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

Cantata BWV 51
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!
Discussions - Part 8

Continue from Part 7

Discussions in the Week of July 20, 2008 [Continue]

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 26, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote
<< Generally speaking, even altos can vocalize up to a high 'C' in rehearsal. >>
Jane Newble wrote:
< As an alto myself I would like to hear that, or perhaps on second thoughts I wouldn't. On third thoughts I might just be underprivileged. >
It's one thing to vocalize up so high and quite another to use the high C or higher as a 'public note.' :)

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (July 26, 2008):
Jane Newble wrote:
< As an alto myself I would like to hear that, or perhaps on second thoughts I wouldn't. On third thoughts I might just be underprivileged. >
I remember once upon a time hearing a recording of Janet Baker singing the Alleluia from Mozart's 'Exsultate, jubilate' WITH the high C at the end. Needless to say, my eyes about popped out when I heard it. For those who aren't intimately familiar with the piece in question, it was apparently written for a castrato whose name escapes me at the moment, and the score does not contain a high C anywhere (the highest note is A). However, there is an unwritten rule that if you have the high C (and aren't obsessive about doing everything exactly as written in the score), you transpose the final cadence up an octave, which gives you a high C. That means that almost every soprano good enough to be singing the piece in public at all puts it in, so that it is perhaps not even widely known that this is a deviation from the original. And like I said, Janet Baker had it as well. Probably it was the highest note in her range, but you have to her cheer her on for even trying...

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 26, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< That means that almost every soprano good enough to be singing the piece in public at all puts it in, so that it is perhaps not even widely known that this is a deviation from the original. And like I said, Janet Baker had it as well. Probably it was the highest note in her range, but you have to her cheer her on for even trying... >
It seems to me that the excitement in Cantata BWV 51 comes from the technical aspects that stretch the human voice and psyche to the ultimate heights. Jeremy had written that none of the recordings 'touched him' in an emotional context, and also perhaps it was Jeremy who had written about a tenor doing these two (E.J.) works as a contrasting possibility. I think the message gets through quite well in some of the recordings, but knowing what we do before we listen sometimes can pre-condition us to listen in a different manner. We know quality performances take substantial preparation so we listen sometimes to see if the singer can 'cut' it. That aspect moves one away from the transcendental content at times I have observed. I remember during the years I sang in the Messiah chorus everyone was listening for those top notes, and in Lindsborg, Kansas the topic of the week was how well the soloists had done. So I guess what I want to say is that sometimes our response to music is conditioned by what we think we should be hearing, and now and then if it's possible perhaps setting those prejudices aside can add to the maximal quality of the performance we are able to hear. I think being at these events live often makes the story-telling aspect more believable, but I am sure glad I can listen at home, too.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (July 26, 2008):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
> It seems to me that the excitement in Cantata BWV 51 comes from the technical aspects that stretch the human voice and psyche to the ultimate heights. <
The human voice, maybe. Although then again, there is a lady here in Krakow who can probably sing every note on the piano well enough to do it in public. I once saw a telecast of one of her concerts where she was hitting, for example, ultra-high e (e'''') with the ease with which everyone else hits high C. But yeah, that is the key - most people can't go much beyond high C...

And as for the psyche, I think that differs. Maybe there are people who get nervous about the high notes and it could even have a deleterious effect. Although I would say to these that they should try organizing the concerts themselves. THAT is stressful - to make sure all the i's are dotted and all the t's crossed, and not vice versa [wink].

There are others who just know that they need to pay closer attention to what they're doing at that moment because there's less room for error, they know what they need to be doing, they have it in mind, they pay attention to what they're doing, the note comes out, and the adrenaline rush that probably everyone gets from singing in public, does wonders for their articulation and maybe they convey the impression they're about to take off and start flying around the hall. Maybe that's just a different kind of height. But the latter, you can get even when you're not singing difficult material. It suffices to really believe in what you're doing.

> Jeremy had written that none of the recordings 'touched him' in an > emotional context, and also perhaps it was Jeremy who had written about a tenor doingthese two (E.J.) works as a contrasting possibility. I think the message gets through quite well in some of the recordings, but knowing what we do before we listen sometimes can pre-condition us to listen in a different manner. We know quality performances take substantial preparation so we listen sometimes to see if the singer can 'cut' it. That aspect moves one away from the transcendental content at times I have observed. <
Oh, this sounds so much like what one might say about the Paganini violin concerti... I've heard maybe one or two people who can do those and make them sound like real music, chief among them Viktoria Mullova, who incidentally is also a fine interpreter of Baroque music (and jazz, and just about anything she turns her hand to - her modesty about her abilities notwithstanding - and she does indeed turn her hand to almost anything...).

