Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings

Cantata BWV 27
Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of September 15, 2002 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 15, 2002):
BWV 27 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (September 15, 2002), according to Klaus Langrock’s suggested list, is the Chorale Cantata BWV 27 ‘Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?’ (Who knows how near my end is to me?). The librettist who composed the text for this 16th Sunday after Trinity Cantata is unknown. The work is classified as a Chorale Cantata, because there is a chorale stanza interspersed with the opening recitative as well as a chorale at the end (Mvt. 6).

The Gospel for the day narrates the story of the raising of the widow’s son, Luke 7: 11-17, which is indirectly reflected in the libretto – a personal meditation on death. This is a theme in which Bach feels completely competent, as we see in Cantata BWV 198 ‘Trauerode’, discussed in the BCML a long while ago, and in the two great Passions. This morning I had done the translation to Hebrew before I started listening to the recordings. The text has coherence and continuity, which exists also in the music. I believe, for example, that there is a reason for Bach’s decision to use three solo voices for the recitatives in the opening movement. I hope to be able to write about it in my forthcoming review. By reading the text first, you can easily foresee what nature will the music have: sombre, dark, grief, and deeply moving.


The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 27 - Recordings

This cantata has six complete recordings, all of them are available in CD form. Three of which come from the already completed cycles (Harnoncourt [2], Rilling [4], and Leusink [7]). As a relatively late cantata - it was composed in 1726 - this cantata has not yet appeared in the progressing cycles of Koopman [9] and Suzuki. But we are compensated by three very unique recordings. The earliest of them was part of a mini-cycle, recorded in the late 1960’s by Jürgen Jürgens and Jaap Schröder [1]. A recording from this group is always a pleasure to listen to. The second is one of the latest recordings done by the late Karl Richter [3] and his usual first-rate singers. The last one is very interesting, because it is included (together with other two - BWV 34 & BWV 41) in a CD, which is the only example of a recording of sacred cantatas by Gustav Leonhardt done after his joint-cycle with Harnoncourt had been already completed [5]. Maybe he was eager to compensate himself for cantatas which were dear to him and which Harnoncourt, who was the driving force behind the joint-cycle, took to himself. So, we are given the opportunity to compare back to back renditions of the same cantata by H & L.

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
The original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website); English translations by Francis Browne, Z. Philip Ambrose and Pamela Dellal; French translation by Walter F. Bischof; Hebrew translation by Aryeh Oron;
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch and Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music) and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes:

I believe that most of the BCML members have at least one recording of this heart-rending cantata. Commentary and English translations are also easily available in more than one version. So, you are well equipped. Please, start listening, if you have not already done so. Enjoy, and if you wish to contribute, you are most welcome.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Dick Wursten wrote (September 18, 2002):
Just read:
A very thoughtful Alfred Dürr concludes his review of this cantata as follows:

Der Reiz der Kantate beruht auf einer gewissen Einfachkeit, beinahe Kindlichkeit, die zu dem ernsten Thema des Todes in sicherlich bewussten Gegensatz steht.
[The charm of this cantata is based on a certain simplicity, almost childishness/ childlikeness (?) , which is for sure a deliberate contrast with the serious theme of Death... If anyone can provide a better translation, please do... It is very difficult to translate from one non-native language into another non-native language]

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 20, 2002):
[To Dick Wursten] Dürr would have written "kindische Auffassung oder Ansicht" had he wanted "childishness." Here he is referring to a 'childlike' view of death.

Dick Wursten wrote (September 18, 2002):
1. The Gospel of this sunday narrates the story of the raising (re-vival) of the widow's son at Naïn Luke 7: 11-17. One would expect that this would lead the preacher (and the cantata-author) to a celebration of LIFE ... but nothing of the kind: it leads to a meditation of the moment of my death and after-life : Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein ENDE?' (Who knows how near my end is to me?). Just read the text of BWV 27 and the line of thought is clear.

