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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 186
Ärgre dich, o Seele, nicht
Cantata BWV 186a
Ärgre dich, o Seele, nicht
Discussions - Part 1

Suzuki's Bach Continues

Donald Satz wrote (November 9, 1999):
(4) It took far too long for me to acquire Vol. 10 of the Suzuki/Bach cantata series on BIS, but the wait was well worth it. The three cantatas on the disc, BWV 105, BWV 179, and BWV 186, were composed By Bach in his first year at Leipzig. BWV 105 is one of my favorite cantatas - two outstanding arias framed by beautiful choral pieces. BWV 186 is one of Bach's better works, although BWV 179 is a little less stirring.

I think that Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan really hit their stride with this volume. The orchestral contributions are sterling with great pacing and dramatic unfolding. Recorded sound is close to perfect.

My only reservation, one that seems to be consistent in this series, concerns the vocal soloists: Miah Persson (soprano), Robin Blaze (alto), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), and Peter Kooy (bass). Each one is acceptable with Kooy substantially better than the others who just did not display vocal beauty in abundance. They did not detract from the performances however.

Overall, those who have been collecting the Suzuki volumes will be very pleased with Vol.10 - I was. I don't think that anyone has directed these cantatas better than Suzuki. An upgrading of the vocal soloists would easily place this disc in the must-buy category. As it is, Vol.10 is very worthy of purchase.

 

Suzuki - Vol. 10

Ryan Michero wrote (December 20, 1999):
(4) I'm back with another Suzuki review, and this time it's a big one! I'm reviewing the recently released Vol. 10 of the complete cantata series. I hope everyone will find it interesting.

I should mention a couple of things before the review. First, I have instituted a comparison section in which I compare Suzuki's recording of a particular cantata with others. This might be small at first, as I can't afford to buy every existing version of a cantata. However, I am collecting Koopman's set, I plan to get the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set when it is re-released with the Bach 2000 collection, hopefully I will get Gardiner's set as it is released, and I already have a nice smattering of cantata recordings, so hopefully my comparisons will be useful.

Also, I have started identifying the sections of the performance that really impress me with the word "Wow." This may seem a little silly, but it's just something I would scribble in my notes when I came across a really great moment. Really it's probably these moments that make certain recordings stand out in our minds, setting them apart from good but uninspired performances.

Volume 10
Here is another excellent volume of early Leipzig cantatas from Suzuki and the BCJ. It contains fine performances of two fine cantatas, BWV 179 and BWV 186, and a wonderful performance of one of Bach’s vocal masterpieces, BWV 105. The performers maintain the extremely high standards they have set throughout the series, so, for the collector, this one is self-recommending. Cantata lovers will certainly not want to pass up BWV 105, which is in my opinion the best available. Even beginners could do worse than to start their cantata collection here (for God’s sake, do start somewhere, though!).

BWV 186 - “Ärgre dich, o Seele, nicht”
This two-part cantata, a Weimar piece with recitatives pasted in for the Leipzig performance, doesn’t quite cohere as a whole. That said, there are some wonderful moments, and Suzuki makes the most of them. The opening chorus, with a fine orchestral sound and intense choral singing, sounds great in these performers’ hands. The following bass recitative, like all of the recitatives here, has an Arioso section, the first in the form of a lament. Kooy sings it nicely, as he does the next aria. The next piece, a tenor recitative, is again nicely sung, with another affecting slow Arioso section. In the following tenor aria, the orchestra, complete with oboes da caccia, sounds marvelous, and Suzuki’s rhythms skip along nicely. I really like the chorale setting that ends both parts of this cantata, as in BWV 147, “Herz und Mund...” The violins and oboes alternate melodic figures in a very Bachian manner, and they sound great here. The second part opens with a bass recitative with a majestic, powerful ending, and Kooy impresses again. The following aria is expressively sung by Persson, with Suzuki coaxing eloquent, finely shaded violin playing from the BCJ orchestra. Blaze has another recitative here, which he dispatches nicely. The high point of this cantata is the following alto/soprano duet. This great Bachian concoction has an infectious 3/8 dance rhythm, a lovely string melody, and two closely harmonized vocal lines. The voices of Robin Blaze and Miah Persson blend marvelously, sounding fantastic together. Really, I cannot imagine this piece sounding better than it does here. A return of the first part’s final chorale brings this work to a satisfying close.

(3) Comparisons - Koopman
For both of these cantatas, the versions of Koopman and Suzuki are, in matters of interpretation and overall sound, very comparable, and it is hard to recommend one over the other. I tend to favor Koopman’s tenor and bass soloists, Gerd Türk (who often sings with Suzuki) and Klaus Mertens, and Suzuki’s soprano and alto soloists. I call a draw for BWV 179. However, I recommend the Suzuki in BWV 186 because his soloists pull off the final duet much better than Koopman’s.

