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Cantata BWV 41
Jesu, nun sei gepreiset
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Jill Gunsell wrote (January 1, 2001):
[6] Am listening to Cantata BWV 41 (Coin: Schlick, Scholl, Pregardien, Schwartz) on the 1996 Auvidus recording. Written for New Year's Day, which prompts me to send greetings to all on the list. Happy New Year!

The notes in the CD booklet (by Gilles Cantagrel, translated by Mary Pardoe) are partcularly helpful.

The text gives thanks for a year which ended peacefully (if only) and asks for God's blessing on in the year beginning. Amen to that.

Teri Noel Towe wrote (January 1, 2001):
[To Jill.Gunsell] You have put it very well. BWV 41 is a wonderful cantata.

For my soul, however, the most satisfying recording remains the remarkable performance by the Bach Aria Group, with Robert Shaw conducting the choruses and concerted numbers, that appeared on black disc on RCA Victor in 1954 - LM 6023 [2]. It is definitely not HIP, but the tempos, particularly in the aria that has the violoncello piccolo obligatto, are especially apt.

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade, Happy New Century, and Happy New Millennium!

Michael Meacock wrote (December 11, 2002):
[To Aryeh Oron] [snip]
I am currently researching the Second Silesian War. It affected Bach in that Leipzig was temporarily besieged in late autumn 1745, with peace signed on New Year's Day 1746. There are several cantatas which make reference to the "threatening enemies". BWV 41 is especially interesting: I believe it could be New Year 1746. The second aria, Lass uns o hoechster Gott, das Jahr vollbringen, / Damit das Ende so wie dessen Anfang sei.... sounds like a prayer for return to peace. Also bass recit 5: Doch weil der Feind bei Tag und Nacht / Zu unserm Schaden wacht / Und unsre Ruhe will verstoeren.... must also refer to some kind of war scenario.

Once you start digging the research never ends, one thing leads to another! Saxony paid hard for its loss of this war, specifically 1.5 million Thaler. The village of Nassau which had ordered a Silbermann organ was impoverished by the war and could only just scrape the money togather in 1746. I have a book published 1897 with some great line drawings of Leipzig city during the 1700s, one of Leipzig's surrender in Dec 1745 after which Prussian troops briefly occupied the Pleissenburg.

 

Discussions in the Week of March 9, 2003

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 12, 2003):
BWV 41 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (March 9, 2003) is the Chorale Cantata for New Year's Day ‘Jesu, nun sei gepreiset’ (Jesus, now be praised). This cantata takes stanzas 1 and 3 of the hymn by Johannes Herman, beginning with the same title as the cantata. The librettist for the intervening movements is unknown. Stanza 2 of the hymn is freely paraphrased for these arias and recitatives, which reflect the feeling of the Saxon’s nation thanksgiving over the ending of the War of the Polish Succession, just concluded. Neither the Gospel, Luke 2: 21, not the Epistle, Galatians 3: 23-29, has any bearing on the libretto, which is, in all its movements, simply a song of grateful praise and a prayer for God’s continuous blessing in the New Year.

Recordings

The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 41 - Recordings

In the eight complete recordings of Cantata BWV 41, we can find four regular participants – Rilling (1973) [3], Harnoncourt (1975) [4], Koopman (1999) [8] and Leusink (2000) [10] – as well as four less common – Ramin (1950) [1], Robert Shaw & Bach Aria Group (1953-1954, LP, I do not know if this recording has ever been issued in CD form), Leonhardt in one of his few post cantata cycle recordings (1995) [5], and Christoph Coin from his mini-cycle of cantatas with violoncello piccolo (1995) [6].

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
Original German text, 3 English translations (Z. Philip Ambrose, Francis Browne and Pamela Dellal), 2 French translations (Walter F. Bischof, and Jean-Pierre Grivois), an Hebrew translation (Aryeh Oron), and a Spanish translation (unknown translator, contributed by Lorenzo Conejo).
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide), Brian Robins (AMG), and Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music), and in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes (CantatasDeBach).

Last week we had a fine cantata as BWV 22, but only Thomas Braatz and me contributed. I hope to see this week more members participating in the discussion. There are enough interesting recordings to listen to.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 12, 2003):
Aryeh stated in his introduction to BWV 41 (Jesu, nun sei gepreiset):
>>Stanza 2 of the hymn is freely paraphrased for these arias and recitatives, which reflect the feeling of the Saxon's nation thanksgiving over the ending of the War of the Polish Succession, just concluded.<<
A quick search on the internet gave the following dates for the 'War of the Polish Succession' : 1735-1737. Just how does this tally with the text of Bach's cantata, a cantata first performed on January 1, 1725?

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 12, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] I guess you are right regarding this specific war. I should have checked carefully the details. Are you (or any other member of the BCML) aware of another war (maybe a local one), which was reflected in the text of this cantata?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 13, 2003):
BWV 41 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 41 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 13, 2003):
BWV 41 - Commentaries [in the approximate order of publication]: [Voigt, Schweitzer, Dürr, Daniel Melamed, Eric Chafe, Gilles Cantagrel (from the booklet accompanying the Coin recordings), Alberto Basso]

See: Cantata BWV 41 - Commentary

Philippe Bareille wrote (March 15, 2003):
This richly scored cantata is a glorious work expressing praise, gratitude and joy. It comprises a majestic opening chorus and 2 more soothing arias (soprano and tenor) in addition to two recitatives.