2. I checked the other cantatas for this same sunday (16th after trinity):
Indeed all are meditations on death and afterlife. The titles are representative for the whole cantata:
BWV 161 = Komm, du süsse TODESstunde
BWV 95 = Christus der ist mein leben, STERBEN is mein Gewinn
BWV 8 = Lieber Gott, wenn werd ich STERBEN

BWV 8 has as special chracteristic that in this cantata the 'fear of death' is made explicit (and of course firmly rebuked). In the other three (incl. BWV 27) the line of thought goes straight from the own 'hour of death' to the blissful moment of 'heavenly life'.

3. conlusion (nicely formulated by Dürr, in his commentary on BWV 161): The story of the raising of the widows son at Nain was not read 'unreflektiert' (without re-flection) as a story of 'Lebensbejahung' (say YES to this life), but was read allegorical (as a parable of 'more than this life'). This story re-flects the higher (because more general) truth that Jesus will once raise me from death.

The moral / religious reflection is: If this is the ultimate truth about life, man cannot have a deeper wish than to reach the hour of death as soon as possible, because the hour of death conincides with the opening of the gate of heaven, where he will be 'with Jesus' for ever. Formulate this truth in the first person singular and you can write the libretto yourself.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 20, 2002):
BWV 27 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 27 - Provenance

Commentary: [Eric Chafe]

See: Cantata BWV 27 - Commentary

Dick Wursten wrote (September 21, 2002):
The listening experience to this cantata, reminded me once more, that my personal spiritual home is not in the temple of the Bach-cantatas, but in the Lutheran church-music of a century before Bach... the three S-ses: Schütz, Schein, Scheidt...

So: thank you Bach for using the Rosenmüller-choral at the end of this cantata. It was a refreshing surprise after the dark sentimental journey through death (I'm sorry; I try to understand, as you know, but sometimes it is just too much, the Todessehnsucht of the later baroque-periode.)

Then I remembered , that every service in Leipzig began with a motet in this old style, from the Florilegium Portense AND that the ordinarium of the Mass also had the traditional cahtolic sound-colour of the Deutsche Messe of Luther (put to music by Calvisius, Schein I think. Correct me if I am wrong). So the services Leipzig had it both: the objective and the subjective, the proclamation of salvation and and the application of it, The teaching and the Experience, orthodoxy and piety...

So perhaps I could still feel at home in Leipzig..

Francis Browne wrote (September 21, 2002):
This is a most worthwhile cantata, both sombre and inspiring, that richly repays repeated listening and close study. Even in the flawed performance of Leusink [7] - the only recording that has been available to me - Bach's achievement is apparent.

We shall certainly die and our death could come at any moment : these truths are momentous, and yet also because of their familiarity banal. For the librettist and the composer they pose the difficult task of how to say something that will strike home to the listener and not at once be dismissed as being trite, only too well known already. The unknown author of the text, with his borrowings from three hymns, only partly succeeds. In straining for effect his words, when read coldly, sometimes fall into absurdity. Bach's music however transforms and welds together the text into a cantata that presents a cogent meditation on death.

The marvellous first movement has great emotional weight. The twelve opening bars of orchestral introduction at once establish a most sombre mood. As Robertson says:"The introductory bars have a motif for the violins throughout, of four quaver phrases with swinging octaves, as it were the march of time, in the continuo", and Whittaker comments on how "the inevitable passing of time is adumbrated by a pendulum-like figure in the continuo, while the upper strings fall in arpeggii, the sinking to death". At the same time the two oboes " sing a duet of lamentation". I am reminded of Yeats' phrase about 'the cry of the heart against necessity'.

