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Cantata BWV 144
Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of February 20, 2000 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (February 20, 2000):

Since I heard the Ramin recording of this cantata [1] about 2 months ago, I have been waiting for the week I will have the opportunity to listen again to this performance (especially to the Aria for Alto) and to compare it to the other recordings I have. And I was not bored in the meantime. My ears and hands were full with listening and comparing other cantatas, complete the listening to a second cycle of the cantatas (Harnoncourt/Leonhardt), complete listening to the cycle of 75 cantatas conducted by Karl Richter, listening to WTC on Piano played by different pianists (Tureck, Gieksing, Richter, Nikolayeva, Hewitt, Gulda, Gunnar Johansen), listening to some Jazz, doing some writing about Jazz, and more.

Opening Chorus and Aria for Alto

Mvt. 1 Chorus (The same)
SATB, Continuo

Mvt. 2 Aria for Alto
Murre Nicht, / Lieber Christ/ Wenn was nicht nach Wunsch geschicht; / Sondern sei mit dem zufrieden, / Was dir dein Gott hat beschieden, / Er weiß, was dir nützlich ist.
(Murmur not, / Man of Christ, / When thy wish is not fulfilled; / Rather be with that contented/ Which thee thy God hath apportioned; / He knows what will help thee.) English translation by Z Philip Ambrose
Alto, Strings, Continuo

About the first 2 movements of this cantata Robertson wrote:
"The libretto of cantata BWV 84 deals with the laborer who was contented with his lot although he had endured the heat and burden of the day and had to see the latecomers receive the same wage as he did. In cantata BWV 144 we meet the grumbler and the only words in the opening chorus are those of the rebuke administered to him by his master.
(Mvt. 1) Bach sets the words in straightforward fugal style. Placing ‘thine’ on the highest note of the subject, while the rhythm of the counter subject at ‘go hence’ is equivalent to a curt dismissal. In the last 4 bars all parts sing together ‘go hence’.
(Mvt. 2) The brusque ‘go thy away’ gives place, in this lovely Aria, to gentle spiritual advice. The simplicity of the writing in the opening Chorus is again present in the purely harmonic accompaniment to the melody, but into this Bach introduces from time to time full bars of repeated notes in the Continuo. These could be taken as the murmurs; the soul has not yet succeeded in suppressing envy."

While waiting last week for a football match to begin, I found two small quotations in J.A. Westrup little book – Bach Cantatas, which relate to BWV 144:
(Mvt. 1) "While it is true that the majority of Bach’s choruses are set in a style which allows for considerable elaboration, there are one or two in a more austere style which seems to look back to an older form of polyphony, such as… the first chorus of BWV 144, which is virtually a motet with the instruments doubling the voices throughout. Though Bach in his later days was thought to be old fashioned, this could hardly have been said of him in 1724, when BWV 144 was written."
(Mvt. 2) "The art of construction is exempt from any danger of monotony by the imaginative contours of the melodic line and the constant freedom of rhythm. It is rare in Bach to find anything as symmetrical as this Aria (for Alto)."

Review of the Recordings

See: Cantata BWV 144 - Recordings.

The 3 performances of BWV 144 I have listened to (in chronological order) are:

[1] Günther Ramin with Lotte Wolf-Matthäus (contralto) (1952; Opening Chorus: 2:31; Aria for Alto: 6:36)
In the linear notes to this recording there is a quote by Ramin: “In Johann Sebastian Bach I see the ultimate personification of everything which lends meaning, purpose, vigor and gladness to human life. He is for me the supreme symbol of vital and ceaseless energy”. All of Ramin’s recording were radio transcriptions and were done with almost no rehearsals. But what they lack in polish, they gain in sincerity and spontaneity. The performance of the opening Chorus and the Aria for Alto grab you by your throat and take you with it. I have heard altos (women and men alike) equipped with nicer voice and gentler approach than Wolf-Matthäus, but none of them sings with such enthusiasm and conviction. There is a lot of talking in this group and other groups dedicated to Bach’s music about the meaning of authencity. Usually I avoid participating in such debates, because they seem to me tasteless. But for me Ramin’s recordings of Bach cantatas are the most authentic. Not only that Ramin was also a Thomaskantor as Bach himself was and that he used the same Thomanerchor for his pioneering recordings of the cantatas. I feel that the spirit of his performances is the closet to Bach. I know that I cannot prove it, but nobody can prove otherwise, unless he recorded Bach himself back in the 18th Century.

