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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

Cantata BWV 148
Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens
Discussions - Part 1

Villa-Lobos archive recordings on CD

Harold Lewis wrote (August 12, 2000):
Fellow V-L enthusiasts may be interested to learn of a 50 minute CD of archive recordings published recently by the Museu Villa-Lobos, entitled "Villa-Lobos, sua musica, suas ideias". It comes on the Brazilian VISOM label (VICD 00108), and I found it last month at the FUNARTE (Arts Foundation) shop in Rio de Janeiro. The CD combines historic recordings of V-L as a conductor with extracts from radio interviews. We hear him conducting Choros No.7 with a group of studio musicians, Uirapuru and the Trenzinho do Caipira from BB No.2 (both with the NY City Symphony Orchestra), as well as a Bach chorale (Cantata BWV 148).

The interviews (all in Portuguese) include a delicious exchange recorded in December 1952 with a reporter from Radio Canada International, who asks V-L whether he is attached to any particular school of composition. "No, the only school I can say I belong to is my own." "Then, we can talk about the Villa-Lobos school?" "I can't say there's one school that's mine - every year I discover a different one."

I haven't noticed any reference to this CD on the Museum's Web site, but I imagine it may be available through them (www.museuvillalobos.org.br), or through www.visom.com (NLA - March 2001, A.O.), as well as from FUNARTE, Rua da Imprensa, Centro, Rio de Janeiro.

 

Discussions in the Week of October 15, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 15, 2000):
Background

This is the week of cantata BWV 148 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. This is a simple and charming cantata, ebullient, exuberant and joyous, yet is more multi-faced than seemingly seen. As a background I shall use the liner notes to Gönnenwein's recording (on EMI LP) [1], written by Otto von Irmer (translated into English by John Wilde):

"Bringet dem Herrn Ehre seines Namens (Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name), is marked by its mood of secure faith in God. It is not known who wrote the text, but it seems probable that for this cantata, composed in 1725, Bach himself, who had considerable experience of work with religious texts, adapted a poem from Picander's Sammlung erbaulicher Gedanken, (Collection of devotional thoughts), to fit the sentiments of verses 8 and 9 of the 96th psalm, from which the opening chorale is taken, and also of the final chorale: 'Führ auch mein Herz und Sinn' (Guide thou my heart and mind). With the dazzling fanfare of trumpets above the string orchestra, the overture leads into the first chorale's song of praise. The intense emotions of the tenor aria which follows is first anticipated by the solo violin which then joins with the tenor voice in: 'Ich eile, die Lehre des Lebens zu hören und suche mit Freuden das heilige Haus' (I long to know life's lesson and seek with joy the house of the Lord). The peace of God is also present in the recitative 'Wie der Hirsch nach frischem Wasser schreit' (As the hart panteth after the water brooks), and the contralto aria: 'Mund und Herze steht dir offen' (Mouth and heart are open to thee), the mystic entrenchment of the contralto emphasised by the accompaniment of the three oboes and organ reaffirmed in the da capo section of the aria. In the final chorale, a similar wish is expressed for God's help on behalf of the whole congregation: 'Führ auch mein Herz und Sinn durch deinen Geist dahlin' (Guide thou my heart and mind in thy sprit)."

Personal Viewpoint

I looked in the Bible at the original text of the opening Chorus (Psalm 96: 8-9) and the words were very familiar to me. And then I realised that they are actually part of 'Sidur' - the Jewish prayer book. It arose for me the question if a Bach cantata could be used as it is, also as a Jewish prayer. I am not religious, and therefore I can allow myself playing with such peculiar ideas. I looked hopefully into the other movements of this cantata. Mvt. 2 (aria for tenor) passes the test. Mvt. 3 (recitative for alto) mentions the Sabbath, which is one of the basic Mitzvoth of the Judaism. No. 4 (aria for alto) is also OK, and Mvt. 5 (recitative for tenor) mentions again the Sabbath. AFAIK, along the first 5 movements of this cantata there are not any signs alluding to its text being Christian, and there is no mention of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. And then we reach the concluding Chorale and we find 'Herr Christ' ('Lord Christ'). Except of this Chorale, I believe that the text of this cantata could have been accepted, not only by Christians, but by Jews as well. So far regarding the text, which most probably was not written by Bach, is concerned. Regarding the music, I have no doubt in my mind. Its universality stems from a genius mind, which combines humanity, with intellect, and with feelings. Bach's music crosses any barriers of religion, race, sex, or any other kind of factor, which causes people to fight one against the other. In these days of turbulent Middle East, this is an important message.