In this way Bach expresses a double vision of death: the remorseless, inexorable passing of time and inevitability of death faced by all humanity, and the individual's anguished apprehension of the certainty of his own death. This duality is also expressed in the vocal parts where the simple but powerful setting of the hymn is interrupted three times by soprano, alto and tenor soloists: they comment on, articulate, bring home to the listener the full implications for each individual of the chorus' words. But 'interrupt' is the wrong word. Bach varies the ways in which the words of the chorus and soloists flow into each other so that the movement builds up to a most moving climax on the words 'Christi Blut'. Without being prolonged for many bars this passage is given great force and poignancy. It is, I believe, of crucial importance in the structure of the cantata : the congregation were surely meant to remember the gospel of Christ's raising of the widow's son at Nain. If this progress in the movement from fear and despair to the possibility of resurrection 'durch Christi Blut' is missed, the positive attitudes expressed in the rest of the cantata may seem glib and unfounded. When the orchestral introduction is largely repeated after the last line of the hymn, the effect is not in the least repetitious: in its brief course the movement has both explored and deepened the fear and despair expressed in the opening bars and also given us a different perspective on death.

[7] Leusink's performance has some of the shortcomings often commented on: none of the soloists distinguish themselves and Knut Schoch in particular fails to make use of the opportunities offered by the long held notes on 'bet'; the choir is untidy in places and some of the voices, particularly among the sopranos, achieve at times a sudden distracting prominence; and the omission of the horn to support the cantus firmus surely distorts Bach's clear intentions- But no matter: the music still survives, and is magnificent.

Commentators have speculated that the following alto aria (Mvt. 3) is based on a lost gamba sonata and Whittaker argues that "the line assigned to the oboe da caccia is not particularly suitable to it. Vocal accentuation is not always happy… ". I cannot hear this . Without having the musicological knowledge to prove the point my feeling in this and many other cases of parody is that Bach was perfectly master of his material at all times and fully capable - who better? - of writing a new movement if that was the work required. If therefore he chose to use pre-existing music it was because in his judgement it fully suited the purpose he had in mind. Here in this aria a text that sounds absurd in itself is transformed by the beautiful writing for oboe da caccia . In Robertson's judgement "this is not a distinctive movement". But to my mind the music is expertly calculated in its sober cheerfulness to suggest an attitude to death that is both courageous and confident without the unconvincing bravado expressed in the words (John Donne does this sort of thing better) .

Rather than comment again on Buwalda I prefer to praise the oboe playing of Peter Frankenberg : as often in the Leusink cycle he stands out as an able and accomplished musician, and since much of the weight of this movement depends on the instrumental writing the performance is successful in suggesting a response to the anguish of the opening movement.

With its clear contrast between what Nicholas Anderson calls the drowsy sarabande of the music for the valedictory 'Gute Nacht' and the busy semiquaver motifs of rapidly repeated notes and scale passages for the music for the 'Weltgetümmel' the bass aria (Mvt. 5) has great interest and seems well calculated to carry forward the emotional argument of the cantata: a hopeful attitude to death and a detached attitude to the world's troubles. With Leusink's performance I sense this is what is intended rather than feel that the intention has been conveyed successfully : the music is neither sufficiently valedictory or tumultuous, and Ramselaar stays on the surface of the music.

In a similar way I think I can discern what Bach intends by his use of Rosenmüller's music for the final chorale (Mvt. 6). Anderson talks about 'this tenderly expressive closing piece' but this is not conveyed by Leusink. The choir begin with startling abruptness and are out of the church in 36 seconds. At this speed the music loses its effect, and the expressive change in rhythm for the closing words is lost in the rush. A pity, for Bach was clearly right in his perception that this music provided a fitting end to his cantata.
(The only other music by Rosenmüller I have heard is an impressive sinfonia on the Naxos disc of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri by Diego Fasolis: is there more available and worth investigating?)

Despite my reservations listening to this cantata has been an intense delight. I wait with some impatience for Suzuki and the Bach Collegium of Japan to reach this point in their cycle, and will be very interested to read others' opinions of the cantata and the available recordings.

