difficult to imagine Jesus’ love being this tentative. This type of singing does not inspire confidence. Just singing the notes correctly is not sufficient for an aria of this type.

[8] Richter:
The element of praise is very much apparent in the choral sections of this cantata. The final choral section demonstrates well how a chorale mvt. of this type should be sung. It is a spirited performance with the cantus firmus standing in the midst of everything with a strong solid presence. There is nothing tentative about this performance and that is as it should be. The fact that this recording was made over a period of years explains why there is a disconcerting change of pitch from 1st mvt. to the 2nd. Both Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau should not be missed. The expression that each brings to the text is wonderful. The duet emphasizes very clearly the difference between the voices that represent the two men in white. Were these two men angels, and, if so, are all angels alike or do they represent differing powers or ranks? Bach has the Evangelist, a tenor, and the bass who seems to represent the apostles in an earlier section sing this duet. Does this mean that Bach wants these voices to sound very different from each other? If so, then this version definitely captures this difference. Reynolds’ version of this aria is truly excellent. The slow tempo and the unison violins so sensitively played enhance all the artistry that Reynolds brings to this recording. Here one can really feel the words, “dein frühes Scheiden bringt mir das allergrößte Leiden” (the suffering that the apostles felt because Christ departed so quickly from them.) Mathis is unable to project the sublime happiness upon discovering that Jesus’ love has been left behind to provide comfort to us. Mathis approaches the high G’s and A’s with great effort and her expression of the text is more angry than happy. She is unable to find the sublime, easily soaring heights that should prevail throughout this aria. While her coloraturas are quite good, they alone make up only one part of a truly acceptable performance. Mathis simply does not sound ‘at home’ singing an aria of this type.

[12] Rilling:
The usual characteristics are present with this choir of trained voices: there is excellence in diction, with all the parts being clearly heard and in balance with each other. The chief drawback is that these trained voices tend to use too much vibrato. This is particularly noticeable among the female voices which tend to detract from the performance. This is, however, outweighed by the forceful and precise singing that expresses great enthusiasm which is required by the text that they are singing. Kraus, in his short recitative, begins to lapse into his special ‘recitative’ voice on the higher notes. The bass, Schmidt, has a voice rather similar to Huttenlocher’s which I have described many times before. The alto, Georg, turns in a remarkably good performance, with great strength in the lower range. At times the vibrato distracts from the beauty and depth of this voice. Cuccaro’s singing of the soprano aria tends to be shrill in the higher register. With a fast tempo, Rilling hurries her through this aria. For a sublime aria as this, this soprano is much to earthy. In this performance, Cuccaro is apparently fighting the difficulties that Bach composed into this aria. In the final chorale mvt. taken at a very lively tempo, the cantus firmus in the soprano is unsteady with some rather thin-sounding voices with vibratos holding on dearly to the chorale melody. This does not inspire confidence.

