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Cantata BWV 51
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Donald Satz wrote (October 18, 1999):
[52] Most Bach cantata recordings have multiple vocal soloists with the result that no one soloist will either ruin the performance or make it an outstanding one. But, in the new DG Bach cantata recording, Christine Schäfer is the only soloist, and the recording falls or rises on her shoulders.

As for non-vocal particulars, Goebel and his group do a fine job as I expected they would; Goebel has recorded many Bach works, and his Orchestral Suites and Brandenburg Concertos, are about as good as I could want. The recorded sound is excellent - crisp with plenty of richness.

Back to Schäfer. I consider her voice relatively dark and husky in Bach. That's no problem, but there was a "hooty" quality to her singing on the disc, which did distract from my enjoyment.

For cantata BWV 51, I compared Schäfer/Goebel [52] to Gardiner on Philips [30], which was coupled with the Magnificat (BWV 243). Gardiner is better, and the singing is also. Gardiner is more expressive and digs below the surface to a degree Goebel does not engage in. I do emphasize that Gardiner's BWV 51 is the best I've heard, so Goebel is being compared to tough competition.

Overall, the new disc is a fine one, but neither the orchestral support nor the singing meets the highest standards of competition.

Don's Conclusion: Worth Sampling

Jeff Leone wrote (October 19, 1999):
[52] I think the recording is great. Schäfer adds an interesting element to these favourite Cantatas. Goebel and MAK are excellent! Goebel has slowed down a bit from his usual tempi, which I usually like, and he still sounds great. Also, its nice to see that he has been playing the violin lately in his recordings since he wasn't a few years ago. On another note, (already discussed in earlier threads) this recording is extremely important (in my perspective) because it really brings EM and HIP to mainstream classical music. Just one quick note on that: it wasn’t even released under the Archiv label, just the popular DG label. Very interesting. I think DG is really coming along by trying to "mainstream" HIP though integration into its main label (like Decca), but they still leave Archiv in existence for those more "scholarly" recordings (like McCreesh's Bach) and the less well known works. Great job DG! (IF only they'll release everything in the US!)

Donald Satz wrote (October 19, 1999):
[52] I'm glad Jeff likes the recording so much. Jeff, could you tell me about that "interesting element" Schäfer provides? Maybe I'm missing something in her interpretation.

Yes, Goebel did slow down for this recording. I wish he had taken more risks in his performance. But, he is an excellent Bach conductor, and I'll continue to get his recordings as soon as they are released.

Luis Villalba wrote (October 20, 1999):
Simon, thanks for the info, as well as for your frequent very insightful entries.

Leonor Barroso wrote:
I own 3 versions of this cantata (one from Naxos [40], one old one with Karl Richter and I believe Maria Stader [13], and one with John Elliot Gardiner and Emma Kirkby [30]), and I am not entirely satisfied with any...Could you suggest another?

Charles Francis wrote (March 3, 2000):
I compared the Richter version (Edith Mathis, Soprano) [23] with the version by Rilling (Arleen Augér, Soprano) [28] and I much prefer the Rilling version! Augér gives a spirited performance of this difficult work and her handling of the closing aria is excellent. Cantata BWV 51 is bundled with BWV 56 and BWV 82 on Vol. 4 of "Die Bach Kantate".

I once recorded a "historical performance" on radio of BWV 51 and was struck by the brilliant vocal technique, but unfortunately I can't remember who was singing.


Discussions in the Week of September 23, 2001 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (September 23, 2001):

This week discussion is about Cantata BWV 51 according to Peter Bloemendaal’s proposed list. I have prepared a list of all the recordings of this cantata of which I have been aware and added to it more recordings about which I have learnt from other members of the BCML. At the moment of sending this review to the BCML, the list I have compiled with your help reaches the enormous number of 40 recordings (!), which means that this cantata is on top of the list regarding the number of its recordings. In that matter it even exceeds the famous ‘Ich habe genug’ BWV 82. I hope that huge list will help many members of the BCML to participate in the discussion. Because it is unavoidable that most of the members have at least one recording of this popular solo cantata for soprano, and one of the most popular of them all. As an old Jewish aphorism says: “If not now, when?”

The Recordings

See: Cantata BWV 51 - Recordings

General Background

As a general background for listening to this cantata, I shall use W. Murray Young book’s ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1982):

See: Cantata BWV 51 - Commentary

Who was the soprano singer in the original performance?

The answer to this interesting question will, most probably, remain forever a mystery. Two sources cover more or less most of the options.

Simon Heighes (Oxford Composer Companion – J.S. Bach, Oxford, 1999):
“The style of the solo writing is remarkably flamboyant. The trumpet part requires a performer of outstanding skill, and was probably intended for Bach’s regular trumpeter, Gottfried Reiche. The most difficult arias in the Leipzig cantatas were usually assigned to falsettists, tenors, and basses, less often to boy trebles. Although Bach may have intended the cantatas as a showcase for an exceptional choirboy – possibly Christoph Nichelman (1717-1762), who arrived at the Thomasschule in 1730 – the technical demands suggest that it may have been written with a professional singer in mind. With Leipzig’s opera house recently demolished, this may have been one of the Italian-trained sopranos who arrived in nearby Dresden in the summer of 1730, possibly even the most famous of these, the castrato Giovanni Bindi, whom Bach might well have heard on one of his frequent visits to the city. Klaus Hofmann suggested a possible Weißenfels origin for the work, but Uwe Wolf found nothing to support this hypothesis among newly discovered documents relating to the Weißenfels court in the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen.”

Hans-Günther Ottenberg (liner notes to Güttler/Oelze recording on Dresden Classics, 2000):
“It is doubtful whether a boy soprano could in fact coped with the enormous difficult vocal part. It is therefore also quite conceivable that it was written with Dresden or Weißenfels in mind, where both female and castrato sopranos were available for such parts. Since the cover page of the vocal parts bears the remark ‘et in ogni tempo’ (and at any time), it might have been performed for other occasions in the liturgical calendar. Perhaps Bash’s wife Anna Magdalena, an excellent soprano, sang the extremely virtuoso solos, with the Leipzig wait Gottfried Reiche taking the trumpet part.”

Among the recordings of this cantata derailed above you will search in vein for a recording with either boy sopraor the rare voice of man soprano! Even H&L used a female soprano in this cantata.

