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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 22
Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe
Discussions - Part 1

Cantatas BWV 22 & BWV 23

Ryan Michero wrote (March 10, 2000):
Hello, Cantata buddies! Sorry I'm a little behind in the discussion, but I did a little extra listening this week.

I decided that, since this week's cantata is BWV 23, "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn", I would also listen to the other cantata with which it is historically linked, BWV 22, "Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe". These cantatas are very important markers in the development of Bach's style as they represent the transition between the secular cantatas composed at Köthen and the early Leipzig sacred cantatas. They are Bach's audition cantatas for the St. Thomas cantorate, BWV 23 written mostly in Köthen and BWV 22 written upon his arrival in Leipzig, and they show the composer attempting a wide variety of movements to illustrate the generally sombre moods of the day's gospel. They are certainly self-contained works, but they work equally well as a double-bill. I listened to both to get a feel for what that first performance might have been like. Most of the cantata sets I have pair them together anyway, so this was easy enough to do. All of the performers I listened to bring something unique and valuable to the works, but I tend to think that, as these cantatas are historically important pieces, the most best and most enlightening recordings take into account the unusual performance circumstances of these pieces.

An exhaustive account of the performance history of these cantatas (especially BWV 23) can be found in the essay "Bach's Audition for the St. Thomas Cantorate: The Cantata 'Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn'" in Christoph Wolff's BACH: ESSAYS ON HIS LIFE AND MUSIC. Wolff summarizes his findings in the notes to Koopman's Vol. 3, and Suzuki seems to draw on the information for his own notes in his Vol. 8. The research discussed in the article has important repercussions on instrumentation, pitch, and exactly which movements to perform (even this is not entirely clear as I have learned). I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the performance context and the HIP recreation of Bach's cantatas.

I'll start my discussion on a light note by relaying to you a quote included in Wolff's article from a contemporary press report:

"On Sunday last in the morning the Hon. Kapellmeister of Köthen, Mr. Bach, gave here his test at the church of St. Thomas's for the hitherto vacant Cantorate, the music of the same having been amply praised on that occasion by all knowledgeable persons..."

Assuming that the scholars are right, I would like to amply praise the "knowledgeable persons" of Leipzig for their appreciation of such fine music!

On to the recordings:

[1] I have a special fondness for Leonhardt's version on Teldec, but I'm not sure I can call it my favourite. Leonhardt's usual strengths are here in abundance: interesting but natural phrasing, clearly delineated lines, reliable vocal soloists, and fine obbligato playing. Paul Esswood surpasses himself with outstanding performances in both cantatas, and Equiluz and van Egmond are predictably great in BWV 22. I especially like the reedy, plangent sound of the oboes in these recordings--period winds at their most delicious. The Tenor aria "Mein alles in allem" (Mvt. 4) is a bit sluggish for my taste, but this is a small problem. The treasure of these cantata performances, as Johan and Aryeh have mentioned, is the ravishing performance of the opening Duet, "Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn". The reedy oboes and the voices of Paul Esswood and boy Soprano Walter Gampert all blend wonderfully, creating a heartbreakingly lovely sound. The sounds are wonderfully unpolished and raw, beautifully portraying human weakness during the cries of "Erbarme dich mein!" I'm listening to it now and it really is breathtaking. I have a minor quibble with Leonhardt's version: Bach's autograph score for both works specifies between "concertists" and "ripienists", but Leonhardt does not follow his markings. Hence, for Leonhardt, the full choir begins the fugue in the first Chorus of BWV 22, which doesn't transition as well from the solo singing that begins the movement. Perhaps more damaging, Leonhardt has the Tenor and Bass sections of his choir instead of soloists sing the Duet sections of the third movement of BWV 23, a strange effect that undermines Bach's intended contrast. I'm being picky, though--Leonhardt's performances of these cantatas are great, and you all really must hear the opening Duet of BWV 23.