Philippe Bareille wrote (September 21, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] Thanks Francis for your enlightening comments about this cantata.

This week I have listened to 3 versions of the BWV 27: Leonhardt [5], Harnoncourt [2] and Jürgens [1].

The three recordings are rather good. They seem very similar after a cursory glance. But the more you listen to them the more you notice differences.

[5] Leonhardt is the more gloomy of the three. His rendition of the grief-laden opening chorus (Mvt. 1) is first rate. The choir captures the impending doom poignantly and with great insight (I particularly like the sopranos). In the following aria the young alto Jonas Will has a pleasing voice that blends well with the period instruments but he lacks expressprobably because of physical limitations. You can hear his breath as he seems to struggle with his part. Yet it is always worthwhile to try using this kind of voice that Bach had in mind even though the result is not really satisfying in this instance! (there is another boy alto in cantata 34 in the same disc who is more successful). The accompanying oboe da caccia is not entirely satisfying either. It is rather lacklustre. Maybe the oboist is trying to sound that way to convey the "sombre" atmosphere and symbolise death. The bass comes off well but cannot compete with Siegmund Nimsgern or Max van Egmond. Despite its shortcomings this CD is worth listening to .(probably more for the other 2 cantatas on this CD which are deeply satisfying as far as interpretation is concerned).

[2] Harnoncourt brings out the drama, the pain and despair of the score like nobody else but the Wiener Sangerknaben is no match for the Tölzer Knabenchor with Leonhardt. Paul Esswood is very moving and copes well with the brisk tempo chosen by Harnoncourt. I am not sure whether the oboe is an authentic oboe da caccia. The bass in the second aria is also excellent.

[1] Jürgens recording is the one I would pick out if I had to choose between the three. Leonhardt provides the continuo. There is a lot to admire here but the jewel of this recording is Helen Watts who us most affecting and penetrating. Egmond is remarkable too.

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 21, 2002):
BWV 27 - Background

The background to the review of the recordings of Cantata BWV 27 is taken this time completely from the liner notes to the original LP of Jürgens/Schröder’s recording [1] on Telefunken. It was written by Christoph-Hellmut Mahling .

According to the latest findings of Bach research, the Cantata BWV 27 "Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende" was first performed by Bach on the 6th October 1726. It thus belongs to the third of the Leipzig sets of cantatas for the ecclesiastical year. The prayer for a good hour of death, yearning for death, which brings redemption from the burdens and confusions of this world, and looking forward to a better life after death are the content of this cantata. Death as the friend of man, for whose coming one should be prepared at all times, though not awaiting him with fear but with joy, was obviously a subject with which Bach was very preoccupied. It occupies a relatively large place in his cantata output, and the cantatas "Liebster Gott, wann werd' ich sterben" {BWV 8) and "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" (BWV 161) can readily be quoted as examples of this.

The text of this cantata appears to have been written, or compiled, by Bach himself. In the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) he uses the first verse of the hymn by Ämilia Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt "Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende" (Who knows how near to me my end), and in the alto aria (Mvt. 3) "Willkommen will ich sagen" (Welcome I will say) a text by Erdmann Neumeister.

