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Cantata BWV 28
Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of December 29, 2002 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 31, 2002):
BWV 28 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (December 29, 2002), according to Thomas Shepherd’s suggested list (the last one in his list), and the last one for 2002, is the Chorale Cantata for the 1st Sunday after Christmas Day BWV 28 ‘Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende’ (Praise God! Now the year comes to an end).


The commentary below, quoted from the liner notes to the CD reissue of Erato recording, was written by Alfred Dürr:

See: Cantata BWV 28 - Commentary


The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 28 - Recordings

After last week’s abundance of almost 30 recordings of Cantata BWV 147, we have only 5. Apart from the usual three from recorded cantata cycles (Harnoncourt [4], Rilling [5], and Leusink [6]), we have two from veteran conductors: Fritz Werner [1] and Karl Richter [2]. The bass is given only a secco recitative (arioso) to sing, but it is performed here by three fine singers: Barry McDaniel (Werner) [1], DFD (Richter) [2] and Siegmund Nimsgern (Harnoncourt) [4].

You can listen to Harnoncourt’s recording through David Zale Website:

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
The original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website); two complete English translations by Francis Browne and Z. Philip Ambrose; French translation by Walter F. Bischof; Hebrew translation will come;
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide). Sorry, but the Spanish commentary by Julio Sánchez Reyes is not available.

After extensive participation in the discussion of last week’s Cantata BWV 147, I hope see many of you also in the discussion of Cantata BWV 28. Although of modest proportions and much less popular, it has its inner beauty, with charming opening aria for soprano, a majestic motet-like chorus, a pleasant arioso for bass, a fine recitative for tenor, an attractive duet for alto and tenor, and concluding chorale with full instrumentation.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 1, 2003):
BWV 28 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 28 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 2, 2003):
BWV 28 - Commentaries: [Spitta, Schweitzer, Voigt, Little & Jenne (Dance in Bach’s Music), Chafe]

See: Cantata BWV 28 - Commentary

Dick Wursten wrote (January 2, 2003):
Beautiful cantata to listen to on a New Years day! I was suprised by the positive and hopeful tone of this cantata (the title made me expect the opposite: thank God, the old year is over..). Nothing of sadness, no 'tempus fugit' mood, but gratitude for what has been and longing for the good that is surely coming. Blessed (Mvt. 5) we have been and surely will be (and AFAIK 1725/1726 were not particular happy or prosperous years in Leipzig). Was du gläubest, hast du (Luther) Or: 'Wohltun und Wohlsein' are interdependent (Neumeister Mvt. 5).

I listened to the Leusink version [6].

Mvt. 1 was a nice piece of music. The voice of the soprano (Marjon Strijk) sometimes disappeared in the instrumental sound (which was not too loud, but her voice too weak in the lower register)

Mvt. 2 was too great an effort for this ensemble and you can hear it. I mean: By all kinds of musical means (the phrasing, the grand lines, building up, holding in etc...) one can try give the impression that the end is still linked to the end... but this is apparently is asking too much of Leusink c.s. They contented themselves to sing the notes in the right order (I presume).

But: I liked the mvts 3-5 very much.

Mvt. 3 I have a weak spot for arioso's for bass, ever since I heard Michael Schopper sing the arioso Am Abend da es kühle war in SMP (BWV 244). Ramselaar gives a intimate and pure interpretation of this promise of God (prophecy of Jeremiah 32:41)

Mvt. 4 The tenor recitativo is sung with fervor this time (Nico van der Meel, together with the rich sound of the strings) and leads to the pleasant surprise of this cantata:

Mvt. 5 the duetto tenor/Altus.
Buwalda and Van der Meel, two 'small voices' but this time - IMO - they are not just trying to sing the right notes (which indeed sometimes is not easy, you can still hear it with Van der Meel) but they are trying to make music together and enjoy it. Perhaps this time they understood (and agreed with) what they were singing. And that is what it 's all about, isn't it ? So: try to overcome the objections against the strange sound and sudden yells in the voice of Buwalda and try to hear his intention (to express the musical and textual thought) behind it.

Post Scriptum off the record:
Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.
(just read in the prologue of 'Henry van Dyke' The story of the other wise man)

Jane Newble wrote (January 3, 2003):
'Ein frohes Danklied.' What a wonderful way to end the old year.

On the last day of the year I listened to the versions I have (Leusink [6], Richter [2], Werner [1]), and found that this cantata echoed my own feelings about the past year.

The soprano aria is lovely and cheerful.

The chorale is overwhelmingly beautiful, and in some of its treatment reminds me of 'O Mensch bewein dein Sünde groß' in the SMP (BWV 244). It says to me that anything wrong in the past year was due to our sins, not to God's goodness. But at the same time the music is radiant in expressing God's forgiveness and healing, and there is a sense of deep joy and gratitude.

I am reading a fascinating book 'Musik zur Ehre Gottes' by Johan Bouman, in which he emphasises the Lutheran connection in Bach's music between theology and music. I find this motet a clear example of it.

It is probably true that the rest of the cantata cannot compare to the second movement, yet I find them very pleasing in their own right. There is the consoling and reassuring bass representing the voice of God, followed by one of my most favourite recitatives by the tenor. It ends with what surely can be the motto for the next year: "Wer Gott hat, der muß alles haben." I love the jubilant way the tenors in all three recordings highlight this phrase. The last chorale is moving in its simplicity.

