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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 4
Christ lag in Todesbanden
Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Discussions in the Week of April 23, 2000

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 23, 2000):
Background

This is the week of cantata BWV 4, according to Jane Newble's suggestion. This cantata is so well known among Bach lovers, and so popular, that you can read about it everywhere – on the Web, as well as in almost any book about Bach’s music.

But to have some common background for the discussion, I will allow myself to quote from the small book of J.A. Westrup ‘Bach Cantatas’:

One striking example of Bach’s adherence to older methods – the cantata BWV 4 for Easter day has already been mentioned. It may now be discussed in more detail. Here Bach was following the example of composers like Buxtehude and Tunder in writing a work, which not only uses the complete text of a chorale, but also introduces the melody (or a variant of it) into every movement. Even the opening Sinfonia in this cantata alludes to the Chorale tune. The successive verses are set as follows:
1. Chorus: simple melody in the Soprano.
2. Duet for Soprano and Alto: variant of the melody.
3. Tenor solo: simple melody with violent counterpoint for the violins.
4. Chorus: melody in the Alto, with initiative counterpoint in the other parts.
5. Bass solo: variant, with imitation in the strings.
6. Duet for Soprano and Tenor: melody divided between the 2 voices and extended.
7. Chorus: simple four-part setting.

And if I may add something to the quote from Westrup, I will say that I believe that the main reason for the popularity of this cantata is that you fill comfortable with it immediately. The Chorale is very well known, even among the non-Christians of us (like myself). And even if you do not know the Chorale in advance, than the repetition of it in various settings, makes it easy for everyone to follow the music, and even sings along with it, if he (or she) likes!

Personal Viewpoint

And something personal:
BWV 4 was the first cantata I have ever heard. And like a first love, I shall ever cherish it. I came to it by accident, because nobody guided me to hearing Bach music, let alone his vocal music, let alone his cantatas, or let alone BWV 4 in particular. The recording that I bought was by Wilhelm Ehmann on a Vanguard budget LP [12]. I heard it endless times in the first half of the 1970’s, during my days as a student. I remember that about 3 years passed, before I saw in a record shop the first box of ‘The Browns’. That was the nickname, which was given to the series of Harnoncourt/Leonhardt on Telefunken. I remember that I hesitated before buying that Box. Firstly, it was very expensive, and secondly, I had already had BWV 4 in another recording. When I came home, the first cantata from that box that I put on the turntable was, of course, BWV 4. I remember how astonished was I to hear the cantata I had known so well in such a different performance. Gradually I started to get used to it, but it never replaced for me my first love.

And another personal thought:
This year (2000) Easter and Passover happen to be on about the same dates. Being Jewish and Bach lover, I got accustomed to the fact that in order to understand the background to Bach's music, I have to understand some of the basics of Christianity and the New Testament. The text of BWV 4 reveals interesting connection. The Passover is for the Jewish people the feast of Freedom. We celebrate our release from the Bonds of Slavery and our becoming free people. The words of BWV 4 talk about another kind of Freedom. The first phrase talks about ‘Christ in the Bonds of Death’. But the entire thing is about the Resurrection - the triumph over death ("den stach'l hat er verloren" - death has lost its sting) and renewal and hope for people who now are no longer enslaved to sin and death. And this message is expressed in more verses: "Life won the victory," "one death consumed the other," Jesus has deprived death of all his rights and strength," etc. (this paragraph was rewritten with the advice of Anne Blythe, October 2001)

During last week I have listened to 12 recordings of BWV 4. This cantata is open to various settings – Solo voices only, Choir only, Solo voices against Choir, etc. You can also see that the length of the recordings varies from about 16 minutes to about 25 minutes. Please take care that of the 12 recordings below, 8 are ‘old fashioned’ (conventional instruments, bigger forces, female voices, etc.) and only 4 are ‘modern’ (HIP instruments, counter-tenor as Alto, etc.). It means that BWV 4 was among the first cantatas to become popular in the second half of the 20th century. For me this fact does not really matter, because I am trying to enjoy each kind of performance on its own terms. But it is still an interesting fact, isn’t it? Second thought – the two approaches remind me the double-faced Janus (the god of gates and doorways, depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions), as though I hear two completely different musical works.

So, BWV 4 has many dimensions – 8 melodic movements, each one of them more beautiful than the others, variety of textures and moods; many recordings – each one of them has special identity and individual qualities; many approaches to performing. Every voice (S, A, T, B) has a part, the orchestra has its movement, the choir also has more than one movement of its share (depending on the approach). It can be short and it can be long. It can be large scale and it can be very chamber. Many experts wrote about it and covered almost every angle.