BWV 51 & BWV 199

After we clean up the BWV list from cantatas that were not composed by J.S. Bach, we are left with 12 genuine sacred cantatas for solo voice (with or without a 4-part choral at the end). 4 of those were composed for Soprano (BWV 51, BWV 52, BWV 84, & BWV 199), 4 for Alto (BWV 54, BWV 169, & BWV 170, BWV 200), 1 for tenor (BWV 55), and 3 for Bass (BWV 56, BWV 82, & BWV 158). Naturally, we can find BWV 51 coupled in many cases with BWV 199 (the poor BWV 52 is another matter, but its case will be discussed in the BCML in due time). But except for the simple clear fact that these two cantatas were composed for a solo soprano voice and a solo instrument, these two cantatas differ from one another as much as two works from him can be. By that they show us how wide-spread Bach musical world is. Some characteristics:

a. The theme of BWV 199 deals with the transformation of the sinner, conscious of his sins, through regret and repentance, to the forgiveness of God. All numbers of BWV 51 constitute of simple praise to God.
b. In BWV 199 the singer is asked to expose a wide range of emotions – grief, hope, cry, repentance, pain, faith, and at last, joy. BWV 51 is pure joy and gratefulness.
c. The technical demands of BWV 51 are very high, even risky. The singer should have a clear and steady tone ranging from middle C to high C (in the opening and concluding movements). The technical demand of BWV 199 are less difficult, also no vocal part in Bach’s vocal works is really simple. Eloquent phrasing and clear articulation are also always important.
d. The relation between the singer and the solo instrument is used by Bach differently in these two cantatas. The oboe in BWV 199 should reveal empathy. For example, the beautiful melody for the oboe in the introduction, rising up in the last four phrases before the voice enters, depict an interior grief, which precedes the verbal expression of it. In BWV 199 the singer has to compete with the brilliant trumpet part so often in duet with the voice. In BWV 51 they are saying to each other, ‘I share you feelings’, where in BWV 199 they are saying to each other ‘everything you can do, I can do better!’

It is also interesting to note that BWV 199 is a relatively early cantata (1714), while BWV 51 is a later one (1730). With an ordinary human being you could expect that enthusiasm and flamboyant (BWV 51) would characterise his early works, while gravity and deeper emotions (BWV 199) will suit more his later compositions. Judging by these two works alone, Bach did the opposite route. Does it say to us something about Bach of which we have not been aware?

Rating of the Recordings

With so many recordings of BWV 51, no much room is left for detailed review of them. Therefore, I chose to rate the various recordings in a rating system similar to the one I used in the review of the various recordings of BWV 199. I divided the recordings into 5 levels:

Level A+ - If I were forced to choose only one, this would be it.
Level A - First rate. Should be included in every collection of Bach's cantatas.
Level B - Second rate. If you can allow yourself, get it.
Level C - Third rate. A recording I could live without having it.
Level D - A recording I personally do not like.

The parameters according to which I have rated the various recordings are:
Soprano singer – technical finesse, lightness of hovering, exuberance of joy, clear and steady tone, boyish freshness, and sincere expression.
Trumpet player – same qualities as the soprano, minus the boyish brightness, plus glowing tone.
Dialogue between the soprano and the trumpeter – real interaction and mutual listening.

Of course, I rated the recordings while I was listening to them. It means that every recording found its place in the rating system according to its relative merits in comparison with other recordings.

And here are my suggested ratings:

Level A+ - Winschermann/Ameling [20], Leonhardt/Kweksilber [24], Rifkin/Baird [33]
Level A – Heiller/Stich-Randall [6], Richter/Stader [13], Gardiner/Kirkby [30], Jeffrey Thomas/Baird [39], Huggett/Argenta [41], Goebel/Schäfer [52]
Level B – Kurt Thomas/Giebel [12], Rilling/Augér [28], Pommer/Frimmer [31], Schreier/Hendricks [37], Antál/Kertesi [40], Leusink/Holton [54]
Level C – Gellhorn/Schwarzkopf [3], Moriarty/Bogard [19], Voorberg/Popp [26], Marriner/Donath [27], Alexander String Quartet/Norden [34], Güttler/Oelze [51]
Level D – Ramin/Birmele [1], Susskind/Schwarzkopf [2], Sanzogno/Horne [11], Winschermann/Gruberova [25]
Unclassified (recordings I do not have at the time of writing this review) – Jochum/Schwarzkopf [5], Münchinger/Danco [7], Grischkat/Guilleaume [4], Ristenpart/Stich-Randall [9], Werner/? [10], Schröder/Giebel [18], Masur/Stolte [21], Richter/Mathis [23], Wright/Field [36], Klein/Kwon [44], Budapest Strings/Ziesak [46], Sjökvist/Gruberova [43], Otto/Gebauer [48], Hochreither/Schudel [14], Hager/Parcells [29]

Some comments about Individual Recordings

Ramin/Birmele [1] - both the singer and the trumpeter have so many technical difficulties, up to being pathetic.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf recorded this cantata three times (1948 [2], 1950 [3], 1951 [5]), each time with a different conductor. I have been able to listen to the first two. The vibrato she is using in her first rendition is too strong. She improves in her second take, and it is hard to compete with her accuracy and rhythmic precision at breakneck speed. However, she is still deficient in most of the parameters listed above.

Stich-Randall recorded this cantata twice. Unfortunately, I was able to listen only to the first [6]. In that recording she shows how much expression can be put into a rendition of this cantata withoutsacrificing the accuracy and the technical accomplishment. Maria Stader [13] combines impeccable delivery with heartfelt sensitivity. Indeed both singers have some vibrato, but with so convincing performances, who cares? They are helped by the sensitive hands of Heiller and Richter accordingly. I do not know how Karl Richter succeeded in his second rendition of this cantata (with Edith Mathis) [23], but his first one is hard to surpass.

Of the two Agnes Giebel recordings I was able to listen only to the first [12]. Her ‘impeccable delivery and shimmering control of line’ (Gramophone) should indeed be admired. But the recording I had at my disposal at the time of writing this review was her first one with Kurt Thomas. This rendition suffers from the heavy hand of the conductor and the phlegmatic playing of the trumpeter (maybe this is also due to the conductor’s fault). I have the impression that in her second recording she had better surroundings with a group of fine Dutch players, such as Leonhardt and Schröder.

Marilyn Horne [11], Edita Gruberova [25] and Lucia Popp [27] prove how a good soprano singer can fail in a field alien to her. One can clearly hear that Bach is not exactly their playing yard. They are putting themselves rather than the music in the centre of the events. They are using technical fireworks taken from the opera (over-expression, emphasized vibrato, lengthening of notes, etc.), but do not say something meaningful in Bach’s terms. The sensitivity, the delicacy, and the sincerity are missing from their renditions. Although Bach adopted Italian techniques in this cantata, it is still not an Italian opera. Among them Marylyn Horne is the worst, and her recording is awful. Apparently Barbara Hendricks [37] belongs to this group too, but her interpretation is on much higher level, her delivery is clean of exterior effects and her singing reflects understanding of Bach’s idiom. Maybe she has received private lessons from Peter Schreier. And what a gorgeous voice she has!