I have listened to Leonhardt [5], Harnoncourt [4] and Coin [6].

[6] Coin gives a fine performance but the opening chorus is marred by a muffled sound that diminishes the impact of the message. Voices seem far away with no clarity. Barbara Schlick is a big disappointment. Her voice is past its prime. She used to be more convincing and she is no match for the 2 boy sopranos of the other two recordings. The tenor aria is the most satisfying part of this recording. Prégardien is excellent and so is the violoncello piccolo of Christophe Coin.

[4] Harnoncourt is unsurpassed when its comes to enlivening an imposing chorus. His energy, his pungent instrumental attacks and his sense of urgency are very effective in putting the message across. Rhetoric has always been paramount in his renditions (even if he may have gone too far mark at times). Harnoncourt never leaves anyone indifferent, eliciting very opposite reactions (cf how he is regularly slaughtered in this group!). The choir is not on a par with the Tolzer but their enthusiasm is infectious. The blaring trumpets are often out of tune and are under tremendous pressure. The boy soprano (unnamed!) is first rate. Equis outstanding even better than Pregardien. All in all an enjoyable performance.

[5] Leonhardt is blessed with a commendably inspired choir. They capture marvellously the essence of the music. It is a small choir with more finesse than its counterpart in Vienna. Leonhardt as often brings a mystical fervour but not at the expense of rhythm and jubilance. The trumpets here are superb. Matthias Ritter is outstanding in the beguiling soprano aria. I saw him at St John's Smith Square in London, in the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) conducted by Robert King in 1996. I was standing at the back of the church and I had no difficulty hearing his singing. He also recorded the B minor Mass with King. Schäfer is a good tenor but I think he falls a bit short of Equiluz.

In summary: Leonhardt [5]: warmly recommended, but Equiluz with Harnoncourt [4] cannot be missed.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (March 17, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen, regarding Philippe Braeille’s review]
I enjoyed your comments. I think the Teldec recording of BWV 41 [4] with the soloist of the Wiener Sängerknaben is simply exquisite. The Harnoncourt approach is unsurpassed for virility and enthusiasm. I compared this to the Rilling recording [3] which seemed pallid and shy regarding timpani and trumpets! Rilling's soprano- Helen Donath delivered her best opera performance of Bach's transcendent aria. However, I turn back to the sublime: the unnamed boy soprano is, I believe, Peter Jelosits. The same boy sings the soprano solos on Teldec's BWV 42, which is another exquisite performance. That BWV 42 soprano tenor duet is an ethereal gem. Peter Jelosits is named soprano soloist for BWV 43-44, recorded virtually at the same time. All other singers are the same for BWVs 41-44. My only complaint about the Teldec recording of BWV 41 is that Paul Esswood enters in a cold as marble counter-tenor voice, right after we hear boy soprano Peter Jelosits' clear, warm and delicate-as-a-flower-petal voice. The boy soprano's delicate chest register, and flawless transition to head tone are matched again in the soprano aria in BWV 44 "Es ist und bleibt der Christen Trost" on the Teldec recording. Thus, I think it is Jelosits.

Johan van Veen wrote (March 17, 2003):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Just to avoid any misunderstanding: it wasn't my comment. I just forwarded a message from the other BachCantata-group. Of the people posting on that group there aren't that many who prefer boys and I think the quality of the comment was such that it was worth forwarding to our group for those who are not a member of the other group.

BTW, I have just read an article about the problems to find trebles in Bach's own time. I hope to find the time to give a synopsis of the article which appeared in a German magazine. It contains some interesting material supporting your claim that it is a myth that trebles in those days lost their voice at a considerable later time than today.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 16, 2003):
BWV 41 - The Recordings:

The Timings for Each Mvt. from Slowest to Fastest:

Mvt. 1:
Ramin (9:41); Harnoncourt (8:54); Rilling (8:51); Coin (8:21); Koopman (7:46); Leusink (7:42)

Mvt. 2:
Ramin (8:33); Rilling (7:38); Harnoncourt (7:00); Leusink (5:39); Coin (5:35); Koopman (5:27)

Mvt. 3:
Ramin (1:56); Rilling (1:21); Leusink (1:12); Koopman (1:03); Coin (1:02); Harnoncourt (0:59)

Mvt. 4:
Coin (8:44); Koopman (8:17); Ramin (8:10); Rilling (8:01); Harnoncourt (7:46); Leusink (7:26)

Mvt. 5:
Ramin (1:20); Leusink (1:05); Coin (1:02); Rilling (1:00); Koopman (0:52); Harnoncourt (0:48)

Mvt. 6:
Ramin (3:00); Harnoncourt (2:13); Rilling (2:10); Coin (2:04); Leusink (1:55); Koopman (1:50)

Comments:
In the major mvt. of this cantata, Mvt. 1, the tempi line up chronologically according to the date of issue of the recordings: the slowest are the oldest and the fastest are the most recent. In mvts. 2 & 3 the break between non-HIP and HIP recordings is maintained as well.