Which way to go in my personal comparison? I even cannot tell which is my favorite recording, because I love them all. It seemed to be too big task. I even considered not writing at all this time. But I see myself committed to contribute something to the discussion. I made my life easy this time. I chose only one movement – the 1st. No solo voices and no choir. The stand is left to the instruments alone, to set the right mood and to bring us in BWV 4 world, or better to the Bach cantatas world, or better to the whole world of Bach’s music. I know that BWV 4 cannot be cut into individual pieces and that it MUST be heard as a whole in one sitting. I feel the same. When I start listening to it, whatever the performance may be, I have to hear it continuously to its very end. But decisions must be taken and concessions must be made.

The opening Sinfonia - What the experts say

The instrumentation for the opening Sinfonia includes – 2 Violins, 2 Violas, Continuo (Violoncello, Violone, & Organ). Let us see what some of the experts have to say about the opening Sinfonia:

W. Gillies Whittaker (from his book The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach):
"The opening downward semitone is the foundation of the short Sinfonia which opens. It is a reconstruction of an old tune and was published by Johann Walther in 1524… The opening 2 lines speak of Christ in the tomb… The Sinfonia, only 14 bars in length, scored for 2 lines of Violins, 2 of Violas and Continuo, paints the gloom of the sepulchre. The falling semitone occurs in the first 6 bars of Violin I and in the 2 opening bars of the Continuo. Schering aptly terms it ‘The emblem of death’ and pints out its association with ‘den Tod’ (‘death’) in verse 2. During bars 5-7, line 1 is quoted in Violin I and at the 10th and 11th bars the Violins climb slowly, the ascent from the tomb. Spitta thinks the Sinfonia to be very early and independent piece, but the thematic connection with the Chorale and its appositeness as an introduction to stanza I negative this supposition."

Alec Robertson (from his book The Church Cantatas of J. S. Bach):
"In 14 bars Bach depicts Christ in the dark tomb, using the descending semitone of the fist 2 notes of the melody (violin I, G-F Sharp) and in the last 5 bars, the ascending phrase of the ‘Alleluia’. Luther appended it at the end of each verse."

John Butt (linear notes to Koch recording):
"The opening Sinfonia sets the emotional scene by presenting both a version of the opening line of the Choraleand by creating a solemn, almost mournful, affect. To Luther, the joy of Easter is acquired only through the tragedy of Christ’s passion. Immediately noticeable is the constant repetition of melodic fragments, figures, which act as a main substance of every movement to come."

Simon Crouch (from his A Listener's Guide to the Cantatas of J. S. Bach on the Web):
"Christ lag in Todes Banden is one of those relatively few cantatas where there seems to me to be a major advantage for one side in the small forces/original instruments versus larger forces/modern instruments dichotomy, especially in the opening two movements. The weight of modern instruments seem to lend an extra seriousness and gravity that this cantata requires... The cantata opens with an extended Sinfonia that immediately establishes a grave mood."

As use can see clearly, most of the writers borrow easily each one from his predecessors. I do not see anything wrong with it, because I do the same!

Review of the Recordings

Hereinafter are my impressions from the 12 (+1) recordings I have listened to. See: Cantata BWV 4 – Recordings. I kept my remarks short this time, but 2 of the recordings obtained some expansion, because they set the guidelines for the following recordings.

[3] Fritz Lehmann (1950; Sinfonia: 1:17)
General: Regarding this recording and that of Prohaska [5], I would like to quote from very old book: ‘The Guide to Long Playing Recordings – Vocal Music’ by Philip L. Miller (1955). “Preference among this recordings is conclusively decided by Lehmann’s soloists (Prohaska assigns the solo portions to appropriate sections of the Chorus). Fischer-Dieskau, especially, sings eloquently, though he does some transposing where the vocal line approaches the extremes of his range. On the other hand, Decca’s (now Archiv) reproduction is somewhat lacking in sonority; the Bach Guild (now Vanguard) recording is mechanically better.”
This is one of the most romantic renderings of a Bach cantata I have ever heard – large scale, slow, soft, round and lacking almost any Bach punctuation. I can forgive that, because this was one of the earliest Bach recordings in the second half of the 20th century (there were almost no recordings of cantatas in the first half). The only thing I can say in favour of Lehmann is that the playing and the singing are very clean. On the other hand, Ramin’s recordings from about the same time (ASAIK, he did not record BWV 4), prove that even at that time it could be done with much more Bach spirit. Hearing Fischer-Dieskau at this very early stage of his career is interesting, although I think that he learnt later to sing Bach much better. This is not a recording I would to return to very often. In my research of older Bach cantatas recordings, I found out that Fritz Lehmann recorded about dozen cantatas in the early 1950’s for Decca label. None of them is available today except this one. Despite the things I wrote above, I would like to hear more of them, just to feed my curiosity.
Sinfonia: Non-HIP - symphonic, slow, heavy, romantic.