[13] Parrott:
This is an OVPP performance. This is the opposite extreme of the Richter recording. The best way to describe this difference is to imagine a string quartet playing a joyful piece. Now let this same piece be transcribed for full orchestra with essentially the same notes being performed and what do you get? Yes, the result can be almost overwhelming! Each typeof performance has qualities that need to be described: The OVPP version, such as this one, is ideally suited for a chamber performance to be given in a house, or at the most, a fairly small hall. There the music can be appreciated for its uplifting qualities since the audience that it engages is small. There is direct, almost intimate contact with various aspects of the music with each soloist, as it were, skating on thin ice. This is thrilling because, as the singer comes to a difficult passage or to the end of a phrase, the question arises in the listener’s mind: will the singer ‘make it’ all alone, with no other voices on the same part to back the singer up if something goes wrong (a lack of breath, a sudden frog in the throat, etc.) Compared to a larger ensemble, the OVPP-HIP orchestra group sounds rather thin, a kind of ‘bare-bones’ approach that allows you to hear many tiny details. What is missing here is a sense of breadth. In this OVPP-HIP rendition, a conductor feels an urge to ‘hurry things along’ so that they won’t fall apart. This may be the reason why many HIP conductors seem to take faster tempi. The voices in this recording have vibratos can be distracting at times, particularly if you are interested in hearing if every note is securely ‘in place’ and not some wobbly equivalent thereof. An OVPP performance is a musicological experience, more in the form of an experiment in the field of music. It is definitely not something very new. Mendelssohn assembled in his house singers and instrumentalists to give some of the Bach cantatas a ‘reading.’ Imagine, without recording equipment and not living in Leipzig at that time, this was the only real way to hear at least some of the many forgotten cantatas, only a few of which had been published! In singing their recitatives and arias, the solo voices exhibit many of the half-voice traits: weak low range, too much sotto voce singing. In the alto aria (Cable), everything is held back to a minimal level of expression, a typical trait of HIP recordings. Parrott has the unison violins play with strong accents causing some unaccented notes to virtually disappear from the range of hearing. This happens despite the fact that this performance involving only 3 or 4 instruments is ‘miked’ very carefully. In the choral (Mvt. 6) the tenor does a long disappearing act. So much for the highly vaunted transparency of all the parts; not even a simple 4-pt. chorale can be heard with all the parts in good balance with each other. Kirby’s soprano voice is thin and narrow with a more than ample amount of vibrato and a penetrating sharpness that is not always very pleasant. There are many ‘cheating’ sotto voce tones to remind the listener that this voice has many limitations. The aria sounds like a sotto voce singing exercise that has been successfully completed. The radiating love that Jesus left behind is nowhere to be sensed in this rendition.

[16] Gardiner:
Compared to Parrott’s OVPP-HIP rendition, this one has more flair which is to be expected with a greater number of singers. Nevertheless all the voices under the sopranos, the altos, the tenors, and basses, are often weak compared to the whole. At other times, on their falling-scale passages, the basses sound like roaring lions. I would much rather hear clearly all the notes that they should be singing. The soloists are all of the half-voice variety. Chance’s alto aria is surprisingly good, much better than I would have expected from other arias that I have heard him sing. Gardiner sets the mood properly with a slow tempo that is very appropriate here. Chance, in this probably for him early recording, even manages to do quite well with the notes in the low range. If it were not for the fact that this is a parody with a completely new text for the same music that Bach used elsewhere, I would be forced to consider the passage in ms. 68-69 with the words, “fliehe nicht so bald von mir” [“do not flee so quickly from me”] as exquisite tone painting with the notes dropping off gradually and reaching a low A, the lowest note the alto has to sing. It is as though the singer, as a boy alto or counter tenor can feel his voice also fleeing from him as he sings this passage. Rolfe Johnson and Charlesworth are close to impossible to take seriously. These are very poor choices for singing in a Bach cantata.Gardiner gives an astonishingly wonderful romantic rendition of the 4-pt. choral with an extended crescendo beginning with the 1st note and ending with the final note. Argenta, in her aria, has a voice quite similar to Kirby’s. There is a sharp, penetrating quality in addition to being only a half-voice that rarely sings anything more than a sotto voce. There is no comfort for the listener who hopes to feel Jesus’ love as already present. It is difficult to imagine His love as sounding like the sharpness of knives cutting into the listener. Gardiner’s attempt at some serious dynamic changes in the final mvt. beginning at ms. 52 ff. is a failure as the choir never really recovers fully from this pianissimo treatment to bring the choral section to a glorious end. He has also attempted to include some Harnoncourt mannerisms which also undermine the solid feeling of joy that should emanate from every wonderful bar of the final mvt.

Recommendations:

Soloists:

Sopranos:
Reasonably good: Graf [6]
Fair: Grümmer [5], Cuccaro [12], Unnamed Boy Soprano [7]
Academically sound, but not very moving: Kirkby [13], Argenta [16]

Altos:
In a class by herself: Ferrier [2]
Worth listening to: Reynolds [8]
Not quite so good: Scherler [6]
Interesting HIP versions: Chance [16], Esswood [7]
Not so good: Cable [13], Georg [12], Höffgen [5]

Tenors:
Very good: Schreier [8], Rotzsch [5], possibly Equiluz [7]
Average: Kraus [12]
Not so good: Huber [6], Jochens [13], Rolfe Johnson [16]