Mvt. 4 seems a complete turnaround which can be explained by the fact the original violoncello piccolo obviously demands a slower tempo very likely for technical reasons (the players of the original instrument have difficulty playing this treacherous part and the instruments simply do not allow for a faster tempo without beginning to sound silly.)

Discussion of Individual Mvts.:

Mvt. 1:

[1] The Ramin recording is quite remarkable if you can get past the rather poor audio quality of this live performance (under difficult conditions in East Germany soon after WWII from the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig) which was transmitted over radio from which it was then recorded from the speaker of a radio on an early type of equipment (was it a wire? or tape? recorder?) Listening beyond the strange sounding violins and oboes which suffer from distortion, you will probably detect the following: There are a few ‘flubs’ by the trumpets, and the strings and oboes are not always together (this is a live performance, after all, with minimum rehearsal time with the orchestra,) but all this is forgivable once you hear the truly energetic singing of the Thomanerchor. They are literally singing as if their lives depended on it. The boy sopranos hold forth clearly with the cantus firmus under which the other boys and young men energetically convey with great clarity and good balance the florid 16th-note passages. What enthusiasm and what joy is expressed here! With what meticulous care does Ramin treat the score and make it come alive! The fugal entrances in the ‘presto’ section are enunciated with absolute clarity. It almost sounds like a march as they sing about committing themselves entirely to Jesus. The text and music are completely comprehensible, and this despite the poor audio technology that was used.

[3] Rilling, at almost a minute faster (10 seconds shy of a minute), has a very exciting trumpet ensemble (most likely valve trumpets or some partially modified instruments to accommodate the fiercely difficult trumpet parts, particularly the 1st trumpet - here played by Hermann Sauter, Eugen Mayer, and Heiner Schatz.) The trained voices with vibratos are kept in balance with each other, but the cantus firmus sung by the female sopranos is the weakest part in the entire ensemble because they insist on using their vibratos and thereby detract from the necessary solidity of the chorale melody. The middle ‘adagio’ section is quite beautifully treated here because the legato phrasing that Bach indicated in the score is adhered to. It would have been almost perfect if the oboes could have played their parts with less vibrato, but these are modern instruments after all. Rilling takes a very different approach to the ‘presto’: Instead of the almost staccato, march-like interpretation by Ramin, Rilling has the choir sing the fugal entries in a completely legato fashion. The expression as sung by these fully-trained voices becomes one of a pleading entreaty very genuinely felt by the members of the choir. This treatment of the fugue also works well even though it is quite different and rather unexpected.

[4] Harnoncourt’s recording features the extremely loud timpani and booming basses. Unfortunately his brass players, who are probably just learning to play natural trumpets (Josef Spindler, Richard Rudolf, Herman Schober, and Don Smithers [only 3 of these were playing in this cantata,]) are having serious problems in maintaining control of their instruments (blaring, out-of-tune and occatoo loud or too soft notes.) The effect of this is rather amateurish, but the listener should be reminded that this is a pioneering effort with many, many rough edges that have to be overlooked (overheard.) The squeaky, unsteady sound of the period instruments [violins and shaky oboes – Jürg Schaeftlein, et al (they do not have to sound this way) is another distinguishing characteristic of this pioneering HIP ensemble One excellent aspect here is the clarity and strength of the cantus firmus sung by the Wiener Sängerknaben. The remaining voices, including members of the Chorus Viennensis, eventually degenerate into a muffled quality of sound. They lack the strength and stamina of other choirs. The ‘presto’ fugato section, although treated in staccato fashion a la Ramin, is sung entirely sotto voce (with the exception of the cf, of course) thus depriving this section entirely of its real intended substance. The choir and the orchestra then never fully recover the energy of the opening section as they begin to sound more weary as they approach the end of the mvt. This type of recording is interesting for its historical importance but it fails to fulfill the true greatness that is inherent in this magnificent music by Bach.

[6] Coin’s orchestral ensemble playing resembles Harnoncourt’s in many ways: a loud booming bass with loud timpani, insecure intonation and lack of control in the trumpet playing (Jean-François Madeuf, Gille Rapin, Joël Lahens, Jérome Princé – only 3 of these), and the extremely anemic sound of the violins. There is occasional lack of precision generally in the instrumental ensemble. There is no real excitement generated here. The Accentus Chamber Choir lacks the strong soprano line which the Wiener Sängerknaben offered. Coin takes the ‘presto’ fugato even lighter and faster (or is it perhaps lighter just because it is faster than the above recordings?) thereby emasculating this music and text of its inherent power. There are also attempts at ‘gesturing’ which are entirely out of place here and fail their mark. In the choir there are insecure entrances in the more difficult running and leaping 16th-note passages. The precision and energy needed to sing the German text properly is also lacking here. In this rendition many things fail to come together properly leaving the listener with the impression that the feeling of joy and celebration have eluded the conductor and the performers.