[5] Felix Prohaska (1951; Sinfonia: 1:07)
Sinfonia: Non-HIP - confident, serious, measured, stimulating.

[8] Kurt Thomas (1959; Sinfonia: 0:57)
Sinfonia: Non-HIP - full, dry, pressed, uninteresting.

[12] Wilhelm Ehmann (1966; Sinfonia: 1:10)
Sinfonia: Non-HIP - chamber, precise, sensitive, breathing.

[15] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1971)
General: After the preceding large-scale renderings (and 4 more to come), Harnoncourt set a new revolutionary approach, very different from the performances of the previous generation. It took the market (myself included) a very long time to get used to this approach. We missed the magnificence and splendour, so identified in our ears with this cantata. It took us a long time to learn to accept and appreciate the chamber qualities, the gentleness, and the purity of Harnoncourt’s way with BWV 4. One does not have to wonder why did it take more than 20 years before another recording with similar approach appeared in the market.
Sinfonia: HIP – rediscovery of the familiar Sinfonia, unknown layers and textures are revealed, fascinating. This is a must and a visit card for those who do not appreciate Harnoncourt’s importance and musicality.

[14] Karl Richter (1968; 2nd recording; Sinfonia: 1:38)
Sinfonia: Non-HIP – back to old fashioned approach, but this one has kind of dignity, decency and calmness that put it above its non-HIP sisters.

[19] Helmuth Rilling (1980; Sinfonia: 0:49)
Sinfonia: Non-HIP - Soft, big, strange accentuation, restless. The remainder of the cantata in this rendering is much more satisfying.

[21] Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (1981; Sinfonia: 1:09)
Sinfonia: Non-HIP - I have nothing wrong to say about this middle of the road recording, which is very similar to that of Richter.

[24] Andrew Parrott (1993; Sinfonia: 1:24)
Sinfonia: HIP - dignified as Richter, delicate, transparent, and charming.

[27] Jeffrey Thomas & ABS (1994; Sinfonia: 1:14)
Sinfonia: HIP - sharp, pungent, energetic, extrovert.

[28] Ton Koopman (1994)
Plus Appendix, which include 2 renderings of the Sinfonia. The first (1:10) is from the 1724 score, which includes Violins, Viola, Violone and Organ. In the second (1:09) from 1725, a 16’ Bass viol was added
Sinfonia: HIP - combines the good qualities of both Parrott & Jeffrey Thomas, but with extra grace.

[29] Masaaki Suzuki (1995; Sinfonia: 1:10)
Sinfonia: HIP - similar to Koopman, but boldness and clearness replace the grace.

Recordings of individual Movements

[M-8] Helmuth Winschermann (1968; Sinfonia only; Sinfonia: 1:29)
I found this recording of the Sinfonia in the 5th and last CD of 13 Sinfonias, which is included in the wonderful 5-CD Bach Cantata Set of Winschermann on Philips. After finishing the review, I thought to look for the Sinfonia only in some collections of Bach Cantatas’ movements that I have, and surprisingly it was laying there – alone, without the consequent movements, but in a company of other Sinfonias. I do not like the idea of separating a certain movement from the whole cantata, especially with BWV 4, but I have tried to listen to it anyway. The performance is non-HIP, of course, but it is chamber in nature, full of charm, tender and anticipation. It was so disappointed to hear immediately after that the Sinfonia to BWV 31, instead of the expected Chorus of BWV 4. I am so sorry that Winschermann has not recorded this cantata in its entirety. Or, maybe he did and I do not know?

