Cantata BWV 39Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of June 17, 2001 (1st round)
Aryeh Oron wrote (June 19, 2001):
This is the week of Cantata BWV 39 according to Thomas Braatz’ suggestion, the 4th one in his proposed list of cantatas for discussion. As a short background for this cantata, I shall use this time Oxford Companion (by Konrad Küster):
“Cantata BWV 39 was composed for the 1st Sunday after Trinity (June 23) 1726. That Sunday had a special significance for Bach; on the corresponding day in 1723 he had entered his Leipzig post with a performance of cantata BWV 75 (already discussed in the BCML, A.O.); and on its first anniversary he inaugurated a series of chorale cantatas with BWV 20. In 1725 Bach apparently abandoned the practice of alluding to his installation, and BWV 39 comes as one in a series of cantatas which extends from February 1726 to the end of September. During this period Bach had resource to church music originated in the court chapel of Meiningen: to texts written perhaps by Duke Ernst Ludwig, and to compositions by Bach’s distant cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach. [Snip]
The cantata exemplifies what might be called the standard Meiningen pattern: a movement based on the Old Testament passage (in this case Isaiah 58: 7-8); a recitative and aria; a New Testament text (fourth movement; here Hebrews 13: 16); another aria and recitative (the latter typically having two or more sentences, allowing the composer to set the final part as a chorus, as in most of J.L. Bach’ s examples); and, finally, one or more strophes of a chorale. The two Biblical texts are linked in subject-matter; in this cantata the composer theme is that of helping the poor.
Bach modifies the structure in tow respects. First, he divided the texts into two parts so that the composition could frame the sermon and the words of institution that followed it [snip]. Also, he designed the whole poetical unit preceding the chorale as a recitative, rather than a recitative followed by a chorus. [Snip]”
I am aware of 6 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 39, and during last week I have been listening to them all. I do not know of any other recording of this cantata, or of any individual movements from it.
 Wolfgang Gönnenwein (Late 1960’s?)
 Karl Richter (1974-1975)
 Gustav Leonhardt (1975)
 Helmuth Rilling (1982)
 Philippe Herreweghe (1989-1991)
 Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)
Mvt. 1 - Chorus - Breaking of the bread or feeble footsteps of the hungry people?
Original German text:
Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot und die, so in Elend sind, führe ins Haus! So du einen nackend siehest, so kleide ihn und entzeuch dich nicht von deinem Fleisch.
Alsdenn wird dein Licht herfürbrechen wie die Morgenröte, und deine Besserung wird schnell wachsen, und deine Gerechtigkeit wird für dir hergehen, und die Herrlichkeit des Herrn wird dich zu sich nehmen.
English translations (by W. Murray Young)
Break for the hungry man thy bread, and those who are in misery lead into thy house, When thou seest someone naked, then clothe him, and withdraw thyself not from thy flesh. Then shall thy light break forth like the dawn, and thy improvement will quickly increase. And thy righteousness will go before thee, and the glory of the Lord will take thee unto itself.
Philipp Spitta (1873-1880):
“The cantata brings out the meaning of that text in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’, and the cantata is fitly concluded with the sixth verse of the paraphrase of the beatitudes. It is an affecting picture of Christian love, softening with tender hand and pitying sympathy the sorrow of the brethren, and obtaining the highest reward. The peculiar accompaniment, allotted to flutes, oboes, and strings, was very likely suggested to Bach by the idea of the breaking of bread. But how little he cares for such trivial realism is seen, as the number goes on, in a passage where the accompaniment is continued to entirely different words. It gives the piece a tender, dreamy tinge, and this is what Bach chiefly wanted.”
Albert Schweitzer (1908, rough translation from Hebrew into English):
“Another example of movement description can be found in the first chorus of cantata BWV 39. [snip] The music has initially something fragmented. Spitta assumes that the origin of this fragmentation is the cutting of the bread. But he cannot avoid of adding a reservation [see above].
