Cantata BWV 130Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir
Discussions - Part 1
Brilliant Classics - Bach Cantatas Vols. 3&4
Johan van Veen wrote (February 23, 2000):
 Some time ago I have already written about some of the cantatas from the latest sets in the Brilliant Classics Bach Edition. Since then I have listened to these two sets more extensively, and I am going to give my opinion on them. Hopefully others will give theirs.
The first two sets have been criticised by several people in this newsgroup. Are these two sets (volumes III and IV) any better? In some respects they are. There is some improvement in the performances of Bas Ramselaar. I also liked Nico van der Meel better than in the previous sets. The orchestra and choir give some very vivid performances of a couple of opening choruses. In other respects there isn't. As said before, Ruth Holton remains her unexpressive self. I can't see real progress in Knut Schoch's performances either. There are the usual differences between the text as printed (the NBA-text) and the text that is sung. The booklets haven't improved - on the contrary: in contrast to the first two sets, these two volumes have booklets with lots of printing errors.
Some cantatas are done quite well. For example BWV 130: the opening chorus (Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir) with its large-scale instrumentation of oboes, trumpets and timpani, is very good, as is the very forceful bass-aria 'Der alte Drache brennt vor Neid', which Bas Ramselaar sings very well. But how on earth is it possible that in the recitative 'Wohl aber uns' - which is a duet of soprano and tenor - the tenor sings 'erfährt' with Umlaut (which is correct) and the soprano without? Did nobody hear that? It is just another example of the lack of precision, which characterises these recordings. This has nothing to do with views on interpretation, but simply with people (whoever) not doing their homework. It is characteristic for this recording project that the results are very uneven. When cantata BWV 130 is done so well, then why is cantata BWV 81 (on the same disc) so tame? Knut Schoch can't cope with the leaps in the storm aria 'Die schäumenden Wellen' and the orchestra is just too subdued in both this aria and the bass aria 'Schweig, aufgetümtes Meer'. There are many examples of this lack of consistency. As far as Ruth Holton is concerned: she doesn't show any improvement. (snip)
The orchestra is good, but often too colourless. In Bach's music the instruments have to illustrate and interpret the text, together with the singer/choir. That's where the orchestra, with all its qualities, regularly fails. I can't understand why the sinfonias - in particular the organ solo's - in the solo cantatas BWV 35 and BWV 169 are so lacklustre and unimaginative. And it isn't that difficult to be expressive when you can make a lot of noise, like in the opening chorus of BWV 130. It is more difficult with strings only - and there the shortcomings are all too clear. On the whole: a mixed package, with some things to enjoy, but there is still a long way to go (and maybe tough decisions to make) to produce a really convincing edition, which is able to compete in any way with the editions that are on the market or coming.
Favourite Bach Arias
Darryl Clemmons wrote (March 21, 2000):
(snip) Actually, I like the trumpets from Cantata BWV 130 also - especially in the bass aria. However, I don't think the vocal line is equal to the accompaniment. Maybe I need to listen to a version with a more accomplished singer, I don't know. (snip)
Charles Francis wrote (March 21, 2000):
(To Darryl Clemmons, regarding BWV 130) (snip) You clearly like loud drums and the trumpet-drum combination is clearly irresistible to you. I think you're a closet Beethoven/Wagner fan infiltrating the Bach group.
Discussions in the Week of September 24, 2000 (1st round)
Aryeh Oron wrote (September 24, 2000):
This is the week of cantata BWV 130 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. For some background about this festive cantata, I shall quote W. Murray Young (from his book - 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide'):
"For the Feast of St Michael, this is Bach's last complete extant cantata. It follows BWV 19 and BWV 149 in having its libretto derived from Revelations 12: 7-12 - Michael vanquishes Satan and his hosts and casts them out of heaven. The unknown librettist took Paul Eber's hymn for this Sunday, retained verses one, eleven and twelve for the opening and closing chorales, and paraphrased the other verses for his poem. This chorale cantata praises God for creating angels to protect us from the wiles of Satan. The soli are SATB, with four-part chorus. The orchestra has three trumpets, timpani, a traverse flute, three oboes, two violins, a viola and continuo."
Most of the writers about the cantatas attribute 1724 as the year in which BWV 130 was composed by JSB. Therefore I believe that when Young wrote that the year of this cantata's composition was 1740, and that 'this is Bach's last complete extant cantata', he was actually mistaken. But it is interesting to know what is really 'Bach's last complete extant cantata' according to the most updated research. I hope that somebody from the group will be able to give us an answer.
See: Cantata BWV 130 – Recordings.
(1) Fritz Werner (1961)
I have this recording on LP only, and was not able to listen to it for this review. When I have it transferred to CD form, I shall write to the group about my impressions from the recording.
 Ernest Ansermet (1969?)
I do not have this recording.