[5] I just recently received Volumes 1 and 2 of the Kruidvat/Brilliant Classics Bach series under Pieter Jan Leusink, and this was my first chance to sample these recordings. My first impressions are overall favourable: the orchestra has a lovely sound, not too polished but rich and pleasantly "antique" (in the best sense of that word. The choir sounds a bit large and undisciplined compared to that on other series, but it is acceptable and I applaud the rare (outside of the Teldec series) use of boys on the Soprano line. I do like the soloists, especially Nico van der Meel and Ruth Holton. Bas Ramselaar is also fine, with his heavy, authoritative voice. Unfortunately, I'm not fond of the nasal, unsteady voice of counter-tenor Sytse Buwalda, featured prominently in both of these cantatas. The highlight of these cantatas under Leusink is unquestionably "Mein Alles in Allem" sung by van der Meel. WOW! The strings sound great, not too polished and blended like Koopman's strings but pleasantly and sweet with a touch of astringency that is very nice. Leusink adopts a gentle, skipping tempo that sounds just right, and van der Meel is really wonderful. Overall, though, I can't recommend Leusink's recordings of BWV 22 and BWV 23. The soloists in the opening Duet of BWV 23 don't blend well, and Leusink, like Leonhardt, doesn't observe Bach's distinction between "concertists" and "ripienists" in choral movements. Worst of all, Leusink omits entirely the last movement of BWV 23, even though the text of the movement is included in the liner notes! True, Bach originally planned a three-movement piece, writing "Il Fine" at the end of the third movement. Yet upon arrival in Leipzig he added the fourth part, and all known performances of the work included the fourth movement. So why does Leusink cut it? I understand there are probably extreme limitations of budget and time in this project, but this recording presents a distorted vision of this cantata and cannot be recommended.

[3] Koopman's versions (on his Vol. 3) are altogether better and more accurately performed. I think all of the singers make a strong impression here, including Barbara Schlick and Elizabeth von Magnus (who don't always please me) as well as Paul Agnew and Klaus Mertens. The Chorus is fine as always, with Koopman observing Bach's "concertists"/"ripienists" distinctions to fine effect in "Aller Augen warten, Herr". The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra as always plays excellently, with Marcel Ponseele's oboe a constant delight. There is also some fine, crisp ensemble playing by the strings in "Mein alles in allem", where Koopman adopts a quicker tempo than Leusink for a bit more energy and a bit less radiance. Koopman takes the final chorale (Mvt. 5) of BWV 22 at a very quick pace for no apparent reason, making it sound really rushed. The Duet that opens BWV 23 comes off well though, with Schlick and von Magnus both in fine form, blending nicely with the w, limpid oboes d'amore--very nice even if it doesn't reach the heights of Leonhardt's version. There is something curious about Koopman's version of "Christ, du Lamm Gottes", though. The liner notes go into great detail about how Bach added trombones and a cornett to the choral lines for the first performance, dropping the pitch of the piece a half tone (from C minor to B minor), using oboes d'amore to accommodate this shift in pitch, then at a later date removing the brass and shifting back up to the written pitch. Then it says, "The present recording prefers the B minor version of the work, but dispenses with the brass reinforcements in the final chorale (Mvt. 5)." Fine, but cornett and trombones are listed in the scoring for the movement in the booklet, and, sure enough, close listening reveals the brass instruments in the background tooting along with the choir. Strange! But overall Koopman's versions are very good.

[4] To me, though, the most consistently satisfying versions of both cantatas come from Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. Not only does Suzuki respect all of Bach's performing indications and pay close attention to original pitch and scoring, but also he conducts surely and naturally, penetrating right to the heart of these works. These cantatas are just so much more vivid to me in Suzuki's recordings. The opening Arioso-Chorus of BWV 22 is wonderfully judged, with fine solo singing by "Evangelist" Gerd Türk and "Vox Christi" Peter Kooy (foreshadowing their roles in Suzuki's new St. Matthew Passion) and an exciting reading of the fugue, complete with "concertists" in the exposition. Yoshikazu Mera is one of my very favourite singers, and he gives a moving account of the aria "Mein Jesu, ziehe mich nach dir". As usual, he exhibits incredible vocal control, holding the frequent long notes starting with a clear, pure tone, adding a touch of vibrato at the end. He sounds great with Alfredo Bernardini's oboe playing, which, for my money, is even more persuasive than that of Marcel Ponseele in both cantatas. Kooy and Suzuki even elevate the following recitative to great heights, creating a moving miniature drama out of the simplest music. "Mein alles in allem" is also very well done here, with Gerd Türk just as fine in this lyrical music as in more declamatory passages, and with nicely articulated string playing and a quick tempo--delightful. The final chorale (Mvt. 5) of BWV 22 is nicely judged, with the lyrical instrumental melody sounding lovely. The Duet that opens BWV 23 is not as moving as in Leonhardt's version, but it is still great here, with Midori Suzuki, Mera, and the oboes d'amore sounding very beautiful together. Johan complained about the use of the Cembalo here, but this is historically justified: There is a surviving performance part for BWV 23 labelled "basson e Cembalo", causing Wolff to speculate that either a harpsichord was used in addition to organ at the first performance or that a harpsichord was added later because of an organ in need of repair. Suzuki's readings of the two closing Choruses of BWV 23 are also excellent. "Aller Augen warten, Herr" sounds great, with a quick tempo and sharp articulation in the choral lines and soloists Türk and Kooy singing the Tenor and Bass lines in between the choral ritornelli. Bach's original cornett and trombone parts add weight to the choral lines in "Christe, du Lamm Gottes", not buried in the mix but helping to create some rich, spine-tingling sonorities. The excellent notes set the seal on these lovely and enlightening performances. These cantatas are fine examples of Bach's art, and I couldn't ask for better performances than Suzuki gives us here.