Review of complete Recordings

[2] Wolfgang Gönnenwein (Late 1960s?)
The orchestra is full and its sound is clear. The choir is warm and joyous. The two soloists are first rate in this field and in their prime. The aria for tenor, for example, is technically very demanding, but in Altmeyer's flexible and rich voice and tender expression, you do not hear it. In his interpretation the joy is swathed in slight sadness, which comes with 'Des Lebens zu hören' ('The teachings of life'). The interpretation of the conductor along the whole cantata is knowledgeable and authoritative. Every movement is getting the right treatment. The vigour, the enthusiasm, the vividness, and the energy needed for good rendering of this cantata, are all there. But there is also sensitivity and depth, which give to this rendering an extra dimension. If there is anything to improve in this recording, I could not find it.

Couple of words must be dedicated to Janet Baker. She may not have the most impressive contralto (or mezzo-soprano) voice. Comparing her voice to those of other contralto singers from the past, like Maureen Forrester, Hilde Rössl-Majdan and Aaafje Heynis, causes her range to sound somewhat limited, and to her timbre of her voice to sound not as rich and warm as theirs is. In terms of the pure quality of the voice, it is not as impressive as theirs, but in terms of expression very few contralto singers, or any other singer, can match her. Her voice has flexibility, her rhythm has buoyancy, and she is conveying the message with forthright conviction, and far more plays of light and shade as well. Her nobility might sound to some listeners as detachment, but to me it puts her interpretation in one degree above the others. Her appearances in the Bach cantata field are rare, too rare. How lucky are we to have her performing this cantata. In the demanding aria for alto 'Mund und Herze steht dir offen' (No.4), she meets every challenge with success. She has to show joy, in her complete submission to God, and she has to show hope, that He will enter her soul. With her nimble mind, flexible voice and outmost sensitivity, she manages to touch every nuance and to bring out every hidden corner of this aria.

The level of this rendering is so high, that all the other recordings of this cantata which follow it pale in comparison. I shall highlight the main differences.

[2] Karl Richter (1977+1978)
The big-scale approach is similar to that of Gönnenwein, but in the comparison it sounds phlegmatic and dry. The ebullience of the opening chorus is replaced here by over-seriousness and lack of real enthusiasm. We have learnt to expect highly from both Hamari and Schreier, and indeed their singing here is good and reliable, and even sensitive, but I also feel that it is not inspired.

[3] Helmuth Rilling (1977)
When the need to express enthusiasm and buoyancy, Rilling has very few rivals. As usual with Rilling, the contribution of the accompaniment in creating the right atmosphere is not less important than that of the choir. But here the comparison with Gönnenwein causes his over-legato approach to sound lightweight and inappropriate. The team of Hamari and Equiluz is also fine, exactly as the team of Hamari and Schreier (with Richter) is. But in the comparison to Baker and Altmeyer, we understand that these arias and recitatives have much more potential and depth than the interpretation of Rilling's team suggests.

[5] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1985)
The Tölzer Knabenchor is splendid in the opening chorus. The playing of the instruments, especially the three oboes, is also very beautiful, and they complement nicely the boys' voices. The balance and separation between choir and instruments allow us to hear this magnificent chorus in the form of a concerto, as Bach indeed wanted. I am not the one to say anything wrong about the tireless efforts of both Equiluz and Esswood in the H&L Bach cantatas cycle. But is it my imagination, or really the situation, when I hear some signs of attrition, strain and tiresome in the singing of both these usually fine and eloquent singers?

[6] Ton Koopman (1997)
The most modern recording of this cantata is faster than any previous one. I would even dare say that it is far too fast. The velocity is killing any possibility of this rendering to transfer even slightly the potential of this cantata. Fast is not necessarily the best way to transfer joy. As a consequence, the weave of the various voices in the opening chorus becomes muddy. Bartosz and Türk, usually very capable singers, do not have enough room to express themselves. IMO, This is not one of the best efforts in Koopman's Bach cantatas cycle.

