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Cantata BWV 5
Wo soll ich fliehen hin?
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of October 21, 2001 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 23, 2001):
Introduction

The subject of this week's discussion (October 21, 2001) is Cantata BWV 5, the second one in Michael Grover's proposed list. In order to allow the members of the BCML preparing themselves for the discussion, I compiled a list of the recordings of this cantata, of which I am aware. I put the details of the recordings in the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 5 - Recordings
You have also a link to this page from the Home Page of the Bach Cantatas Website http://www.bach-cantatas.com/ (in the middle of the right side).

I hope that the new way of presenting the information will encourage more members to participate in the discussion. Please, tell me what do you think about it.

Background to the Aria for Tenor (Mvt.3)

Original German text
Ergieße dich reichlich, du göttliche Quelle,
Ach, walle mit blutigen Strömen auf mich!
Es fühlet mein Herze die tröstliche Stunde,
Nun sinken die drückenden Lasten zu Grunde,
Es wäschet die sündlichen Flecken von sich.

English Translation (by Richard Stokes)
Flow abundantly, O divine spring,
Ah, flood over me with streams of blood!
My heart feels the comforting hour,
Oppressing burdens now fall away from me,
All my inquiries are washed away.

Alec Robertson wrote:
“This is the only instance known of Bach’s use of the viola as an obbligato instrument. He gives it a gloriously broad and warm-hearted melody, a veritable welling out of the divine spring. The melodious main motif, heard only in the voice part, expresses intense gratitude for newly found happiness.”

Murray W. Young wrote:
“This is the only occasion in Bach’s sacred cantatas in which a solo viola accompanies an aria. It plays a flowing wave-motif, suggesting the descent of Christ’s blood on him to purify him of sin. Runs on the word ‘walle’ (pour) ‘Strömen’ (streams) and ‘wäschet’ (wash) reinforce the water imagery. In the sublime dignity of the melody there is also a joy-motif.”

Why did Bach choose viola for this aria?

Is it because ‘blood is thicker than water’?

Review of the Recordings of the Aria for Tenor (Mvt. 3)

[2] Hans Grischkat / Peter Wetzler (1950’s ?; Time: 6:50)
The excellent violist who opens the aria is has a warm and full sound and I feel that he got the essence of his part. The unfamiliar (to me) tenor Peter Wetzler does a fine work too. Some may feel that he is a little bit too operatic, but I feel that he does not miss any point, neither technically nor emotionally. In his expressive and sensitive singing he reminds me somewhat the great DFD. The singer and the player have equal share in their contribution to the success of this rendition, and the chemistry between them is magical.

[1] Nikolaus Harnoncourt / Kurt Equiluz (1971; Time: 6:37)
I was happy to hear (and see) that Harnoncourt chose a relatively slow tempo for the performance of this aria. After hearing the other versions, I came come to conclusion that a relaxed tempo expresses better the mood of this aria rather than a faster one. One can hear that the violist uses different technique than that of Grischkat’s player. But he should be judged by the results, and although the playing of the violist is interesting it is also not clean of imperfections. Equiluz’ singing is fine as usual, but the whole rendition is less fascinating than the previous one.

[3] Karl Richter / Peter Schreier (1977-1978; Time: 6:46)
A find Richter’s approach to this cantata as a whole and to the aria for tenor in particular somewhat heavy-handed and lacking refinement. The playing of the violist is not smooth and although he has a beautiful sound, the impression is of weariness, instead of flowing. Schreier is pushing ahead as much as he can, but the violist is staying in his place almost motionless. This is a tiresome rendition, lacking tension, almost boring. And that proves what we have known for a long time, after hearing so much of Bach Cantatas intensively – that in Bach’s arias the accompaniment and the approach of the conductor are not less important than the singer, even if his name his Peter Schreier.

[4] Helmuth Rilling / Aldo Baldin (1979; Time: 5:44)
One can love Rilling. Other does not. But this conductor gives most of the time the impression that he knows exactly what he is doing. He chose here faster tempo than his three predecessors did, but it works. There is feeling of moving ahead, of flowing. Baldin has a beautiful voice, although his expression does have the internal intensity than singers like Wetlzer, Equiluz and Schreier have. The violist playing is light and energetic. The weak factor here is that there is no real interaction between the singer and the player and the voice and the viola do not blend well. As though they are acting on different planes.

[6] Ton Koopman / Christoph Prégardien (1999; Time: 4:57)
If I thought that Rilling’s rendition was fast, than comes Koopman and proves that this aria can be performed faster, much faster. Prégardien is so good singer. His intonation is impeccable and his voice is a joy to the ear. Has he been given a broader room for expression, it could be almost ideal rendition. This is not the first time that Koopman chooses a very quick tempo, and every time he does it I am getting disappointed. He has so excellent players, like the violist in this aria, who manage to cope with the fast movement, although he does not have an easy part. And from time to time, as in this aria, Koopman ‘succees’ to waste to potential of the forces at his disposal. I do not believe that Bach wanted this aria to be performed so fast. It works against the nature of the text and the music, and a major part of the emotional content is not revealed (or getting lost).