 

Discussions in the Week of March 2, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 3, 2003):
BWV 22 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (March 2, 2003) is the Cantata for Quinquagesima Sunday [Estomihi] BWV 22 ‘Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe’ (Jesus took the twelve to himself).

Cantata BWV 22 was Bach’s Probestück (test piece) for the position of Kantor in St. Thomas’ Church, Leipzig. He composed it at Köthen right after Cantata BWV 23Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sons’ (Thou very God and David’s son), which Bach has originally intended as his test piece, but had changed his mind because he felt that BWV 23 was more suitable in its format for the connoisseur aristocracy of the Köthen court than for the Leipzig bourgeois congregation at St. Thomas. The latter were accustomed to the regular cantata of Bach’s predecessor, Johann Kuhnau: five movements, instead of the three he had set for BWV 23 in its original outlay.

Graupner had set his trial piece on the five-movement cantata format three weeks before Bach’s performance. Graupner had impressed the Leipzig Council so much with it that they had chosen him to be Kantor, without even having heard Bach. Graupner, however, had to decline the position, as he could not obtain his release from Darmstadt, so Bach’s chance came on February 7, 1723.

It is assumed that Bach himself wrote the libretto for this cantata, based on Luke 18: 31-34. The librettist had a choice in writing for Estomihi Sunday: either of Christ’s journeying to Jerusalem and His prophetic words about its significance, or the healing of the blind man on the way. Bach found the first option as the most appealing, and the result is one of Bach’s most admirable librettos among the church cantatas, a true meditation consistently worked out. Unless the congregation were stupid as the disciples, it must have made deep impression on those who first heard it. This impression has not been diminished even slightly to this day. On the contrary, as with many other Bach’s works, the impression even strengthens with every repeated hearing.

Recordings

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV22.htm

BWV 22 was composed in 1723, and as an early cantata all its five complete recordings come from recorded cantata cycles: Leonhardt (1973) [1], Rilling (1977) [2], Koopman (1995) [3], Suzuki (1998) [4] and Leusink (1999) [5]. The concluding chorale (Mvt. 5) from this cantata, has at least 8 individual recordings, as can be seen in the following page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV22-2.htm

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
Original German text, 3 English translations (Z. Philip Ambrose, Francis Browne and Pamela Dellal), 3 French translations (Walter F. Bischof, Bach en Combrailles and Jean-Pierre Grivois), and an Hebrew translation (Aryeh Oron).
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), Brian Robins (AMG), and Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music), in Japanese by Nagamiya Tutomu (a member of the BCML), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

Actually, the discussion of this cantata has already started. While we discussed Cantata BWV 23, exactly three years ago, Ryan Michero, a dear member of the BCML, who had to leave the list during its first year of existence, wrote a combined review of both BWV 22 and BWV 23. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV22-D.htm
I hope you will be encouraged by his review and by the background above to actively participate in the discussion.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 6, 2003):
BWV 22 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 22 - Provenance

Timings of the Five Recordings (from slowest to fastest):

Mvt. 1: Aria-Coro:
Rilling (5:46); Leusink (5:02); Leonhardt (4:52); Koopman (4:49); Suzuki (4:37)

Mvt. 2: Alto Aria:
Leonhardt (5:05); Leusink (4:58); Koopman (4:43); Suzuki (4:41); Rilling (4:37)

Mvt. 3: Bass Recit:
Rilling (2:21); Koopman (2:20); Leusink (2:19); Leonhardt (2:06); Suzuki (2:02)

Mvt. 4: Tenor Aria:
Leonhardt (3:42); Rilling (3:22); Leusink (3:13); Koopman (2:56); Suzuki (2:49)