[2] Helmuth Rilling with Helen Watts (contralto) (1978; Opening Chorus: 2:12; Aria for Alto: 5:21)
This performance is a mess. The orchestra is very unclear and it does not seem that it is going anywhere. They do not follow the line directed by the strong music. Tremolo will not be the strong enough word to describe Helen Watts singing here. Her voice is really shaking and annoying. It was not a good day for anyone of the participants in this recording, including the Conductor, the Orchestra, the Chorus and or most of the soloists. Rilling has shown us in other cantatas recordings that he can do much better than here.

[3] Gustav Leonhardt with Paul Esswood (counter-tenor) (1984; Opening Chorus: 2:04; Aria for Alto: 5:02)
This performance is simply boring. Of course the playing of the old instruments is beautiful as usual, and the Chorus is on very high level. Two Choruses are listed in Teldec recording, and I believe that in the opening Chorus it is Herreweghe and his Collegium Vocale. Esswood’s singing here is nice but does not reflect the mood of the Aria. The musical line is clear, but its juice is dried. Did they work too hard on this cantata and made too many rehearsals, up to the point of taking most of its spirit out?


Looking back, I can understand why I had not paid attention to this cantata before I heard the Ramin recording [1]. I knew Rilling [2] and Leonhardt [3] recordings before, but each one of them misses the spirit of this cantata in his way. My conclusion is that among the available recordings (I am aware of) of BWV 144, the one performed by Ramin is some degrees above the others, despite its flaws. I recommend to every member of the list, who does not know Ramin’s recordings of Bach’s cantatas, to try and listen to them. It will add a new dimension to his enjoyment of these wonderful works, especially spontaneity, enjoyment of discovering and a kind of real authenticity, rarely found in other, more elaborated recordings of the cantatas. However, I have the feeling, that because none of the above recordings is perfect from all the aspects, the best recordings of BWV 144 is yet to come. I do not know who will be the guy who is going to make it – Herreweghe, Gardiner, Suzuki or Koopman, or maybe unexpected performer. Somehow, I hope that Pieter Jan Leusink and his Dutch forces will do it [5]. Of all the active performers of the cantatas, they seem to be the most qualified, because they have that extra factor, which Ramin also had – spontaneity. We shall have to wait and see and until then we have enough things to hear.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Jane Newble wrote (February 21, 2000):
[5] (Leusink) This is the only version of BWV 144 I have (it's on Vol.4 of the cantatas), and I like it, as I do all of the Leusink cantatas, because of their unpolished freshness. I am getting rather fond of the alto Sytse Buwalda. He seems to put more feeling in his voice than most male altos. But of course I cannot say how it compares with Ramin [1].

Johan van Veen wrote (February 21, 2000):
(3) (Leonhardt) The choirs singing in this cantata are both the Knabenchor Hannover (trebles only) and the Collegium Vocale Gent (ATB).

Does your verdict refer to the performances of the cantatas as a whole, or only to the two first parts? In some respects I can go along with your assessment of Leonhardt's recording, but the Soprano Aria (Mvt. 5) later on is very well sung by the treble Ansgar Pfeiffer. I assume you are planning to write about the rest later. I have two versions of this cantata (strange that there are so few recordings, isn't it?): the Teldec recording by Leonhardt (3), and the new recording by Pieter Jan Leusink (Brilliant Classics) (5).

(Mvt. 1) Although Leonhardt's choir and orchestra [3] surpass Leusink's [5], I think Leusink's tempo is right: 1'47" (GL: 2'04"). The opening chorus has a pretty forceful character, and that comes across better in a somewhat faster tempo than Leonhardt has chosen.