Conclusion

None of the recordings of BWV 148 has any serious problem, which might spoil the enjoyment of the occasional listener from this cantata. Excluding perhaps the Koopman's (5), which misses most of the cantata in his speedy performance. But there is something very unique in Gönnenwein (1) approach to Bach cantatas, which makes his interpretations sound right. As if they are supposed to be a reference point, by which all the recordings of the same cantata should be judged. Comparing his interpretations to other conductors from the same school, cause their interpretations to sound somewhat pale. All their good points exist also in Gönnenwein interpretation, but their shortcomings intensify. Comparing him to renderings from the HIP school, like Harnoncourt and Koopman, makes them sound lightweight and lacking some volume. As a result, the claim that only HIP performances of Bach cantatas are legitimate sounds superficial and even irrelevant. I think that it is quite clear by now what is my first choice among the 5 recordings of BWV 148. The only problem with this choice is that it is not available yet in CD form. I hope that EMI will come to their senses and reissue soon this recording (together with the group of 7 LP's of Bach cantatas, which were done by this label in the 2nd half of the 1960's).

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

Recordings of Individual Movements

[M-1] Heitor Villa-Lobos (1950s; chorale only)
This is archive recording published recently (2000) by the Museu Villa-Lobos, entitled "Villa-Lobos, sua musica, suas ideias". It comes on the Brazilian VISOM label (VICD 00108). The CD combines historic recordings of Heitor Villa-Lobos as a conductor with extracts from radio interviews. We hear him conducting Choros No.7 with a group of studio musicians, Uirapuru and the Trenzinho do Caipira from Bachianas Brasileiras No.2 (both with the NY City Symphony Orchestra), as well as a Bach chorale (Cantata BWV 148).

Marie Jensen wrote (October 15, 2000):
When I saw we should discuss cantata BWV 148 my first thought was: If somebody asked for a typical Bach cantata, this could be one: Chorus, aria, recitativo, aria, recitativo, chorale. There are no big surprises hidden, but a quarter of nice music on a high level.

It is a happy cantata praising God, from before Sabbath became weekend and where people according aria 1 hurried to church with dancing steps longing not just for the service but also for the eternal Sabbath with Jesus in Heaven. But dear JSB, don't you overdo that a little? One really has to be strong in faith to dance with high leaps towards the hard church benches and a l o n g service including a one-hour long probably rather boring sermon. It could of course be because of your cantata, the ultimate sermon! And your superiors must have loved this church commercial!

Tangent: In Danish churches in those days there was a servant sneaking around with a long stick. If he saw sleeping persons in the congregation, he dashed them on their heads with it.

But cantata BWV 148 is nice- no reason to use a stick here!

This week there are two details I don't like. None of them has to do with Bach:
First: The meter in the final chorale...oucch! The two worst examples: The first Amen has a stress on "men" and this is not Missa Criolla in Spanish! "Ewiglich" with stress on "wig" is not nice either. Second: The English version in the Koopman textbook is worse than ever, completely different from the original.

I have the Koopman version (5) and an old taped Rilling one (3). Rilling's fine but the Koopman performance has the right ascending incense lightness- like smoke coming up from the altar to the Lord. It is spiritual dancing music for a Sabbath. I also like the use of a lute (Koopman) in the continuo. It gives a variated sound but it also makes me look upon Bach as a troubadour singing about God, in the middle of a long music history. BTW also The Rilling continuo fagotto, I love so much, can be heard in the aria "Mund und Herze".

But Koopman [6] wins, and that is all from me this time.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (October 16, 2000):
I'm trying to find a version of BWV 148, unsuccessfully so far. Aryeh mentions a recording by Koopman [6]. Is this on the Complete Cantata series? I have volumes 1 - 9 but don't seem to see it. What volume is the cantata on?

Marie Jensen wrote (October 16, 2000):
[To Harry J. Steinman] BWV 148 is found on Koopman Vol.7 disc 2 [6].

Marie Jensen wrote (October 17, 2000):
< In my first posting I wrote: The meter in the final chorale...oucch! The two worst examples: The first Amen has a stress on "men" and <this is not Missa Criolla in Spanish! "Ewiglich" with stress on "wig" is not nice either. >
As I Sunday attended a Gardiner version in Garnisons Church Copenhagen, I shall tell you what he did about it: The text in the programme was the one we know, but the Monteverdi Choir sang another, which worked. Yet I cannot remember the exact words, and I do not know Gardiner's reasons to do so.