Here the explanation of the musical picture and its justification are totally improper. It is totally unjustified to claim that Bach continues the imagery into a place in which it is not existed in the text. Furthermore, no listener can hear in this music the breaking of the bread. What is the meaning of this music? The monotonic instrumental accompaniment with the rhythmic movement of the quavers in the Basso continuo reminds us more of a march. The voices break the calm, in such a way that we can imagine feeble and unstable steps [musical example]. Therefore, the music describes the poor people, supported and brought into the house. When the words ‘into thy house’ pass, the accompaniment abandon this description and it is built gradually from other themes.”
W. Gillies Whittaker (1959):
“The crowning glory of the cantata is the opening chorus, varied, flexible, imaginative, every phrase is mirrored in music of superb quality. It is another miracle of the master’s, for it must have conceived and written in desperate haste. The German version differs from the English; the former is ‘Break for the hungry thy bread’, the latter ‘Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?’ Two flutes à bec begin with two repeated quavers, weak to strong, two oboes follow, then upper strings [musical example].
Spitta (who misdates the cantata) and Schering see in this the breaking of bread, Schweitzer the tottering of the weak. This otherwise inexplicable idea, supported throughout the continuo detached quavers, occupies the first 13 bars. Then the flutes in thirds, imitated by the oboes, play short semiquaver groups, the upper strings taking over the detached quavers from the bassi, while the continuo gives out a new version of the repeated two-note figure [musical example].
The significance of the latter is shown later, as it accompanies the choir when it sings ‘führe ins Haus’ (‘take into the house’). The woodwind now sustain. Violin I repeats (a figure from the example), violin II and viola keep up the detached quavers and the bassi bear the most important idea, an upward rush growing more and more intense [music example]” [Snip]
Alec Robertson (1972):
“The imaginatively devised orchestral introduction has been taken to represent the breaking of the bread or, which is much more likely interpretation, the feeble footsteps of the hungry coming up to receive it.
The orchestral prelude ends with a new theme which will be used at the words ‘Take into the house’, at which point the tottering main theme and the detached notes of the continuo give place to different figuration as if depicting the warm welcome the hungry receive.
The words, to the end of this section, are based on Isaiah 58: 7-8, ‘Is not [the fast I choose] to share the bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked, to cover him and not to hide yourself from your own flesh’. It brings Jesus’ words to mind, ‘Inasmuch as you do it unto the, you do it unto me’ and his denunciation of the careless rich. Isaiah continues, ‘Then shall thy light break forth as the morning and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee.’
Bach sets the paraphrase of these last words to a glorious fugue, with two expositions, and so brings to an end one of his finest choruses and one that is worthy indeed of the inspired words of Isaiah.”
Alfred Dürr (1974, liner notes to the Teldec recording)
“Among the movements of this mature Bach composition, the introductory chorus stands out because of its expansive layout. In structure, the multi-part feature is just as pleasing as the independent instrumental treatment of the instrumental concerto, and the text-construing imagery of the figuration school. Its form has many parts: the fugal section “Alsdenn wird dein Licht herfürbrechen“, which introduced the third (last) major part, is the same subject as the concluding section “, und die Herrlichkeit des Herrn…“. In this way Bach succeeds in rounding off the form of the final section, just as he had managed to do so in the opening section by repeating the same text as at the beginning.
When the instruments are dealt with independently they also serve to interpret the text, especially significantly at the beginning, by distributing the chords among the recorder, oboes and string, whereby the ‘distributing’ of bread to the hungry is illustrated.”
Murray W. Young (1989):
The text for this number comes from Isaiah 58: 7-8, which Bach sets superbly, reflecting all the meaning suggested in the phrases of the libretto. This chorus is a marvellous creation – the high point of the whole work.
The first half contains a step-motif of exhaustion, depicting the tottering, staggering steps of the poor, to whom food and shelter should be given, according to the biblical text. The second half changes to a rapid fugue in two parts, which portrays the spiritual rewards bestowed by the Lord on the charitable. It is movement of intense emotion and of powerful eloquence both in music and in singing.”
Simon Crouch (1996, 1998):
“Listen to this cantata to hear a master craftsman at work! Perhaps there are not the greatest heights of Bach's melodic inspiration here, but what there is wonderfully used. The best is probably first: An excellent opening chorus (setting some of the words of Isaiah) with orchestral introduction, choral middle and fugal end that may very well remind you in texture of the motets.”
