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Cantata BWV 152
Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 31, 2000 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 31, 2000):
Personal Viewpoint

This is the week of cantata BWV 152 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. Today is last day of year 2000, this is the last cantata for this year, and the last one suggested by Ryan in this round. This year had a great cause for celebration for Bach's lovers. But, as one Israeli music critic wisely wrote, he is ready to celebrate 316 years to Bach's birth, the 252 years to his death and so forth. He does not need any forced excuse to celebrate the music of Bach every year, every month, every week and every day; and neither do we! Ryan is no longer with the group, but lately I had a sign of life from him in a form of a personal message. He is too busy with other occupations these days, but I believe that we can hope to see him back with us some day. I also wish Marie Jensen to recover from her hearing illness and to re-join us. At the beginning of this year we have lost Wim Huisjes - important contributor to the list, with whom many members felt close friendship, although most of them had not met him personally. For me Wim will ever be connected to Cantata BWV 82 - 'Ich habe genug', which was discussed in this group couple of days after his passing. I collected all the postings sent by the list members in his Memoriam and put them on a special page dedicated to Wim. You can see them in the new Archive Site in the following address: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Wim.htm.

Background

Having all these sad memories in mind, we can take comfort with Bach music, and this week we have another sublime cantata - BWV 152. Last week's cantata BWV 64, had three chorales and one chorus. This week's cantata is scored for two solo voices only, without choruses or chorales. It belongs to the small groups of Solo Cantatas in Dialogue form, in which the Soprano sings the role of the Soul and the Bass sings the role of Jesus. Two cantatas in this group have already been discussed in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List at its early stage. These cantatas are BWV 32 and BWV 57, which in the LP era were usually coupled together, leaving BWV 152 out. I remember, for example, a charming LP of Helmuth Winschermann, in which the couple is Elly Ameling and Hermann Prey, both in their highest prime. These two cantatas are very emotional and they touch the deepest feelings of the human heart. BWV 152 is more humble, and its expression is more subdued. But it has a tender charm of its own, helped by its unique and economical instrumentation.

As a background for this cantata I shall use this time the linear notes to Suzuki's recording (on BIS), written by Tadashi Isoyama [11]:
"This cantata for the Sunday after Christmas was first performed on 30th December 1714 at Weimar. It is small-scale work for soprano and bass soloists, concluding with a duet for the Soul and Jesus. The unusual orchestration is for recorder, oboe, viola d'amore, viola da gamba and continuo; it is particularly noteworthy in being the only work among the cantatas to make use of the viola d'amore. The gentle and somewhat old-fashioned atmosphere created by this instrumentation gives a particular charm to the work.

The Gospel for the Sunday after Christmas, for which this cantata was produced, has as its text the infant Jesus being 'set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel' - the heart of this is the concept of a contrast of opposites. The liturgy for this day removes itself from the spirit attending the celebration of the Incarnation to look forward to the inevitable conclusion of the events in the Passion. Salomo Franck's libretto for this cantata makes use of the image of the stone. In Jesus' Incarnation, says the text, God sets a Corner Stone on the earth; this stone is the foundation of faith, and those who walk in the way of faith will never stumble. The cantata follows a path through the considerable and praise of the stone to the lovely duet representing the meeting of the Soul and Jesus. <Snip>

The final movement (Andante, E minor/G minor) is one of the dialogues for the Soul and Jesus of which Frank was so fond. The instrumental obbligato too now melts into unison. With its dance rhythm, reminiscent of a gigue, the music delightfully illustrates the image of the heart turning to holy unity."

Review of the Complete Recordings - the concluding Duet

[4] Helmuth Rilling with Arleen Augér (soprano) & Wolfgang Schöne (bass) (1976; Duet: 4:37)
Duet: Starts with Lush and cheerful playing from the wind instruments. The singing of Augér expresses a grown up woman longing for her love. When Schöne enters, her voice is changing to express the joy of re-unification. The oboe at the end is telling us that the serenity has come and nothing remained to be worried about.

[6] Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Christoph Wegmann (boy soprano) & Thomas Hampson (bass) (1985; Duet: 4:25)
Duet: A deep grief is expressed by the wind instruments in the opening of this duet. The boy sings with the expected naivety, but his voice is not on the same par with the boys we have heard in the cantatas of the last two weeks - BWV 132 & BWV 64. He has overt problems in the upper register. Hampson is merciful and warm. The relation between them is equivalent to the relation between father and his little kid. It could be a perfect special rendering, if only the boy was better equipped.