It is difficult to say which of the three versions I prefer, as I find them all very rewarding to listen to.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (January 4, 2003):
[To Jane Newble] Your website was so very touching and moving. Thank you for sharing your feelings and philosophy, your theology and strength.

(this cantata group should be a breeze! Ha! I'm kidding! I don't and can't read German at all. I think it has to do with my hearing! In university I took Spanish, but no matter how I tried I couldn't pronounce it c.)

(P.S. When I read that Bach used acrostics, and backward ones at that, I thought of Jane Austen's love of games and riddles in her secular way, as opposed to Bach who used them to emphasize his Lutheranism.)

Jane Newble wrote (January 4, 2003):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Dear Francine, Thank you for your encouragement!

I am sure you won't need German to be able to appreciate the cantatas. I don't know how many you know already, but it is a treasure-box!

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 5, 2003):
BWV 28 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Werner (1965) [1]; Richter (1970-2) [2]; Harnoncourt (1974) [4]; Rilling (1981-2) [5]; Leusink (2000) [6]

The Timings from Slow to Fast:

Mvt. 1 (Aria):
Werner (5:13) [1]; Rilling (5:01) [5]; Harnoncourt (4:22) [4]; Leusink (4:18) [6]; Richter (3:44) [2]

Mvt. 2 (Chorale):
Werner (5:19) [1]; Harnoncourt (4:59) [4]; Rilling (4:58) [5]; Leusink (4:30) [6]; Richter (4:25) [2]

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo ed Arioso):
Werner (2:06) [1]; Rilling (1:58) [5]; Leusink (1:56) [6]; Richter (1:55) [2]; Harnoncourt (1:54) [4]

Mvt. 4 (Recitativo):
Richter (1:31) [2]; Rilling (1:17) [5]; Werner (1:16) [1]; Leusink (1:07) [6]; Harnoncourt (1:04) [4]

Mvt. 5 (Duetto):
Richter (2:50) [2]; Werner (2:46) [1]; Leusink (2:44) [6]; Harnoncourt (2:33) [4]; Rilling (2:17) [5]

Mvt. 6 (Chorale):
Rilling (1:17) [5]; Richter (1:07) [2]; Harnoncourt (1:04) [4]; Leusink (1:03 [6]; Werner (0:59) [1]

Comments on the individual mvts. and performers:

Mvt. 1 (Aria):

[1] Werner (Friesenhausen):
Werner has a full, non-HIP instrumental ensemble with modern instruments. The bc is heavy laden with not only violoncelli but also string basses with the harpsichord as the keyboard continuo. Friesenhausen’s full soprano voice is beset with an unusual problem: she is unable to ‘turn off’ her slow vibrato even in the coloratura passages. In addition, she is insecure about the exact pitch of each note. Sometimes she wavers too high, at other times too low. This is very disconcerting to a discerning listener and detracts considerably from the overall performance. This impression of vocal insecurity spoils whatever message of joy, gratefulness and faith in God the music had to offer.

[2] Richter (Mathis):
Notice how much more staccato Richter treats the bc (compared to Werner.) The staccato is indicated by Bach in the score. If Friesenhausen was difficult to listen to, then Mathis qualifies for even greater censure since she seems almost oblivious to the actual text and the manner in which this Bach aria should be performed. Mathis faster vibrato is very different in comparison to Friesenhausen’s, but the impression that Mathis leaves with the listener is that she is working very hard and pushing her voice to an extreme in order to manage all the difficulties posed by this aria. Is she victorious in conquering the vocal difficulties? Yes. Does she sing all the right notes in tune? Yes, but listen to the angry quality that is almost always present in the voice. Mathis reminds me of a ‘Queen of the Night’ prima donna, who has sung the role innumerable times, but now is unable ‘to shift gears’ in order to sing a Bach aria that should express joy and gratitude. All her artistry is for naught here if she can not exude joy. Why did Richter choose this fastest of all tempi recorded? Perhaps she wanted it that way, or perhaps he did not want to prolong the agony of listening to this voice any longer than is absolutely necessary.

[4] Harnoncourt (Boy Soprano Soloist):
The same problem that plagued Friesenhausen (in the Werner recording) with her voice continually faces Harnoncourt in the choice of his oboists throughout the entire cantata series: slow vibratos with shaky intonation. This creates unsteadiness and uncertainty regarding pitch which can even carry over to the vocalist. In the bc, Harnoncourt uses a bassoon (to match the oboe sound) and possibly a very discreetly played organ (Tachezi?) This continuo and the rest of the orchestra seem to be delicately handled until the soprano loses considerable volume into the low range. At that point the orchestra covers up the voice by not playing more softly. To his credit, this boy soprano far outshines the efforts of the preceding two sopranos who also did little or nothing to bring expression into the text. This boy is equally concerned about getting all the notes right, but at least he is secure about the notes he sings as he confidently trumpets these notes with great strength and facility. Again, discounting certain aspects in Harnoncourt’s accompaniment, it is possible for a listener to get a fairly good idea of how such an aria using a boy soprano in an aria might have sounded in Bach's time.

[5] Rilling (Augér):
Here the tempo is appropriate, and the instruments, although modern, are played with great clarity and are in balance with the voice. Rilling observes carefully all the dynamic markings. With the exception of a few high notes that seem slightly forced, Augér gives a good rendition of the text, which in the high range, admittedly, becomes a problem for just about every soprano. Her German diction is very good, a requirement for any good performance, since the audience/congregation is probably straining to make out the words that are being sung.