Mvt. 5: Chorale:
Rilling (2:17); Leonhardt (2:02); Suzuki (2:02); Leusink (1:57); Koopman (1:24)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 8, 2003):
BWV 22 - Commentaries: [Spitta, Schweitzer, Whittaker, Dürr, Wolff/Koopman: “The World of the Bach Cantatas”, Little & Jenne]

See: Cantata BWV 22 - Commentary

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 9, 2003):
BWV 22 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Leonhardt (1973) [1]; Rilling (1977) [2]; Koopman (1995) [3]; Suzuki (1998) [4]; and Leusink (1999) [5]

Mvt. 1 Allegro for Concertists and Ripienists (Choir)

[1] Leonhardt:
There is no distinction here between Concertists and Ripienists. The Tölz Boys Choir and a few singers from the King’s College Choir of Cambridge are forced into an extreme ‘allegro’ from which they never recover. In order to sing all the notes (the sopranos and altos have very shaky vibratos/tremolos on every note, thus giving the impression of intonational insecurity), the choir is needs to sing everything sotto voce, thereby increasing the sense of insecurity as they attempt to simply ‘tap’ the notes very quickly. There is no soul or substance behind this type of singing.

[2] Rilling:
Rilling gives us a very intelligent and effective treatment of this choral fugue, notwithstanding the operatic-type vibratos of the voices in the choir. I would certainly love to hear this same choir sing without these vibratos, then the excellence of this rendition would not be easily surpassed. Although Rilling would have full-voices at his disposal (Kraus, Schöne and others), he has opted for using the full choir throughout this section without any differentiation between Concertists and Ripienists. Once fugal subject has been introduced in all the voices, Rilling very carefully delineates the additional entries that, in the other recordings, tend to get lost despite the fact that instruments play colla parte with the voices. He does this by reducing the volume slightly on the chordal entrances on the words “was das gesaget war” thus preparing for the next entry of the subject. Disregarding Rilling’s failure to use the ‘solo – tutti’ designation by Bach and the obvious vibratos in the voices, this is, nevertheless the most satisfying of the recordings. Rilling’s slow (slowest of all the recordings) tempo allows this section to have its full impact upon the listener.

[3] Koopman:
What can you expect when Koopman makes the choir sing this fugue at this extremely fast tempo? A whispering, sotto-voce choir that is unable to fit all the words in so that they are understandable for the audience. Koopman is more interested in creating an impressionistic effect than conveying the true meaning of the words, otherwise he would not have chosen this fast tempo as he frequently does in other cantata mvts. as well. Koopman does respect Bach’s ‘solo – tutti’ markings, however, but what is worse than a demi-voice singing a solo? 4 demi-voices rushing through the fugal entrances of this cantata mvt. This becomes a fugue without strength and stability. Everything is flighty and without substance, even when the ripienists make their entrances together with the instruments that support them.

[4] Suzuki:
Although the tempo here is very similar to Koopman’s, Suzuki manages to delineate the important elements of the fugue (including the wickedly fast pronunciation of German) much better than Koopman. To be sure, the demi-voiced soloists beginning the fugue really can not do the fugal subject justice, a subject that demands to be heard and properly declaimed, but the effect of a continuing build-up within the fugue is present. However, it remains on a less powerful level than Rilling’s version. This is due to the fast tempo that Suzuki chooses, a tempo that forces the voices to lightly touch the notes without being able to project them fully.

[5] Leusink:
Leusink also does not follow Bach’s prescription to divide the choir into Concertists (soloists) and Ripienists (the other voices in the choir.) His tempo is almost as fast as Leonhardt’s (which is too fast.) The only attempt at expression here seems to be the staccato treatment of the chords on ‘was’ and ‘das.’ Because of the strong accent or stress on these abbreviated, staccato notes (Bach does not mark them to be this way,) other problems arise for the choir: they begin to shout these notes, some of which are indefinable as notes on a scale or their intonation is insecure. The choir conveys the feeling of sheer effort in getting through this section without any major blunders. Along with all of this, the listener has to contend with the usual voice production problems inherent in this choir, problems which do little to enhance the true significance of the biblical text which they are singing.

Mvt. 1 (vox Christi) & Mvt. 3 Recitative Bass

Only Schöne (Rilling) [2] in the only non-HIP version has a true, full bass voice. Unfortunately, this is not sufficient to put this in the excellent category because his interpretation lacks sufficient expressiveness. To be sure, he does articulate certain phrases to bring out their meaning, but more often than not his singing remains on a single level not really delving very deeply into the text. But his voice sings with greater authority than all the other basses mentioned below. From this standpoint alone, his rendition is more convincing than the others.