[9] Jeffrey Thomas & ABS with Christine Brandes (soprano) & William Sharp (bass) (1993; Duet: 4:54)
Duet: Simplicity characterized the instrumental prelude and actually this whole rendering. Brandes sounds younger than Augér and Sharp has some stiffness in his voice. Something is missing in the atmosphere, perhaps more variety in the expressed feelings and more depth.

[10] Ton Koopman with Barbara Schlick (soprano) & Klaus Mertens (bass) (1995; Duet: 4:16)
Duet: The wind instruments open the duet with unusual tenderness and charm. The Soprano enters and the whole atmosphere is spoiled. Her upper register lacks softness. Mertens is an ideal Jesus - merciful, loving and caring. Of the three components needed for a balanced performance of this duet - two are on the highest level and the third not so.

[11] Masaaki Suzuki with Midori Suzuki (soprano) & Peter Kooy (bass) (1997; Duet: 3:55)
Duet: Suzuki's instrumental opening is bolder than that of Koopman, but less enchanting. Midori Suzuki's voice is wonderful, but I find her expression not satisfying. She has neither the innocence, nor the longing. Kooy is authoritative Jesus, but in comparison with Mertens, I miss some warmth in his singing. The voices of the two singers match nicely.

[12] Pieter Jan Leusink with Ruth Holton (soprano) & Bas Ramselaar (bass) (2000; Duet: 4:15)
Duet: The instrumental opening has the dance rhythm and the charm, the sadness and the mystery. A perfect atmosphere is laid before the Soprano enters. Holton is magnificent - young, innocent, but also yearning. Ramselaar is as good as Mertens. The voices of the two singers blend wonderfully together, as the hearts of two souls beat together in the joy of being together.

Conclusion

My choice - Leusink / Holton / Ramselaar [12]

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

Enjoy and Happy New Year,

Jane Newble wrote (January 3, 2000):
The instruments in this cantata are wonderful! They are very well suited to the melancholy content. Someone who gives his lito save people, many of whom don't want to know and find it all foolishness. There are deep emotions of peace, joy, but also of rejection and sadness in this lovely subdued cantata.

When I heard the last cantata of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) performed in Canterbury last year, I was struck with the very last chorale, which, underneath the triumphant and joyful trumpets, uses the melody of 'O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden' from the Matthäus-Passion. A very profound insight into the real meaning of the nativity, and a pointing forward to the suffering which is again pointed out here.

I have listened to Koopman [10] and Leusink [12], and apart from my favourite Klaus Mertens on Koopman, I prefer the Leusink. That is mainly because I love the instruments, and the soprano. Barbara Schlick spoils the beautiful 'Stein' aria. Where the note on 'Stein' is long held, to give a solid, trustworthy feeling, her stone is a very wobbly one indeed. She also, as Aryeh noted, spoils the duet! Ruth Holton is great! And the instruments are just so lovely in the Leusink CD. Klaus Mertens is as always, brilliant in expression and voice, but I do like Ramselaar too, although his German is not so easy to listen to.

Andrew Oliver wrote (January 6, 2001):
I like this cantata. It may wear a melancholy overcoat, but underneath it is joyful in a quietly contented way, and this is because it speaks of the assurance gained by being founded on the Rock, which is also the Cornerstone. The Gospel for the day is Luke 2: 33-40. The reference to being founded on the Rock comes a little later in Luke (6:48), but it seems to me that the librettist, Salomo Franck, has in mind a passage in Colossians. Chapter 1, verses 21-23 say (King James Version), "And you...... hath he reconciled... to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled..." or as the cantata says "Stein, hilf, daß ich zu aller Zeit durch den Glauben auf dich setze meinen Grund der Seligkeit".

I particularly like the sinfonia with which the cantata begins, especially the first few bars, and I also like the instrumentation Bach has chosen. The haunting sound of the oboe combines well with the pure tones of the recorder. Bach employs some subtle word-painting throughout the cantata, but one of the more obvious places where he uses it is for the three utterances of the word 'Stein' in the soprano aria, sung each time to one long note. This is beautifully rendered by Ruth Holton in Leusink's recording [12] as a carefully graded crescendo, yet 'steady as a rock'. This aria is the central vocal movement, and is central to the cantata's theme. Nevertheless, I like every moment of each number. The joyful duet with which the cantata closes reminds me very much of the duet for soprano and alto in BWV 186. It even uses the words of the title of that cantata. This cantata, BWV 152, was composed for 30 December 1714. BWV 186, which was discussed by list members on and after 6 August, appeared in 1723 in its present form, but it was originally written for the third Sunday in Advent, 13 December 1716, that version being listed as BWV186a. Franck was also the librettist for that cantata.