[6] Leusink (Strijk):
The dull, ‘thuddy,’ sound of the orchestra is a general characteristic of Leusink’s performances. The bc seems too loud in comparison to the rest. Strijk’s half voice has difficulty penetrating the general volume of sound emanating from the orchestra. In the low range, her continual sotto voce (she is probably not able to sing in any other way) ‘goes under.’ Strijk’s voice sounds rather dead and lifeless. Does she sing all the notes correctly? Yes, but the truly human element of expression, of conveying feelings to the listener through one’s own commitment and ability to ‘sing from the soul,’ is missing here. The general impression the listener is left with is that this is a rehearsal where all the singers and players are reading through this for the 1st time.

Very good: Rilling (Augér) [5]; Harnoncourt (Unnamed Boy Soprano) [4]
Very average: Werner (Friesenhausen) [1]
Not even up to standard: Richter (Mathis) [2]; Leusink (Strijk) [6]

Mvt. 2 (Chorale):

[1] Werner:
The strong soprano line supported, of course, by cornetto (probabtrumpet here), 1st oboe and 1st violin is a very good feature of this recording. It is even better than that of the boys’ choirs (see below) in suspending the chorale melody over all the remaining parts and it far surpasses the soprano line in the Rilling recording. The singers in the other accompanying parts seem much less enthusiastic in their singing. There is too much sameness in their singing style and their attacks are less crisp compared to either Richter or Rilling. This gives the impression that they are not all completely involved with the music, and that this performance does not mean more to them than anything else. Werner does bring this mvt. to a nice climax in the final few measures. Would that the entire choir had sung this piece in that manner all the way through!

[2] Richter:
Subtract Richter’s duplication of the vocal parts using his non-descript organ with the high stops pulled out (here this blemish on this otherwise excellent recording is perhaps somewhat less serious since Bach has himself ‘pulled out all the stops’ in the orchestra which is playing colla parte), and you will find here the most rewarding recorded version of this mvt., because Richter manages to elicit the necessary force to bring out all the various entrances of the fughetta-like motifs that precede the entrance of the cantus firmus. The lower voices have more strength than in any of the other recordings and this power is absolutely necessary here. What a performance this is! (If only I could get some audio engineer to remove the ‘tinny’ high stops of the organ that Richter plays!)

[4] Harnoncourt:
There seems to be a very muffled sound here, possibly due to the recording technology. The sibilant sounds and the irregularity or imprecision on the part of the choir members in enunciating these sounds stand out more than the diction of all the other words which is rather unclear at times. The sopranos are clear as one would expect them to be with a boys’ choir, but the accompanying voices are lacking in many aspects: the tenors are extremely weak, and the others sing, for the most part, with a complete indifference to the text and music. Almost everything that emanates from their mouths says, “This is extremely boring music; can’t we sing something else?” Yes, Harnoncourt tries to throw in a few strong accents for good measure and he has begun dismantling the musical lines with mini-pauses, but none of this truly serves to uplift this performance from the doldrums that surround it from beginning to end. If it were not for all the additional instruments supporting the choir, I can imagine that there would not be very much sound coming from the choir at all.

[5] Rilling:
Although all the parts can be clearly heard and are in good balance with each other, the distracting factors are the trained vocalists’ voices that do not blend together as well as those in Werner’s or Richter’s choir. Particularly the cantus firmus in the soprano has too many voices wavering with their individual vibratos. There is a clash between the quiet, non-vibrato notes played by the trumpet, the various vibratos used by the instruments and the soprano voices. It is also evident that Rilling treats the various sections differently and works up to a climax at the end, but somehow the great enthusiasm that Richter was able to elicit from his choir is still missing here.

[6] Leusink:
Here the listener is confronted with a dull, unrelenting sameness that is punctuated only by the unnerving bad quality of individual voices that intrude from time to time. None of the great beauty of this choral mvt. has been captured here. I am usually glad not to have to listen to the Leusink recordings because there is nothing truly uplifting about them. Sometimes I forget just how bad things can get until I listen to a choral mvt. such as that found on track 2 (BWV 146) on the same CD. Such a performance is truly abominable. The only reasons that I report on the Leusink performances are that 1) there might be a spectacular breakthrough somewhere in the series, something that I might want to return to again and again (I have not yet found anything that rose above the level of mediocrity); and 2) for the sake of comparison and a balanced perspective (if there is such a thing) when considering all the recordings that are available (or all those that I possess.)

Excellent: Richter [2]
Above average: Werner [1], Rilling [5]
Just average: Harnoncourt [4]
Below average: Leusink [6]

Mvt. 3 (Recitativo ed Arioso):

[1] Werner (McDaniel):
McDaniel’s full voice has a very pleasant timbre and the arioso element here is emphasized over the actual interpretation of the text. This voice is easy to listen to, but the question remains, “What about interpreting the text?”

[2] Richter (Fischer-Dieskau):
Here everything comes together: a very beautiful voice with intelligent singing. Yes, he does hit the high D on ‘Lande’ just once with such vehemence that one wonders: “What was the point of that?” Fischer-Dieskau occasionally indulges in this sort of thing. Perhaps this is simply a ‘waker-upper’ for those who might tend to be allowing their thoughts to wander, or, heaven forbid, if they are beginning to fall asleep. Shades of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony?