Elly Ameling [20] was the best Bach soprano singer of her day, and as her rendition of BWV 51 testifies, of every time. She had everything – beautiful voice along the whole range, technical accomplishment (she manages to sound relaxed even when she has to overcome the most difficult coloratura parts), and that angelic timbre of voice. The colourful and delicate textures supplied by Winschermann’s accompaniment and the bright yet gentle playing of André contribute an equal part with that of the singer to the success of this rendition.

A surprising excellent rendition comes from a surprising source. This is Marianne Kweksilber, who sings the cantata under the baton of Leonhardt in the H&L cycle [24]. This is the only exception out of two (the other is BWV 199) in which they abandoned for a moment the authencity and let a woman rather than a boy sings the soprano solo part. I believe that it was impossible to find a boy who could range freely between the two extremes of this cantata. But in Kweksilber they found a woman whose voice is as boyish as a feminine voice can be. Furthermore, she is equipped with all the qualities needed for successful a rendition of this cantata, and she does it with boldness, sincerity and grace. The accompaniment is the best a singer could wish for, not only the trumpet, but also the strings and the continuo.

Two accomplished Bach soprano singers, Arleen Augér [28] and Helen Donath [27], recorded this cantata in the same year, 1983. As much as I adore both, I have to admit that in this cantata their renditions do not belong to the best of the crop. The higher register is not Augér’s strongest part and here she is demanded to meet many high notes and she sounds stressed. Donath seems to have major technical problems, the sheer magic she had in many recordings with Rilling has vanished, and her singing here is not inspired. Maybe she simply had a bad day when she did this recording.

I was disappointed hearing Kirkby in her recent recording of BWV 199, done about two years ago. But with BWV 51 [30], done about 15 years earlier, she has a dazzling account. Her voice is in its prime, innocent and fresh like a boy, delicate like silk, smooth like oil, almost vibrato-less and she has a full command technically. Can we ask for more when her counter-ago is the excellent Steele-Perkins on trumpet and Gardiner proves himself to be a caring accompanist? A slight more sensitivity to the words would send this recording directly to the top.

The main conclusion written bellow, which has derived from listening to so many recordings of BWV 51, hit me when I listened to Julianne Baird singing this cantata with Rifkin [33]. Only last week, I wrote about his recording of BWV 78 that although it is impeccably performed in terms of accuracy, and that the playing of the instrumentalists is of high quality, it is somewhat low in emotional volume. In BWV 51 Rifkin’s approach suits the demands of performance like a glove. Julianne Bird, equipped with fantastic technique and a voice that sounds always pleasing, takes the ball from where it was left by Emma Kirkby [30], and uplifts it one level higher. That means that this rendition is second to none. To Kirkby achievement, Baird is adding the right grain of emotion, and I have the feeling that she feels more natural in Bach’s idiom than Kirkby does. This recording bubbles with joy. Julianne Baird maintains the same high level in her second recording this cantata, this time with Jeffrey Thomas & American Bach Soloists [39]. If I prefer her first rendition a little bit more, it is only because Rifkin has the better trumpeter and his performance is slightly more balanced. On the other hand, Jeffrey Thomas has better moemtum and more drive. One cannot go wrong with either of them.


In the conclusion to the review of the recordings of Cantata BWV 199, I wrote about a year ago as follows:
“As you can see, most of the soprano singers from the past were rated in the upper levels, where most of the modern singers fall somewhere in the middle. Although it was not done intentionally, I believe that its also is not accidental. Most of the modern female singers have a boyish, light, almost vibrato-less kind of voice, rarely found in female singers from the past, and more suitable to the modern ears. But in terms of multi-layered paints, richness of expression, and exposure of feelings, and yes this over-used word (in my review, at least) 'maturity', they (the modern generation) still have something to learn from their predecessors. Comparing recording of one of the old generation singers to one of the modern ones is like comparing old painting with strong oil-colours to water-colours drawing.”

But regarding the recordings of BWV 51, you can see that the modern singers take the lion’s share of the upper levels, where the veteran ones go downgrade. The reason is simple and was detailed above in the comparison between these two cantatas. The demands of BWV 51 are more appropriate to the qualities of the modern Bach soprano singers. From that we can learn a simple lesson. Never jump to conclusions in advance. Let our ears be always open to new adventures.

After so many listenings, I shall try to avoid hearing this cantata in the next couple of months. But if I have to listen to this cantata all over again in the near future, it will be with the recordings of Winschermann/Ameling [20], Leonhardt/Kweksilber [24], or Rifkin/Baird [33].

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

Marita Giampiero wrote (September 23, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thank for the invitation

[9] I've found an old LP (nonesuch records) (on the other side the magnificat) an old and low price one bought when I was 13 with La Sarre Orchestra M. André and the fabulous virtuoso voice of Teresa Stich-Randall the passage from the third to fourth movement is one of the most lyrical page in the history of music

Robert Shermn wrote (September 24, 2001):
Marita Giampiero writes:
[9]< Andre and the fabolous virtuoso voice of Teresa Stich-Randall the passage from the third to fourth movement is one of the most lyrical page in the history of music >
[6] I have had the Stich-Randall/Wobitsch recording on LP for decades and, although I'm no fan of Wobitsch's small dead trumpet sound, Stich-Randall is beyond magnificent. It's not just her lyrical qualities in the slow movements. Her emotional and technical intensity in the finale is unique in my experience. She gathers, builds, and builds again to a thrilling climax, where every other soprano I've heard, including many I otherwise admire, just simply come to an end, leaving you wondering why Bach didn't have a better idea. Stich-Randall demonstrates that he did; it's just that the others don't have what it takes to realize it.

André is far superior to Wobitsch, so if she sings equally well on the two recordings, the one with Andre should be incredible.

[30] Kirkby is incredibly fast and clean, but the result strikes me as more of a technical tour-de-force than as music.

I would think that Julianne Baird [33] [39] and Arleen Augér [28] might also do very well with BWV 51, and look forward to the comments of list members who've heard them.

Jakob Pedersen wrote (September 24, 2001):
This is my first post to the BCML and I actually intended to do nothing but read other members' very interesting and well-researched posts, but since cantata BWV 51 was the first Bach cantata I heard, I felt like making my, if not scientifically inspired, then at least enthusiastic, words heard.

I have listed to the Richter version, with Maria Stader [13], the Gardiner version, with Emma Kirkby [30], and the Gelhorn version with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf [3]. I, regretfully, never had the time or money to acquire any more recordings.