For some reason, people don't talk about, for example, the fugues from the Bach solo violin sonatas in quite the same way - though the one from the A minor in particular is in spots as tough as any Paganini I've seen. They're more likely to talk about the form, the counterpoint... Of course, someone who plays this material is going to wonder - are they going to fake their way through that chord progression in the cadence before the first episode, or they going to do it for real? Or if the soloist is using a modern instrument, they might think about how far the person will go to achieve a maximally Baroque sound, what they are going to do about bowings...

> I remember during the years I sang in the Messiah chorus everyone was listening for those top notes, and in Lindsborg, Kansas the topic of the week was how well the soloists had done. <
I admit, having written what I did about the Bach fugues above, that it almost seems weird that we often listen to Bach's vocal music differently. And all the more so that for the most part, the man treated the voice as an instrument...

> So I guess what I want to say is that sometimes our response to music is conditioned by what we think we should be hearing, and now and then if it's possible perhaps setting those prejudices aside can add to the maximal quality of the performance we are able to hear. <
It's true: being prepared beforehand (reading the score, etc.) before you go to a concert (to listen, I mean) is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it may enable you to understand the form better, catch certain details that might otherwise have escaped you. And on the other, yeah, you might be distracted by that knowledge from the 'essence' of the work.

> I think being at these events live often makes the story-telling aspect more believable, but I am sure glad I can listen at home, too. <
Not to mention that when you hear it in public, you know you're getting the real deal, that they didn't splice bits of ten different run-throughs together to get the 'perfect' result. Plurecordings obviate the effect that under normal circumstances, the space you play in is part of your instrument, as it were, and if you are in a recording studio, well, the effect is something like a digital organ. It may be very high-quality, with a hundred stops and four manuals and huge, top-quality speakers built into the walls, but it is still digital...

All for now.

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 27, 2008):
BWV 51 - Provenance

Thomas Braatz contributed Provenance page for Cantata BWV 51 discussion.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV51-Ref.htm

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 27, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
>> It seems to me that the excitement in Cantata 51 comes from the technical aspects that stretch the human voice and psyche to the ultimate heights. <<
____ I can listen at home, too.

> Not to mention that when you hear it in public, you know you're getting the real deal, that they didn't splice bits of ten different run-throughs together to get the 'perfect' result. Plus recordings obviate the effect that under normal circumstances, the space you play in is part of your instrument, as it were, and if you are in a recording studio, well, the effect is something like a digital organ. It may be very high-quality, with a hundred stops and four manuals and huge, top-quality speakers built into the walls, but it is still digital... <
My responses:--) Maybe context is almost everything. In live performance one can hear pitch fluctuations that are adjusted in even very high quality recordings. It's simply a case of concerts and recordings being different mediums, and as different elements I find evaluating them differently is wise. But my point about how we hear things is also related to the context of the message since I tend to be a text first thinker. Given there are fewer opportunities in Phoenix for live Bach cantata performances than opportunities to listen to recorded sound I maintain that both are amazing and I am grateful for both categories. As to your comment about organizing concerts there is much detail as there is in organizing any human endeavor, and of course we should not forget the working efforts of all musicians be they those who perform live or record. It takes a lot of work either way, and in the end serves different people in different ways. I think that's good.

William Hoffman wrote (July 27, 2008):
BWV 51 Voices

Many years ago I had the fortune to live in Fountainebleau, actually Avon, and audited one of Nadia Boulanger's classes, as well as attending summer concerts at the American Conservatory. She was a most gracious yet challenging person. She often told individual students to try harder but look for different approaches. Her favorite topics were composition and the human voice. I think some of her statements were meant in gest but would give pause. Some of her ideas: There is no true French alto voice, only mezzo sopranos, and they better be able, like Carmen, to sing those high notes and not stay down for safety. Castrati were not known just for their high notes and some of the best, based on their music, were altos. The best countertenors were usually baritones in falestto. Singing Solfeggio is an essential practice for all singers who want to be inherently, instinctively musical; this also applies to all composers, instrumentalists, and especially, conductors. She sometimes said the best voices, predictably and consistently by country, were Americans. She abhorred most church choirs, saying that older women should never sing tenor and older men an octave lower. She also didn't care for pensioned opera singers in the chorus, who could neither move nor blend their voices.

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 27, 2008):
[To William Hoffman, regarding Voices] Thanks, William for these most interesting comments.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 28, 2008):
BWV 51 recordings

I am unable to recommend the single most satisfactory recording, not because there is none, but because I find many of them satisfactory (plus).. I gather that several other correspondents agree. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding as to whether satisfactory means perfect? Some brief thoughts follow, on several recordings I would not hesitate to recommend.