[4] Harnoncourt (Nimsgern):
Poor Nimsgern! He must have had a very bad day, or otherwise he simply could not adjust to the lower pitch of HIP. It is excruciating to hear him sing flat so obviously without being able to hear that he was ‘way off’ pitch. This is almost unbelievable, since he often was the best bass in some other Bach cantatas.

[5] Rilling (Heldwein):
This is a straight-forward presentation of the text with an emphasis on bel canto singing (and not so much the text interpretation) very similar to the performance given by McDaniel. This is very pleasant singing, but what about interpreting the text intelligently without going overboard?

[6] Leusink (Ramselaar):
Singing sotto voce does not really enhance Ramselaar’s interpretation of the text, since it then lacks the necessary weight and conviction that should be associated with God (or as in the vox Christi.) A half-voice such as Ramselaar’s simply can not do proper justice to a text such as this.

Without a doubt the very best: Richter (Fischer-Dieskau) [2]
Very good: Werner (McDaniel) [1]; Rilling (Heldwein) [5]
Below Average: Harnoncourt (Nimsgern) [4]; Leusink (Ramselaar) [6]

Mvt. 4 (Recitativo):

[1] Werner (Jelden):
Jelden has a wonderfully clear voice without any disturbing tremolo/vibrato. It is well-suited for presenting texts in a simple, straightforward manner. There are no fancy, interpretative tricks here, only a child-like simplicity which is called for in the text: “Wer ihn im Glauben liebt, in Liebe kindlich ehrt.” I could easily listen to this voice as an Evangelist in passages that are not overly dramatic. Did he ever record such a part in the passions? What Jelden lacks is the ability to modulate the voice to express a wide range of emotion.

[2] Richter (Schreier):
There is much more subtlety, variation in inflexion, and a much more impressive delineation of the text. This is true excellence in the singing of a recitative. Everything Schreier sings ultimately sounds very believable. His singing with a full-voice speaks directly to the heart.

[4] Harnoncourt (Equiluz):
HeariEquiluz’ half-voice right after Schreier’s masterly interpretation, reveals the fact that half-voices, because of their limited volume capacity, for that very reason are also limited in their range of expression. With his ‘trembling’ vibrato, a characteristic of Equiluz’ voice, this singer is able to convey the impression that he really means what he sings (there are many other Bach vocalists who have similar voices, but affect me negatively – this is not the case with Equiluz.) What is missing here is the additional level of enhancement of the text that Schreier was able to produce. This puts Schreier on a higher level than Equiluz, at least in regard to this particular recitative. Listen to these two performances side and side, and I think you will hear what I am talking about.

[5] Rilling (Kraus):
From the very 1st notes, Kraus has lost me. He loses control of his voice and goes into a special “I-am-singing-a-recitative” mode. Kraus has a heavy-handed method for singing recitatives. It seems that he feels that each recitative is a mini-opera. His strong declamation style gives me the impression that he is very angry. His singing frequently distracts from the text that he is attempting to impart.

[6] Leusink (van der Meel):
Van der Meel has a very thin, nasal half-voice that is unable to offer very much in the way of modulation, hence the interpretation, what little is noticeable, is not very effective. There are moments when his singing seems dead and lifeless. The expression, when it is evident, seems studied and contrived.

The very best that there is: Richter (Schreier) [2]
Very good: Harnoncourt (Equiluz) [4]
Average: Werner (Jelden) [1]
Below Average: Rilling (Kraus) [5]; Leusink (van der Meel) [6]

Mvt. 5 (Aria Duetto):

[1] Werner (Lisken, Jelden):
In the ritornello, the bc consists of a double-bass (playing an octave lower), and a violoncello with a harpsichord playing chords on each and every eight-note. This immediately stops the lilting flow of this giga-like mvt. The bc becomes heavy and overladen even before the voices enter. When the alto, sung by Lisken, enters, it becomes quite apparent that this heavy alto voice with quite a bit of vibrato will help to belabor each eighth-note. Instead of establishing two beats to a measure, Werner insists that each (all six of them in a single bar) eighth-note receive equal emphasis. Jelden, with an otherwise pleasant-sounding tenor voice (his is the better of the two voices here), deserved to have a better partner than Lisken, but, in any case this is a version with two full voices participating in a duet performed in a non-HIP tradition.

[2] Richter (Töpper, Schreier):
To avoid the trap that Werner had set for himself by giving the bc a very heavy treatment, Richter, with his even larger orchestra, opts for a mainly staccato treatment (not indicated in the score – but Richter chooses this option to overcome the inherent problems posed by the ‘massive forces’ in his non-HIP orchestra. Notice how Richter (playing the organ continuo) cleverly achieves the feeling of dance by inventing an interesting musical line above the simple bc. There is also a feeling of only two main beats per measure, in contrast with the Werner version. This sets the stage properly for the joyful interpretation by two ‘heavy-weight’ vocalists. These voices blend well together and give a memorable performance worth hearing over and over again.

[4] Harnoncourt (Esswood, Equiluz):
With Herbert Tachezi (I am guessing here) playing a very interesting bc accompaniment in the ritornello sections and probably Harnoncourt on the cello, the listener is poised to expect something good to follow. The duet between Esswood and Equiluz does not disappoint. These voices, although primarily half-voices, match very well and give an excellent account of the music and text. For a listener not acquainted with Esswood’s voice, it may take just a bit of time to get used to, but the blend between both voices is extremely good. The gratitude, joy, and praise are quite apparent in this interpretation.