Konrad Küster (Oxford Companion, 1999):
“As in most cases, the opening movement of BWV 39 is a chorus. The biblical text is quite long, and Bach set it as a multi-sectional movement (G minor) comprising several fugal parts.”
Dingemann van Wijnen (Liner notes to the Brilliant Classics recording, 2000):
“The two-note motive repeated throughout the magnificent opening chorus indicates the breaking of the bread of which the text speaks (Albert Schweizer, however, think it expresses the tottering of the weak). The choir enters and there is a break in the music after ‘brich’. This is the beginning of a long chain of intensely beautiful musical ideas: intense sadness on ‘Elend’, long runs on ‘führe’ expressive of the leading of the destitute (a motive already found in the orchestral opening), a fugue on ‘Brich dem Hungrigen‘ with a splendidly long theme, the voices coming together on ‘führe ins Haus’, a short intermezzo at ‘So du einen nackend siehest’ – and then there are two fantastic fugues still to come, the theme of the one on ‘und die Herrlichkeit’ basically the same as that on ‘Alsdenn wird dein Licht’.
Review of the Recordings
 Wolfgang Gönnenwein (7:50)
As always, Gönnenwein is authoritative and very reliable, very much aware of what he is doing. Every thing is in its place, and every detail and voice can be clearly heard. But something is missing. Maybe is it some enthusiasm and feeling of involvement?
 Karl Richter (8:15)
Richter has shown us in many cases in the past that he knows how to draw a picture and to paint it with strong colours. It is surprising to find out that here he abandon all the possibilities suggested by the music and the text and adopt instead an architectural approach. This is a multi-sectional movement, and the hands of other conductors it might sound fragmented. After hearing this rendition several times, I think that Richter tried to build here a complete picture, like a big cathedral. But during the building he forgot that not only the general impression is important, but also the minor details have major significance in creating the full image. For example, I thing that no one can hear in the first section either the cutting of the bread or the feeble steps of the poor people.
 Gustav Leonhardt (9:11)
The picture portrayed by Leonhardt’s is wonderful and magical. There are some cases where the approach of the conductor and the demands of the piece of music match each other. And this is one of those cases. I like everything here - the ancient imagery portrayed by the old instruments, the precise, sensitive and multi-layered singing of the choir, the tempo, the changing of the mood from one section to the other. This rendition is very different from Rilling’s and it still maintains the same high level.
 Helmuth Rilling (6:44)
Rilling knows how to draw a picture and how to paint it. The image he creates is so strong, that I am convinced by his interpretation that the music represents to steps of the poor people, and not the breaking of the bread. This Impression is intensified in the moment they enter the house. A towering joy is pouring out of their singing. The singing, the separation of the voices in the fugues, the accompaniment – all of them are on the highest level. And there is also a feeling of continuity along the whole movement.
 Philippe Herreweghe (7:46)
This is elegant and delicate rendition. It s almost transparent. I could hear every detail, as I did with Rilling. It is indeed charming but something was missing. Maybe it is too clean and elegant? Thinking about the poor people, I thought of them as wearing dirty and torn cloths. But here the image I get is that they are walking with light and elegant steps and with clean cloths.
 Pieter Jan Leusink (6:58)
If Herreweghe’s recording sounded to me too clean, the case here is the opposite. The playing and the singing here are dirty, even too dirt. One can clearly hear that not much preparation had been dedicated before this rendition was recorded. It is fragmented and many points are missed. In short not one of the best moments of Leusink and his forces and not the recommended way to being introduced to this marvellous movement.