The plain chorale setting of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) interrupted by recitative-like phrases in which the text of the chorale is commented on, so to speak. Yet the movement remains one entity, for these interruptions are not static or retarding in their effect, but are built into the even motion with which the music proceeds, this being particularly induced by the descending quaver figures of the strings maintained throughout the movement (perhaps a symbol of the constant march of time?). The chorale melody is made to stand out clearly by means of a high horn playing in unison with the soprano. As accompanying instruments for the alto aria (Mvt. 3) already mentioned, Bach used the oboe da caccia, also retained later, and originally obbligato harpsichord, which he replaced by obbligato organ probably in 1737. The solo parts in 'concertante' style let the joyful excitement at the approach of death be felt in their agitation, thus seeming still to increase the intensity of expression of the vocal part. The bass aria (Mvt. 5) "Gute Nacht, du Weltgetümmel" (Good night, thou worldly tumult) acquires its tension through contrasting the peace of the night and the unrest of the tumult of the world. Calm crotchets and quavers stand in opposition to restless semiquaver figures in order to typify the two spheres. The final chorale (Mvt. 6), whose text is taken from the hymn "Welt ade, ich bin dein müde" (World farewell, I am tired of thee), probably by Johann Georg Albinius, has not been composed by Bach himself but adopted in the five-part setting by Johann Rosenmüller (also Cantor of St. Thomas’ 1642 to 1655). The dissatisfaction and the darkness of this world are again compared here with the joy and bliss prevailing in Heaven, musically by a change from the earnest, measured quadruple to the joyful triple metre (proportio tripla).

Personal Viewpoint

a. If we see the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) as a prayer to Christ, it is quite understandable why did Bach use soprano, alto and tenor for the interjected recitatives, leaving out the bass, usually the Vox Christi. In the aria for bass with the strings accompaniment (Mvt. 5), which seems to be taken directly from a Passion, Christ gives his calming answer to the prayers.
b. The commentator above mentioned other Bach Cantatas on the subject of death. The opening chorus (Mvt. 1) reminded me the famous soliloquy of Macbeth: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”.

The recordings

During last week I have been listening to 6 complete recordings of this cantata:
[1] Jürgen Jürgens/Jaap Schröder (1966-1967)
[2] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1973)
[3] Karl Richter (1976-1977)
[4] Helmuth Rilling (1982)
[5] Gustav Leonhardt (1995)
[7] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)

[1] Jürgens/Schröder
In the original LP Schröder appears as the main conductor of this recording. In the CD reissue Jürgens is the main conductor. Definitely, the first directed the orchestra and the second was responsible for the choir. Whoever is the real conductor of the show does not really matter. Because, as they say, success has many fathers, where the failure is orphan. And this recording is a real success. The opening chorus seizes the listener in his throat. The singing of the choir is warm, clean and spirited. The entry of each singer in the recitatives seems to stem directly from the tearful mood set by the choir. Each of the singers has his own view on the subject of the unavoidable coming death. Listen, for example, to Equiluz adding a slight along of his short recitative. I believe that it was done deliberately to reflect the fear that he really feels in his soul. I have criticised Helen Watts more than once in the weekly cantata discussions for some recordings that she made with Rilling in the latter part of her career. For most of the singers their best singing years are between 30 and 50. It varies from singer to singer. Watts was about 40 when she made this recording and she indeed blossomed. Intelligence, real understanding of the message she has to convey, and delicate expression has always characterised her singing. Here, when she was in her prime, she had also complete control of her voice production and she used it to give convincing and heart-felt rendition, both in the short recitative of the opening movement and in the aria for alto. I have nothing but praise for her moviperformance. The deep and dark timbre of Rotraud Hansmann’s soprano voice suits the demands of this cantata like a glove. She simply tears your heart apart in her recitative. Egmond has a charming voice, and he more expressive here than with some of his later recordings (with H&L). But his voice does not have enough depth to be completely satisfactory in the aria for bass.