[3] Of the three, I like Gelhorn's the least. I know nothing of trumpets, or winds in general, but I know a bit about singing, so I'll just have to concentrate on the singing. I feel that Gelhorn has got the tempo right, and Schwarz-kopf seems able to keep up with it. Yet, her style is very forced and powerful, and her intonation is unclear as soon as she is not singing scales. Her vibrato is extremely powerful, to a point where I have difficulty telling her vibrato and trills apart which, at least to me, seems completely out of place. The chorale (mvt. 4) could have been much worse, and gains a lot from Gelhorn's distinct violins, but in the "Alleluja" things really start to go bad. The combination of the high, yet adequate, tempo and Schwarzkopf's huge vibrato and powerful voice leave a very unsettled and disturbing sound image. I feel frustrated and confused when listening to it, most definitely not the point if this fabulous movement, which should leave a clear and undisturbed image of God's Grace. All in all not a very fulfilling experience, though I like Schwarzkopf style and power for other kinds of music, for instance her "Erste Dame" in the Klemperer version of the Magic Flute.

[13] Maria Stader does a lot better. This was the first cantata I ever heard, and I was totally amazed. Stader sings with very high lyrical quality and with adequate vibrato. Her intonation is not flawless, but certainly better than Schwarzkopf's. I feel that her voice works very well for this cantata even t hough she seems a bit frail on the high C in the "Alleluja". I like the singing a lot, but the tempo is wrong. It's simply too slow (Richter's recording is 2:04 slower than Gardiner's.) That creates a lot of problems. Stader seems to have problems with the low tempo, for instance just before the repetition in the first movement. The slow tempo even forces her to break of some of the beautiful long rows of tones in the 3rd movement to draw a breath. It's too bad; this recording could have been the best of the three if the tempo had been right. Apart from the tempo problems I feel that Richter's very powerful changes in dynamics in the "Alleluja" are out of place. In my opinion Stader is a fabulous singer, technically a master, and much more mature than Schwarzkopf and Kirkby, probably because she was 48 when she recorded it, compared to the two others who were both in their middle 30's. Richter's interpretation fails to bring out the high quality of her singing. Too bad, simply too bad.

[30] This brings me to Emma Kirkby and Gardiner. The tempo is the highest of the three, perhaps even a bit too fast, which seems to be one of Gardiner's flaws. But, I am totally amazed by the voice of Emma Kirkby. She is ex-tremely distinct and her voice is extremely clear. Her vibrato is hardly noticeable, and completely removed dur-ing most of the cantata. I am amazed that she can keep up with the orchestra, but even though it is so fast she never once let her singing, or role as the soloist, bring the tempo down. This is definitely the best recording of the three. I generally like Gardiner's work, especially his St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) and his recording of the Magnificat, which is on the some recording as cantata BWV 51. Bob S. described Gardiner's recording as a technical tour-de-force, but this is certainly music as well. Kirkby goes through the "Alleluja" with brightness, clarity and feeling, and brings the entire cantata to a magnificent and graceful ending. This is elegance, pure and simple. I hope to hear some of the many other recordings, but I have a difficult time imagining that any singer can do as well as this.

I even had to opportunity to listen to Kirkby at a live performance here in Denmark. I paid the ridiculously low amount of $10 for 75 minutes of her singing. A wonderful concert. She is even better when performing live!

These were the words! :-)

Marcus Song wrote (September 24, 2001):
[23] [To Aryeh Oron] I have a cassette version of the Archiv recording of BWV 51 by Karl Richter and Edith Mathis. I noticed your database is missing a few details of this recording, so here is some reference information I gathered from the liner notes.

BWV 51: Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen - Münchener Bach-Orchester
Conductor: Karl Richter
Soloist: Edith Mathis
Trumpet: Pierre Thibaud
Violine: Kurt Guntner, Christa Zecherle
Cello: Johannes Fink
Dbl Bass: Herbert Duft
Bassoon: Karl Kolbinger
Organ: Hedwig Bilgram
*(no violas are listed)

1. Aria: 4'37
2. Recitative: 2'45
3. Aria: 4'48
4. Choral: 3'26
5. Alleluja: 2'13
Total: 17'49

The only other version I have is the Teldec Leonhardt recording [24] which, interestingly, has very similar timings (I. 4'37 vs 4'40; V. 2'13 vs 2'15; Total 17'49 vs 17'51). Both are very fine interpretations, with the slight nod going to Kweksilber because I prefer less vibrato in the voice.

Given music of such high-calibre from Bach, it seems to me that it would be pretty hard to give it a bad re! <grin>

Kevin Faulkner (Mary Our Queen Church, Atlanta, GA) wrote (September 24, 2001):
A couple of notes about Cantata BWV 51 from some one who enjoys reading all the commentary of the various contributors. However, in this case, I have taught and played this piece for a number of years and happy to share my thoughts on the piece.

It is my belief that Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann reorchestrated this cantata and for the reason alone any performances with his reorchestration do not reflect good ole' J.S.'s intentions.

Sometime ago I heard Christoph Wolff say in lecture that there was a soprano in the Dresden court that this piece might have been written for. I'll leave that question to those with more research time than I, but this cantata demands a flexibility that few sopranos are able to pull off. For that reason alone, I love Julianne Baird and Emma Kirby for their performances. Both have flexibility that few can match in terms of the melismatic phrases.

On a personal note, tempo has been a constant source of contemplation for me for this piece. In the three instances I have performed it, the abilities of the soprano was the determining factor.

I have always contemplated this piece at least in the first and last mvts. as a duet between two trumpets, one just being the soprano. Bach is always writing instrumentally for the voice and this is no exception.

I am fortunate at the moment to be working with a soprano who has negotiated the piece quite well and will be doing it in Nov. It is a difficult cantata to play and do well. I appreciate Aryeh's ratings of the recordings all too well and would agree with him concerning the singers and their performances from my perspective.

Santo de Silva (Archimedes) wrote (September 24, 2001):
[33] I was listening to this cantata by Rifkin and Juliann Baird, and it is my belief that in that single high note in the solo Soprano aria, they have faked it. She's sung it an octave lower (or whatever) and they've altered the pitch and patched it in. ("Al-le-lu-JAH!") That cannot be Julianne Baird's natural voice!

Johan van Veen wrote (September 25, 2001):
Kevin Faulkner wrote:
< Sometime ago I heard Christoph Wolff say in lecture that there was a soprano in the Dresden court that this piece might have been written for. >
He was probably referring to Faustina Bordoni, the wife of Johann Adolf Hasse, who was a friend of Bach. But this seems a little unlikely: most writers believe Cantata BWV 51 was composed in 1730 and Bordoni came to Dresden in 1731. There have also been suggestions that Bach has written it for his wife, who was an excellent singer. But we just don't know.