(Mvt. 2) The booklet of the Brilliant Classics recording says about this Aria: "man is summoned to accept his existence as it is. Rebellious grumbling is illustrated by obstinate, repeated quavers." Both recordings don't show that very much. The slowish tempo Leusink [5] has chosen (5'50" - too slow IMO; GL is a little too slow as well: 5'02") makes it difficult to imagine any rebelliousness. The repeated quavers lose their 'nagging' character. The inciting character of the opening phrase asks for a brisk tempo and a somewhat aggressive articulation and accentuation, which both performances are lacking. The B section - which gives an explanation for the incitement of the A section - could then be performed a little quieter and slower – the contrast is underplayed in both performances. The solo part is also interesting in the difference between 'Murre nicht' (low) and 'lieber Christ' (high). That isn't easy for the singer, and Paul Esswood clearly has problems to sing the low notes strongly enough after an uncomfortable leap downwards. They are too weak, and hence the balance with the strings isn't ideal. In Leusink's recording Sytse Buwalda [5] is more convincing on a whole, having a more colorful and stronger voice, both in the high and the low register, and making meaningful contrasts within the Aria. I am looking forward to more comments later on, hopefully the rest of this cantata.

Alan Dergal Rautenberg wrote (February 21, 2000):
(3) I think he used both choirs for the performance (as he does almost always). The Sopranos are from the Knabenchor Hannover (they are actually boys), the Altos were taken from both choirs (boys and Counter-Tenors: you can notice that on other recordings by them, it is not "pure" Counter-Tenor sound) and the Tenors and Basses are from the Collegium Vocale. I think the Knabenchor Hannover is an absolutely great choir (hey! if the choir is on a very high level, it doesn't mean it MUST be the Collegium Vocale!). Although its (the Knabenchor Hannover's) high voices (i.e. Sopranos and Altos) are sung by boys, the sound is normally beautiful and their parts are often well interpreted. Well, this is the reason why they mention both choirs.

Ryan Michero wrote (February 22, 2000):
Hey, I did my homework on time for this one! Does that mean I get a gold star from the teacher?

BWV 144 is an interesting cantata, and I thank Aryeh for including in his post the selection of quotes he always does. I love the "dismissal" aspect of the opening chorus: Take what is thine and go away! Also, an unusual thing happens in the final chorale: right where there would usually be the final chord, Bach gives us a pungent chromatic embellishment on the word "verlassen", almost Purcellian in its sudden, twisting dissonance. Great stuff!

(3) (Leonhardt) I guess this performance seems boring to Aryeh compared to his preferred version by Ramin [1], because I don't think it's boring at all but very good. True, Leonhardt's interpretation is pretty reserved, but the text seems to call for a certain austerity, I think. And, crucially, he doesn't gloss over the cantata's emotional core. Esswood and the boy soprano sound fine (if not particularly polished), and they are emotionally engaged with the music to my ears. The orchestra and chorus are wonderful: their sound is beautiful and phrasing is always interesting. The pulsing murmurs in the alto aria come out very well, and (Ku Ebbinge's?) oboe d'amore in the soprano aria (Mvt. 5) is lovely. Ramin's version [1] must be pretty spectacular to make this one look bad; I may have to give it a try.

I have another version: [4]. As is usual with Koopman, his recording sounds more tonally refined and is given more dramatic flair than Leonhardt's version [3]. Koopman can also sound a little impersonal sometimes, but here he is largely successful. I like the solo singing here very much. Bartosz is impressive in the alto aria, as is Larsson in the soprano aria (Mvt. 5). Türk, who is one of my favorite tenors, leaves me longing for a tenor aria after his excellent singing in the recitative! Koopman's choir sounds particularly fine in this outing, always clear and intense. I listened to this performance first, and the choral singing gave me chills on the chromatic embellishment in the final chorale; Leonhardt's version isn't as effective here.

Overall, I think it's a draw between Koopman [4] and Leonhardt [3] in this cantata. Both versions are excellent. Now I will take what is mine and go away!

Marie Jensen wrote (February 28, 2000):
At last a little embarrassing confession about last weeks cantata BWV 144: I only have it in a tape-recorded version, and I had forgotten to write down the names of the performers! OOPS! I like my version, but I'm not sure about who it comes from! Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister as I am!


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 144: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


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