[5] Rilling (Schreckenbach, Kraus):
Rilling’s idea of achieving joy here is to take this mvt. faster (too fast, as far as I am concerned) than anyone else has. Nevertheless, he does not manage to get much of the ‘two-beats-per-measure’ feeling, because he utilizes a portato (this is like have a line above each note – the effect is one of separation between notes, but not like a staccato would be) which emphasizes each eighth-note equally. The feeling is like having an accent on each of the 6 eighth-notes in a bar. The only difference now, compared to Werner, is that everything moves faster. The vocalists are very capable full voices that excel particularly in the coloraturas. The eighth-notes, however, are sung staccato; these begin to sound too much like ‘chop, chop, chop, etc.’ Without the coloraturas, this type of singing would be boring and primitive; however, here the contrast between the staccato and the flowing coloraturas makes this rather interesting.

[6] Leusink (Buwalda, van der Meel):
The combination of a dull-sounding cello and an even duller chest organ does little to engender a feeling of joy. The sotto-voce singing is here carried to an extreme with unaccented notes disappearing completely and unpleasant accents where the voices become distracting. Buwalda’s voice is so unusual (a kind term) that it does not easily blend with another voice. In this case the nasal voice of van der Meel is also difficult to match with other voices. There is a stalemate of sorts in operation here.

Top Quality: Richter (Töpper/Schreier) [2], Harnoncourt (Esswood/Equiluz) [4]
Above Average: Rilling (Schreckenbach/Kraus) [5]
Average: Werner (Lisken/Jelden) [1]
Below Average: Leusink (Buwalda/van der Meel) [6]

Mvt. 6 (Chorale):

[1] Werner:
This is one of the better recordings of this final chorale. As the fastest version in the group of recordings I listened to, Werner is nevertheless able to convey a sense of the serious element in the requests for peace and food, and an absence of suffering. If the instruments that play colla parte were not present, there might be reason to fault the weakness in some of the vocal parts; but as it is everything seems fine with perhaps a slightly faulty attack on the final syllable.

[2] Richter:
With these gigantic forces (gigantic in comparison to the HIP recordings) signaling a very different approach to this music, a listener will feel that an entire congregation is singing here. A brassy trumpet is quite in evidence here. Richter indulges in one of idiosyncratic traits: holding out some of the fermati excessively long. I do not understand why he does not hold out the quarter-note under the fermata on the words “preisen” and “beweisen” (he even shortens them slightly as Leusink would), but then gives extreme length to the quarter-notes (with fermati) on the words “Jahre” and “bewahre.” This makes no sense! In any case, one of Richter’s easily recognizable traits is the extreme length of some of his fermati.

[4] Harnoncourt:
Aside from the sibilant sounds which are specially emphasized through the recording technique and which accentuate the fact that not all the ‘s’s’ coincide as they ought to, this is a fairly fluid, legato-like rendition of this chorale. This is still quite early in the sequence of the Bach cantatas as recorded by Harnoncout/Leonhardt, and, as result, Harnoncourt was not yet able to change the traditional singing style of this boys’ choir. Very noticeable is the lack of enthusiasm with which these boys sing this chorale. If it were not for the large number of instruments playing colla parte, this rendition would certainly be rather boring.

[5] Rilling:
With the exception of some of the voices becoming noticeable because of their vocal training as soloist, this version offers much in the way of clarity, correct and clear German diction, the proper lengths of the fermati, and a good balance between the choir and the supporting instruments. Although the choir does not have the absolute power of the Richter choir, it does convey the feeling of a remarkable presence and dedication to interpreting the words with understanding. This is a very good version of the chorale.

[6] Leusink:
The 1st thing that is noticeable here is an imitation of Harnoncourt’s usual style of performing a chorale: after each quarter, even in the middle of the word when moving from syllable to syllable, Leusink has the choir ‘lift off’ quickly, thereby shortening the note values and causing tiny breaks between each note. As usual, Leusink has abbreviated the fermati which often are placed above an unaccented syllable. Leusink considers these fermati as purely decorative items that Bach placed in the score only because they were part of a meaningless tradition that he nevertheless ascribed to. Unfortunately this type of radical abbreviation also mutilates the pronunciation of the German text in that unaccented final syllables are simply swallowed up. The usual irregularities in the choir sound still abound with certain voices having a strange quality sticking out at times.

Ranking of Mvt. 6 only:

Top quality:
Richter [2] (if you can put up with some of his obvious eccentricities)
Rilling [5] (this time the blend between the voices is extremely good)

Above average:
Werner [1] (without the instruments, the choir is not as strong)
Harnoncourt [4] (not very enthusiastic, but devoid of Harnoncourt’s later deconstructions of Bach’s chorales)

Below average:
Leusink [6] (Unevenness prevails throughout)

Roland Wörner wrote (January 5, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] For me as a native German it is difficult to express myself in English, particularly in musical terms. So I can't take part in the discussions on the BCW.