 Helmuth Rilling (1974?)
 Karl Richter (1975+1976+1978)
 Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1983)
 Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
Recordings of individual Movements
(M-1) Herman Kreutz (1968; opeaning (Mvt. 1) & concluding (Mvt. 6) chorales only)
(M-3) Elmer Iseler (1985; opeaning (Mvt. 1) & concluding (Mvt. 6) chorales only)
Review of the Recordings
For the review of the recordings of BWV 130, I was able to listen to only 4 recordings (3 to 6 above) of the 6 I know of. I shall compare movements 1, 3, 4 and 5. As a reference for each movement I shall allow myself using Young's writing again.
Mvt. 1. Chorale
"This chorale and instrumental fantasia resembles a song of thanksgiving to God after a victory, yet has superimposed theme, which depicts the battle itself in the melody. Sparkling trumpet flourishes and the rhythmic boom of drums portray a triumphant march after the battle. All instruments play this theme as a prelude and after the choir has completely sung the stanza, as well as in the ritornelli after each line. The cantus firmus is given to the sopranos, while the other parts enter in imitation for each line."
 The orchestral introduction of Rilling's recording is sparkling with bright and the entry of the chorus is warm and enthusiastic. The victory march is portrayed with pride and self-confidence.
 Hearing Richter's recording of the opening Chorale immediately after Rilling's cause it to sound somewhat pedantic and stiff. However, it is impressive in its way. Everything is done with large scale. The victory is a big victory, the march is walked with big steps, etc.
 Harnoncourt's opening Chorale is a disappointment.It is not festive at all. The drum's beating is too strong and dominating everything. It disturbed me from hearing the other elements of this glorious Chorale.
 Leusink's recording move forcefully, quickly and lightly ahead. Not very much attention is given to details. It also lacks some volume and weight, the balance between the various components is not good, and most of the dramatic content of this Chorale in not revealed.
There are two recordings of the opening and closing chorales only, without the rest of the cantata. The Elmer Iseler's (M-3) opening Chorale is big scale and vague. The internal voices do not come out. The Herman Kreutz' recording (M-1) uses smaller forces and consequently the picture becomes clearer. I think that the problem with both recordings is that not too much care was taken to understand the textual and musical content of this movement. Both groups sing it as a mere choral piece with instrumental accompaniment.
Mvt. 3. Aria for Bass
"The three trumpets and timpani support his vocal lines without obscuring them. Bach thus produces a vivid tone-painting of Satan at work. The rhythm in the vocal delivery and in the melody represents the incessant battle against the plots of the devil."
 Wolfgang Schöne (with Rilling) singing is assured and impressive. Nobody can conquer him, even not the Devil and his messengers, as represented here by the three bright and virtuosic trumpeters. You can try, but I shall stick to my way.
 I do not believe that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (with Richter) has to be sold to anybody. But he is so much identified with other musical areas, such as Lieder and Opera, that we tend to forget how good can he sing a Bach aria. With such rich tool, infinite means, and dramatic sense, he has all the weapons needed to conquer easily any menace from the devil, portrayed here splendidly by the 3 glowing trumpets (are they actually the three witches from Macbeth?).
 Walter Heldwein (with Harnoncourt) is not convincing. In any way the balance between the singer and the accompaniment is problematic, because it favors the accompaniment above the singer. There is not real interaction between them. The playing of the trumpets is painful.
 Bas Ramselaar (with Leusink) is doing his best in the task thrown on him, and he is convincing in conveying the message that he can compete successfully with the evil forces. However the trumpets' playing here is not clean enough and does not supply a real challenge for the singer. On the other hand, although it was done probably unintentionally, the unorganized playing of the trumpets may reflect the disorder created by the evil forces.
Mvt. 4. Recitative (Duet) - Soprano, Tenor
"This is the first time his extant cantatas that Bach has set a recitative for duet, and he does it very well, with the two voices singing in beautiful imitation. The protective role of the angels is mentioned in their text - two parts of the Old Testament - Daniel 6: 16 and 3: 1-30."
 Kathrin Graf (with Rilling) is not as good soprano singer as both Arleen Augér and Helen Donath (the usual Rilling's Soprano singers) are. But her voice here is blending beautifully with the good and reliable Kraus, who seems always to be in full service of the music and the text. He is completely unselfish, never sees himself as more important than his mission.
 In Richter's recording we have Mathis and Schreier in a duet. How can it not be good? They sang many years together in various settings. I have for examples a charming LP of them singing Brahms' songs, and although I have not listened to it for quite a long time, I remember it very favorably. Here they listen most attentively to each other, follow sensitively each other lines, and their voices blend beautifully together. This couple was created in heaven.
 The voices of Kurt Equiluz and the boy soprano (with Harnoncourt) simply do not match, although the voice of the boy is relatively competent. And they are not helped by the continuo, which interferes with their singing.