[8] Koopman, in a style similar to the previous HIP renditions relies heavily upon the booming timpani and basses to supply a celebratory air to this piece. For variation, Koopman includes more attempts at dynamic changes (diminuendi and crescendo) to ‘spice up’ the progression through all the repeated sections. (This is where Harnoncourt and Coin probably had their difficulties in attempting to maintain the interest of the listener.) The instrumental playing is generally on a higher plateau than in Harnoncourt’s and Coin’s versions with only the slightest indiscretions by Stephen Keavy, Jonathan Impett and James Ghigi, but Koopman ‘does himself in’ by using one of the fastest tempi in the group of recordings listed above. This causes even the trumpets to play ‘sotto voce’ if there even is such a thing. By reducing volume and playing ‘piano’ on the running 16th-note patterns, they set the pattern for the typical ‘lite’-Bach treatment that Koopman is famous for. The ‘presto’ fugato receives an exaggeratedly ‘lite’ treatment with the light tapping of notes with a few funny accents here and there. I did like Koopman’s version of the ‘adagio’ (only 17 ms.) the best of all, but Koopman’s interpretation fails to sustain the overall celebratory aspect from the beginning to the end. The choir also lacks generally the ability to enunciate with energy and clearly the text which they are singing. At this tempo some of the details in the coloratura passages in the altos, tenors and basses are blurred despite the effort made to maintain a good balance between all the voices.

[10] Leusink continues the HIP love for loud booming basses, but the trumpets (Susan Williams, Frank Anepool, Henrik Jan Houtsma) still are having similar problems that the other HIP groups have had. The oboes play cleanly but without much of a distinctive oboe sound. The choir sounds energetic enough, but there are always those voices who sing improperly by either straining or yodeling. This is extremely distracting. Only where they sing soft and low (the ‘adagio’ section) does the choir sound natural and beautiful. The following ‘presto’ fugato section, in contrast to the other HIP recordings, shows a very energetic approach to this section, but it fails necessarily because of the strident quality of some of the voices (“mißgebildete, deformierte Stimmen” = “abnormal voices that sing unnaturally”) and the lack of distinctness in the others. This is a generally out-of-balance choir which at times shouts and at other times simply can not keep up with the music at this extremely fast tempo.

Mvt. 2

[1] Ramin’s boy soprano soloist singing this aria has a fairly obvious vibrato and has also been taught to swoop up to high notes in the style of the opera singers of that period (1950.) He sings this at the level of the best boy sopranos in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series. If only his vibrato were not so apparent! The tempo (the slowest in this group) makes this aria sound longer than it really is. But as a fervent prayer which the text implies, it probably has validity to do it in this fashion.

[3] Rilling’s Donath gives this aria a very operetta-like treatment since she is unable to ‘turn off’ or control her extremely fast, trembling vibrato. She seems to be fighting the high notes which sound strained and forced (sometimes it even sounds as if she is screaming the high notes.) This then sounds as if the text has some angry aspect about it, which is not at all true. The oboes have a good sound throughout this piece, only the voice is difficult to listen to in the high range of which there is quite a bit in this aria.

[4] Harnoncourt’s unnamed boy soprano gives the best performance of this aria. There is absolute clarity in the voice with good intonation and secure attacks. There is nothing here to detract from the purity of soul necessary for a fervent prayer that this soprano saying for the entire congregation. The only imperfection is the slightly problematical oboe playing of the 1st oboe (probably Schaeftlein.)

[6] Coin’s version is one of the fastest ones and Schlick has difficulty ‘squeezing’ out some of the high notes at this tempo. Many of the sotto voce notes that she sings are proof that she belongs to the demi-voice category of singers. These are singers who generally lightly tap the notes. Schlick also creates some unpleasant vocal sounds that demonstrate that she is not fully in control of her ‘vocal instrument.’ It is unfortunate that singers of this type have proliferated in many HIP renditions and that some listeners have begun to accept this type of ‘partial’ singing as normal. Often the conductors accommodate such singers by choosing faster tempi which will allow for the light tapping of notes without having to sing with a full voice that will carry the message of the text to everyone sitting in a large church.

[8] Koopman’s Rubens has to contend with the fastest ever performance of this aria. At least she is a slight improvement over Schlick’s performance. Now, however, the interpretation is lacking because this is no longer a fervent prayer and jumping around quickly from note to note cuts into the dignity and seriousness that that the text should convey. This is not a peasant dance! She does attack the high notes more cleanly than Schlick does.

[10] Leusink’s Holton sings this aria very instrumentally in her inistyle, a style that seems to prohibit any expression and is simply satisfied with hitting all the notes accurately. Beyond this there is little or nothing of the text being conveyed to the listener. This is in many ways a demi-demi voice that is always forced into sotto voce singing in the lower range of the voice. This voice lacks the ability to convey emotions to the listeners.

Mvt. 3:

[1] Ramin’s boy alto has a very slow wide-ranging vibrato that is rather sickening to listen to, particularly at this extremely slow tempo. The text has slight changes and the highest note in the score (on “Tage”) has been lowered (perhaps to make it easier for the singer?) The accompaniment in the bc is with harpsichord and violoncello and the long notes are played as written. There is very little expression here, only a general impression of ‘gravitas.’

[3] Rilling’s Höffgen puts a lot of operatic expression with an operatic vibrato into this recitative, but it is too much of a good thing since she no longer is fully in control of her voice. The accompaniment in the bc is of the same type as Ramin’s.