 

Discussions in the Week of August 6, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 6, 2000):
Background

This is the week of cantata BWV 186 according to Ryan Michero's suggestion. For some background about this unusual cantata, I shall quote from W. Murray Young's book 'The Cantatas of J.S. Bach - An Analytical Guide':
"Bach reconstructed this cantata from one he has composed at Weimar in 1716 in a much shorter form, but which has been lost. The Gospel for the earlier version was taken from Matthew 11: 3-10 for the third Sunday in Advent, but the later Leipzig version comes from Mark 8: 1-9, the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Bach enlarged on this libretto by Frank, adding recitatives to make a cantata of two parts. There is little mention of Christ's miracle for the hungry multitude (except in the soprano aria of Part II); the central idea persists of John the Baptist's question (and our own) concerning Christ's divinity, as expressed in the earlier Weimar version.
The soloists are SATB with a chorus in four voices; the orchestra consists of two oboes, one oboe da caccia, a bassoon, strings and continuo.
There are two significant changes to be observed in this cantata: the bass and the tenor sing their recitatives and aria in Part I before the soprano and the alto sing theirs in Part II - an unusual groupings in the sequence of the voices - and the chorale at the end of each part is treated by Bach for the first time as a chorale fantasia (upon this style he would compose many of his later cantatas)."

And later in his review of this cantata, Young wrote about the duet for soprano and alto (Mvt. 10):
"This is the jewel of the whole cantata. It is a gigue in its rhythm with an uninhibited joy-motif in the oboes and the strings, probably taken from the Weimar version. The lines sung in canon are appealing, because Bach filled them with an emotional transcendental happiness to feet their thought… This idea of death as a necessary preliminary to happiness is with Bach."

Personal Viewpoint

In most of the soprano/alto duet movements of Bach cantatas, usually the soprano represents the soul and the alto represents the Spirit. But I do not see such a division of roles here. Sometimes the soprano repeats an idea expressed by the alto; sometimes the soprano sings the first clause, while the alto sings the second; sometimes they sing in canon and sometimes they answer each other, or encourage each other. Therefore, the match between the two voices is very important here. So is the relation between them and the rich instrumental accompaniment, among them we can find the rarely heard Taille (a tenor oboe). I agree with Whittaker, when he writes: "There are more than 200 bars of this engaging duet, and one would not have it shortened by a single beat". But we have to admit that no one of us would dare shortening any movement of a Bach cantata. AFAIK, there are more than a thousand movements in the whole oeuvre of Bach cantatas, but we do not have enough of them and each one of them is always too short!

Aria (duet) for Soprano and Alto (Mvt. 10) - text and translation

Original German text
Laß, Seele kein Leiden
Von Jesu dich scheiden,
Sei, Seele, getreu!
Dir bleibet die Krone
Aus Gnaden zu Lohne,
Wenn du von Banden des Leibes nun frei.

English translation (by Richard Stokes)
O soul, let no suffering
Divide you from Jesus,
O soul, be true!
You shall, out of mercy,
Be awarded the crown,”
When you are free from the body's chains.

Review of the Recordings

BWV 186 was recorded only within the frame of the five complete recorded cycles of Bach cantatas. AFAIK, it has not been recorded so far by anybody else, neither in complete form, nor any individual movements from it. I shall limit myself this time to review only the duet for soprano and alto. For this duet the different conductors chose various combinations. Two recordings (Rilling [1], Koopman [3]) use the couple - female soprano/female alto; two (Suzuki [4], Leusink [5]) - female soprano/counter-tenor; and one (Harnoncourt) - boy Soprano/counter-tenor. See: Cantata BWV 186 - Recordings.

(1) Helmuth Rilling with Arleen Augér (soprano) & Helen Watts (contralto) (1977; Duet: 5:29)
Augér and Watts voices match splendidly and both do not shy of expose their feelings. Their singing is full of joy and happiness, love and compassion. Economic vibrato is used both in the singing and in the playing of the instruments, but it does not disturb me. On the contrary, it contributes to the expressiveness.

(2) Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Helmut Wittek boy soprano) & Paul Esswood (counter-tenor) (1989; Duet: 4:57)
The instrumental introduction is very dry and much less juicy than Rilling's recording is. Wittek voice is pleasant in the lower register and screaming in the upper one. Esswood voice is, of course, much more consistent, but the incompatibility between the two voices causes a feeling of inconvenience.