Basses:
Very good: Fischer-Dieskau [8]
Good: Stämpfli [6], Adam [5]
Average: Schmidt [12]
Not so good: van Egmond [7], Charlesworth [13], Varcoe [16]

Choirs:
Very good: Richter [8]
Good: Rilling [12], Werner [6], Kurt Thomas [5]
Fair: Gardiner [16], Parrott [13]
Poor: Harnoncourt [7]

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 20, 2003):
Pre-Review

Better late than never. Knowing that this week’s Cantata BWV 3 has only 3 recordings, I allowed myself having the delight of listening another round to 11 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 11. Only now I realise the coincidence of numbers (3 X 3, 11 X 11), but I am not going to enter into another discussion of Bach and numbers. This topic has been well covered in extensive discussions, as you can see at the page:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Numbers.htm

Anyhow, here is my review:

BWV 11 - The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 11 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 11:

[5] Kurt Thomas (1960)
[7] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1972)
[8] Karl Richter (1973-1975)
[9] Johannes Somary (1974)
[10] Michel Corboz (1976)
[12] Helmuth Rilling (1984)
[13] Andrew Parrott (1989)
[14] Gustav Leonhardt (1993)
[15] Philippe Herreweghe (1993)
[16] John Eliot Gardiner (1993)
[19] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999-2000)

And to two recordings of individual movements from the cantata:

[2] Reginald Jacques w/ Kathleen Ferrier (Contralto) (1949) [Aria for Alto (Mvt. 4)]
[M-1] Neville Marriner w/Janet Baker (Mezzo-soprano) (1975) [Aria for Alto (Mvt. 4)]
[M-2] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1984) [Concluding Chorus (Mvt. 11)]

Review – The opening and closing choruses and the aria for alto

With such extensive and excellent commentary as the one by Carl de Nys, which was quoted in my introduction (sent to the BCML last week), other commentaries quoted by Thomas Braatz in his review, and even more available on the Web, there is no need for a background to my review of the recordings.

Nys wrote in his commentary: “The structure of this fine work, which constitutes another unequivocal peak in Bach's vocal catalogue (incidentally he returned to the alto aria for the Agnus Dei of the B minor Mass (BWV 232), is somewhat unusual: the two outer movements are big choruses”. It gave me the idea to cover in my review only the two outer choruses and the aria for alto. It is lengthy nevertheless, and due to lack of time I had to limit myself somehow.

Opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) and Concluding Chorus (Mvt. 11)