The HIP versions, van Egmond (Leonhardt) [1], Mertens (Koopman) [3], Kooy (Suzuki) [4] and Ramselaar (Leusink) [5] all show a greater flexibility in expressiveness, but this is on a demi-voice level, so that when the sotto voce singing is reduced by phrases sung at a ‘piano’ or ‘pianissimo’ level, a quartet of strings (or the additional oboe) can easily overwhelm the voice. In the case of van Egmond and Ramselaar, it appears that close miking spares these voices from completely receding into the background, while Mertens and particularly Kooy seem to be at a greater distance from the microphones. All of the latter 4 HIP demi-voices nevertheless have a more interesting expressive range within their voice-imposed limitations. Thus their singing is more interesting and moving as they attempt to express the words of the text. However, all too often, what is missing is the feeling that they are really fully singing out these words with conviction from the bottom of their hearts. As a listener I am expecting something more to be conveyed, something that is never completely delivered except within a limited framework of their voices. It is as though they are given half-size violins on which to play, but are unable to coax the expansive sound of full-size violins from them becausuch violins are not at their disposal. They then try to make do with what they have and try to create some special effects by reducing their volume. Unfortunately, even the softer-sounding period instruments succeed in covering up these voices at times. This lack of balance would not occur if these voices had greater capacity and volume.

Mvt. 1 (Evangelist intro) & Mvt. 4 Aria for Tenor

[2] As with the division among the bass soloists, here there is only one true full voice: Kraus (Rilling) who gives a strong evangelist introduction to the ‘vox Christi’ in Mvt. 1 and an equally powerful rendition of the aria. Rilling has found a good tempo for this minuet-like mvt. The strings play with a wonderfully full sound that is dignified and almost solemn in nature, but the 1st violin melody (which introduces the material taken up by the soloist) literally sings by virtue of its sustained, legato treatment. Nevertheless the nature of the dance is still apparent. Occasionally Kraus becomes slightly unpleasant when he has many words to sing that he wishes to emphasize. He does best, however, on the moving 16th-note figures. For this alone he is worth hearing.

[1] Of the remaining soloists, all in the HIP category, Equiluz almost never fails to amaze because he uses his voice intelligently and because he really ‘sings his heart out’ when singing Bach. The prefiguring of the vocal line by the 1st violins is very halting and staccato, but when Equiluz introduces the same thematic, he does not repeat the nonsensical ‘chop-chop’ treatment of the violins, but instead relies on his own inner musical common sense to avoid the fractured treatment that Leonhardt has the violins use. As a result, we have a disparity, a lack of harmony and agreement between the instrumentalists (Leonhardt included) on the one hand, and a superior vocalist who has had sufficient training and experience not to give in to some artificially reconstructed notions of what Bach’s music might have sounded like. This is somewhat reminiscent of a PDQ Bach description of a ‘sports event’ involving the conductor, Heiligengedank, playing against the orchestra with the audience listening in rapt attention to see who will win this engagement. Here, in Leonhardt’s version, it is clear that Leonhardt lost and Equiluz won. Just imagine how great this performance would have been, had they both been playing on the same side!

[3] Koopman gives one of his numerous, typically ‘lite’-treatment instrumental accompaniments emphasizing extremely the dance-like nature of the music. Agnew’s voice is one that exudes disingenuousness; and, as a result, it is very difficult to listen to this voice and even begin to take seriously any of the text that he is singing.

[4] Suzuki allows the music to sing a little more than Koopman does, but there are many extremely light, unaccented notes that lose their meaning and significance as they are played with a staccato effect. Türk gets caught up in this ‘lite’ treatment and is unable to do much more than simply deliver the notes. There is nothing here that speaks directly to the listener. It is simply a very nice reading of the notes without anything except a very general feeling of happiness being expressed in the voice.

[5] Leusink’s instrumental version is very similar to Leonhardt’s, Koopman’s and Suzuki’s: light staccato treatment with a very heavy bc which is more typical of Leusink. The soloist, van der Meel, also lacks the quality to be entirely convincing in his singing. Instead of Agnew’s disingenuousness, van der Meel’s rendition is rather flat in terms of expressiveness with moments of a ‘dead’ quality in his voice where nothing but the notes is being transmitted without any emotional quality at all.