Conclusion

BWV 4 is probably the cantata that is most often performed of them all. Nobody has succeeded to fail in performing and recording this cantata. Other cantatas, like BWV 106 or BWV 131, tend to be fragile, and only the most sensitive hands, who has all the participants in a very good form and the right mood, may succeed in supplying a performance, which is satisfactory from every aspect. Other cantatas, like the apparently simple BWV 196, need very special treatment, which most of the performers fail to give. Cantata BWV 4 never fails to capture your attention and fascinate you with every hearing. It is like eating tasty bread. I can hear it every day. I am neither tired nor exhausted, after hearing so many recordings, so many times in such a few days. I am hungry to hear more, and there are some of them behind the corner (Gardiner [18], Junghänel [37], etc.) still waiting for me to be heard.

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or otherecordings.

Marie Jensen wrote (April 24, 2000):
Luther was a great revolutionary, bot no big poet. But revolutionary psalms were needed. So in 1524 he wrote "Christ lag in Todesbanden" and let Walther make a tune. Nearly 200 years later young Bach put his hand on it. So when a metrical foot is limping here and there, it is not his fault. When I compare with the version of the psalm in the Danish psalm book, Grundtvigs translation into Danish technically works much better. A bit out of the tangent, but back to the subject. This choral cantata is more Walther than Bach. Bach makes his arabesques around the old tune and arranges it symmetrically: Chorus, duet, solo, Chorus, solo, duet, Chorus. Sorry to say, but this cantata is not among my favourites. It sounds great. The music is a masterpiece in every way. But for me it is not Bach enough, possessing enough of the universal Bach sound taking me high. But perhaps the reason is that this is a very early work and I always have loved the later ones more. Easter Sunday I prefer to listen to BWV 249, the Easter Oratorio, which is fantastic. It is nearly never played to the many Easter Bach concerts.

It was however a wonderful surprise to me to listen to Suzuki’s version [29] of versus 6. So elegant tiptoe dancing and joyful. What Aryeh wrote about the Sinfonias I agree on Suzuki [29], Rilling [19] partially, yes.

According New Testament Jesus died, but rose from the grave the third day. The Christian Easter also celebrates freedom from slavery, the slavery of sin and death. Christ is the innocent Lamb, crucified for our sins, punished in stead of us, so we could be set free having faith in Him. Christ lag in Todesbanden for 3 days but not more, as the text says.

Jane Newble wrote (April 24, 2000):
I totally agree, and so do Bach, obviously. There is actually quite a lot in this cantata which connects with Passover, for example in Versus V: "Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm" - showing Christ as the Passover lamb, and "Das Blut zeichnet unsere Tür...” is pointing back to the blood on the doors for protection, just before the Exodus from Egypt. Also in Versus VII: "Der alte Sauerteig " - the getting rid of all the old leaven, etc. BWV 4 celebrates freedom from sin and death through Christ's sacrifice, ending every verse with: "Hallelujah" - Hebrew for "Praise God".

Harry Steinman wrote (April 24, 2000):
This was about the first cantata I listened to and still one of my favourites. I have three versions, the Koopman [28] and Suzuki (see Aryeh's message above for disc references) [29] and the Cantus Cölln version (Harmonia Mundi, 901694; Konrad Junghänel, conductor, Johanna Koslowsky, soprano; Elisabeth Popien, Alto; Gerd Türk and Wilfried Jochens, Tenors; Stephan Schreckenberger, Bass) [37].

I enjoy the Koopman and Suzuki recordings but there is a balance between instrument and voice, and among the voices in the Junghänel/Cantus Cölln recording that I find especially present and inviting. Maybe it's that this recording uses, as I understand, one-part-per-voice (OPPV) and a small ensemble. In any event, I feel like I can better hear the voices balanced against their accompaniment...and hear the various voices more distinctly in the 1st, 4th and 7th versus. I find that the instrumentation tends to disappear more than I'd like with the Suzuki recording. And while the instrumentation is mostly pretty clear to me in Koopman's recording, I enjoy the Junghänel better.

I treasure this entire cantata but am often brought near to tears by the duet, "Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt" (verse 2) and the chorus, "Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg" (verse 4). Suzuki does a very nice little thing, at the end of the duet, by bringing in a horn to accompany the "Halleluja" - gives it an even more ethereal sound. And speaking of ethereal, that's how the singing of Koslowsky and Popien strike me.

I think the reason I like this recording so much is that I think it's easier for me to hear everything with the OPPV and smaller ensemble, and, as I said, it sounds more 'balanced'

John Downes wrote (April 24, 2000):
I realize this might make me seem very ignorant, but I thought that Easter took its date from the same calculation that is involved in calculating the Passover date. Shouldn't they always be the same time of year?