Johan van Veen wrote (September 25, 2001):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
[46] 33 No Conductor
Budapest Strings
Soprano - Ruth Ziesak; Trumpet - Friedrich Reinhold
Nimbus 1996 TT: ? >
TT 16:50

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 25, 2001):
BWV 51 - Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! [Spitta, Voigt, Schweitzer, Dürr]

See: Cantata BWV 51 - Commentary

The Recordings:

I listened to 16 recordings of this cantata. They are Ramin (1948) [1]; Süsskind (1948) [2]; Gellhorn (1950) [3]; Heiller (1952) [6]; Münchinger (1950's?) [7]; Richter (1959) [13]; K. Thomas (1959) [12]; Leonhardt (1966) [18]; Leonhardt (1976) [24]; Rilling (1983) [28]; Pommer (1984) [31]; Rifkin (1986) [33]; Schreier (1989) [37]; Huggett (1994) [41]; Güttler (1998) [51]; and Leusink (2000) [54]

Everything other than the soprano voice:

With 16 recordings to listen to, it becomes very difficult to judge each recording from every aspect. I will rank the recordings I have based solely on the soprano soloist. This means that I will not consider such things as fidelity to the original score, which would be unfair in most instances, since the NBA published its score and research in 1987, and most of the recordings had already been made by that date. Nor will I comment on the quality of playing in the instrumental ensemble (Ramin's orchestra was noticeably poor, but the reasons for that have already been pointed out in previous cantata discussions), although the instrumentalists are an integral part of the performance. The instrumental soloists play a crucial part in the success of any performance of this cantata and really ought to be considered. This is particularly the case with the trumpet soloist who is always given a second billing, although the outer mvts. place the soloist on equal footing with the soprano soloist. While concentrating primarily on the voice, I nevertheless heard things that might add or detract from a given performance and I also began to place the trumpeters into two main categories:
1) those who play the notes with a clear, bell-like, solid tone without any detectable vibrato and
2) those who play primarily with a vibrato.
I personally prefer the solid tones of the former to the attention-getting, almost prima-donna type of playing which does not lend itself very well to ensemble playing, because it emphasizes the individuality of the instrument and the player as an opposing force to be reckoned with. I would personally select the vibrato-free playing and singing over the combination of a trumpet and voice where both have a noticeable vibrato, because it becomes almost impossible to match them both perfectly. It sounds infinitely better to my ears when both voice and trumpet are without a vibrato as they engage in coloraturas simultaneously (at an interval of a third.) The attack and the note sung or played have to be precise. There is no room for wobbly tones which undermine the intonation and create a feeling of insecurity about which note, precisely, is being sung or played.

With the trumpets, all sorts of interesting things occurred: two trumpeters, (I don't remember the names, because I was concentrating on the voices) who could not play a trill properly, decided to repeat the same note in quick succession for the duration of the trill; another trumpeter simply skipped playing 6 notes in succession (he played the same notes elsewhere, why should he drop them here?); Güttler, in the two recordings that I listened to, is primarily interested in calling attention to himself - this is not what I call ensemble playing, but rather a contest to see who is the real prima donna in the cantata. On the other hand, I was very pleasantly surprised by the playing of the solo violins (Monica Huggett and Sirkala-Liisa Kaakinen) in the final chorale mvt. (Trio). After hearing so many different recordings, always with the score in hand, here, suddenly something remarkable happens. When I first heard this, I thought, "This is different, but it is wonderful. Why didn't I hear this in the other recordings?" I even began to imagine Bach himself taking his part as 1st violinist in this marvelous ensemble. There was nothing distracting in the way these two women played their instruments, there was no cheap attempt to gain attention or to engage in emotive gimmicks, only a feeling that 'their hearts were truly moved as they played their parts.'

The recording technology, or better the lack thereof, has impacted the quality of the recordings, particularly those of the earlier vintage. The brilliance that one might expect from the voice and the trumpet is missing. Perhaps there was an attempt to pthe trumpet far away from the voice in an attempt to achieve 'a better balance.' I was particularly disappointed with once recording, the producer of which, Wolf Erichson, is the mastermind behind many excellent CD's that I possess.

The Soprano Voice:

There are various types of sopranos such as coloratura sopranos or lyric sopranos, but for the purpose of rendering a judgment on the soloists in these recordings, I had to come up with a different categorization, one that more realistically reflects what I have been hearing on the various Bach cantatas other than BWV 51. The two opposing factors that can usually be applied to the soprano soloists in Bach cantatas are the operatic vs. the non-operatic (HIP?) voices. Would that these categories could be that simple! But in a general sense they seem to hold for the most part, although there occasionally are voices that seem to straddle both categories. Another way to describe these categories are, on the one hand, the large-in-volume ability to project the voice over some distance to fill a hall or a large church with adequately audible sound without the use of amplification equipment (these I have frequently referred to as 'full' voices), and, on the other hand, 'small' voices with limited range (often the lower range of notes is very weak) (these I have referred to in the past as 'half' voices
because they lack the ability to project very much sound or volume particularly in the lower range, but most frequently their total volume output in the entire voice range is much less than that produced by the first category. In the first category, the full-voiced, operatic type, there is great variation in the amount of vibrato (actual wavering above and below the note to be sung) and the frequency (how fast or slow the vibrato is undulating.) Here personal likes and dislikes vary greatly. There are those who will like a vibrato of one singer, a vibrato that is objectionable to another listener. I, personally, can listen to and enjoy a certain amount of vibrato if it is not too fast or too slow and if maintains unwaveringly a non-excessive vibrato (the range between too sharp or too flat.) However, I also enjoy the instrumental-like singing with little or no vibrato which gives me the effect that everything is 'in tune' and hence, in my estimation, gains a special strength by virtue of this fact alone.

As many of you probably already know, opera composers create special musical categories assigned to specific roles in an opera. One such type of soprano role is made especially for the coloratura soprano. Such a soprano can easily 'hit' precisely and quickly high notes at different intervals with seeming effortlessness. This is a very specialized type of soprano voice that will sing these notes, clear as a bell, without any vibrato, but when the composer requires a more lyrical passage, then the voice reverts to a fast, quivering vibrato, one that I often associate with operetta type singers. Of course, in the lower range, there is very little volume. However, sometimes a soprano voice appears on the scene that seems to have it all. This would be the rare type of voice that Mozart had in mind when he composed many of his soprano arias: an extended range of notes with equal volume and quality throughout the entire range.