Mvt. 2 Aria for Alto

In the battle of the 3 counter tenors, Esswood (Leonhardt) [1], Mera (Suzuki) [4], and Buwalda (Leusink) [5], it is difficult to choose one over the other because they all have very good renditions of this aria, while at the same time exhibit deficiencies in certain areas. Perhaps, the weakest rendition of this aria among the HIP practitioners (besides Koopman’s von Magnus [3], who is afflicted with a serious demi-voice deficiency: her low range is very weak – this aria is primarily in the low range), is that of Esswood’s where the combination of slightly insecure baroque oboe playing and Esswood’s [1] trembling vibrato which does not distinguish between a trill and a plain note (they sound the same) detract seriously from complete enjoyment of this aria. Buwalda (Leusink) [5] does remarkably well, probably just because he does not have to sing in his high range where he truly sounds terrible. Also the blend between the oboe and Buwalda’s voice is very good. Mera’s (Suzuki) [4] voice is very beautiful as he caresses the notes in the high range better than anyone else, but his voice fails him in the low range which is too bad, because otherwise he might have been truly outstanding in this aria.

Watts (Rilling) [2] has sufficient power and depth throughout her range, and, although her voice is operatic with obvious vibrato, she is able to impart expression to this aria that seems to elude the counter-tenors who are better at singing instrumentally and emulating the oboe sound than conveying the depth of feeling that this aria demands.

Mvt. 5 Final Chorale (marked as ‘Corale’):

[1] Leonhardt:
Leonhardt has the lower strings and the bc (mainly in 8th notes) play the entire accompaniment in a staccato style. This seems to undermine the solid foundation that this chorale ought to have. The 1st and 3rd notes of each measure receive a heavy accent which seems to signal that this group needs this dilettantish device in order not ‘to lose the beat.’ This type of device lacks any sense of subtlety. Bach’s phrasing of the oboe and 1st violins is presented clearly according to Bach’s intentions: the oboe slurs 4 16th notes at a time while the 1st violins slur them 2 at a time. This distinction should be recognizable to the careful listener. It is here, but most of the other recordings do not feel it necessary to adhere to the score. The sound of the choir is the worst aspect of this recording: it is muffled, insecure, imprecise, unbalanced, in short, even Leusink’s choir has a clearer, cleaner sound (albeit with its own set of peculiar problems.) Leonhardt occasionally has the choir treat the final syllable at the end of a line of the chorale as insignificant, a feature that Leusink later capitalizes upon to his own detriment.

[2] Rilling:
While Leonhardt errs on the side of using too much staccato spiced up with unnecessary heavy accents, Rilling goes to the opposite extreme: here almost everything is treated in a legato fashion. This is particularly noticeable in the bc which only occasionally breaks of the steady stream of 8th notes with some phrasing that is not exclusively legato. The oboe and 1st violins sound almost as if they are playing and endless stream of 16th notes without a break. If there are any breaks at all between each group of 4 16th notes, it must be an almost inaudible break. The impression remains that there is no break at all. This is not Bach’s intention (as explained above.) I am always amazed at Rilling’s ability to make all the parts in the choir heard in balance with each other. To be sure, the trained voices have too much vibrato and this causes a less solid choir sound. Also, the sopranos, as wobbly as they usually are, are a bit on the weak side (usuallythere are other instruments that help to support the cantus firmus by playing colla parte, but here they are otherwise engaged with their own independent musical line. A special effort should have been made to bring out specifically the chorale melody.

[3] Koopman:
Koopman, using a ridiculously fast tempo, treats the final chorale as an afterthought or perhaps even as a “Rausschmeißer” (“the final last fling in a group of dance compositions to close the evening, or in this case a signal to the congregation that the service is officially over – all that remains is to urge the people to leave the church quickly by supplying some really peppy music that most people will not listen to anyway.”] Koopman has failed completely to recognize the significance of the final chorale and treats it in a very undignified manner. Perhaps Koopman figures that by concentrating on a single verb “erwecken” [‘to awaken”] he would be justified in chasing through this chorale almost a minute faster than Rilling does. This is a very simplistic approach to a Bach chorale. The serious import of the rest of the chorale verse does not uphold this type of interpretation. In order to get through this mvt. at such a speed, many major changes have to be undertaken: the bc must play a light, for the most part ‘piano’ staccato accompaniment to the oboe and 1st violins which are now forced to play a light staccato as well (this means that the 2-note phrases are occasionally converted into staccato, but at other times bits and pieces of Bach’s intentions can be heard.) This is a real mishmash of phrasing and non-phrasing. This is freedom of interpretation taken to its worst extremes. The fast tempo causes many of Bach’s subtleties in scoring to be ‘swallowed up’ by the monster which represents the worst aspect of HIP. In the choir the wonderful passing notes, for the most part, are lost or dropped in the process. Any dignity that might have been associated with the words of this chorale has now been almost completely destroyed or so distorted that it becomes a caricature of a Bach chorale.