I have only the Leusink version [12], but it is splendid.

 

Which Mass in Bm?/ BWV 152 performance

Boyd Pehrson wrote (July 25, 2002):
[To Tofio] Your English is quite readable and you express yourself very well indeed! If you use your heart to assess music, you are using the true basis for judgement in my opinion. The classification of knowledge can be as narrow as anyone wants it to be. Yes, there are strong standards of judgement, but where music is concerned, critical standards, prudent as they be, should not over-rule the heart. One must have critical judgement with enough prudence to have good taste, this is something that can produce musical & social advancement; this I would call a "sound heart" for good music.

You wrote:
< what about the duet, soprano-bass cantata 152 - Wie soll ich dich, Liebster der Seelen?. It melts my heart! How much Love had to have Bach in his Heart to create such..... >

Indeed. I suppose J.S. Bach might perhaps say he had God's love in his heart. It must be that Bach's ideas for what the Cantatas were to communicate have been successful.

I will listen to the Cantata duet you mention (from BWV 152) as sung by Thomas Hampson and a Tölzer Knabenchor soloist. The Vol. 37 CD of the Teldec [6] doesn't give the boy soprano's name, but the Teldec sampler of Hampson's performances of "J.S. Bach Arias and Duets" lists Tölzer sopran Christoph Wegmann. I can compare with a couple of other recordings; notably with an HIP performance from over 50 years ago conducted by Dr. Karl Haas [1]!

 

BWV 152 performances compared

Boyd Pehrson wrote (July 31, 2002):
I had the interesting opportunity to listen to and to compare three recorded performances of the Cantata "Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn" (Walk on Faith's Path) BWV 152. This is a Weimar court solo/duet cantata for recorders and viola d'amore. The Weimar court needed cantatas that were spare of performance forces, since music of courts had minimal music force needs. Thus the cantata is 'typical' of the form and function of court music.

[1] The first one is conducted by Karl Haas, an HIP performance from 1951, featuring soprano Dorothy Bond and baritone Robert Irwin. Instrumentation is by the London Baroque Ensemble, on Westminster label. (I don't think this has been reviewed anywhere in the BC forum.)

[4] The second recording is conducted by Helmuth Rilling, with soprano Arleen Augér, and bass Wolfgang Schöne, 1976, Hänssler Classics.

[6] The third is conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with soprano Christoph Wegmann (Tölzer Knabenchor) and bass Thomas Hampson, Teldec, 1985.

[1] Firstly, the Hass recording from 1951 is monophonic, and I took into consideration the limits of the technology of over 50 years ago. Interestingly the recording is advertised on its jacket as: "Original Version with Recorders". 50 plus years ago "original version" meant "old instruments". There is an attending technique in performing with old instruments and so this makes for a much different sound all around than people were usually accustomed to- with the then ubiquitous modern and metal instruments. Used here by Hass are recorders, viola d'amore, and harpsichord.

I instantly recognized the HIP sound when the Cantata introduction began. This "old instrumentation" provides a unique soundscape that appears to hold up even in old recordings, and among various conductors. It is a general "HIP" sound. Missing are the strong contour outline emphasis that have become the trademark of conductors of HIP now. May I say I know why the emphasis of contour is there, for this recording was not vital nor of "Bachian" spirit like Tocatta and Fugue in Dm (BWV 565). Otherwise J.S. Bach it certainly was from top to bottom. This recording brings out the clarity and complexity that is Bach- and the "modern" clinicians have taken a lesson from such early HIP recordings. What most surprised me is the singing. Soprano Bond works well with the instruments in this recording, attempting at all turns to meld her voice with the old instruments. Bond controls her vibrato, dynamics and pitch to better match the "nasal quality" (as Dr. Hass puts it) of these instruments. She is singing very much like a boy soprano, and what intrigues is where in the 1950's could she have heard this done in a Bach Cantata? the natural inclination is to become one with old instruments. I was captivated by Dorothy Bond's performance, and as her solo track ended, that moment of suspended time in contemplation was present. Bond's texts were clean, crisp and articulate.