[4] Harnoncourt’s Esswood’s extremely fast vibrato and his insistence upon singing most of the notes sotto voce are qualities that detract substantially from making this a good rendition of the recitative. When Esswood does sing louder in the higher range in the beginning, the voice sounds rather unpleasant and the fact that he sings most of the recitative at reduced volume (supposedly hoping that listeners might consider this an aspect of expression) is a clear indication of demi-voice characteristics. Here the watershed between the ‘pre-’ and ‘post-‘ HIP advocates of the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory of shortened accompaniment of secco recitatives in Bach’s sacred music occurs. Now the long notes that Bach wrote in the score are prematurely terminated/cut off and do not sound for their full duration. Instead all the instruments in the bc obey a doctrine based upon an esoteric tradition that is poorly documented. This leaves the singer without support from any instruments except when there are note and chord changes. From this time forward, based on these ‘innovative’ practices established by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt (Leonhardt may have introduced this even earlier than the 1970’s), most, if not all, HIP practitioners follow this practice which impacts considerably upon the manner in which Bach’s secco recitatives are heard in recordings and live performances today.

[6] Coin’s Scholl’s voice is a vast improvement over Esswood’s counter tenor voice. Scholl also maintains a full voice projection with the exception of two instances (“und kennest unser Leiden” and the very last word, “angetrieben”) where his voice falls below an acceptable volume level. Some may interpret this as an expressive device, but here Scholl has gone too far and has forgotten that he must project his voice (with the all important message of words) to a large audience in a large church. What he does here, an over exaggeration of the dynamics which only a microphone can pick up, will not work in a larger hall or church. An organ and a violoncello provide the bc shortened accompaniment as explained above.

[8] Koopman’s Markert remains primarily at demi-voice level throughout without much in the way of any expression. Although not as objectionable as Esswood’s voice, the sameness in her voice makes this rendition somewhat boring. Again an organ and violoncello are used in the bc that sounds very much like both of the preceding HIP secco recitative accompaniments.

[10] Leusink’s Buwalda has a demi-voice that is unable to sing louder without sounding forced and unpleasant as he does as the very beginning of the recitative. After that he cuts back to his normally thin, reedy voice that simply taps at the notes very slightly. There is not much conviction expressed by his voice when he resorts to this sotto-voce type of singing. The bc is treated the same way as all the other HIP recordings above.

Mvt. 4:

[1] Ramin’s violoncello (piccolo?) player gives this aria a very tragic interpretation (slight intonational problems here) and the operatic Lutze thinks this is an operatic aria. At this very slow tempo this aria becomes almost endless and the music almost dies in its tracks.

[3] Rilling’s violoncello piccolo player is Jürgen Wolf. The music now flows much better than in Ramin’s version. Kraus’ cantabile singing unifies the long phrases with their many leaps into a unified uninterrupted whole. This full-voice has the ability to convey the message of the text to a large congregation.

[4] Harnoncourt’s performance on the violoncello piccolo with Equiluz doing his magic with the interpretation of the text makes this the best version of this aria in the group of recordings that I listened to.

[6] Coin’s performance on the violoncello piccolo is also very excellent. Prégardien’s performance is almost on the same level as Equiluz. His voice and his expressive abilities combine to make this another recording to go out of your way to hear.

[8] Koopman’s performance with Jonathan Manson on the violoncello piccolo (another excellent performance.) Prégardien’s performance here seems even ‘smoother’ than his earlier one with Coin.

[10] Schoch’s thin, reedy voice has moments of lifelessness which interrupt the continuity of this performance. This demi-voice is basically expressionless. Simply singing the notes is not sufficient for a moving performance to which listeners will wish to return. Frank Wakelkamp’s performance on the violoncello piccolo is at least worth hearing.

Mvt. 5:

[1] Ramin’s Oettel has a full bass voice which he uses very effectively throughout. There is power in every word that he sings and this carries over to the listener who will indeed by moved by this type of singing. This voice is a great contrast to the smaller voices offered in the HIP recordings that I have listened to. The bc accompaniment is like Ramin’s Mvt. 3.

[3] Rilling’s Nimsgern also gives an excellent, expressive rendition of this mvt. There is a sense of joyful affirmation in his voice, in contrast to Oettel’s strongly persuasive yet rather serious attitude toward the music. The bc accompaniment is a continuation of the same type as in Mvt. 3.

[4] Harnoncourt’s van der Meer is no match for the preceding two voices and as a demi-voice his enthusiastic beginning soon begins to falter and tire out toward the end where he relapses and reverts to his normally restricted voice projection. There simply is not the power and breadth to put on a truly convincing performance. The bc HIP accompaniment is the same as Harnoncourt’s Mvt. 3 treatment.

[6] Coin’s Schwarz has a demi-voice much like van der Meer’s but with a little less vibrato. This allows him to sing a few passages in a more lyrical style than van der Meer; the end result, however, is about the same: voices such as these are less capable of moving an audience and conveying the text convincingly to the audience/congregation. The bc HIP accompaniment is not different than that in Mvt. 3 by Coin.

[8] Koopman’s Mertens has more expressive flexibility in his voice although he, also, lacks a true, full voice. He seems to be able to use his voice more intelligently that the other demi-voices listed above. The bc HIP accompaniment is a continuation othe same type used in Mvt. 3 by Koopman.