[4] Suzuki:
Suzuki also creates a mishmash of phrasings in the oboe and 1st violin that are suspended over a bc that is mainly staccato with a few aberrations into some other phrasings. The oboe and 1st violin seem to be following Bach’s indications in ms. 1, but in ms. 2 they suddenly change to a long slur or legato (over the last 8 16th notes in ms. 2.) Suzuki’s choir has a clearer sound than Rilling’s choir. The soprano part has the necessary clarity and strength to maintain the cf properly. All the passing notes are clearly heard and there is good balance between all the vocal parts. Suzuki understands the correct manner of chorale singing. This comes, very likely, from his personal relationship with the chorale text and the chorale singing tradition. He does not lop off the words or syllables that end a musical line (as Leonhardt, Koopman, and Leusink do.)

[5] Leusink:
Compared to the above versions, Leusink has an instrumental accompaniment that sounds rather mechanical and studied. There is no inner life or real breathing as was audible in the Suzuki recording. The oboe has trouble with a high Ab, which it plays much louder than the surrounding notes each time that it appears. The phrasings used by the oboe and 1st violin are a mishmash: some are as Bach prescribed, others are not. The choir is less muffled than Leonhardt’s and is able to present the musical lines with greater clarity, but at the cost of individual singers with their vocal deficiencies (too many to mention here) coming into the foreground. At the end of almost every line of the chorale, a guillotine appears to chop off the final word or syllable in a very abrupt fashion. This distracting trait in Leusink’s treatment of a chorale serves to diminish the significance and meaning of the chorale text while at the same time making it more difficult for an audience to understand the words because the pronunciation of the words is generally poor.

Summary:

Pick and choose as indicated above.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 9, 2003):
BWV 22 - Background

The background below is based mostly on Robertson’ book and something of my own. I have avoided quoting the text, because both the original German text and a good English translation in Interlinear Format by Francis Browne can be read at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV22-Eng3.htm

Mvt. 1 Arioso [Tenor, Bass] & Chorus [S, A, T, B]
After the introductory ritornello the tenor soloist sings the first words of Luke 43: 31 after which the bass soloist continues with the second part of the same verse. The poignance of Jesus’ words – for Bach would have in mind what He goes on to tell the Twelve – is emphasized by one small two-bar motif, first heard on the oboe in the introductory ritornello and repeated many times at various pitches. For the rest the oboe’s melody suggests the start of the journey. The aria is followed, without break, by a choral fugue, allegro, which vividly illustrates the disciples’ inability to understand their Master’s dire prophecies. Bach brings in the oboe and strings to reinforce the climax and, when the voices cease, to depict the confusion left by the disciples’ mind.

Mvt. 2 Aria [Alto]
The spiritual journey with the Saviour to Jerusalem, as if traversing the Via Dolorosa, is poignantly expressed in the melody of this aria. Bach uses a motif which he frequently employed to express sorrowful emotion. The words of the middle section pray that the full meaning of Jesus' grief and death may be understood by the soul.

Mvt. 3 Recitative [Bass]
The text dwells on the soul's shame in recognising, as the disciples did, the transfigured Jesus on Mount Tabor but not the crucified Jesus at Golgotha, and praying, as in the aria above, to be enlightened by having worldly desires crucified and to go joyfully then on the road to Jerusalem. A brief arioso illustrates these last words, the strings carrying the vocal phrase of joy up to a high peak of emotion.

Mvt. 4 Aria [Tenor]
The soul prays to be wholly converted and to become spiritually dead to worldly desires. The burden of the beautiful middle section is 'So draw me in peace after you in peace thither'. There are two wonderful moments, the long sustained note on 'peace' and the exultant eleven-bar phrase at 'eternal good'.

Mvt. 5 Chorale [S, A, T, B]
This is the fifth verse of E. Kreutziger's Christmas hymn 'Herr Christ, der einig Gott's Sohn', with the melody given an exquisitely consoling instrumental accompaniment.