[5] Kurt Thomas’s opening chorus (5:32) is slow and ponderous. The slowness enables the listener to follow the lines and notice details. But who cares where the uplifting atmosphere is missing? Things are getting better in the concluding chorus (5:01), but the approach is again too serious and heavy. It is the conductor’s fault, because both the choir and the orchestra give the impression that they could achieve better results under other guidance.
[7] Harnoncourt’s relative weakness in choruses is again evident here (5:09). An excellent and impressive choir is forced to sing in fragmented lines. If one sings of his exaltation, he wants to do it with enthusiasm, such that no one will stand in his way. The ahead-stop-ahead-stop motion of Harnoncourt does not reflect this. The concluding chorus is not much better. There is also some sloppiness in the instrumental playing. This impression is not much changed in the concluding chorus (4:36).
[8] After two disappointing performances, Richter’s impressive opening chorus (4:49) sounds as the right thing. First rate singing and playing, full force and enthusiasm, no one will fail to realise that the subject of this movement is the glory of God. The concluding chorus (3:59) is also magnificent, is somewhat fast to my taste.
[9] Somary follows Richter’s route in the opening chorus (5:04), but there is something Handelian in his jolly and festive approach, which remind us how close these two great composers could sound in certain choral movements. However, this approach does not add extra dimension to the Richter’s interpretation. On the contrary, I have the impression that it is somewhat misplaced. In the concluding chorus (4:43) we are reminded again of the Händel connection. And this rendition of the chorus is indeed too fast.
[10] Corboz’ opening chorus (4:54) outshines Richter’s in its vividness and other aspects, although it might seem almost unimaginable. He shows sensitive imagination and commitment, and there is something refreshing in his approach. The choir is excellent, regarding diction, phrasing and intonation and the playing of all instrumental sections - brass, woodwinds and strings - is beautiful. The concluding chorus (4:33) reminds us that the strength of this recording is the choral movements. How pity is that Corboz has not recorded more cantatas. At least, we are compensated by his multiple recordings of Bach’s other vocal works, as you can see in the following page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/Corboz.htm
[12] The instrumental ritornello to Rilling’s rendition of the opening chorus (4:42) is rhythmic is rhythmic and lively. The playing of the orchestra is not as polished as Corboz’ forces. Then the choir enters, and things improve, although it is still is on a lower scale than either Richter’s or Corboz regarding inner conviction and spirit. Rilling does not improve his position in the concluding chorus (4:10).
[13] How refreshing it is to hear the opening chorus with Parrott (4:34), using chamber forces in his HIP/OVPP rendition. There is tenderness and transparency in this recording, which is not matched by other modern recordings, except perhaps Herreweghe. Does this approach suit the opening and concluding chorus (3:59)? I am not sure, because with the smaller forces and delicate approach some of the enthusiastic and exalted spirit is also lost.
[14] Leonhardt’s opening chorus in his late recording (5:19) is heavy, serious and lifeless. The singing and the playing are satisfactory but this does not cover up for a very disappointing rendition from such respected authority. The concluding chorus (4:48) is on the same par with the opening one. At least, we could hear some good soloists between these two movements.
[15] Herreweghe’s opening chorus is the best among the modern (HIP) recordings of the choral movements of this cantata (4:44 + 4:12). To Parrott’s transparency he adds greater fluency and subdued force, which make his rendition almost irresistible. His excellent choir proves itself to be a better proposition for the choruses than Parrott's OVPP. Nevertheless, I miss the extra power and the more extrovert enthusiasm of the traditional recordings by Corboz and Richter.
[16] Gardiner’s choruses (4:38 + 4:14) are as polished as Herreweghe’s, but his rendition, although also HIP, is completely different. He brings forth energy and power in a way that reminds of the veteran school. Although this recording is definitely sweeping, I do also find that it lacks some sensitivity. With Herreweghe more details can be heard and his lines are clearer. I like them both, as each of them reveals another aspect of these choruses. And so is Bach: endless possibilities and almost each one is valid and capable of enriching our minds and souls.
[19] Hearing Leusink next to two great masters of HIP as Herreweghe and Gardiner are, and the deficiencies of his rendition become clearer: the sloppiness in the playing, the unprepared choir, the lack of balance between the various components, etc. However, his choruses (4:37 + 4:20) are not the worst we can find. At least he manages to put some life and real exuberance into them, and they have motion and fluency, where some of the other renditions sound dull in comparison.
[M-2] Rotzsch recorded only the concluding chorus (4:29), which is included in his joint album with Mach Pommer and Ludwig Güttler ’The Bach Trumpet’. Based on this rendition of the chorus we can only regret that he has not recorded the cantata in its completeness. He uses same Thomanerchor which recorded the cantata with Kurt Thomas quarter of a century earlier, but he manages to dfrom them and from his chamber orchestra more momentum and joy, brighter and richer sound and greater clarity than his predecessor in the Thomaskantor position did.

Preferences: Corboz [10], Richter [8], Herreweghe [15], Gardiner [16], Rilling [12], Rotzsch (concluding chorus only) [M-2], [gap], Parrott [13], Somary [9], [big gap], Leusink [19], Kurt Thomas [5], Harnoncourt [7], Leonhardt [14]

Aria for Alto (Mvt. 4)