BWV 51 also has quite a large range that a soprano voice must project with equal volume throughout, but Bach makes a further demand, that many coloratura sopranos find more difficult to fulfill: the lyrical inner mvts. of the cantata. All the non-operatic, small, half-voices that produce wonderful, vibrato-less coloraturas with every note distinctly in the right place at the right time, now have to contend with producing some emotive content in the prayer like, slower sections of the cantata. Now the power to create and project a melody line is diminished because a reserve of vocal power is lacking in this lower range. The result is that a note for note (singing all the right notes) treatment is insufficient to move the listener. For the operatic singer, on the other hand, it becomes a real challenge to sing the sustained notes of the chorale, because they feel ill-equipped to deal with this type of notation. "What do you do with a boring chorale melody?" Apply even more vibrato 'to make it more interesting.' Some of the versions of the chorale sung by operatic-type singers give me the impression that the soprano is angry with the text and the simple, long notes. They are deprived of 'showing off' their voices to the best advantage because the text and the notes do not allow this. Perhaps Schweitzer was right about allowing only boys to sing the cantus firmus of a chorale.

Another interesting point to note is the matching that takes place between the HIP and non-HIP versions of this cantata: By and large the HIP performances use the non-operatic, small, half-voices, while the non-HIP performances use the operatic singers. Here is a list of the operatic sopranos (I am guessing at a few names of sopranos in recordings that I did not listen to in this recording, but have heard elsewhere, also the sequence of names carries no significance here): Birmele, Schwarzkopf, Danco, Stader, Giebel, Kweksilber?, Augér, Frimmer, Hendricks, Oelze, Gruberova, Popp and non-operatic, small, half=voices: Holton, Argenta, Baird, Schäfer, Ziesak, Kirkby, Stich-Randall? [The two names with questions marks indicate that I am not entirely certain about the categorization.]

There are no recordings that are so bad that they should not have been recorded [well, maybe one. See below.] On the contrary, there are many very good ones to choose from. I personally would choose to listen to the best ones in each of the two categories. The fact that one is directly below another in the list does not mean that one is considerably less in quality than another. Also, the fact that one is at the very bottom of the list does not signify that it is the absolute worst in its category, but rather that it still may be very good, but not as good as the others above it.

In regard to the operatic voices, I considered the type of vibrato used and whether it was appropriate for a Bach cantata such as this. For the non-operatic voices, I listened carefully to evidence of ability to project in the mid and low ranges.

For both categories it was important that the enunciation of German not be lost amid all the fiery vocal pyrotechnics nor in the lyrical middle mvts. where the text becomes even more important.

And finally: Is the singer singing all the notes, but leaving it at that, without trying to come to terms with the text personally so that it then can be projected to an audience?

Here is my list of the operatic performances from the top down:

[12] Thomas - Giebel (the Leonhardt - Giebel (HIP) [18] is a loser that I discarded)
[28] Rilling - Augér
[1] Ramin - Birmele
[24] [Leonhardt - Kweksilber] (would be possibly be ranked here, otherwise see below)
[31] Pommer - Frimmer
[51] Güttler - Oelze
[2] Süsskind - Schwarzkopf (only because of the slow mvts., otherwise near bottom)
[3] Gellhorn - Schwarzkopf (no improvement here, sorry, Mr. Legge)
[7] Münchinger - Danco
[37] Schreier - Hendricks
[13] Richter - Stader

Non-Operatic (HIP except for the topmost, oldest) performances

[6] Heiller - Stich-Randall
[24] [Leonhardt - Kweksilber]
[33] Rifkin - Baird
[41] Huggett - Argenta
[54] Leusink - Holton

Some comments on individual performances:

[2] [3] Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is an enigma when it comes to singing Bach. She used Bach's (?) [at least the figured bass is his] "Bist du bei mir" (BWV 508) as a warm-up piece in her recitals, a recording of which was played innumerable times on the radio until I could not bear to listen to it anymore. Of course, they also played these recordings of BWV 51 which made one thing clear to me: she definitely has problems singing Bach. Why is it that this great vocal artist that I admired in many (not all) of her German Lieder and in works with large orchestra sounded so forced and angry when performing Bach? By listening to her recordings carefully with score in hand, some of the mystery behind all of this was revealed. Let me first quote Alan Blyth (1999) in the liner notes for the Gellhorn performance: "Throughout her long and distinguished career, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf excelled in the singing of Bach." These early Bach performances/recordings "disclose the fresh, silvery voice at its most pristine, the tone floated effortlessly on an unfettered legato with an innate feeling for the import of the text. In sum it is singing qua singing in the highest level of achievement." Then regarding the 1948 (Süsskind) recording: "For some reason this recording wasn't issued at the time; Walter Legge, her producer [EMI] and future husband, presumably thought she could do it better on some future occasion." Allow me to read into these lines the following: the first version (1948) was considered to be substandard and the re-recording two years later was static, it showed no improvement over the first version. What was wrong here? With a fast tempo to reckon with, Schwarzkopf tries to 'shake' the 16th notes in the coloratura passages as if these constituted a trill and when the actual trills occur, they sound very unpleasant indeed. The only descriptive word that I can find for her coloraturas is ugly and very unpleasant to listen to. Was she trained to sing them this way? Did she discover on her own that this ill-conceived way of singing coloraturas was the only way that she could produce these notes and that there was no way to extricate herself from this method? Very frustrating indeed! And this is the frustration that I hear in the fast mvts. But the slow mvts. are an entirely different story. Here Schwarzkopf excels. Moving seamlessly from note to note while connecting musically on a higher level with the words. This is true artistry. She is the Heifitz of soprano voices here, technically nailing even the most difficult jumps without any hint of glissando, swooping toward the note, or incorrect intonation. In the chorale she helplessly reverts to a grand operatic style completely inappropriate in Bach's music. The vibrato becomes so wide that it is impossible to tell the difference between a note marked with a trill and one that is not, and when the alleluja begins, we are in for a repeat performance of all the ugliness in the coloraturas and yapping that we experienced in the 1st mvt.

[6] Teresa Stich-Randall demonstrates how Bach's fast coloraturas should be sung. Perhaps she is more a coloratura soprano than anything else. Everything is clear, bell-like sound, and she does not overdo her vibrato. Why do I consider her among the smaller, half-voices, even though this is not a HIP performance? Whereas her upper range sounds full, in the lower range there is a clear drop-off in volume. When she reaches for the high 'c,' she hardly touches the note with her voice. In the aria she swallows much of the text and seems more interested simply in tone production than the expression of the words. In the chorale she is noticeably weak in the middle range. So why does she deserve such a high rating? All the other voices in her category are even weaker in the areas that I have mentioned.