[2] But I want to say two things about your interpretation of BWV 28 concerning the Richter recording. You wrote about mvt.1 and Edith Mathis:
< Yes, but listen to the angry quality that is almost always present in the voice. Mathis reminds me of a 'Queen of the Night' prima donna, who has sung the role innumerable times, but now is unable 'to shift gears' in order to sing a Bach aria that should express joy and gratitude. All her artistry is for naught here if she can not exude joy. >

This seems to me a very hard and overdone critique. For me this mvt. and especially Mathis' singing is for the first the description of the running time (the fast tempo; "Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, das neue rücket schon heran"), for the second a great jubilation, just the expression of joy in Mathis' coloraturas ("stimmt ihm ein frohes Danklied an"), anything else then "angry quality".

The other point: you wrote - not for the first time -
< Notice how Richter (playing the organ continuo) cleverly achieves the feeling of dance.... >
Richter never played the organ himself in a recording or performance. He exclusivly played the harpsichord in St.Matthew Passion (BWV 244), St.John Passion (BWV 245) and Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) ! I try to send you a photo that shows the recording of the beginning of BWV 175 with Peter Schreier in the Herkules-Saal in Munich, 1973. Even in that small cast Hedwig Bilgram is playing the organ. The "non-descript organ" is the Steinmeyer organ in the Herkules-Saal, which Richter inaugurated in 1963.

BTW I want to advise to my book:

Roland Wörner
Karl Richter - Musik mit dem Herzen
Panisken Verlag München, 2001

And to complete my introduction: I was member of the Heinrich Schütz Choir Heilbronn and I knew Fritz Werner [1] very well during his last years.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 5, 2003):
Roland Wörner wrote:
< for me as a native German it is difficult to express myself in English, particularly in musical terms. So I can't take part in the discussions on the BCW. >
It seems to me that you are expressing yourself quite well in English, and I am certain that all list members will welcome your comments as an important addition to our discussions.

[2] < But I want to say two things about your interpretation of BWV 28 concerning the Richter recording. You wrote about mvt.1 and Edith Mathis: >
<< Yes, but listen to the angry quality that is almost always present in the voice. Mathis reminds me of a ‘Queen of the Night’ prima donna, who has sung the role innumerable times, but now is unable ‘to shift gears’ in order to sing a Bach >aria that should express joy and gratitude. All her artistry is for naught here if she can not exude joy. >>
< This seems to me a very hard and overdone critique. >
I still maintain that Edith Mathis, generally (although she does have a few good arias in this series) uses an overblown operatic technique in her interpretations of both Bach's arias and recitatives and is not sensitive enough to the text being presented, and I even believe that musically sensitive individuals who were fairly well acquainted with performances by sopranos who were singing these pieces at the time when these recordings were being made would have to concur with this opinion. There were sopranos singing at that time who would have been more suitable for an aria such as this than Mathis was.

< For me this mvt. and especially Mathis' singing is for the first the description of the running time (the fast tempo; "Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, das neue rücket schon heran"), for the second a great jubilation, just the expression of joy in Mathis' coloraturas ("stimmt ihm ein frohes Danklied an"), anything else then "angry quality". >
On this point we will have to agree to disagree. Fast and correct-note singing does not automatically convey a feeling of joy, even slower singing could conceivably express greater joy than that sung as a coloratura exercise, but nothing more. The tempo that Richter uses in this soprano aria does sound overly rushed, despite the fact that Mathis is able to display her artistry in managing very aptly the coloraturas. Mathis has brought too much of the operatic style of singing into a sacred music setting and seems unable or unwilling to adjust. In her defense, there were many other sopranos (but not all) that were singing in Bach cantatas, sopranos, that still performed Bach in this unchanged operatic style. My guess is that Richter was unable to select a different soprano because Mathis was under contract by the recording firm that was producing these cantatas. Had a better soprano been available and had he not had his 'hands tied' by contracts (which have both their good and bad sides), Richter, mostly likely would have chosen someone else. Of course, this is all a matter of conjecture, unless you, with your knowledge of the circumstances can clear this matter up.

< The other point: you wrote - not for the first time - >
<< Notice how Richter (playing the organ continuo) cleverly achieves the feeling of dance.... >>
< Richter never played the organ himself in a recording or performance. He exclusively played the harpsichord in St.Matthew Passion, St.John Passion and Christmas Oratorio! I try to send you a photo that shows the recording of the beginning of
BWV 175 with Peter Schreier in the Herkules-Saal in Munich, 1973. Even in that small cast Hedwig Bilgram is playing the organ. The "non-descript organ" is the Steinmeyer organ in the Herkules-Saal, which Richter inaugurated in 1963. >
Thank you for clearing up this point. Did Elmar Schloter also do the honors from time to time? How is it possible to distinguish who is playing in which cantata? More importantly, did Hedwig Bilgram come up with these marvelous improvisations in this and other cantatas all on her own? Did Karl Richter have a hand in devising this 'improvised' continuo accompaniment on the organ in advance or did Bilgram do this 'on the fly'? How could he allow and why did he have the organist, whoever might have been playing, play all the vocal parts colla parte with penetrating high octave stops and mixtures? Was this choir that uncertain of its parts and didn't Richter hear, in some instances, where the choir was very obviously not in tune with the organ. How could a musician of such stature allow such a clash between choir and organ to happen?

< I try to send you a photo >
The Bach Cantata Mailing List does not accept photos, as much as many of us would like to have this facility. Write to Aryeh Oron, the webmaster of the Bach Cantata Website. He may be interested in such photos. Once they are posted on his site they will be available to all who are interested.

Thank you for your response.