 This is, of course, not the first time that Ruth Holton and Knut Schoch (with Leusink) are singing together. I love the way their voices are melting together.
Mvt. 5. Aria for Tenor
"The accompanying traverse flute obbligato plays a gavotte-like tune with joy-motif reminiscent of the pastoral fields of heaven. We can imagine the Prince of angels surrounded by the angelic host and wish that we too, as believers, may like wise be conveyed to Him by the chariot of Elias."
 Who can refuse to the plea of Adalbert Kraus (with Rilling)? The flute (played by Peter-Lukas Graf) is ringing with joy, twisting with sinuous lines, sounds more earthy than heavenly. But who does really know how instruments ought to be sound in heaven? Maybe everything there is magnified to sound larger than life, like the impression given by the flute playing in this aria.
 Peter Schreier and Karl Richter approach to this aria is very similar to that of Kraus and Rilling. However, Schreier here is a little bit more touching than Kraus, where Aurèle Nicolet's flute playing is more lyrical and pastoral than that of Graf, and consequently I found myself preferring this rendering over the previous one.
 The aria for tenor is the best part in Harnoncourt's generally disappointing recording. The flute playing is charming and supplies a convenient background to Equiluz' adorable singing.
 Knut Schoch (with Leusink) has a lyric voice with very sweet timbre. This kind of voice suits very well the heavenly atmosphere of this aria with angels around. The tender and humble playing of the flute is portraying beautifully the pastoral fields. This rendering is not as dramatic as Schreier and Kraus are, but it is no less convincing in its gentle way. This is the best movement in Leusink's recording of this cantata, as well as the best rendering of this movement among the recordings of this cantata I have heard.
Cantata BWV 130 is impressive, although it does not have any really captivating movement. Although all the recordings of this cantata can please, when we come to magnificent festive cantatas, like BWV 130, nobody does it better than Karl Richter . The lush grandeur and the expansive sound of the choir and the beauty of orchestral palette cause most of the other recordings to sound pale in comparison. The operatic background, but also many years of Bach singing, of Richter's singers, results in dramatic performances in which most of the potential qualities of the cantata come forth. Those of you, who limit themselves to only HIP recordings, are losing a great and satisfying performance.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Marie Jensen wrote (September 24, 2000):
A cantata about angels!
Angels, Gods messengers and celestial servants, described in so many ways in religious scripts, in music and in art as anything between Gods inconvicable soldiers with flaming swords to cute playing "putti". And here in cantata BWV 130 I feel we meet them both.
I don't know if Michaelmas (September the 29th) is celebrated any more in Lutheran churches. I cannot find a Bible text for the day but Daniels Book and The Revelation tell about the archangel Michael fighting against the devil symbolized by a dragon. Daniel 12:1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: athere shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
Revelations 12: 7-9 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
 This cantata is a Leusink interpretation, that I like very much. The battle music in the opening chorus and in the bass aria with drums and trumpets is like real military music encouraging and unpolished. The fresh sound of Netherlands Bach Collegium is great for this purpose. The cantata opens and ends with chorales, so it is an easy task for the choir who has to learn everything in a hurry. And last but not least: Bas Ramselaar does a very fine job in "Der alte Drache..."
This "Alte Drache" aria fascinates me. First of all not a word of Michael is mentioned in the text, only the dragon (devil) is described. But no doubt the battle goes on with energy and weapons lightning, and Michael is the winner. Even if the devil is not heard very much, he is there. With heavy steps he enters the stage from the very beginning, and a few times it seems like he takes over: When "daß er das kleine Haüflein trennet" is played, the glorious trumpet sound is gone. In stead the trumpets only play a note in the beginning of each bar, symbolizing the devil separating the flock. Also series of 11 identical dissonant notes are played more times, and like the devils attacks they often come as a surprise. Suddenly they are there! Wonder if the number of Antichrist (666) can be found anywhere? Perhaps Bach as a Christian man did want to place it, but on the other hand he used to practice numerological stunts. The 11 notes is the closest I can get to it... But why search for the devil? Michael's victory is clearly heard and after that we enter a peaceful world: A very beautiful duet recitativo leads us into a peaceful celestial painting: "Laß o Fürst der Cherubinen". Even if Michael is praised here along with "Elias Wagen" I cannot help seeing flocks of "putti": the kind baby angels so typical in art of those days. A flute plays with grace in front of heavenly light blue skies.
Finally not only one but two stanzas of a chorale are sung to end this very variated and wonderful cantata.
 PS This morning the radio sent a version of BWV 130 with Leonhardt Consort. Don't know if it was a live or a studio recording. But Wow! Here the devil really gets hit after hit with the carpet beater! What a drum! More polished trumpet play, but what a drive! On the other hand the "Cherubinen" aria is a little too heavy for my taste.