[10] Leusink’s Ramselaar exhibits two characteristics that detract considerably from his otherwise clean rendering of the notes on the page: too often his voice sounds disingenuous as he tries much too hard to put expression into the words by ‘play-acting’ them; also, his demi-voice at a sotto voce level almost begins to whisper rather than sing the words convincingly. A cantata text of this sort simply does not call for this type of treatment where the words are strong and earnest. How can ‘whispering’ and ‘play-acting’ convey the necessary strong feeling of commitment to the words being sung here?
The same type of HIP secco recitative accompaniment as in Leusink’s Mvt. 3 prevails here.

Mvt. 6:

[1] Ramin gives us a very stately (almost too slow) version of the chorale. They are, after all, singing about their moment of death and not necessarily jumping about in some crazy dance. This is a dignified, celebratory way of greeting others with the best wishes for a new year. Once again the Thomanerchor sings this with great conviction and emphasis.

[3] Rilling carries over from the fermati at the end of the line into the next line without breaks. The diction is very good. The ¾ time section is equally dignified and leads without an abrupt change into the C (4/4) time section at the end. This is a very successful transition. The choir is well-balanced as usual and the trumpets play their fanfares impeccably.

[4] Harnoncourt’s delivery of this chorale shows the typical traits of accenting and ‘lifting off’ after almost every quarter note. The effect of this upon the listener is that Harnoncourt is imitating the halting steps of invalid who has problems walking. There is a complete absence of conviction with the drooping diminuendi that Harnoncourt has the choir sing at the end of each chorale line. This projects to the audience a lack of faith and hopelessness that is absolutely contrary to the textual content of this verse of the chorale. The rendition of a chorale in this manner is a typical feature of most Harnoncourt cantata recordings and is clear proof that Harnoncourt has misunderstood the nature of the final chorales in Bach’s cantatas and has imposed upon his renditions theoretical performance practices which lack a sense of musicality and an understanding of what role these final chorales play in Bach’s cantata structure. There is nothing very uplifting to be perceived here.

[6] Coin’s chorale version is very ‘lite’ and lacks substance. It does not help that he lops off the length of the fermati reducing their notated values. The choir sings sotto voce for the most part. The ¾ section with its accented gestures in imitation of a dance is little more than a change of pace, but due to its airy treatment which has little or nothing to do with the text which the choir is singing at this point. There is no way that this chorale treatment could have sufficient depth to do justice to this mvt. as the end of such a glorious cantata. The pronunciation of the German text is simply not forceful and distinct enough and the lifeless, rather expressionless singing of the text makes it apparent that this choir has not sufficiently identified itself with the text.

[8] Koopman’s version is very similar to Coin’s: they are not singing from their heart and soul, the German text is not always clear. The ¾ section receives a similar treatment as well. Koopman’s choir is slightly better than Coin’s with better precision and balance, but the treatment of the chorale remains an inglorious one since it does not bring this cantata to a solid conclusion, at least as far as the choral singing is concerned.

[10] Leusink, continuing with the voice problems already referred to above, demonstrates two of his greatest weaknesses here: the fermati are treated in a very abrupt manner causing the last word or syllable to be deemphasized and since Leusink’s choir has a fairly serious problem anyhow in enunciating the German text forcefully so that it can be properly understood, a de-emphasis of the final note of each line in the chorale simply contributes even more to this problem. The ¾ time middle section is taken at a very fast tempo contrary to what the text states “solches singet heut ohn Scherzen die christgläubige Schar” [“The Christian community will sing this today without joking = ‘seriously.’”]

Summary:

My preferences (from top down):

Mvt. 1:
Rilling [3], Ramin [1], Koopman [8], Harnoncourt [4], Coin [6], Leusink [10]

Mvt. 2:
Harnoncourt (unnamed boy soprano from the Wiener Sängerknaben) [4], Ramin (unnamed boy soprano from the Leipzig Thomanerchor) [1], Koopman (Rubens) [8], Leusink (Holton) [10], Rilling (Donath) [3], Coin (Schlick) [6]

Mvt. 3:
Coin (Scholl) [6], Koopman (Markert) [8], Rilling (Höffgen) [3], Ramin (unnamed boy alto from the Leipzig Thomanerchor) [1], Harnoncourt (Esswood) [4], Leusink (Buwalda) [10] - only Scholl comes anywhere near getting the job done properly.

Mvt. 4:
Harnoncourt (Equiluz) [4], Rilling (Kraus) [3], Koopman (Prégardien) [8], Coin (Prégardien) [6], Ramin (Lutze) [1], Leusink (Schoch) [10] - the 1st 4 recordings are excellent, only the last 2 are mediocre.

Mvt. 5:
Rilling (Nimsgern) [3], Ramin (Oettel) [1], Koopman (Mertens) [8], Coin (Schwarz) [6], Harnoncourt (van der Meer) [4], Leusink (Ramselaar) [10]

Mvt. 6:
Rilling [3], Ramin [1], Koopman [8], Coin [6], Leusink [10], Harnoncourt [4]

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (March 16, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< the cantus firmus sung by the female sopranos is the weakest part in the entire ensemble because they insist on using their vibratos and thereby detract from the necessary solidity of the chorale melody. >
Not only is the vibrato problematic, but the accents are rather weak, though the type of swelling that musicologists call "messa di voce" would be even better at wrecking the chorale melody. I also heard two uncredited solo violinists in Rilling's opening chorus [3]. This movement could be performed well with the 16th notes slightly unbalanced.