(3) Ton Koopman with Ruth Ziesak (soprano) & Elisabeth von Magnus (contarlto) (1997; Duet: 4:13)
The two female voices are pleasant and match nicely, but they save their expression. I do not like the balance between the voices and the instruments. I feel as if the focus in this recording was put too much on the voices. This is a middle of the road performance, which does not excel in any area.

(4) Masaaki Suzuki with Miah Persson (soprano) & Robin Blaze (counter-tenor) (1999; Duet: 3:46)
The instrumental introduction has more sharpness and drama than Koopman has. There is a fine compatibility between the two voices (Persson and Blaze), and they blend together warmly. I dare to say that they almost sound like a couple in love. There is also a good balance between the voices and the instruments. The only fault I found in this recording is that it is played too fast.

(5) Pieter Jan Leusink with Ruth Holton (soprano) & Sytse Buwalda (counter-tenor) (1999; Duet: 4:42)
The instrumental playing in this rendering sounds less homogeneous than the previous recordings were. But I like this separation of the instrumental voices, because I can hear more colors, and it gives another aspect of interest to this movement. The contradiction between the voices of Holton and Buwalda is too pungent for me. There is also incompatibility in their voice production. Holton's voice is very consistent, where Buwalda is most of the time unstable. Sometimes he raises his voice above her and sometimes his voice is almost not heard.

Conclusion

As was hinted in the Whittaker's statement quoted above, in this movement slower is better. For me Rilling and his two female singers [1] win by far. After them I would rate - Suzuki [4], Koopman, Leusink [5], and Harnoncourt [2] - in this order.

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

Marie Jensen wrote (August 7, 2000):
Absolutely no time for a review this week, just this about BWV 186: I love the wonderful dancing duet

Laß, Seele kein Leiden
Von Jesu dich scheiden,
Sei, Seele, getreu!

(Mvt. 10), where Jesus and the soul are so closely connected in all kinds of suffering that they dance a beautiful nearly folkloristic dance. Impossible to separate they do the same steps. Perhaps with this rather rustic and simple set up JSB wants to show Jesus among the poorest of the poorest, not in misery and depression, but in heavenly joy!

(4) Robin Blaze and Miah Persson sing so wonderfully together (the Suzuki version).

Andrew Oliver wrote (August 8, 2000):
It seems to me that this cantata is one of the hidden gems of Bach's output. Why is it not well known?

I have two versions, the Leusink (5) and the Suzuki (4). If I only had the first of these, I would be reasonably happy with it, but having the Suzuki as well shows up the weaker moments in the Leusink. In particular, Leusink's trebles seem a little insecure in the opening chorus, and the bass aria seems to plod along, taking 3'20 as compared with Suzuki's 1'58. Perhaps this is a little too fast, but I love the organ continuo in this movement. I don't know if this is how Bach intended it to be interpreted, but I suspect that it could be, because it works well. Again, in the duet (Mvt. 10), I prefer the way Suzuki lets the music dance. This is indeed in the style of a gigue, as Aryeh said, quoting Young, but Leusink interprets it more as a minuet. Suzuki takes 3'46; Leusink takes 4'42. I haven't heard the Rilling (1), but 5'29 seems rather too slow to me, however good the voices may be. Perhaps Suzuki ought to have held it back a little, but on the other hand I get the impression that Holton and Buwalda would have liked to move the tempo on if Leusink hadn't restrained them. I like Holton's voice, but Buwalda does not make a good match for her. As for Persson and Blaze, could there have been a better match than this? The radiant happiness from both voices as the accompaniment skips along says it all - this is way it should be.

Andrew Oliver wrote (August 8, 2000):
There must be something bewitching about the duet in this cantata - Aryeh mentioned Mera instead of Buwalda (5), and I said Chance instead of Blaze (4).

Ryan Michero wrote (August 8, 2000):
(4) (To Andrew Oliver) I forgive your mistakes, but give the remarkable Robin Blaze the credit he deserves.

How about that due? Blaze's and Persson's voices sound gorgeous together, don't they?

Andrew Oliver wrote (August 8, 2000):
(4) (To Ryan Michero) Absolutely, Ryan. Having heard Robin Blaze live, I am very happy to pay tribute both to the quality of his voice and to his interpretation, and nowhere does he sound better than on Suzuki's recording of this cantata, and the well-matched combination of his voice with Persson's is superb. (By way of excuse for my error, let me add that I had just been reading the notes about Robin Blaze studying under the guidance of Michael Chance and Ashley Stafford, but the fault is mine and the credit is his.)