[5] The slow tempo of Thomas’ opening chorus continues with the aria for alto (8:29). But here we have one of the greatest Bach alto singers, Marga Höffgen, at her prime. She conveys the message sincerely and convincingly and with a glorious voice, full and dark.
[7] Esswood (with Harnoncourt) warm singing suits this aria well (6:43). The aria is more demanding emotionally than technically, and I have the impression that he is not going too deep. The accompanying strings complement his singing with full and clean playing.
[8] Anna Reynolds (with Richter) with her heart-rending rendition (9:48) causes us to understand what was missing with Höffgen’s. This one is even slower, yet much more emotion is conveyed, and the rich voice has many nuances, which reveal hidden corners. The dense strings playing supplies warm and emphatic setting to the singer. Slow indeed, but I did not want this rendition to finish.
[9] Helen Watts (with Somary) is certainty behind her prime (7:07). The voice is not as clean and bright as it used to be, and this stands in her way to express herself convincingly. Sometimes it is uninteresting; sometimes it is even painful to hear her here. With Rilling she has achieved better results, even at this stage of her career. Maybe, this is the conductor’s fault.
[10] The strong vibrato of the alto Naoko Ihara (7:16) is almost unacceptable. She also shows no sense for Bach’s idiom. I do not know if it comes from operatic background. I could not find any source of information for her biography. I believe that the album of four cantatas with Corboz, is her sole recording of a vocal works by J.S. Bach. Judging by this alone (always a risky gamble), it seems that she had neither training nor experience with Bach singing. After Corboz’ shining opening chorus, this rendition of the aria for alto comes as a major disappointment.
[12] Mechthild Georg’s voice (with Rilling) is somewhat light for the aria (6:15), but she conveys deep emotion with her natural expression and captivating simplicity. The lightness of the accompanying strings matches the singing.
[13] Margaret Cable (with Parrott) has also a light voice, but her rendition of the aria for alto (5:58) is on a lower level emotionally next to Georg. This might come from the fast tempo, but I am not sure that it would have been better, had it done with slower pace.
[14] Ralf Popken has an excellent counter-tenor voice with beautiful colours along a wide range (6:56). However, what he has in vocal resources he lacks in expression. Based on the other movements of Leonhardt’s recording, I am afraid to admit that it might be the conductor who has to be blamed.
[15] Catherine Patriasz has a charming voice with dark colour, which suits well the demands of the aria (7:25). Even more important is the profundity that she finds in the aria and manages to bring out with assurance and conviction. Herreweghe supplies her sensitive and tender accompaniment with first rate playing of the strings.
[16] Michael Chance was in good shape when he did the recording with Gardiner (7:50). His voice is strong, clear and pleasant, his vocal delivery is secure, and his care for nuances is masterly. He is also not shy of digging into the heart of the aria and exposing his feelings. All the other counter-tenors who recorded this cantata are not up to his level.
[19] I wish Leusink had a better singer than Buwalda (6:41)… This impression is getting even stronger when you hear him next to Chance.
[2] I am not over impressed with Kathleen Ferrier’s rendition of the aria for alto (7:35). Indeed, it was done a long a time ago, when the tradition of modern Bach’s singing was at its earliest stages, even before then. She was in her prime then, having a voice in the true contralto range, which suits well the demands of the aria. Her singing sounds so warm and vulnerable, that she manages to touch the heart. But I am not sure that this impact is connected to understanding of the Bach idiom. I mean that I have the impression that it comes from her and not from Bach through her. She is not helped by the overly romantic and syrupy accompaniment.
[M-1] Janet Baker, Ferrier’s greatest follower, recorded the same aria (7:19) in her early 40’s, when her voice was still in good shape. She is in the service of the music, but she sounds too detached and restrained to bring out the full emotional potential of this aria. Marriner supports her with light, precise (but non-HIP) and sensitive accompaniment.

Preferences:
Contraltos/Mezzo-sopranos: Richter/Reynolds [8], Herreweghe/Patriasz [15], Rilling/Georg [12], [small gap], Thomas/Höffgen [5], Marriner/Baker [M-1], Parrott/Cable [13], [gap], Somary/Watts [9], Jacques/Ferrier [2], Corboz/Ihara [10]
Counter-tenors: Gardiner/Chance [16], [gap], Harnoncourt/Esswood [7], Leonhardt/Popken [14], [big gap], Leusink/Buwalda [19]

Conclusion

Movements to take away: the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) with Corboz [10] and the aria for alto (Mvt. 4) with Reynolds/Richter [8].

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 11 [Himmelfahrts-Oratorium]: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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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Last update: ýOctober 1, 2011 ý19:16:38