Paul Beckman wrote (June 30, 2013):
Cantata for June 30th
This week's cantata is BWV 192, Nun danket alle Gott, based on a 17th century hymn by Martin Rinkart, who, in turn, drew on the 50th chapter of the deuterocanonical book of Sirach (which I find interesting in itself). English speakers know this extremely popular hymn by the name of "Now Thank We All Our God," which was introduced to the Anglo world by Catherine Winkworth, who translated more German works than one could possibly count (somewhere around a billion, at last count).
BWV 192 is a relatively late cantata, generally believed to have its first performance around 1730. According to Durr, and others, the piece screams "wedding!", although I cannot see exactly why they make the claim, apart from the tendency to do so for just about every cantata written outside the first three Leipzig cycles. Others believe that it is a Reformation Festival work; if so, it is a brief one, perhaps even unfinished.
Which leads us to one of the other outstanding questions about Nun danket: Is it complete in either content or instrumentation? It is the case that we don't have the original score or tenor part, so such speculation is quite natural. In support of it being incomplete, some writers point out its brevity (running anywhere between eleven and fifteen minutes) and its mere three movements. Others seem to feel that it needs more heft, and so add horns to the piece (Koopman does this).
My sense, however, is that the work is perfectly together as a whole. In the first place, it is per omnes versus; in this case, the omnes simply equals 3 (we'll have a cantata in a couple weeks where it equals many more, which leads to a much greater length). In the second place, brevity in no way needs to correspond to incompleteness: We don't feel the need to add words to the saying in John 11:35 ("Jesus wept"). Some things just feel complete as they are. At any rate, Bach wrote several other cantatas of approximately the same length.
To me, the most compelling reason for considering BVW 192 to be complete, however, is probably a pretty poor one: I can't imagine what Bach would have added to make it "better." The three movements cohere beautifully together, and, as Julian Mincham points out, they add up to a kind of cantata concerto. This is how the work has always "felt" to me, and I have never thought that anything more needs to be appended, whether movement or instrument-wise.
The idea of a concerto-form cantata leads me to my last thought on BWV 192, which has to do with Bach's use of the human voice as an instrument. It seems to me that there has been no other composer who succeeded in integrating vocal parts into his or her works the way Bach did. Others, of course, are quite good at it - Mozart and Schumann come to mind - but Bach, whose early instrumental works are so lyrical, takes the human voice, weaves it into his sonic structure, and makes duets, trios, quartets, and so on of incredibly complexity, variety, and unity. OK, that's probably badly said, but, nevertheless, I stand by the claim.
A couple quick closing comments on performances: I was ready to declare that everyone and his brother has recorded BWV 192 (there is even a Polish group, Collegium Musicum Bednarska presenting a slightly shaky version - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOkwlfGrerE), but I notice Herreweghe, one of my favorites, missing from the list. Previous discussions have made much of the variety of approaches to tempo and timing, so I will only note that the really slow tack (Rilling, at 15 minutes or so) obliterates the Gigue of the last movement, and, as usual, brings the piece into the Romantic period. Having said that, I like Rilling's sonorities, and find his version to be quite rich.
Of the many other performances, I, as almost always, am a fan of Suzuki's clean, clear style. His soloists are invariably fine, and the playing is equally attractive. Gardiner is the anti-Rilling, and flies along as if he has an appointment that he can't miss following the recording session. None of the others stands out one way or the other, although I find Leusink's singers, both soloists and choir, to be less-than-world beating.
OK, the previous discussions are found here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV192.htm. Julian Mincham's exposition is here: http://www.jsbachcantatas.com/documents/chapter-53-bwv-192.htm.
Have a wonderful, Bach-filled week.