Philippe Bareille wrote (January 5, 2003):
[4] I have listened to Harnoncourt only. I agree with most of Tom Braatz' comments regarding this performance. I [again] think it is a pity that these sopranos were not named. I believe it was the same boy who sang the soprano parts from BWV 21 to BWV 30 inclusive. The marvellous soprano in the BWV 31 is different and appeared also in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) (Harnoncourt version) and maybe in the BWV 36. There is obviously a typical Wiener Sängerknaben sound, like there is a well recognisable Tölzer sound. With regard to the choir, I am glad that Harnoncourt decided to "abandon" the Wiener and chose the Tölzer Knabenchor instead.

Happy new year 2003. Thanks Aryeh for this fascinating and exciting website.

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 5, 2003):
BWV 28 - The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 5 recordings of Cantata BWV 28:

[1] Fritz Werner (1965)
[2] Karl Richter (1970-1972)
[4] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1974)
[5] Helmuth Rilling (1981-1982)
[6] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)

After the exhausting experience of listening to 25 recordings of relatively long and over-familiar cantatas as BWV 140, what a relief it was to listen to only 5 recordings of relatively unknown cantata. As could have been expected, and as I hinted in my introduction sent to the BCML a week ago, this cantata includes many gems. It gave me outmost satisfaction, although not all the performances are of high level. The imagination complements what is missing in the recording to which I am listening.

In order to remain objective as much as I can, I have avoided reading reviews of the recordings sent by other members of the BCML prior to mine. I intend to check afterwards what are their opinions, compare them to mine, and learn from the differences.

Background & Review

The background below is taken from the following sources:
Alec Robertson: ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972), and
W. Murray Young: ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1989).
The English translations are by Francis Browne.

Mvt. 1 Aria for Soprano
Oboe I/II, Taille, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Gottlob! nun geht das Jahr zu Ende,
(Praise God! Now the year comes to an end,)

Robertson: It falls to the soprano first to give thanks for the year now ended and to greet the new year, bright with promise, that lies ahead. There is consistent alteration between the instrumental groups, oboes and strings, with reflective passage at ‘Think, O Soul’, thanking God for His Goodness in the year past. This is emphasised in a six-fold repetition.
Young: Oboes and strings accompany her song of praise to God, because the old year has ended and she hopes for God’s favour in this new one. The melody flows along like a happy stream, supporting her song of rejoicing with a swinging joy-motif, which is reminiscent of ballet rhythm. It is a beautiful introduction.

Werner’s rendition of the opening aria is too slow. The voice of his soprano, Maria Friesenhausen, is not to my taste, and her interpretation leaves much to be desired. Edith Mathis (with Richter) might sound satisfactory technically. But she has problems to convey expression. She almost always sounds blend, and the opening aria for soprano proves this assumption. She is given a break-neck tempo by Richter. This proves the obvious: that velocity does not necessarily means joy. Richter has done better in conveying joy with slower tempi in other cantata movements. The tempo Harnoncourt gives his anonymous boy soprano is much better than Richter’s and this boy is a marvel, a joy to hear, charming voice without any seen technical difficulties. The instrumental accompaniment supplied by Harnoncourt is lively and jumpy. The Instrumental ritornello of Rilling’s rendition is telling us loud and clear: this is going to be an aria about joy and happiness. Augér joins the celebration with clear delivery and convincing expression. Her singing is not clean from imperfections, but who cares? A happy human being cannot always control his joy. For my ears it is done with lot of taste. Leusink gives the lightest instrumental opening ritornello of the opening aria and Strijk fits the circumstances. Her voice is less angelic and pure than Holton’s, who usually sings the soprano parts with Leusink. Nevertheless the participants in this rendition miss a lot regarding the main message of this aria and the result is not a very convincing.

Preferences: Augér/Rilling [5], Boy Soprano/Harnoncourt [4], [big gap], Strijk/Leusink [6], Mathis/Richter [2], Friesenhausen/Werner [1]

Mvt. 2 Chorus
Cornetto e Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Trombone I e Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Trombone II e Taille e Viola col Tenore, Trombone III col Basso, Continuo
Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren,
(Now praise, my soul, the Lord,)

Robertson: The first verse of Johann Graumann’s chorale with the above title set to its associated melody (1540) and sung here in long notes by the sopranos. The first line is intoned by the tenors, with a counter-theme for altos and basses, the sopranos only then entering with the melody. At the close, the voices, over a firm pedal note for the instrumental basses and the continuo, proclaim ‘Der Kön'g schafft Recht, behütet, Die leid'n in seinem Reich’ (The king acts with justice, he protects / those who suffer in his kingdom).
Young: This is gear motet-like chorale fantasia for all voices and instruments, which overpowers all the other movements in its majesty. Bach probably composed it first and then set the rest of the work. It is a tremendous achievement of 174 bars, which Bach noted at the end. The text is the first stanza of Johann Graumann’s hymn.

Although very slow, Werner’s chorus is done with dignity and inner-conviction. All the components are well-balanced, and the lines are easy to follow. Strong and vigorous choral singing from Richter, but I miss some real feeling and clearer lines. Harnoncourt Viennese forces give ravish and beautiful singing. The conductor’s tendency to fragmentation is less apparent here. Rilling’s has the best of all worlds: full, happy and clean choral singing with clear vocal and instlines. Sometimes the light approach of Leusink and the enthusiastic singing of his choir work. In this chorus it does not. There is sense of lack of direction, the singing lacks boldness and vigour, the instrumental and vocal lines are not well separated.