[24] The Marianne Kweksilber phenomenon: Sometimes she sings with a full voice (mainly in the higher range), but then a sotto voce in the middle and lower ranges that seems to indicate that she does not have much voice/volume to give there. What really bothers me about this voice, that sometimes resembles that of a boy's voice, is that she has insecure intonation caused by too much vibrato (do you see why I consider her partially in the operatic category?) Then there is an unnerving characteristic (caused by the Harnoncourt Doctrine?) that she will sing a half note as follows: after the attack of the note with full volume, the note is then allowed very quickly to diminish in volume so that the note is then sounded at half or less than half the volume that it had when it began. What sort of nonsense is this? In the Aria there are some sloppy attacks of the high notes as well as a swooping up toward the note. In the chorale there are strong accents on the long notes with pauses in between the notes of the phrase! In the final Alleluja, she nails the high 'c' but then sings the coloratura in a way similar to, but not quite as bad as Schwarzkopf does.

[12] [18] Agnes Giebel, with a full voice, has just the right amount of vibrato. The slow mvts. have good enunciation and expression. There was little that I could find to criticize, but when I heard her later recording with Leonhardt, I simply could not believe how little of this wonderful performance carried over to the later one. She may have been past her prime, or had a bad day, or the recording techniques interfered with the performance. This was simply not the same Agnes Giebel. There were insecure notes, more vibrato than usual, and at times there were shades of the worst of Schwarzkopf in the fast coloraturas.

[13] Maria Stader does not have a large voice, but nevertheless sings with a full voice. At times the voice has a narrow and sharp quality. What really caught me off guard was her interpretation of the word "jauchzet" which she sang in such a way that it immediately reminded me of the sound made by the Bavarian Schuhplattler as they slap their thighs and let loose with their yelping cries. Although this must have been an attempt at interpretation of the word, it seems utterly out of place in a Bach cantata. She lacks expression in the slow mvts. and uses a narrow voice with too much vibrato. In the chorale her voice is forced to produce sound and volume beyond its limits. This makes the voice sound angry. This is one of the worst treatments of the

[28] Arleen Augér sounds forced at times and occasionally uses too much vibrato. Some of the coloraturas begin to sound a bit like Schwarzkopf's. In her 'dangerous' zone (G and A above the treble clef staff,) she sometimes succeeds in hitting these notes beautifully, but at other times not.

Baird [33], Argenta [41], and Holton [54] all exhibit the characteristics that I have already alluded to above: middle and low range weak, superb accuracy in singing the notes precisely, but frequently this entirely instrumental approach to singing, as much as I enjoy listening to Bach being performed as if no human voice were singing, I then begin to long for the human warmth and emotion (not the overwrought emotion of opera divas, but the genuine emotion that is hinted at in the text) that only a human voice is able to produce, when it has the natural and trained resources to allow the human heart of the singer to reveal itself to the listener.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (September 25, 2001):
I have the Leusink [54], Rifkin [33] and Huggett/Argenta [41] recordings. What impressed me the most in my first few passes through these recordings, and concentrating on the final movement were the following:

[54] --I had looked forward to hearing the Leusink/Holton recording as I particularly enjoy both Holton and Leusink's light touch. I was disappointed with both. Somehow, Holton just doesn't move me. I also thought that the introduction of the trumpet in the "Alleluja", the very first few notes, the trumpet sounds weak, unsure. I compare that quite unfavorably with the quiet but assured introduction of the trumpet in Hugget's ensemble.

[41] --Argenta's voice is just perfect to my ears, and based on these three recordings. Strong yet light and nimble. In this recording, I enjoy her very delicate use of, dare I speak the word, vibrato. It seems to work and to complement the music.

[33] --I found Baird too operatic for my taste, but not by much.

So, my favorite is Huggett/Argenta [41], followed by Rifkin/Baird [33], then Leusink [54].

My guess is that if I only had the Leusink recording [54], I wouldn't complain so much.

Robert Shermn wrote (September 25, 2001):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< two trumpeters, (I don't remember the names, because I was concentrating on the voices) who could not play a trill properly, decided to repeat the same note in quick succession for the duration of the trill; >
[6] Agree, this trick, most widely used by Helmut Wobitsch, was a sorry excuse for a trill. I expect the recordings on which you heard it are older ones in which a C trumpet was used. In that case a clean valve trill on G above the staff is essentially impossible because the same fingering (3rd valve) that produces the A will also produce a G and that's where the sound tends to go. More modern recordings use trumpets in F, or Bb or A piccolo, which make the trill manageable. But the technology to make these trumpets in tune and with good tone didn't exist until the late 1960’s.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 25, 2001):
Some questions for Bob Shermaro, or anyone else who can help supply information on this subject:

Thanks Bob for your input on the repeated note trill curiosity. I see almost no end to the variety of instruments used to play Bach's composition, but very troublesome for me is that fact that certain distinctions between the various trumpets and horns, distinctions that I always presumed existed, are now being confused or even erased entirely, so that Güttler can feel justified in playing the 2nd Brandenburg on a horn (I believe, if I read correctly, Güttler's first, primary instrument was a horn), so that Harnoncourt in his recording of BWV 78 feels justified in using a tromba da tirarsi (slide trumpet) where Bach clearly indicates the part to be played by a 'corno,'and so that the liner notes to Suzuki's Vol. 9 of the Bach cantata series state the following:

"Although it is common knowledge that, in Bach's time, the horn and the trumpet were played by the same musician, [my question: Did Gottfried Reiche play the horn as well?] even now [1998] there are still many opinions as to what sort of instrument was used. For example, in mvts. 3 and 6 of BWV 24, there is a part given the name of 'clarino.' Since the mid-17th century, this term has been used not to refer to an instrument, but rather to indicate the highest register of the trumpet family; mvt. 3, however requires many notes which can not be played by a standard natural trumpet, so if a trumpet indeed played that part, it only could have been a slide trumpet. But it is difficult to imagine that Bach planned this fast-paced piece for a slide trumpet, intending the length of the mouth pipe to be adjusted during the performance. In addition, the motifs which appear in mvt. 6 point to the registration of a horn.

In response to this, Bach-Collegium-Japan trumpet player, Toshio Shimada, through a process of trial and error, came up with the idea that something like a corno da caccia in B flat, which is required for BWV 143 – an instrument like a small horn with a slide - might be suitable; he thus built one. It appears very likely that the original of the instrument in question had characteristics of both trumpet and horn. Incidentally, the final mvt. of BWV 167 clearly used a slide trumpet, whereas the 1st mvt. of BWV 76 calls for a standard C trumpet."