Earlier today I had to go to a customer’s site for a presentation. I suggested to one of the senior managers (a lady) of the company to join me, tempting her by saying that she can expect an interesting experience during the journey. The experience was, of course, listening to a Bach Cantata. In this case it was BWV 39, the cantata of this week. We had a limited amount of time, and therefore we were able to listen only to the opening chorus. I gave her short background about the dilemma of the image represented by the first part of the chorus – ‘Breaking of the bread or feeble footsteps of the hungry people?’ The journey proved to be shorter that what we had planned, and therefore we were able to listen to only five recordings (leaving Leonhardt out), in the following order - Rilling, Leusink, Richter, Herreweghe, and Gönnenwein. When we came back to the office she summerized for me her impressions, as follows:
Rilling  - Sharp and precise
Leusink  - Sloppy. She resembled it to a dance in which some movements are broken in the middle. The musical line was similar to that of the first recording (Rillig), but it failed to achieve the same level of sharpend precision.
Richter  - She did not like it. She thought that it was schmaltz, outpouring, and rounded.
Herreweghe  - Noble.
Gönnenwein  - Left her indifferent.
Her favourite recordings were the first (Rilling)  and the fourth (Herreweghe) .
She said that it was a unique experience for her. This was the first time she was able to listen to the same piece of music in different recordings in succession. She was astonished to discover how different from each other they sounded.
My preferred recordings of the opening chorus (Mvt. 1) are Rilling’s  and Leonhardt's, while Herreweghe  is only a small step behind. The weakest is Leusink .
One last thing I would like to note. Some of the writers whom I have quoted above think that the other movements of this cantata are not of great value. IMO, those movements have a lot to offer and deserve special attention. Due to limitations of time and space I have not been able to go deeply into them, but in all my listenings to this cantata I heard it as a complete unity (well except one, mentioned above), and I found myself enjoying also the rest of the cantata. But at this stage I feel that that I have only started to explore possibilities and the layers of the opening movement, and if I wanted to go deeper in the this cantata (the first movement and the rest), it would take me at least a full month. If we decided to dedicate one month per cantata, this traversal (of discussing the complete Bach Cantatas) would have taken us 16 years instead of four! And this is a little bit beyond my possibilities!
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Thomas Braatz wrote (June 20, 2001):
BWV 39 - Commentary & Provenance
See: Cantata BWV 39 - Commentary
See: Cantata BWV 39 - Provenance
BWV 39 - Review of the Recordings
The recordings I have for comparision are Richter (1974-5) ; Leonhardt (1975) ; Rilling (1982) , Herreweghe (1989-1991, 1993) ; Leusink (2000) .
 Richter's initial two-note (eighth note) motif, none of which are marked in any way by Bach, sounds as if he is using the horizontal-bar-above-the-note technique to create fully sustained notes. The effect is almost one of legato and lightly tied notes. As Aryeh pointed out, Richter seems to be going after an overall structural effect, and by using this technique he loses the sense of 'pieces' of bread falling as they are broken. What he achieves is remarkable in another sense: there is a layering stretto effect which gives continuity and solidity to the musical presentation. He does not need the staccato effect that other conductors use, because Bach has included many rests in every part and this stresses the fragmentation. The fugal sections are sung with firmness and conviction that are lacking in all the other versions except Rilling's. On the negative side, Richter's choir has some slight intonation problems in the first section -- at this point you can hardly hear his doubling of all the choir parts on the organ, but he pulls more stops until you reach the final fugue where his 'noodling' organ playing becomes distracting, but the choir is less likely to sing out of tune here and that is perhaps what he wanted to accomplish. Richter does not use recorders. What would you expect otherwise? Recorders are no match for his orchestral forces unless you stick a microphone underneath each one, so the silver Böhm flutes are used instead. He modernizes the text: "nacket" becomes "nackend."
 Leonhardt, at a semi-tone lower, uses the slowest tempo of all. Compared to Richter, there is more separation between each eighth note, but at times, when the choir is singing, the slow tempo combined with the typical Harnoncourt/Leonhardt accenting of each note separately results in a plodding movement that almost collapses at times under the heavy weight and separation of the notes. Perhaps this was the effect Leonhardt sought, but for me this is not musical enough because it creates the impression that the music will threaten to fall apart at any moment. It becomes boring, it lacks spunk, and the voices sound disinterested in what they are singing. Section B is a little faster, but just when you think he has built a structure that would lead into Section C 3/8 being faster yet and representing what the words are trying to say, great disappoint occurs with what is probably the slowest tempo in this final section of all the recordings. The choir should be singing about "die Herrlichkeit" but they are still stuck on the idea of the plodding steps of the poor. The melismas are sung entirely legato as they 'slide' from one note to the next. One good point here is the marvelous sound of the recorders. The bass voice tends to be weak at times, particularly when it does not double with the basso continuo. There is no happiness here in sharing the bread you break because all you can think of is all the sadness that comes from all the suffering that you see.