Aryeh Oron wrote (September 25, 2000):
[To Marie Jensen] Thanks for your nice review. IMHO, Leusink  is doing very beautiful things in this cantata, but eventually I find myself in this cantata preferring Richter  to the others. Have you heard him?
Marie Jensen wrote:
 < PS This morning the radio sent a version of BWV 130 with Leonhardt Consort. Don't know if it was a live or a studio recording. But Wow! Here the devil really gets hit after hit with the carpet beater! What a drum! More polished trumpet play, but what a drive! On the other hand the "Cherubinen" aria is a little too heavy for my taste. >
I wonder if the conductor in the recording you heard in the radio was indeed Leonhardt. In the H&L cantata cycle on Teldec, BWV 130 was recorded by Harnoncourt and not Leonhardt. You can read the details in my review, which was sent to the group yesterday. On the other hand, I heard in this recording different things from those that you heard. Harnoncourt's trumpets are far from being polished, where you hear drive I hear over-energy, and the 'Cherubinen' aria for tenor (No.5) is the best part in this relatively weak rendering and not heavy at all. But, of course, all these observations are based on my subjective listening and my personal taste, which may differ from yours. On the other hand, AFAIK, Leonhardt has not recorded yet BWV 130. On the other hand he could have recorded it only for the radio (live or not). I could go on with guesses. Who knows?
Marie Jensen wrote (September 25, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron]  Here are further details about the version of BWV 130 I heard in the radio Sunday morning. The speaker said: The Leonhardt Consort, conducted by Leonhardt, Hannover Boys Choir, soloists: Bergius, Rampf, Equiluz and Heldwein.
Every Sunday morning this year Danish Radio broadcasts Bach cantatas. Most of them are live recordings. The quality is variating, artistically and technically and "high precision coughers" among the audience are often heard, as well as those awful applauses often beginning before the last chord is over. This one has no such live noise.
The soloists are exactly the same as in your Harnoncourt version, and because Bergius is a boy soprano, my version has to be from the same time as yours, 1983 or so. The radio seldom reuses that old live performance.
Perhaps the speaker said something wrong. The staff in the control room is not too smart either. I have phoned and mailed to them, when they announced one cantata and played another. They did not react or correct anything in public. The man I spoke to earlier this year, when they played BWV 157 instead of BWV 68 just said - well, you have certainly made a mess in the anthill! - And that was that. So I have stopped reacting. Just shake my head in private. Glad of the initiative anyway. A few weeks ago they announced cantata BWV 163 "Nur jedem das Seine", which I don't have and looked forward to, and in stead came some Italian Concerto Grosso! Guess they tape the speak in advance.
 About Richter: No, I have not heard his BWV 130. But I'm sure it is excellent. BWV 80 "Ein fester Burg" which trumpet movements reminds me of BWV 130 is great in Richter's version. Triumphant, grandiose movements and full power are Richter specialities.
Roy Reed wrote (September 29, 2000):
September 29: Michaelmas... The Feast of St Michael and All Angels (in C of E that is, for RCs also Gabriel and Raphael.) Anyway, much wings and protection and all sorts of help and insight. I love angels and all the wonderful artwork they have evoked, including this cantata. My favorite angels are the ones atop the organ case in the chapel at Kings College, Cambridge. I have a small print of one of them sitting on my desk in my study. While a favorite topic I generally hate to get into it because it does tend to bring out the nut cases among us.
Michael gets mentioned in scripture in four places. In Daniel 10:13 ff, and 12:1; Jude 1:9 and Revelations 12: 7-9. Bach's poet does a good job picking up the sense of all of these and does bring the whole matter down to elements of faith and of blessing, rather than fancy and apocalyptic conjecture...while not ignoring "demonic" threat.
I have 3 readings: Rilling , Harnoncourt  and Leusink . I like them all, very much actually. Favorite for me goes to Harnoncourt. I like the sound and the drama, especially the big drum in No.3 and the dramatic singing of Heldwein. Really threatening, dragonic sort of stuff. Next to angels I like dragons, but let's really not get into that. Happy Michaelmas everybody.
Andrew Oliver wrote (September 29, 2000):
What a glorious work this is! I have just the Harnoncourt  and Leusink  recordings, both of which I like. Yes, there are unpolished sections here and there in both recordings, but I like them anyway. Aryeh was not too keen on the balance between instruments and voices in the Harnoncourt. If the same balance were to occur in many of Bach's other cantatas, I would agree, but in this one I think the thundering of the drums and the blare of the trumpets gives the martial atmosphere Bach probably intended. Indeed, the impression I get is that Bach thoroughly enjoyed writing this, not just the martial movements but all of it. I think the duet is very impressive, and… in fact the whole thing. And then we get a double dose of chorale! Perhaps there are not the intellectual depths in this cantata that there are in some others, but it is a feast for the ears instead.
Continue on Part 2