[7] Pieter Jan Leusink / Nico van de Meel (2000; Time: 6:59)
Leusink is better than Koopman in this aria, mainly because he takes a slower tempo. The tempo is right and the playing of the violist is charming. The problem here is the tenor singer van der Meel, whose singing is not expressive enough to be really interesting and to hold the listener attention.

Conclusion

For me the rendition of Grischkat/Wetzler [2] is head and shoulders above the others.

All the other renditions have major weaknesses, being it the tempo, the singer, the violist, the chemistry between them, etc. My personal priorities for the other renditions are in this order: Harnoncourt/Equiluz [1], Rilling/ Baldin [4], Richter/Schreier [3], Leusink/Meel [7], Koopman/Prégardien [6].

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 24, 2001):
Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 5 - Provenance

What to listen for:

See: Cantata BWV 5 - Commentary

Review of the recordings

This week I listened to the following recordings: Harnoncourt (1971) [1]; Richter (1977-78) [3]; Rilling (1979) [4]; Koopman (1999) [6]; and Leusink (2000) [7].

Mvt. 1:

[1] Harnoncourt: If only Harnoncourt had taken, as a proper point of departure, this type of early performance which is almost devoid of most of the negative characteristics later known as the Harnoncourt Doctrine! Despite a number of good characteristics (the tromba da tirarsi can actually be heard in this re,) the recording environment seems to create a muffled sound particularly with the sound of the choir. It does not help, however, when the tenors and basses are weak to begin with and when the sopranos with a number of boys having shaky vibratos undermine the clarity that the cantus firmus must have. The oboes here must rank among the worst HIP oboes that I have encountered in all my listening experience. What is truly aggravating is that they persist in playing this way (insecure vibrato leaving the listener wondering which note at which precise pitch the oboe was trying to play and even rapid 16th notes suffer from this vibrato) until the bitter end twenty years later. There is absolutely no improvement in sound. They (and Harnoncourt) seem to think that a baroque oboe has to sound this way. We now know this to be just another mistaken notion on the part of Harnoncourt.

[3] Richter: With Richter you can also hear the trumpet (not the tromba da tirarsi, of course) in this rather spirited rendition. Unfortunately, Richter once again insists on playing all the vocal parts on the organ. If Richter had studied Mattheson's "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" he would have learned that the organ must NEVER be heard above the choir. It is only there to give support. To make matters even worse, the organ that Richter uses sounds more like a theater organ. With his large choir, it is still amazing how weak the tenors and basses are in certain spots. The bc is uncharacteristically weak (less volume) which is surprising given the gravity of the text. Was Richter trying to express the timorous aspect of fear?

[4] Rilling: This is a very vigorous, energetic performance with a driving force that will knock you off your feet. Due to the clarity and balance between the parts, as well as the precision with which the choir sings, many of the musical pictures appear more distinct and understandable than in the other recordings. My only criticism is that the sopranos should sing the cantus firmus with straight tones and not wobbly ones that are caused by too many differing vibratos trying to sing unison, a unison, that lacks solidity because it is shaky.

[6] Koopman: A paradox: the first thing you hear is the lute in the bc, and the instrument that you do not hear at all is the tromba da tirarsi. Where is it? Was it actually playing along in this mvt? Choral balance: the bass voice was weak, particularly when the bc was not supporting it. I checked to see what the balance problem was here: Koopman has only 4 basses, 4 altos, 5 sopranos and 6 tenors. Very interesting! This performance is quite different compared to the others as it has excellent qualities that make this a very moving performance. The general treatment is more legato in style than any of the other performances. The choir also sings the 16th note flourishes smoothly (even the "Alle Welt" responses that are almost "coughed" out by the other choirs. All this means that this is a very subdued, understated performance. As a HIP performance this recording excels in many ways: the quality of the oboe-playing is simply superb (Leusink's oboes are much too subdued and lack character.) The string sound is well-controlled with no sudden strident sounds emerging from the ensemble. What we have here is a merging of some of the techniques normally associated with a romantic style of playing as evident in the 1st half of the 20th century with the HIP style that evolved with period instrument performances: Many crescendi and diminuendi instead of tiered dynamics as marked by Bach, a preference for legato wherever possible instead of the dissection of musical lines into extremely short phrases, a less strong emphasis of the leaning note in an appoggiatura, etc. Yes, it appears that Koopman, along with Herreweghe and Suzuki have abandoned some of the worst unmusical aspects of the Harnoncourt Doctrine in favor of a more musically satisfying solution. Frequently Koopman and Suzuki will still choose extremely fast tempi that automatically lead to a 'lite' treatment that no longer relates to the gravity of the text that is being presented in the cantata. But here, in this mvt., Koopman has chosen a very appropriate tempo, even slightly slower than the other recordings. But compare this moment of 'musical sanity' with the craziness in Koopman's choice of tempo in the next cantata on the same CD (BWV 94). Here Koopman suddenly loses all sense of musical balance and common sense. The tempo Koopman chooses for the tenor aria (3rd Mvt.) of this cantata (BWV 5) can only make me feel that he must have been bitten by a tarantula because it is so completely unreasonable.