[2] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1973)
Harnoncourt’s rendition, which was done relatively early in his joint-cycle with Leonhardt, is alive, full of rhythmic vigour and flexible phrasing. Nevertheless, I found his rendition of the opening chorus on much lower level emotionally than the previous recording. He also seems to be not in full control of the choir, which sounds somewhat non-cohesive. The parts of this complicated movement do not sum up to a satisfactory whole. The short recitatives for both soprano and alto in the opening movement are given to boys, who give a competent rendition. But when we hear Esswood in the aria for alto, we realise how much power and intensity the counter-tenor voice of a good and mature singer has. One star of the show is Equiluz, ‘whose lithe, focused tone coils and snaps through Bach dramatic recitatives like a cracking whip’ (as Shirley Fleming once wrote). And here he is given two of them to sing. The anonymous boy soprano has a good and pleasant voice and good control of his voice production, but in terms of emotion he does not have much to offer in the recitative for soprano. The other star is Siegmund Nimsgern, who surpasses Egmond, who sang most of the bass parts in the early part of Harnoncourt recordings. I believe that Harnoncourt preferred Nimsgern to Egmond, because the second had already recorded this cantata, and Harnoncourt wanted to avoid direct comparison with the previous recording, with which he had already the tenor singer in common. Nimsgern displays a voice with more thrust and a sturdier, more solid core. He is the most authoritative of the singers in the aria for bass.

[3] Karl Richter (1976-1977)
Karl Richter does not save his feeling to himself and gives powerful and vigorous and full-blooded performance of the opening chorus. I would like this performance to have more sensitivity and intimacy, but that would not have been Richter. The beautiful voice of Schreier is captivating, but I found Equiluz in his both recordings preferable. He simply gets to the heart of the matter, where Schreier seems to miss something. Hamari is on the same par with Watts. Her voice has more warmth where Watts has a kind of cool-detachment in comparison, but both touch the heart deeply. Mathis has problems if exposing her feelings, and as a result she does not convince in the aria for soprano, although I have to admit her voice has some beauty. DFD is almost over-expressive in the aria for bass. He seems to make his outmost to give meaning to his part, by varying his expression. But Nimsgern seems to do it more naturally.

[4] Helmuth Rilling (1982)
Rilling’s opening chorus reminds that of Richter, but with him the atmosphere seems to be built gradually and more convincingly. The choir parts have more warmth and feelings, where the soloists are less good than Richter’s. Harder is a nice surprise. He has a good and solid tenor voice and his expression in the recitative is tasteful. Gabriele Schreckenbach’s voice is not to my taste. It sounds as if it has hollowness in the middle. Her interpretation is also not interesting. Edith Wiens sounds as if she does not belong here. She gives very expressive rendition, almost operatic. Nevertheless, I still prefer this kind of interpretation to the bloodless rendition of Mathis. Heldwein is dry and stiff in the aria for bass. He is not the kind of Christ who can give comfort and encouragement to a desperate human being.

[5] Gustav Leonhardt (1995)
This is the heaviest of all the renditions of the opening chorus I have heard. It is heavy and slow up to being almost motionless. Others might find it more moving than I do. For me slow and heavy does not necessarily mean depth. The singing of the choir is something to marvel at, yet regarding expression in this movement that still have a way to go. The two boy soloists are better than those offered by Harnoncourt in his recording. Markus Schäfer voice has freshness, but in terms of expression he has still something to learn from his predecessors, especially Equiluz. The boy alto, Jonas Will, simply cannot cope with the emotional weight of the aria for alto, and the same could be said about Johannes Pohl, who sings in the ensuing recitative for soprano. Harry van der Kamp’s interpretation of the aria for bass reminds me that of Heldwein, although his voice is somewhat richer and has more ‘bottom’. So much better this aria could be performed, as some other singers have shown us.

[7] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
The best part of this recording is the aria for bass with Ramselaar. Another aspect that this recording reveals is that the power of the cantata is so strong that even an unsatisfactory rendition as this one is, can convey the sombreness and the pessimism of this cantata. Because, even after we understand the message of this cantata, even if we have lived in Bach’s time, the music undercover the real message. We are all mortal. None of us knows how near is his end.

And now I am going to listen again to Jürgens [1]!