 Rilling, who is at the higher pitch, the same as the one Richter uses, takes this mvt the fastest of all my recordings. The eighth-note values are even shorter than Leonhardt, and that must mean something. Unfortunately Rilling persists in having a thick, heavy bass sound that is typical for most of his recordings in this series. If you can, turn down the bass. Unfortunately, I can not do that very easily, so I grin and bear it. Sure, the voices are somewhat operatic and they have had voice training to develop a full voice, otherwise they would not be singing here. There is a precision in their attacks, and all the voice parts can be heard all the time. What a difference when the fugal subjects are announced in the men's parts for the first time! The final stop at the end of the mvt. has do be accomplished with just the right amount of ritardando. Rilling succeeds in doing this masterfully.
 Herreweghe's recording of this entire cantata suffers (or is enhanced?) by placing the microphones at quite some distance from the players and singers, hence the effect is very different by virtue of this fact alone. His tempo in the 1st mvt is very much like Leonhardt's, but what a difference Herreweghe achieves! The eighth notes at the beginning are very short, almost staccato. The balance in his instrumental forces is simply wonderful compared to all the "Let's-make-sure-the-bass-is-really-loud-enough fanatics (Rilling, Leusink, Richter, and even Harnoncourt/Leonhardt)" I savor these moments in listening to the Bach cantatas. It is very obvious that Herreweghe has not only put much thought into how the piece should sound (Harnoncourt claims he always does this too and I do not want to dispute him on this point), but he also has a remarkable quality that most other Bach conductors, who claim they represent and present Bach's intentions, lack: the ability to understand how to achieve a beautiful choir sound. My only objection here is that the tenors and basses (probabably only 2 to a part) are weak in comparison to the high voices who do very well. Intonation is superb. The general effect of the entire interpretation of this mvt. by Herreweghe is one of reticence and understatement. His interpretation of the mvt. is one of a polite request, without the 'take-it-or-leave-it" quality that others have made of this mvt. There is great sensitivity to feelings: just listen to the expressi"Elend" as it is sung. I can really feel the sadness. He increases the tempo in section B and creates a contrast and tension between sections.
 Leusink takes the 1st section even faster with very short eighth-notes. The orchestra, which has a fine sound (if you discount the overly strong bass line) seems to be very much in front of everything in the recording. From the very first notes of the chorus, however, when you hear the sopranos and altos (falsettists) enter, you know it is not going to get any better. The higher the falsettists sing, the worse it becomes, until all you have is a bunch of yodlers, crying out like cowboys. As much effort as these voices put out, the others remain limp in their expression and seem mostly disinterested. The German word, "brechen" is pronounced "breschen." I simply can not understand why Leusink was unable to 'reign in' the voices that were definitely spoiling this entire production. Since I usually listen to each recording 4 or 5 times before describing my reaction, I must admit that my range of emotions go from simply being perplexed to the beginnings of an anger that issues from having a performance not 'grow on me', but rather tends to drag me into the dirt. There is a vast difference between a non-committal type of performance that lacks spirit or energy, and one that 'screams to high heaven' because of the negative qualities that I have pointed out in this and the past cantatas that have been recorded by this group.
Mvt. 2 & Mvt. 4 Bass Recitative and (No name) Arioso?
 From the first time I heard Richter's Fischer-Dieskau singing these mvts., I knew they would be unforgettable. In just about the most perfect German diction that a singer can have, listen to how he sings "Barmherzigkeit" and "an das Herze dringen." In Mvt. 4 "Wohlzutun." notice how he changes his inflection/expression each time the phrase "Vergesset nicht" ("Don't forget") is sung. Each one has a character of its own (pleading, cajoling, etc.) In the second section the phrase is repeated 3 times, each time beginning on a higher note. When Bach writes this out this way, he is, in essence, saying to the singer, "you know what I want here, so go ahead and do it."