[7] Leusink: The instrumentalists sounded muted (no trumpet in any form is audible) as Leusink pushes the tempo. It sounds rushed at times as he tries to pick up the tempo. The choir is performing at its own usual level with isolated instances of strident voices quickly appearing and disappearing. There are individual voices that stand out too much. The alto yodelers also make an appearance to round off this non-distinctive recording.

Summary of Mvt. 1

Rilling [4], Koopman [6] very different renditions with excellence in many but not all aspects.
Harnoncourt [1], Richter [3] very different renditions in performance styles with some rather obvious flaws in both.
Leusink [7] Listenable without any special features to make this performance noteworthy.

 

BWV 5 - viola or violoncello piccolo?

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (November 7, 2004):

In the track list of Koopman's BWV 5 [6], there is written "violins, violas, cellos, violincello piccolo" etc. It means "violoncello piccolo" is used as a solo instrument. But I can't find the movement where the violoncello piccolo is used; as far as I can hear, the solo viola is used in the third movement tenor aria. In Wolf's note is written too "the solo viola in the third movement aria".

Is it a mere mistake in the track list? Or is there any reason why they wrote "violoncello piccolo" in the track list?

Any help will be appreciated.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 7, 2004):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu] The Hänssler booklet [4] notes that <"The sources do not clearly specify whether the viola is really the obligato instrument Bach intended here; Alfred Duerr believes that "it isn't all that improbable" that Bach had a violincello piccolo in mind.">

Robertson, in his book 'The Church Cantatas of J.S.Bach' seems unaware of this doubt as to instrument, and states: "this is the only known instance of Bach's use of a viola as an obligato instrument.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 7, 2004):
Nagamiya Tutomu wrote:
>>In the track list of Koopman's BWV 5 [6], there is written "violins, violas, cellos, violincello piccolo" etc. It means "violoncello piccolo" is used as a solo instrument...Is it a mere mistake in the track list? Or is there any reason why they wrote "violoncello piccolo" in the track list?<<
BWV 5/3 The Tenor Aria

The NBA I/24 score shows the following (top down):

Violino solo (with a footnote explanation)
Tenore
Continuo/Organo
The organ was not used for a repeat performance c.
1732/1735

The foreword p. VI to the NBA printed score states:
[not an exact translation, but nevertheless 'dem Sinne nach'] The instrumental solo in the 3rd mvt. of BWV 5 is notated in an alto clef without any instrumental designation. In the original set of parts , the part is included in the violin I part, also in the alto clef. Indications by Bach personally in this part make it clear that he instructed the copyist to do this in this manner. Although this part is very much in the low range of the violin, nowhere does it go below the low G. It is possible that Bach intended this part to be played by a violoncelpiccolo, since the cantata for the very next Sunday following this cantata specifically called for such an instrument. Until April 1725, Bach had his 1st violinist play this part on a violoncello piccolo.

The NBA I/24 pp. 151-152 gives all the pros and cons behind this hypothesis which was first explained by Alfred Dürr in "Philologisches zum Problem Violoncello piccolo bei Bach" contained in "Festschrift Wolfgang Rehm zum 60. Geburtstag am 3. September 1989" editors Dietrich Berke and Harald Heckmann, Kassel, 1989. pp. 45-50. Dürr thinks that BWV 5 is the first cantata where Bach featured the violoncello piccolo. There are a number of points that support this hypothesis, but one major objection stems from the fact that the range (better yet, the tessitura) is generally much higher than that of the other parts that Bach wrote for the violoncello piccolo specifically. Also, it is remarkable that, having both the autograph score and the original set of parts for this cantata, no mention is made of this instrument at all. For the cantatas calling for the violoncello piccolo, those which were composed for the Sundays following BWV 5, unfortunately there are no original sets of parts and the reference to the violoncello piccolo could be determined only by circumstantial evidence (non-autograph copies of the score) which included the designation for violoncello piccolo.

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (November 7, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Thank you for your help.