The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 5 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 22:

[1] Gustav Leonhardt (1973)
[2] Helmuth Rilling (1977)
[3] Ton Koopman (1995)
[4] Masaaki Suzuki (1998)
[5] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)

Short Review of the Recordings

[1] Leonhardt’s illustrates beautifully the atmosphere in the introductory ritornello, the enters Equiluz, who uses his experience as an Evangelist to create the tension which leads to Jesus’ words. Van Egmond’s voice is too light to embody a convincing and authoritative Jesus. The choir’s singing is not as coherent as it should be. However, it does not bother me, because it gives the impression of surprise and spontaneity, which suits well the message they have to convey. The oboe that accompanies the ensuing aria for alto plays as poignantly as in the previous movement, retaining the continuity of the journey. Esswood approach fits the atmosphere created. However he does not put enough expression into his singing, to make it as sorrowful as it should. All the weight lies on the shoulders othe oboist, and this is not enough. This low profile approach continues with van Egmond in the recitative for bass. The aria for tenor with Equiluz is the gem of this rendition. He sings with sensitivity and assurance, and emphasises the words tastefully as no other tenor singer does in this aria. The concluding chorale is somewhat disappointing. The deficiencies of the combined choir, only hinted in the opening chorus, are even more evident here.

[2] Rilling is loading so much emotion into the opening ritornello, making it almost unbearable. Then Kraus enters and presents a more extrovert approach than Equiluz does, but no less convincing. Schöne carries the torch bravely, full of confidence in the things he wants to say. The mixed choir has much more warmth than Leonhardt’s, with rounder sound and more sincerity. This rendition is certainly making the case for a non-HIP approach to this movement. There is contradiction between the approaches of the oboe and singer in the aria for alto. He is enthusiastic and willing, she is restrained and detached. Watts is behind her prime, and this can be clearly heard in the strain of her voice in the upper register and certain instability. In the recitative for bass Schone gives the impression that there is more to this movement than he is actually bringing out. Kraus continues to demonstrate his powers in the aria for tenor, where he conveys the sheer joy as no other singer does. This approach is, of course, very different from Equiluz, yet no less convincing. The concluding chorale is a major success, a worthy ending to a very good performance.

[3] The intimate approach of Koopman, as can be clearly heard in the opening ritornello, is very moving. Agnew is not as good as his two predecessors are, and his singing sounds lifeless in comparison to theirs. Mertens timbre of voice is somewhere between Egmond and Schöne, yet his tasteful singing is on a higher level of both. The choir has a magical sound, but Koopman forces them to sing too fast, destroying the effect they could have achieved. Elisabeth von Magnus’ voice is in better shape than Watts’. There is also more chemistry between the singer and the accompaniment here than in the Rilling’s recording. This is satisfactory rendition but not much more. Mertens gives an exemplary rendition in the recitative for bass, with sensitivity and many nuances, making this movement the best part of Koopman’s recording. Agnew is relatively weak in the aria for tenor. The two previous tenors have presented two different yet convincing approaches. Agnew does not present anything the listener can identify with. The concluding chorale is again too fast.

[4] Suzuki’s opening movement is the best of them all with chamber approach as Koopman’s, but also with what sounds as a better tempo. The two vocal soloists, Türk and Kooy match the overall frame perfectly. The choir is more vivid and bold than Koopman’s and there is no feeling of rush. The hero of this recording is the counter-tenor Yoshikazu Mera, who is fine form singing the aria for alto. He combines power and sensitivity and a ‘natural’ voice production. He also has a fantastic co-partner with the oboist. Kooy is almost as good as Mertens in the recitative for bass. The same could be said of Türk in comparison to Equiluz and Kraus. Suzuki makes the concluding chorale a second pick of his generally high-level rendition. All the merits of his orchestra and choir come forth: impeccable playing, strong and clear singing. What is even more important is that their performance causes us to forget the sad moments we have experienced along the cantata.

[5] Leusink’s rendition has not much to offer to the listener who has heard the previous recordings. Almost everything here is on a lower level: the choir, the vocal soloists, and the lightweight approach. Well, he has fine instrumental soloists, but this is not a real compensation for a performance that misses more than it hits.

Conclusion

More than satisfying renditions:
Mvt. 1: Rilling [2], Suzuki
Mvt. 2: Suzuki/Mera. [4]
Mvt. 3: Koopman/Mertens [3]
Mvt. 4: Leonhardt/Equiluz [1], Rilling/Kraus [2]
Mvt. 5: Rilling [2], Suzuki
The cantata as a whole: None is perfect but Suzuki [4] overall impression is the best.
Movements to take away: The aria for tenor with Equiluz/Leonhardt [1] and/or Kraus/Rilling [2] and the aria for alto with Mera/Suzuki [4].

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 22: 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: ýOctober 1, 2011 ý22:26:30