Do Bach's designations of trumpet and horn (tromba and corno) no longer 'hold water?" Is everything just a question of trial and error, even now after so many years of research. Were there no physical examples of these instruments that have come down to us for us to examine? After Gottfried Reiche's death were all his instruments thrown away or melted down? I just checked the entry under his name in the Oxford Composer Companion for J.S.Bach and by implication one could also infer that Reiche played the violin, but the only portrait of him that exists shows him holding a coiled trumpet. Have the instrument makers looked at that trumpet carefully and compared it with other existing trumpets (I hope that something from his time survived) to see if they can construct something similar?

When Bach asks for a 'tromba' in BWV 51, it is difficult for me to imagine a horn playing this part, but now I am beginning to wonder....

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Trumepts in Bach Cantatas [General Topics].

Andrew Oliver wrote (September 29, 2001):
For most cantatas I have two recordings, the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt and the Leusink. For this one, I am in the happy position of having five, and I like them all.

This cantata seems to me to be one of Bach's best. It would appear that at the time of composition he must have had an excellent soloist available, and an excellent trumpeter, and he therefore made the best use of them that he could. There are various things I particularly like, one of them being the way the brilliant outer movements are balanced by the gentler, more contemplative inner movements. Of course, it is standard procedure for a composer to vary the mood of the work, but here it seems a particularly prominent feature.

[54] I like the voice of the soprano Ruth Holton. To my taste, she is one of the best features of the Leusink recordings. This cantata, however, is not the best vehicle for her particular talents; she is best in the middle movements.

[41] Monica Huggett's recording features the excellent trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins, surely one of the best in the world. I kept trying to think what it was about Nancy Argenta's singing that failed to move me, since it is difficult to fault her in any way. In the end I decided that it was because, to my ears, there seems to be almost a mechanical element to her singing, and a lack of warmth, especially in the outer movements. I did, however, enjoy her performance in the recitative.

[33] I have to say that, in general, I find Rifkin's recordings disappointing. This cantata, though, I really enjoyed, and was quite impressed by Julianne Baird's capability combined with expressiveness. I also liked the sound of the dancing violins in this recording, but was not so happy with the comparatively slow tempo of the first movement.

[24] Mostly, I liked Leonhardt's recording, and was glad that he used Marianne Kweksilber as the soloist rather than one of the usual boy trebles. Again, I liked this voice. If it had one drawback, it was because it seemed a little inconsistent to me.

[20] Best of all, to my mind, head and shoulders above the rest was the remaining one of the five. Having listened to other excellent performances already, I didn't think there was much room improvement, but I was wrong. Elly Ameling singing in her prime had it all - power when necessary, technical ability, accuracy, expression, euphony, and human warmth. She gives the impression that she is in control, yet without sounding dominating. All credit to her, and to Winschermann, and to Maurice André the trumpeter.

By the way, I notice that Maurice André plays on at least three of the recordings Aryeh lists, and they range from Ristenpart in the mid-1950’s [9], through Winschermann in 1970 [20], to Marriner in 1983 [27]. Quite a timespan.

Roy Reed wrote (September 30, 2001):
Hello All, Sorry to be dragging along behind. As with so many, BWV 51 is one of my very favorites. It raises tantalizing and unanswerable questions about its purposes, since it doesn't relate really to the liturgical day and is such an special bravura wonder. It just had to have special and wonderful reasons for being.

I have eleven readings of the cantata. Using Aryeh's categories I would rate them as following:

A+ Argenta (Huggett) [41] This is performed too fast, except for the prayerful middle aria, but if I could have only one CD of BWV 51, this would be it. This collaboration seems to me to be particularly successful. Nancy Argenta, for my tastes, is an excellent Bach singer. Her sweet and pungent oboe soprano is well suited to the work, and she has the agility and the range. Drat the tempos.

A Here I am fudging. Emma Kirkby [30] is my very favorite soprano and for me the best at baroque. But she is routinely required to race along at absurd tempos. The finale of the "new" Händel Gloria (One wonders?) is a good example of what I mean. A ridiculous tempo. Mind you....she can do it!! But it ain't right. I had the pleasure to meet Ms Kirkby after a concert at St. John's in Smith Square and started to raise a question about BWV 51, and she immediately interjected....."to fast." And so it is. Double drat, and this should be the very best of all. Yet another disservice Mr. Gardner has wrought to JSB.

A- Here I would plece Agnes Giebel (Leonhardt) [18]. What a lovely tone. Believe it or not a bit on the slow side for me, but a fetching voice. Christine Schaefer (Goebel) [52]. Too fast, but a really rejoicing presentation. I liked the spirit. Herr Goebel gets the prize for most opaque and convoluted commentary.

B Second rate. Baird (Thomas [39] and Rifkin [33]) She is a fine singer and has made significant contribution to early music. Someone concluded that her top...the high Cs were mechanically created. I have no clue about that, but I did hear Ms. Baird sing BWV 51 some months back and the Cs were pretty uncontrolled screeches. There were some unfortunate aspects of that performance which were beyond her control, but I judged that this was either not a good day for her, or the top just isn't there any more. Augér (Rilling) [28]. I expected to like this more than I did. Kertesi (Antál) [40]. Here are wonderful top notes, excellent intonation Fine singer.

C. Third Rate. Bogard (Moriarty) [19]. Top not the best. Fine ornaments. Good intonation. With prodding I would move this up to B....but maybe not. Gruberova (Winschermann) [25]. With some prodding I might move this down to D.

D. Do not like: Schwartzkopf (Gellhorn) [3]. Stick to Mozart and Strauss, honey! I heard the most wonderful concert by E. S. in Symphony Hall in Boston back in about 1953. I was so thrilled that I went backstage and got her autograph. Rare for me.

This cantata holds a special place in my life, because I sort of "went out" on this note. The last concert I conducted before retiring from 35 years of music ministry in a church was a program of Bach. (It was the Bach anniversary year 2000.) We did a couple of opening and closing chorale settings from cantatas and concluded this opening section with the final chorale from the St. Jn. Passion (BWV 245). Followed by two harpsichord concertos....D major and F minor. And the whole concluded with the joyous notes of BWV 51. I had phoned a friend on the voice faculty of Indiana University (James McDonald) with the request, "I want an Emma Kirkby." He sent me one of his students, a lovely young English woman, Johann Morton, along with her new baby and charming husband.... and did she ever do a job on BWV 51. She is a fine Bach singer. Great top, no forcing, just the right sort of flexibility....every note, without the "punched-out accentuation. And I was, and am a happy man!


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 51: Details
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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10
The Need for Bach: A discussion of his life, Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen, BWV 51 and Ich habe genung, BWV 82 [S. Burton]

Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Main Page | 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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