Patrik Enander wrote (August 8, 2000):
(To Andrew Oliver) Off-topic: As I read this I listen to Oxford Camerata's lovely recording of Byrd's Mass for four voices in my headphones. Blaze is one of the two altos. And it sounds superb.

Roy Reed wrote (August 12, 2000):
Hello Cantata Fans: BWV 186 was an unknown to me until I picked up recently the CD's of Suzuki (4) and Koopman (3). I like them both very much. Excellent performances. We should be so lucky. I am busy writing something, but I would like to make a few comments; there are so many great things here. I love the opening movement (Mvt. 1), the anti-vexation tonic, and does Bach go after that. Really rubs in the "vex thyself not" theme and supports it with this flowing accompaniment of peace. But…there is a bit of vexation left in. I love the entering pitches of the choir: d, e, f sharp, b flat: SATB. Well, I guess you have to be vexed to get unvexed. This same sort of thing occurs again in ms. 29: f, a flat, b natural, d. Love it. There is also a delightful touch in ms. 25. The text is about the brightness of the image of God being verhüllt (veiled) in the form of a servant. On the word "veiled" Bach sends the sopranos off on a bright upward-swinging Melissma of 16th and 32nd notes telling us that the disguised is really a revealing. Right out of the synoptic gospels. Fifth Evangelist, indeed. Wonderful chorus…no da capos in the whole cantata.

Wonderful also the recitatives in BWV 186. They all culminate in an arioso. I like that. Gets the "aria-anticipation" up. Some short, as in No.2: 3 bars. Some long No.4: 12 bars. Touching moment at the end of Mvt. 2: "How long, how long."

Mvt. 3 is a strikingly confident aria about doubt. Of course, we have to bounce through 53 mss. of doubt based on foolish reason before we get to the revelation of the light of Jacob in scripture...in this 73 ms. aria. Catch the logic of the development in the three long melissmas: on zweifelsvoll, bestriken (by "reason"), and erbliken. I do think that the tempo that Suzuki takes is a bit too brisk. I don't think that Peter Kooy is really comfortable with this tempo. Brisk and exciting is one thing. Rushed is another. The arioso at the end of the recitative that follows, Mvt. 4, is especially beautiful and moving. The gift of a spiritual manna from friendly hands, O so friendly. Two moving mss. of friendly.

Both readings I have take the obbligato of aria Mvt. 5 at the lower octave. There is some controversy about this re instructions, I gather, in the 1716 score... and the range of particular instruments. What Koopman and Suzuki do sounds great to me. I do like the Koopman inst. sound better. There is a pull in this text between the weak human spirit and the work of grace, which is strength the Savior gives. Clearly the strength of the Gnadenwerken determines the character of the aria.

Maybe I just get carried away, but it seems to me that the dialogue sort of accompaniment of the chorale which concludes the first section. Mvt. 6 underscores the whole tension between doubt and faith, which runs throughout the cantata.

The recitative which opens the after the sermon part, Mvt. 7, gets the familiar halo of a string accompaniment. I think that this is because of the blessing of nourishment from Christ, which it declares. And isn't the movement of strings and voice in the last 4 mss. a blessing? The following aria, Mvt. 8, celebrates Gnaden and Erbarmen, grace and mercy. There is still contrast: poverty and benevolence. I see this expressed in the leaps up, the leaps down, and especially in the ascending, descending, and ascending again which one hears in mss. 5-8 and at the end in mss. 43-47. Is this too Schweitzery? It's what I hear.

Contrast again in the recitative Mvt. 9. The world passes, a desert and its lusts...Christ will feed us and guide us and open the gates of paradise. And in the end...a crown. And Bach lets Jesus put it right on our heads. Don't you love the following duet? Where does this come from? A rollicking jig. Stick with Jesus. And so the two voices rollick along right together. Rather unlike Bach. But he does what he needs to. There is a smattering of polyphony but very little. You can get to paradise, but you need Jesus to take you there and you need him to be right with you. And you are jigging your way to a happy place. Why not? What a treat for the ears, the spirit and the mind.

Jane Newble wrote (August 12, 2000):
Roy Reed wrote:
< You can get to paradise, but you need Jesus to take you there and you need him to be right with you. And you are jigging your way to a happy place. Why not? What a treat for the ears, the spirit and the mind. >
So are your comments on this cantata! I loved reading it. Just when this week has been too hectic to take time to properly listen. I shall have to make time for this "anti-vexation tonic"...!

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantatas BWV 186 & BWV 186a: Details & Complete Recordings of BWV 186 | Details of BWV 186a | Recordings of Individual Movements from BWV 186 | 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: ýSeptember 23, 2011 ý15:28:02