Preferences: Rilling [5], Werner [1], Richter [2], Harnoncourt [4], [gap], Leusink [6]

Mvt. 3 Recitative (Arioso) for Bass
So spricht der Herr
(So says the Lord)

Robertson: Anything would come as something of an anticlimax after that great chorus and this arioso is no exception, but after the majestic and intricate music just heard its melodiousness falls pleasantly on the ear. The Lord says: ’Es soll mir eine Lust sein, / daß ich ihnen Gutes tun soll, / und ich will sie in diesem Lande pflanzen treulich, / von ganzem Herzen und von ganzer Seele.’ (it will be a delight for me / to do good for them / and I want to plant them in this land faithfully, / with my whole heart and my whole soul.)
Young: This secco movement contrasts with the majestic might of the preceding chorus. The vocalist sings a very fine arioso on this quotation from Jeremiah 32: 41

The voice of Barry McDaniel (with Werner) is a joy to hear, with richness and depth. He could have benefited from somewhat quicker tempo. The sensitivity, taste and sincerity with which DFD is able to give to a Bach recitative have been already praised many times in the weekly cantata discussions. This recitative is no exception. Nimsgern (with Harnoncourt) has already proved himself as a winning card. Here he does not have to sound frightening or impressive. He has only to convey the recitative with gentleness, sensitivity and warmth. He does that so naturally and with simplicity that he is almost in the same class with DFD. Hearing Heldwein (with Rilling) after the above three bass/baritones and his shortcomings become clearly evident. His delivery sound stiff and his expression lacking juice. Ramselaar has a nicer voice than Heldwein, yet this is not enough for a good rendition of the recitative. It seems that he does not know what to do with his part.

Preferences: DFD/Richter [2], [small gap] McDaniel/Werner [1] = Nimsgern/Harnoncourt [4], [big gap], Ramselaar/Leusink [6], Heldwein/Rilling [5]

Mvt. 4 Recitative for Tenor
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Gott ist ein Quell, wo lauter Güte fleußt
(God is a fountain, where pure goodness flows)

Robertson: The Strings give a sheen to this fine piece of declamation.
Young: It is again unusual that Bach would set two successive recitatives, but this one is different, with its string accompaniment. The tenor’s first four lines describe God as a spring from which only goodness flows, a light where only grace shines, a treasure wherein there is only blessing, a Lord who mans to be true and sincere [snip]

Jelden (with Werner) gives a moving performance of the recitative. What I wrote about DFD in the recitative for bass, can be applied to Schreier in the recitative for tenor as well. Equiluz (with Harnoncourt) gives another example of his supreme powers as a singer of recitatives. It seems as if Kraus (with Rilling) is trying to put too much into the recitative, instead of keeping it simple.

Preferences: Jelden/Werner [1] = Schreier/Richter [2] = Equiluz/Harnoncourt, [gap] [4], Kraus/Rilling [5], Meel/Leusink [6]

Mvt. 5 Aria (Duet) for Alto and Tenor
Gott hat uns im heurigen Jahre gesegnet
(God has blessed us in this year)

Robertson: A most attractive duet.
Young: Although this duet is accompanied only by the continuo, the voices create an attractive joy-motif in their imitative singing.

The duet as performed in Werner’s recording by Lisken and Jelden is something to which you want to listen again and again. Such beautiful voices, such tasteful singing, and such mutual listening. This is one of the gems of this recording. There is not a good match between Töpper and Schreier (with Richter). Each one’s singing is respectful but something between them is not working. Unlike them, Esswood and Equiluz (with Harnoncourt) certainly understand each other and know how to follow each other in imitation, as if the duet was sung by a single mind. Kraus (with Riling) is much better in the duet, where he is joined by Schreckenbach. They share the responsibility for the success of this rendition. Their voices blends nicely and it seems that they enjoy singing together. Buwalda and Meel seem to be in different worlds in the duet. Their approaches are far apart and they do not listen to each other.

Preferences: Jelden & Lisken/Werner [1], Esswood & Equiluz/Harnoncourt [4], [gap], Schreckenbach & Kraus/Rilling [5], [gap], Töpper & Schreier/Richter [2], Buwalda & Meel/Leusink [6]

Mvt. 6 Chorale
Cornetto e Oboe I e Violino I col Soprano, Trombone I e Oboe II e Violino II coll'Alto, Trombone II e Taille e Viola col Tenore, Trombone III col Basso, Continuo
All solch dein Güt wir preisen,
(For all this kindness of yours we praise you)

Robertson: The melody of the chorale of praise and a prayer for peace in the New Year is the sixth verse of Paul Eber’s hymn ‘Helft mir Gott’s Güte preisen’ to a melody (1569) of secular origin.
Young: All voices and instruments are used in this sixth and last stanza of Paul Eber’s hymn, which Bach has set in 1724 for the concluding chorale of BWV 16. This is probably why Spitta moved the date of this cantata back ten years. The text of the stanza praises God and Christ asks for peace in the New Year, which could apply to any time, but would be especially fitting at the beginning of 1736, when peace had returned to Poland and Saxony.

Preferences: Werner [1], Rilling [5], Harnoncourt [4], Richter [2], Leusink [6]


A movement to take away: The Aria for soprano with either the anonymous boy soprano (with Harnoncourt) [4] or Augér (with Rilling) [5], or better, both!


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 28: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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