[14] BTW, the Richter recording of BWV 4 was broadcast on the BBC yesterday (Easter) morning. Now I too had liked that recording a lot when I first heard it in the 1970's. But yesterday I thought it sounded terrible. I make no specific point about that performance, it's just the whole climate in which such music is performed nowadays renders it impossible for me to get a lot of enjoyment out of non-HIP performance practices (Which is my loss of course, Richter was a great musician). And like you I took a lot of time getting used to the new sounds of the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt brown boxes. But we wouldn't be without them now, would we?

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 26, 2000):
[To John Downes] The dates of Jewish Calendar and the Christian Calendar are met exactly every 19 years. There are small adjustments in the Jewish Calendar every year, but the same dates occur exactly every 19 years. Now, the Jewish holidays (Like Passover) are celebrated, of course, according to the Jewish Calendar. I believe that the Christian holidays (like Easter) are celebrated according to the Christian Calendar. That is why they are not supposed to be at the same time every year. About the Jewish holidays I am sure. About the Christian holidays not so. I would like to know better.

[14] I enjoy HIP and non-HIP on the same level. From my many years of listening to Jazz, I have learnt, that not the means or even the technique are important, but the true intention, understanding, feeling and sincerity. I find a lot of that with Karl Richter, as well was with others.

John Downes wrote (April 27, 2000):
[To Aryeh Oron] I once had it explained to me how to calculate where Easter falls, and it is to do with counting the number of full moons after some or other date. It really was complicated, but probably dates from the need to fix a time accurately by reference to easily observed external events (like full moons) at a time and place when there were no reliable calendars. So I assume it derives from a nomadic tradition, probably Jewish.

Roy Reed wrote (April 28, 2000):
This is indeed the most popular of the cantatas, if by that one means the most often performed. There are two reasons for this: the work is manageable with modest resources and most importantly the piece still has a useful liturgical relevance...that is, if the Luther theology of atonement, sin and salvation, have a resonance in the understandings of a congregation. When I have done this work I always included the people in the singing of the last verse. In the score it is a tone higher than in the hymnal, but the harmonization is the same. That is, in some hymnals. The Lutherans have more or less shot themselves in the foot here by returning the hymn to the original rhythm. That brings a real vitality to the hymn, but it just ain't the Bach harmony. The utility of the text to a preacher is the precise way it bundles Luther's theology of the warfare between the demonic and the divine. For him it is real and fierce, and the individual believer becomes part of the struggle which can be won with Christ at your side, just as in some ontological sense the whole struggle has been won in Christ's cross and resurrection. If the Easter liturgy and preaching support the concept, this cantata can come to life. Also it has the advantage of bringing in the Hebrew scriptures and the theology of redemption, release from slavery et. al. The best Easter hymnody does this, e.g. John of Damascus wonderful hymn, "Come, ye faithful, raise the strain..." Luther was an astute observer of humanature. He deals with this warfare of good and evil in really all of his writing, nowhere more observantly than in his response to Erasmus titled De Servo Arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will) "Man's will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills... If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it." Hyperbole? Yes, but one has to wait for Freud for an insight like that.

I first heard this cantata when I was a boy, probably in 1948 In the First Methodist Church of San Diego, California. Boy, was I hooked on Bach. The entire choir sang all the parts (Hey, you weren't around Mr. Parrott!). It was conducted by a fellow, their regular choir director, named Rosenberg. What a wonderful world it is.

Over the years I have lost count of how many times I have done this work... almost always with the entire choir...usually about 20… singing all the parts. I have done it as Koopman does, concert singers and ripieno singers. The choir hates you. Maybe the biggest problem is finding a really good bass... big range, E to E, and usually small budget. If all the men sing, basses and tenors, then you are assured of getting all the notes in, not all the men on all the notes...but...all the notes. One can at least take some comfort in the humour of it all.

I have two "modern" readings of BWV 4: Koopman [28] and Parrott [24]. Wonderful. Parrott gets the tempos right. For whatever reason... and this is absurd... there always seems to me to be just a right tempo for any Bach piece. Koopman seems to me to push the tempo in the opening chorus. And what is with the anaemic fiddle in No.3? What terrific bass singers, Mertens and Kooy are. Great Bach interpreters. I think Mertens actually does go to sleep at the end of a cadence in the "Schlummert ein..." (BWV 82) of the Kuijken CD (Accent 9395 D).

Ryan Michero wrote (April 30, 2000):
[To Roy Reed] Thanks for your enlightening comments, Roy. It's great to have you on the list!