Gardiner's approach to the cantata was not very different from Koopman's [6].

A little about the rest of the concert: First BWV 226 "Der Geist hilft unserer Schwachheit auf". Then a "Klagenlied" by Buxtehude. The cantatas were BWV 148, BWV 114 and BWV 47. The cantatas were the best part of it, really great!. In Copenhagen nearly all Bach/baroque recitals are with modern instruments, so hearing the historic ones live was an event. It is fantastic too, that Gardiner and his crew can go on and on, week after week, place after place with new cantatas, which do not sound unrehearsed. Every member is top professional. Yet the counter tenor who sang Buxtehude (Frances Bourne or Robin Tyson?) does not have the same power as, for example, Scholl who I heard live earlier this year. The other soloists were: Katherine Fuge, soprano, Mark Padmore, tenor, and Stephan Loges bass. But why is audience always so noisy? We go to a concert to hear, not to see, but many members of the audience seemed to move and stretch themselves to see when a new soloist was rising, and it is impossible in a church. This lack of concentration was disturbing. And every time one of this heavenly beautiful cantatas ended, they drowned in terrible noisy applauses. The light of appreciation were in peoples eyes. Couldn't we just all rise up, look gratefully at the performers and with silence respect what they had done for us. But perhaps the more expensive the tickets - the more noisy the applause.

Gardiner is fantastic when it comes to drama. The opening of Bach's cantata BWV 114 "Ach lieben Christen seid getrost" was great. But also the following emotional slow "Jammertal" aria was very moving. Later in the cantata comes another stanza from the hymn "Ach lieben Christen" where the text compares man with a grain of wheat, which has to die to give life to the new wheat I thought of good old Rilling. Many years ago the alto Else Paaske sang this chorale so moving with sadness falling as rain on naked brown autumn fields. Here the altos of Monteverdi Choir sang accompanied by an organ registrated as was it Italian renaissance, and the alto death aria with bells and word painting was too swift. Yet it is a minor complaint. The fact that I love a certain interpretation in advance often inflicts on my judgements.

BWV 47 was great all the way through.

The final chorales of all three cantatas were hanging in the room - spiritual and in fact physical at the same time - as you could go and touch them. Bach chorales are not just a "The End" sign as in old movies. They lift up popular tunes and texts to miracles of conclusion.

I have walked on a feeling of happiness a whole day after...

Some of you out there must live on Gardiner's Cantata route? It could be interesting to hear opinions about other of his concerts. He came from Lund, Sweden and is now heading for Leipzig...

Andrew Oliver wrote (October 21, 2000):
I am puzzled. This cantata just doesn't enthrall me the way some others do, and I cannot understand why. It seems to have all the necessary ingredients, and, of course, I cannot fault the craftsmanship of Bach's composition, yet although some aspects of it interest me, they don't inspire me. I only have the Harnoncourt version (4), so perhaps a different version might appeal to me more.

Both the arias are well performed, and there is much of musical interest in them. The same could be said for the recitatives, and I like all Bach's chorale arrangements. The opening chorus is perhaps the biggest problem for me, despite all the work Bach has put into it. I certainly don't think it is his fault. The reason seems to be that, although both the orchestra and the singers perform well, they appear to be doing so mechanically, not because the music inspires them, and their lack of enthusiasm is being transferred to me, the listener. All musical performance needs to have the spark of life in it. To me, that is more important than technical perfection.

Ah well, on to the next one

Jane Newble wrote (October 21, 2000):
Andrew Oliver wrote:
< I am puzzled. This cantata just doesn't enthrall me the way some others do, and I cannot understand why. It seems to have all the necessary ingredients, and, of course, I cannot fault the craftsmanship of Bach's composition, yet although some aspects of it interest me, they don't inspire me. I only have the Harnoncourt version (4), so perhaps a different version might appeal to me more. >
I'll lend you the Koopman version (5). You might think with Aryeh that it is too fast, but it will be different. After unpacking, washing etc. etc after our holiday I listened to it lots of times yesterday and it makes me feel very joyful, but perhaps I already felt that way, and this just expressed my feelings. I love the alto voice! The Koopman version is the only one I have, but I really feel I don't need another one. On the other hand, I might think different if I had heard Aryeh's versions!

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 148: 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: August 21, 2012 00:05:35