Personal preferences:
Mvt. 1 (Chorus): Jürgens [1], Rilling [4], Richter [3], Harnoncourt [2], Leonhardt [5], Leusink [7]
Mvt. 2 (Recitative for Tenor): Equiluz/Jürgens [1] = Equiluz/Harnoncourt [2], Harder/Rilling [4], Schreier/Richter [3], Schäfer/Leonhardt [5], [big gap] Schoch/Leusink [7]
Mvt. 3 (Aria for Alto):
Contraltos: Watts/Jürgens [1] = Hamari/Richter [3], [big gap] Schreckenbach/Rilling [4]
Counter-tenors/Boy Alto: Esswood/Harnoncourt [2], [gap] Will/Leonhardt [5], Buwalda/Leusink [7]
Mvt. 4 (Recitative for Soprano):
Women: Hansmann/Jürgens [1], [gap] Wiens/Rilling [4], Strijk/Leusink [7], Mathis/Richter [3]
Boys: Pohl/Leonhardt [5], Anonymous/Harnoncourt [2]
Mvt. 5 (Aria for Bass): Nimsgern/Harnoncourt [2], DFD/Richter [3], Ramselaar/Leusink [7], Egmond/Jürgens [1], [gap] Kamp/Leonhardt [5], Heldwein/Rilling [4]

The cantata as a whole: Jürgens [1].

A movement to take away: The opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) with Jürgens [1].

I warmly recommend the CD from which this recording is taken. The recording of BWV 198 on the same CD is also among the best renditions of this cantata around.

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

ThoBraatz wrote (September 22, 2002):
BWV 27 – The Chorale Melody

The chorale melody heard in Mvt. 1 is by Georg Neumark. The extension of this melody throughout Bach’s oeuvre bears repeating here: [the ‘/’ separates the BWV # from the mvt. #]



This week I listened to the following:

Harnoncourt (1973) [2]; Richter (1976-7) [3]; Rilling (1982) [4]; Leusink (1999) [7]

Some critical timings:

Mvt. 1
[2] Harnoncourt 4:55
[3] Richter 4:15
[4] Rilling 5:18
[7] Leusink 4:30

Mvt. 3
[2] Harnoncourt 4:30
[3] Richter 5:52
[4] Rilling 5:10
[7] Leusink 4:47

Mvt. 5
[2] Harnoncourt 3:34
[3] Richter 3:29
[4] Rilling 3:20
[7] Leusink 3:26

Mvt. 6
[2] Harnoncourt 1:06
[3] Richter 1:37
[4] Rilling 1:16
[7] Leusink 0:35


Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 6:

[2] Harnoncourt:
In his rather heavy-handed approach with strong accents and a heavily plodding bc, Harnoncourt assumes a slow tempo, probably to express the individual in the throes of death staggering slowly toward his grave. The oboes waver about as they attempt to find the correct intonation which somehow continues to elude these oboists. Insecurities are heard in the vocal attacks with the lower voices being muddy or even non-existent. Are they really singing all the time when they are supposed to? There are crescendi very much like the non-HIP style of interpretation that Harnoncourt supposedly abhors.

Chorale: quirky emphases and separations, and a sudden, inexplicable diminuendo along with some weak inner-voice parts can be detected here.

[3] Richter:
The playing and singing in this non-HIP performance, although not entirely perfect, is, nevertheless much more disciplined (with the exception of Mathis’ short recitative) than Harnoncourt’s recording. There is no cheating on holding out the notes firmly for their full duration. Everything is much more integrated, and this gives the listener the feeling that some serious preparation took place before this recording was made. The general effect here is one of fortitude in the face of the trials immediately preceding death.

Chorale: this version is most unusual in that the choir begins singing very softly as if coming from the other side of the grave. Then there is a very strong middle section after which the final triple meter is once again sung as if emanating from heaven. This extreme interpretation may be quite appealing at first because of its special effects, but can it replace a clearly sung standard version?

[4] Rilling:
In this 2nd non-HIP recording (in my group of recordings), the tempo is noticeably slower (see the timings above) which leads to a more relaxed style of playing. Here you can perceive a resignation coupled with a sadness that pervades the mvt.