 Leonhardt's van Egmond's usually sounds muffled and unclear to me, but here he is much clearer than usual. There is not much expression in his voice and it sounds as if he is singing sotto voce much of the time. In the Arioso the repetitions of "Vergesset nicht" begin to sound the same. It is as though he is more concerned with what he is doing with his voice rather than thinking about the words and the expression they should have. There is very little contrast in the repeated words.
 Rilling's Gerihsen has a fully trained voice that would carry well without amplification in a large church, other voices (not Fischer-Dieskau's of course) under consideration simply would fail to make much, if any, impression upon the audience in a larger setting. In the Arioso Rilling's continuo is too loud -- even where Bach marks a 'piano' the basso continuo continues to 'saw away' as if nothing had been indicated. Gerihsen wins the battle against the basso continuo, but at what cost? The expression is not as varied as Fischer-Dieskau's.
 Herreweghe's Kooy has excellent expression in the recitative. Listen to the wonderful, sensitive accompaniment in the Arioso. Yes, it can be done! Now, in this Arioso, Kooy's voice sounds like any of the numerous 'half-voices' that are singing Bach nowadays. Did they record closer to Kooy in the recitative than in the Arioso?
 Leusink's Ramselaar does not have much expression, and when he uses is, it becomes too much of a good thing as in "als er mit milder Hand," which does not sound genuine. He also sings the wrong article: "Sie sind DIE Probestein." The Arioso is very fast, and although Ramselaar tries for some expression, he mainly spares his voice by singing sotto voce in places where emphasis should occur.
Mvt. 3 Aria & Mvt. 6 Recitative Alto
 Richter's Anna Reynolds has a full voice, trained in the operatic tradition, with a strange quality in the lower range that I can not fully describe, but her melismas on "streuet" in the aria are very good indeed. The recitative suffers greatly under her attempts to make an opera out of a truly beautiful recitative. There is even a hint of a "Glottis-Anschlag" (a sound that precedes the actual note, indicating that the vocalist has momentarily lost control).
 Rilling's Schreckenbach is not even as good as Reynolds in that her fast uncontrolled vibrato even operates on the quickly moving melismas. This version is also the fastest of the group.
 Leonhardt's Jacobs has a clear singing voice with fairly good intonation, but contrary to Esswood who tends to sing flat, Jacobs does just the opposite at times. At least Jacobs does not swoop up to the higher notes as many other counter-tenors do. I was amazed that he was unable to sing the melisma on "streuet" in one breath. The quality in his voice that I do not like is sound of a voice constricted (not open) as if putting his chin on his chest and singing 'ur' all the time. Sometimes it sounds as if the voice would break. I do not like the effect of worrying whether a singer will 'make it' through the piece without the voice breaking at some point.
 Herreweghe's Brett has no voice at all in the low range. Talk about all the half-voices that are singing Bach today, and here is an example that does not even match that level. There is much too much vibrato throughout. His voice begins to sound like a caricature of this entire class of singers. Too much music is lost (can not be adequately heard, or a distraction occurs because of something the voice is doing) when such a voice is chosen.
 Leusink's Buwalda also does not have a full voice. It has an unpleasant, thin, metallic quality of voice that lacks roundness. It is as though there is an extra reed vibrating in this throat, a reed that should not be there because it is unpleasant in sound. Buwalda lands at the bottom of the pack, but Leusink's instrumental accompaniment is excellent.
Mvt. 5 Soprano Aria
 Leusink's Holton has a very limited voice, specialized for certain types of Bach mvts. I enjoy her singing of the chorales, for instance, but this aria is not for her with her small voice that reveals its inadequacy in the low range. Even in the high range, she simply 'taps' the notes lightly using a sotto voce with a voice that has little volume to give in the first place. When she sings 'piano' on top of all this, it is such a light and soft treatment, that she almost can not be heard.