The tenor aria (Mvt. 4) seems to be very similar to "Komm, süßes Kreuz" in style. I agree with Thomas's assessment of Donath's fast continuous vibrato and Kraus's sensitive singing.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 17, 2003):
BWV 41 - Background

The background below is quoted from Robertson’ book. I have avquoting the text, because both the original German text and a good English translation in Interlinear Format (+ instrumentation of each movement) by Francis Browne can be read at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV41-Eng3.htm

Mvt. 1 Chorus [S, A, T, B]
A tremendous chorus which begins with a fanfare for the three trumpets, a leaping figure for the upper strings and downward scales for the continuo. Two of the trumpets then have a joyous motif in thirds. This pattern is repeated four times between the lines of the chorale. At the ninth line there comes an unexpected and lovely adagio, a simple harmonization of the chorale accompanied only by violins and violas, and then a quick fugue, begun by the tenors and taken up by the other voices except the sopranos who enter at intervals with the melody of J. Herman's hymn (1591), verse 1.

Mvt. 2 Aria [Soprano]
This is one of Bach's enchanting pastoral movements in 6/8 time with the melody played by the three oboes in the introductory fifteen bars. A little rise of a fifth is its characteristic feature and is given particular charm when the soprano comes in with the melody. In the middle section, related melodically to the first, the singer gives thanks for abundance of blessings, and has an ascending 'Hallelujah' which in the next section descends, but rises once more at the close before the da capo-a delightful example of Bach's musical logic.

Mvt. 3 Recitative [Alto]
The text concludes with the acceptance of suffering or well-being as God wills.

Mvt. 4 Aria [Tenor]
Bach used the violoncello piccolo in nine cantatas only. It was a five-stringed instrument useful for its agility in the middle and upper compass at a time when ordinary violoncellists had not acquired the necessary technique to be secure in the upper range. The obbligato part, with leaps from string to string, and, in the first part of the aria, cascades of demisemiquavers down the scale, is the most attractive feature of this not very interesting aria.

Mvt. 5 Recitative [Bass] and Intonation [S, A, T, B]
This recitative brings on to the scene Satan who night and day lies in watch for the unwary. The bass asks God for help when souls are in danger and the chorus reply with an intonation for the Lutheran plainsong litany, harmonized in emphatic chords. Then the solo bass resumes his recitative ending with a prayer.

Mvt. 6 Chorale [S, A, T, B]
The sixth and last verse of the hymn in which the obbligato instruments play the fanfare motif of the instrumental prelude to Mvt. 1.

The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 5 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 41:

[1] Günther Ramin (1950)
[3] Helmuth Rilling (1973)
[4] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1975)
[5] Gustav Leonhardt (1995)
[6] Christoph Coin (1995)
[8] Ton Koopman (1999)
[10] Pieter Jan Leusink (2000)

Short Review of the Recordings

[1] The opening chorus of Ramin is slow yet spirited. The singing of the choir can be described as disintegrated, but I found myself swept by this rendition more than by some of the later and more polished recordings. The anonymous boy, who sings the aria for soprano, is surprisingly good and gives a moving performance. He does get lost in the slow tempo adopted by the conductor. The intonation of the oboes in this aria is problematic, to say the least. The boy alto in the ensuing recitative is not bad either: beautiful voice and clean voice production, clear diction and sensitivity to the words. Ramin uses regular violoncello rather than violoncello piccolo. Something in the playing of the cellist reminds of the old recordings of the Cello Suites by Casals. Gert Lutze is very expressive, using an operatic approach with a lot of vibrato, but he handles well his aria for tenor in the very slow tempo preferred by Ramin. In the ensuing recitative for bass Oettel demonstrates a deep voice in the old tradition. Yet this voice is rather stiff and in some places he seems to swallow the words.

[3] Rilling’s opening chorus is faster and livelier than Ramin’s. The singing of the choir is smoother and the orchestral playing is cleaner. Unlike many other Rilling’s choruses it has also internal rhythm, strengthened by the brilliant playing of the trumpets. The change to adagio in the middle of the movement caught the listener in surprise and the gradual returning to the original mood is mesmerising. Helen Donath, whom I usually like, disappoints in the aria for soprano. She uses too much vibrato and her vocal line is unstable. Maybe her kind of voice does not suit this aria or that she simply had a bad day. Marga Höffgen in the recitative for alto is in better shape; her voice retaining most of its glorious qualities and her expression is second to none. She conveys hope combined with slight fear in a very convincing way. Kraus is in fine form, using his beautiful voice and good technique to deliver a moving performance in the aria for tenor. After so many weekly cantata reviews, it is always a pleasure to hear Nimsgern, especially in a movement which suits him so well. Who can represent the sacred congregation better than him, with dark voice and authoritative expression?