Baritone Irwin is truly singing baritone here. The effect was no less captivating, but the higher plane of singing left a flavour of stage presence instead of transportation to other spiritual worlds. More clean, crisp and articulate texts were delivered. At moments the singer on stage came through and thoughts of Al Jolson and Vaudeville passed through my mind like wisps smoke on a breeze. Bach fought his way back, and the Cantata ended as well as it started, in a Baroque setting- voices and instruments balanced in composition and in tone in a musical portrait.

[4] The Helmuth Rilling recording came next, and Rilling gives the modern instruments a Bachian stretch. Bach comes through the recording and Rilling reins in the nstruments at subtler moments to convince us that Bach still rules here among modern nstruments. A lighter attitude is achieved in the instruments, and one that may match any levity that may have been in the Weimar court. The modernity of Bach is displayed, as is Bach's resilience.

Soprano Arleen Augér has a wonderful voice, no doubt. She probably has the best voice of her peers of the time. But, here, as elsewhere with Rilling as conductor, she is too competitive with the instruments and other singers. Often in solos she sounds dramatically 'operatic', breathless, and garbled in her texts. She is overpowering on the instruments, and doesn't work well with others, even when singing quietly she overpowers the other instruments, making herself 'soprano soloist'.

This is not what the Bach soundscapes call for.Doubtless, many people will hear a beautiful soprano soloist here, with some background accompaniment. If such is their desire they will not be dissappointed here. I suspect that some of this competitiveness comes from the recording situation with Ms. Augér. Sometimes she was in studio alone with an instrumental track. I don't know if this was the case here, but elsewhere where it was, the result was similar. I cannot say Ms. Augér sang badly here, she sounds great, just that she used the wrong approach. Her duet, which is supposed to be a dialogue between the soul and Jesus, sounds more like a woman who is "finding herself". The bass part- Jesus, is just more instrumental support it seems.

Wolfgang Schöne as bass is booming, strong and sometimes operatic, and well, probably making like Jesus as best he can. There is a certainty that is projected here that leaves everything else in uncertainty. I have to ask, where is all this going? Instruments, voices and structure seem disconnected. Yet, it all sounds beautifully complicated. In the end, I wanted to wrap the Rilling up as soon as possible place it in the record sleeve and get on with life.Not a reaction Bach might enjoy!

[6] Last was the Nikolaus Harnoncourt recording which turned out to be the most recent of the three. At the opening movement I was transported back to the comfortable soundscape to which I have become accustomed in the HIP approach. Here a fugual movement struck the idea that "God moved over the surface of the deep." I sensed something was about to happen, and attention and anticipation were summoned.

The soprano Christoph Wegmann has here a young voice that has yet to see golden richness, a richness that proabably came a year later. He does not reach depth in the high register and he has a pure yet solid cold tone. The lower register is warm, light and eminently wistful and soul-like. The connection to musicality and to the bass in the duet never flags, and one wonders at how a small boy can keep up with Bach. But the match of this voice is not so close to the instrumentation, and one ponders how another boy might sound. Mr. Harnoncourt's philosophy on this project, for good or for ill, was to take who ever was "ready to sing" that day. Unlike Rilling who sometimes waited a decade for Arleen Augér to attend a studio taping with a soundtrack, Harnoncourt sent forth the next boy in line. What happens though is the reality that Bach himself faced, that who ever turned up ready, sang on sunday. Master Wegmann proves himself a worthy candidate all through, with obeisance to text, instrumentation and musicality, one can say he works well in team, and his duet with Hampson is a brief plunge into a Bachian world of musical delights found no where else in Western music.

Bass Thomas Hampson has strong vocal approach but somewhat lacking in style, reserved, and missing the depth of tone that one wants to hear ringing in that low range, especially as Jesus. His voice has a youthfulness that he should have been past by this time. I can see where the connection between the bass, soprano and the text (conversation between soul and Christ) may have been devised for "light singers" by Harnoncourt, but that would be beyond speculation.

All the above recordings were truly great to listen to. I was so impressed with Dorothy Bond she wins out as soprano here, with Wolfgang Schöne perhaps making a better more powerful representation of Christ. We can blend these two with Harnoncourt directing his Concentus Musicus Wien for a best of all elements. If I can have Rilling's incredible patience for the recording studio, then I prefer to wait for Master Wegmann to reach golden vocal perfection of boy soprano, and then re-record!

Karl Haas [1] ultimately wins out on these three due to his recording being the very earliest HIP among these, and what great accomplishments that led to in the following 30 years!

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 152: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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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