Chorale: all the voices are in balance with each other (only the bad soprano line is distracting.) There is some imitation of Richter, but Rilling has a much stronger ending in the triple meter section that concludes the chorale.

[7] Leusink:
Despite a tempo faster than Harnoncourt’s, this HIP version is characterized by unevenness with some aspects (fully sustained notes in the choir and less of the strong accents) that are better than Harnoncourt’s recording, but other aspects detract from this version (the poorly sung intervening recitatives, the heavy, plodding bc.) There is no Corno discernible. This instrument should be playing colla parte with the sopranos. Of course, individual voices in the choir are heard standing out and there is some ‘chirping’ in the sopranos.

Chorale: at this very rapid tempo, there is too much of the dance element. Whatever dignity this chorale had, it has been quickly discarded in favor of an excessive interpretation that will startle the listener.

Mvt. 3:

[2] Harnoncourt:
The instrumentalist who is attempting to play the oboe da caccia is unable to fully control this instrument. It is very unsettling to hear an oboe played in this manner. There is simply too much insecurity regarding the proper intonation. Esswood’s shaky, fast vibrato only compounds this intonation problem.

[3] Richter:
Hamari’s voice is very comforting and soothing. This is just what this aria needs in addition to the excellent accompaniment which offers some echo effects (in the oboe da caccia.) This version, with its quiet, deeply expressive presentation speaks directly and intimately to the listener.

[4] Rilling:
Here all the instruments are very much ‘up front’ and ‘in your face.’ The tempo is considerably faster than Richter’s. Here the emphasis is more on the ‘folgen’ = the steps taken by the dying individual. This full-voice rendition by Schreckenbach is very convincing. There is more joy here than in Hamari’s version (partly due to the faster tempo.)

[7] Leusink:
The tempo here is essentially the same as Rilling’s, but now everything here is less distinct (more muffled.) The lack of volume in a half-voice such as Buwalda’s is quite apparent here. This severely restricts the resources that a singer needs to have available in order to achieve a greater gamut of expression.

Mvt. 5:

[2] Harnoncourt:
Compared instrumentally to Leusink’s performance, there is much better delineation of the instrumental parts. Nimsgern’s full voice brings out powerfully and effectively the contrasts that Bach wrote into this music.

[3] Richter:
Fischer-Dieskau does quite a bit of sotto voce singing here. It is as if he is consciously holding back most of the time (except in the loud sections.) Perhaps Richter wanted this in order to achieve and continue his idea of strong contrasts which he deliberately applies from the beginning to the end of this cantata. A truly wonderful moment occurs when Dieskau sings, “bei dem lieben Gott im Himmel” in mm. 72-75.

[4] Rilling:
Heldwein and Rilling combine their talents to produce a very good version of this aria.

[7] Leusink:
The orchestra lacks the ability to delineate the melodies clearly. There is more of a muffled, soft quality in the slow sections than there should be for a clear, balanced presentation. Ramselaar’s restricted half-voice is also unable to add much in the way of expression to this aria.


The two non-HIP recordings stand head and shoulder over the HIP versions. However, not to be missed are Nimsgern’s aria [2] and Equiluz’ recitatives [2] from the HIP recordings. These are truly excellent

Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 6 (Choir):
Skip the Harnoncourt [2] and Leusink versions and enjoy repeatedly the two, quite different interpretations of Richter [3] and Rilling [4].

Mvt. 3 (alto):
Remove the Buwalda and Esswood [2] recordings and you will have two very excellent recordings of this wonderful aria. The interpretations of Hamari [3] and Schreckenbach [4] are both excellent, although very different in interpretation.

Mvt. 5 (bass):
With the exception of Ramselaar’s rendition [7], all of the other recordings above are real ‘keepers’ that are worth returning to again and again.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 27: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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
Discussions of General Topics: Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings


Back to the Top

Last update: Sunday, May 28, 2017 05:54