[4] Lot of rhythm can also be found in the opening chorus of Harnoncourt, but not much more. The fragmented approach breaks this movement into pieces; the playing of the timpani dominates the movement and the singing of the choir is unfocused. In the aria for soprano we meet a fine boy, who outshines almost every other singer of this aria, with beautiful voice, and heart-rending expression. Such high-level singing makes the case for using boy sopranos in Bach’s vocal works. The playing of the reconstructed oboes in this aria has a lot of charm. Esswood in the recitative for alto is passable but does not leave everlasting impression. Then comes Equiluz in the aria for tenor and uplifts the level of the performance. Robertson called this aria ‘uninteresting’. With singers as capable as Kraus (with Rilling) and Equiluz are, this aria becomes a fascinating experience. Equiluz’ approach is more humble, but he does not miss any corner in his masterly performance. Harnoncourt himself is playing the violoncello piccolo, and he does it impeccably and with sensitivity to the singer. It is interesting to notice that Harnoncourt, as violoncello player, prefers legato lines whereas as a conductor he has tendency to staccato. After Nimsgern, Ruud van der Meer’s rendition of the recitative for bass is on a much lower par. His voice is light and lacks the needed authority. Neither has he the flexibility to give an expressive and convincing rendition.

[5] Leonhardt made his recording exactly 20 years after Harnoncourt, his co-partner in the Telefunken/Teldec cantata cycle. His opening chorus is much more successful than Harnoncourt’s. It is more balanced and more vivid. Even the playing of the orchestra and the internal rhythm are better, and the choir is simply superb. Leonhardt also uses boy for the soprano aria, as well as another boy for the alto recitative. Both are well equipped technically, at least for the demands of these two movements. But I found Harnoncourt’s boy soprano more satisfying in expressive terms. On the other hand, the boy alto, Jonas Will, could hardly be bettered. Something in his singing reminds me of Panito Iconomou. Markus Schäfer has a pleasant voice, but regarding his expression he does not have interesting things to offer, especially not in comparisoto either Kraus or Equiluz. Harry van der Kamp’s characteristics are similar to those of van der Meer, although his voice is a little bit darker and therefore more suitable to the task.

[6] The introductory ritornello of the opening chorus is performed by Coin with vigour and momentum with excellent playing by the small orchestra. The effect of the choir is diminished greatly by the recording. It seems that they were recorded far behind. Most of the impression of what could have been an excellent rendition is lost by this technical problem. After hearing three fine boy sopranos, we have to hear Barbara Schlick. Sometimes she compensates her lacking of vocal finesse (her high notes are simply not a joy to hear) by intelligent or interesting interpretation. This is not the case here. Scholl in the recitative for alto is a guaranteed success. Prégardien is a modern version of Equiluz, and I find a lot to enjoy in his rendition of the aria for tenor. The violoncello piccolo, which was the cause for this recording in the first place, is played brilliantly and sensitively by Coin. The recitative for bass with Schwartz could be described as ordinary.

[8] Koopman’s opening chorus is another example of a waste of good resources by too fast tempo. The strength of this recording are the four fine vocal soloists, all of them are well-equipped technically, with understanding of the message they have to convey and the powers to express it convincingly. Rubens is so much better than Schlick in the aria for soprano. Markert has an unusual deep and warm contralto voice. Prégardien maintains the high level he has shown with Coin in the aria for tenor. Mertens’ voice is not as dark as Nimsgern’s, but his rendition of the recitative for bass is highly satisfying in every other parameter.

[10] I prefer not to write this time about Leusink’s recording of this cantata. I would only like to mention that I have not found any of the movements as worthy of inclusion in the list of satisfying renditions (see below).

Conclusion

More than satisfying renditions:
Mvt. 1: Rilling [3]
Mvt. 2: Boy Soprano/Harnoncourt [4], Rubens/Koopman [8]
Mvt. 3: Höffgen/Rilling [3], Will/Leonhardt, Scholl/Coin [6], Markert/Koopman [8]
Mvt. 4: Kraus/Rilling [3], Equiluz/Harnoncourt [4], Prégardien/Coin [6] & Koopman [8]
Mvt. 5: Nimsgern/Rilling [3], Mertens/Koopman [8]
Mvt. 6: Rilling [3], Leonhardt [5]
The cantata as a whole: Rilling (except the aria for soprano) [3], Koopman (except the opening chorus) [8]

Ehud Shiloni wrote (March 18, 2003):
Aryeh wrote [about the Coin recording]:
[6] < The effect of the choir is diminished greatly by the recording. It seems that they were recorded far behind. Most of the impression of what could have been an excellent rendition is lost by this technical problem. >
Coin recorded his short series of seven cantatas in a small church in Thuringia, one with a Silberman organ.

For the benefit of listmembers who do not know this recording, here is a previous message, with a quote from the accompanying booklet:

"..we thought it would be interesting to use the great organ even for the continuo. It thus becomes the main axis around which instrumentalists and singers then gather. That is not without its problems (especially for the microphone), the crampedness of the choir-gallery often making it necessary to divide the instruments or even the chorus between the extreme right and left, thus creating an unintentional but sometimes very apt stereophonic effect. The result may seem more 'dense', and sometimes more 'blurred' then usual' but it conveys quite faithfully the atmosphere and sound a member of the congregation would have experienced sitting down below in that small nave,..."

A lovely photo is included in the booklet, showing Coin and his group scattered along a narrow gallery with the Silbermann in the center.

The above quote may explain the specific effect of the music on these recordings. I have found the choir to sound very musical, with a lot of "feeling", but indeed somewhat "soft" and even "remote" at points.

I think the Coin series deserves to be included in any cantatas collection - Coin's excellent playing of the violencello picolo in all seven cantatas is a good enough reason!

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 41: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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Last update: ýOctober 3, 2011 ý13:59:59