 Herreweghe's Mellon has somewhat more voice than Holton, but she 'swoops' and 'whoop's' up to the high notes (G on top of the treble clef) rather than attacking them cleanly. Her voice is rather uncontrolled, and she does not, or can not sing with a full voice the notes in the lower range – some notes almost disappear. In the last section of the aria, she sings entirely sotto voce and the voice almost disappears.
 Rilling's Augér has a full soprano voice. This is the version to listen to. Again, she occasionally has a slight problem with her high 'f' and 'g' that tend to sound forced.
 Leonhardt's Boy Soloist has a stronger, fuller voice than all except Augér. This version is quite acceptable with a good recorder sound in the accompanying instruments. The boy sings "willst" insteof "willt" modernizing the German, which should not happen in this so-called authentic recording of Bach.
 Richter's Mathis has a rather good beginning for an operatic star, but the vibrato takes over (she loses the ability to control the voice), and after the first few entrances on her part, her singing becomes rather unpleasant to listen to. This has a typical Richter organ accompaniment and, once again, instead of records, regular flutes are used.
Mvt. 7 Chorale
At the bottom of the list of performances of this 'simple' chorale, there are the Leonhardt  and Leusink  recordings that have much in common: accenting and separation of each quarter note. This becomes quite belabored and shows no undertanding of the text. Leonhardt and Leusink do not believe the fermati mean anything at all in a Bach chorale. The cutting off of fermati reaches its high, or let's say, its low point with Leusink who has perfected this to an 'art.' Richter's version  is faster and he even does well on the fermati, except the last two. Rilling's version  is slower, but very well done. Herreweghe  puts more character into each line, as he works with phrasing, legato, and even makes expression work for him and the audience. He really does know something about choral directing. His contribution to
this art will be worthwhile listening to.
Pick and choose, avoid Leusink , but choose Rilling  (turn down the bass and listen to a confident version of this cantata) and Herreweghe  (here is someone who understands what a Bach choral group should sound like, particularly if you would enjoy a delicate, sensitive treatment.) Subtract the voices and listen to Leusink's instrumental ensemble  and for a memorable solo presentation listen to Fischer-Dieskau.
Marie Jensen wrote (June 20, 2001):
 The opening of Herreweghe BWV 39 -- perhaps the best Bach ritornello I have ever heard. The instrument of the poor: the low rank recorder and the human voice oboe break the bread in staccatos and the deep strings build up to a culmination, where everything flows over in a blessed, rich portato notes: The biblic message has come out: share the riches and the whole world will be blessed! Herreweghe’s interpretation is so beautiful, that I can hardly breathe..just listen again and again...
All kinds of everyday activities are heard in the following sections of this very industrious opening chorus: even the knitting Anna Magdalena (So du einen nackend siehest, so kleide ihn ).. this opening chorus is really a gift to imagination, so much happens. It is like being in Leipzig again. With such an opening it is easy to forget to listen to the rest of the cantata....
But let us never forget the message: to share our bread with the rest of the world, who has not our fine technical equipment and CD-collections and perhaps never heard of JS Bach or the internet! Remember the starving majorities! Leusink  or Herreweghe  is a luxury problem! Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot!..
Charles Francis wrote (June 22, 2001):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
Pick and choose, avoid Leusink , but choose Rilling  (turn down the bass and > listen to a confident version of this cantata) and Herreweghe  (here is someone who understands what a Bach choral group should sound like, particularly if you would enjoy a delicate, sensitive treatment.) Subtract the voices and listen to Leusink's instrumental ensemble and for a memorable solo presentation listen to Fischer-Dieskau. >
Yes, I'll give the nod to Rilling  (with his perfect choir control) and Herreweghe  (with his lighter "Swingle Singers" approach and "real-church" acoustics). I'm still pleased to have the Leusink , however, but do take your point that it probably doesn't grow on one.
I rather suspect the idiom of the opening chorus would work well for John Eliot Gardiner  - there's something of that "Italian" singing style (shades of Alessandro Scarlatti) which Herreweghe  captures well and Gardiner would revel in.
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 39: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4