< The Hänssler booklet notes that <"The sources do not clearly specify whether the viola is really the obligato instrument Bach intended here; Alfred Dürr believes that "it isn't all that improbable" that Bach had a violincello piccolo in mind.">
Yes, also in "Bach Werke Verzeichnis" is written "3. Aria T, Va (Vl? Vc picc?) solo, Bc". So I'd like to listen to this obbligato played by violoncello piccolo; but Koopman's performance [6] seems to use viola obbligato in spite of track list indication. Which is correct: track list? or my ear ( equal to Wolf's note)? Or is there any "violoncello piccolo" sounding like the viola?

< "this is the only known instance of Bach's use of a viola as an obligato instrument. >
One of two instances?
We know the chorale of BWV 199 which accompanies viola obbligato.

Nagamiya Tutomu wrote (November 7, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank you for your detailed explanation; It was great help to me.

My question is "which instrument is actually used?" (in Koopman's recording [6]) rather than "which instrument should be used?". To hear the CD, obviously it sounds like the viola. But if Koopman used "violoncello piccolo" which looks like the viola?
http://violadabraccio.com/da_spalla.shtml

The matter seems to be more complicated.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 7, 2004):
Nagamiya Tutomu wrote:
<So I'd like to listen to this obbligato played by violoncello
piccolo; but Koopman's performance
[6] seems to use viola obbligato in spite of track list indication. Which is correct: track list? or my ear.">
It may be difficult to tell.

I have Rilling's version [4]; I like the sound of the obligato viola, but I would have guessed it was a v'piccolo, if the booklet had not said otherwise!

Regarding Robertson's remark, it seems he forgot about that soprano Chorale in BWV 199, because he does list the viola as an obligato there.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 7, 2004):
Nagamiya Tutomu wrote:
>>But if Koopman [6] used "violoncello piccolo" which looks like the viola?<<
Perhaps you should try to hear or purchase the set of cantata recordings conducted by Christophe Coin (Astrée E 8597 or individually E 8530, E 8544, and E 8555) "Bach Cantatas with Violoncello Piccolo" which contain BWV 6, BWV 41, BWV 49, BWV 68, BWV 85, BWV 115, BWV 175, BWV 180, BWV 183, and BWV 199 but not BWV 5. Coin also lists BWV 139 and BWV 163 as further possibilities, but he did not record BWV 5, BWV 139 and BWV 163. All the other cantatas listed above were recorded from 1994 to 1996.

Gilles Cantagrel writes in the accompanying booklet:
>>The fullness and forcefulness of the cello seemed at the time to be more suited to supporting the 'tutti' in the continuo, and devoting a set of suites to the solo cello was then proof of a resolutely avant-gardist spirit. To harmonize with the solo voice in a cantata or a passion, Bach always made his choice with great discernment, readily calling upon the resources of the viola da gamba or the violoncello piccolo, the cello then participating in the execution of the basso continuo....it was supposed...that the instrument called for in the sixth of the Suites for unaccompanied violoncello was this violoncello piccolo, but perhaps it was simply an ordinary-sized cello with an additional high string. Whatever the case may be, Bach expressly mentions the use of the violoncello piccolo in nine of the extant cantatas, in which the instrument provides a timbre that is both warm and delicate, and appropriate for the expression of indulgence or trusting tenderness....<<

John Reese wrote (November 7, 2004):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu] The term "violoncello piccolo" seems awfully redundant. "Violoncello" means "little big viola", so "violoncello piccolo" would be "small little big viola" -- would that simply be a viola, or something between a regular-sized viola and an unusually small big viola...?

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 7, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Regarding Robertson's remark, it seems he forgot about that soprano Chorale in BWV 199, because he does list the viola as an obligato there. >
I would think that the long viola passage in the D minor harpsichord concerto should count for something, too. And, of course, Brandenburg 6!

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 7, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I would think that the long viola passage in the D minor harpsichord concerto should count for something, too. >
Are you referring to BWV1052? Just where is this long viola passage? All I see are independent passages of a few measures length except for one in the first mvt.: ms. 79-90 which consists mainly of repeated notes which is not very much of an obbligato. Have you heard the Koopman BWV/3 viola part (played, BTW, at a breakneck tempo that is unforgivable)? That is a real tour de force for any viola player (it does sound like a viola on Koopman's recording.)

>>And, of course, Brandenburg 6!<<
Yes, written for viola da braccio not violoncello piccolo.

Doug Cowling wrote (November 7, 2004):
[To John Reese] I recall a BBC (?) radio documentary which postulated that the toccata of the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was actually an arrangement of another composer's sonata for violoncello piccolo. The program ended with a reconstruction of the original.

Jason Marmaras wrote (November 9, 2004):
[To Nagamiya Tutomu] Perhaps you could mail Antoine Marchand at <info@antoinemarchand.n> Or was the question of the actual instrument answered? If yes, please enlighten and pardon me. :)

 

Continue on Part 2

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

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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