[24] Actually, Kooy doesn't sing on the Parrott version you mention, though he does sing in the Easter Oratorio on the same disc. You are actually listening to British super-bass David Thomas, who can nail those low notes probably better than anyone else on disc can. You mention this part needing a very wide vocal range--Thomas has got it in spades.

[29] Kooy does, however, sing in BWV 4 on Suzuki's recording (which everyone should get because it is on an incredibly cheap sampler disc from BIS). As you might expect, he is wonderful here.

(Mertens) Ha-ha! I guess he was taking the text a little too literally...

Ryan Michero wrote (April 30, 2000):
Well, in the course of the last week I discovered that it's hard to screw up a performance of BWV 4--I loved every recording I heard! My impressions of each one are below:

[15] (Harnoncourt) Aryeh gave a nice account of how important this recording was in the history of cantatas on record. After generations of old-fashioned, neo-romantic Bach interpretations, Harnoncourt's BWV 4 must have come as quite a shock. Where was the weight and monumentality? What's with these delicate instrumental sonorities? And BOYS singing the soprano parts? The first box of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series forced everyone to look at the Bach cantatas anew and asked important questions about how these works should sound. Historically speaking, this recording is a true landmark.

But can it still compare with more recent competition? Indeed, it holds its own with the best of them and is still highly recommendable. The Vienna Concentus Musicus, supplemented by a cornett and trombones, sounds lovely, and all four vocal soloists are outstanding. Harnoncourt's austere and intense approach does full justice to the emotional content of the work. A classic.

[24] (Parrott) In spite of the great merits of other versions, Parrott's recording is my personal favorite. It is essentially OVPP, though Parrott uses a couple of ripieno sopranos to support the chorale melody in the first chorus. The clarity of the voices is unsurpassed, and yet even with such small forces there is no lack of warmth or grandeur. The climactic chords of the choruses send chills down my spine. As an ensemble and by themselves, all of the soloists are wonderful, including David Thomas, whose wide range is well suited for his Versus (listen to those low notes!). Special mention, though, must go to Emily van Evera, who is just heavenly in this performance, her voice a perfect mixture of diamond-like clarity, freshness, tonal accuracy, and expressive warmth. I swoon at nearly every note she sings here.

[28] Koopman's performance is a great traditional HIP version (i.e., not OVPP). Koopman paces everything nicely, and though he pushes the opening chorus on a bit I still find it exciting. The combination of Barbara Schlick's trembling voice and Kai Wessel's clarity is quite affecting in their duet, and Mertens is wonderfully musical and expressive in his Versus (though he lacks power in the lowest notes). Koopman gets bonus points for including alternate versions of quite a few of the movements.

[29] (Suzuki) Here is my favorite of the traditional HIP versions. The BCJ orchestra tops all of their competitors, and the BCJ choir sings wonderfully--no lack of expression or warmth here. The Japanese soloists are not well known (even in the context of Suzuki's recordings), but it should be said that they are all stylish and tonally beautiful singers. Anyway, I think a degree of anonymity works for this cantata, considering the somewhat distanced tone of the text. Kooy compares with the best in his Versus, combining the musicality of Mertens with the power of David Thomas. One of my favorite things about this one is the gorgeous brass accompaniment, more prominent than in any other version. Suzuki's expert pacing, the expressive singing of the choir, and the strong brass - combine to make the choruses earth-shatteringly powerful. Very highly recommended--and available on a very inexpensive BCJ sampler disc/catalog from BIS.

[37] (Junghänel) This new recording compares very favourably with the rest, but I can't give it an unqualified recommendation. Yes, the soloists are all superb, especially the remarkable Johanna Koslowsky and Elisabeth Popien in the duet Versus (alone worth the price of the disc). The OVPP ensemble sounds wonderful, and all of the voices are beautifully clear. However, the orchestra isn't as impressive as its most direct chamber-sized competitor, Parrott's Taverner Players. Also, Junghänel dubiously substitutes violas da gamba for regular violas in the orchestra: Is there any justification for this or does he just like it that way? And, since Junghänel purports to perform the earliest version of the cantata, he does not include the final chorale harmonization of the Leipzig version, instead assuming that Bach rearranged the music of the opening chorus to fit the words of the final Versus. Bach may well have done this, but he did eventually think better of it. For me the return to the opening music is strangely unsatisfying.

You can't go too wrong with any of these recordings, but Parrott and Suzuki are my personal picks. And you have no excuse to avoid getting them because both are now available at bargain prices. What are you waiting for?

 

Continue on Part 3

Cantata BWV 4: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

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