In general, I agree with the comments from the first round of discussions with respect to the recordings which were covered then, and which I have heard. I make no claim to be comprehensive. There is a lot of material re BWV 51, written and recorded, more than enough for a book (or BCML thesis), let alone a weeks worth of chat. My usual disclaimer, as well, perhaps timely to repeat here: I have no special expertise on either music or religion, other than ears and soul (god-given?).

Wintscherman/Ameling [20]. The vocal performance remains unequalled for clarity, purity, and for that special <effortless> quality. Trumpeter Maurice Andre is legendary. The accompaniment is (how shall I word it carefully?), <early post-romantic>. In plain language, a bit thick, but with harpsichord tinkling prominently (over-miked?). To my taste, the tempos are slow. That leaves the overall performance mainly of historic interest, but the vocal sets a standard which continues to be strived for. Not to be missed if you have the opportunity to hear more than one recording, but not my recommendation as the only one to own.

Huggett/Argenta [41]. If you absolutely have to make do with one recording, specific to BWV 51, this would be my recommendation (but see below, re Leusink). It is worth hearing, just for the baroque trumpet by Crispian Steele-Perkins. The textures throughout are simply perfect; violin duo in Mvt. 4 is especially outstanding compared to almost all other recordings. Nancy Argenta is not quite as effortless as Elly Ameling [20], reaching for those <high c> opportunities. One has to listen carefully to find even that detail to distinguish the performances, it certainly does not interfere with enjoying the recording. Most critical are the tempos in Mvt. 1 and 5, both very quick. I wonder if this is intentionally so, to emphasize the trumpet pyrotechnics. The cental Mvt. 3 is especially slow, for contrast. But for the tempo factor, and that Elly Ameling remains unequalled, I would rate this version <perfect> (satisfactory?). Pretty close, either way, but I am striving for accurate communication.

Rifkin/Baird [33]. Others have preferred Baird to Argenta, because of (as I read it), her effortless approach to the high cs. I agree, but there is a vibrancy (not quite vibrato) to Argenta which I find marginally preferable. Keep mind that we are trying to discriminate (for the sake of discussion) among the very best performances of the worlds best music. Others have also questioned the authenticity of the recording, compared to live performance. I am reluctant to mention the point, but it is in the archives. I am not qualified to comment further. The recording does indeed sound effortless, and it is among the best, for recorded sound. Not to mention the historic interest of the <R(education)i(n)f(orce)kin> hypothesis [credited as theory, at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV51-D4.htm]. The Huggett [41] is marginally preferable, but the curious will want both, plus the BCW reading.

Leusink/Holton [54]. Many of us (myself included) enjoy Ruth Holton, and find her tone and texture <boyish>. From that perspective, this recording could be a first choice. Or it could be poor imitation. In any case, if it is your only option, I find it very good, and the differences with both Huggett and Rifkin are subtle. If you do not have the Leusink available, do not bother with any other recordings. First, find your way to the complete Bach Edition, about US$100 for 160 CDs, perhaps free on-line?

Koopman/Petersen [57]. If the tempo extremes of Huggett are difficult to accept, this may be the best alternative. The tempos are perfect, IMO, and texture, trumpet, and vocal are all outstanding, if perhaps just a notch below Huggett. It is always difficult to suggest getting a full-price, three CD set on the basis of one cantata. Ultimately, this may be the version I come back to for repeat listening.

Stepner/LaBelle [59] Regional (New England USA) team makes good. The instrumental textures are as clear as Huggett, the tempos are as perfect as Koopman. The vocal line is more operatic than baroque, certainly not to everyones taste. I find the high notes effortless, in the style, but there are plenty of forceful (not to say forced) vocal effects throughout. I wonder if this is the recording that Steve Benson declined to identify, after he shut it off? Many friends here, I cannot be objective, but the vocal mellowed out for me, the second time through.

Gardiner/Hartelius [55]. You cannot go wrong with any issue from the pilgrimage series. Not every detail is superior, every time, but the performance recordings coupled with the project concept create a body of work which transcends critical analysis of the details. Essential for quite a few of us. Satisfactory? For me, yes. Ja, ja.

Stephen Benson wrote (July 28, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote [Recordings]:
< I wonder if this is the recording that Steve Benson declined to identify, after he shut it off? >
No, it isn't.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 28, 2008):
BWV 51 recordings (more)

I will post some details on timings/tempos in the coming day or so. In hurrying to beat the end of week deadline, I misrepresented the Stepner [59] tempos as about the same as Koopman [57]. In fact that performance has its own distinct character, better described as intermediate between Huggett [41] and Koopman. For those who do not care for quick tempos, Koopman might be preferable to either Stepner or Huggett.

John Pike wrote (July 28, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
"For some reason, people don't talk about, for example, the fugues from the Bach solo violin sonatas in quite the same way - though the one from the A minor in particular is in spots as tough as any Paganini I've seen."
I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you there. I think the A minor fugue is quite a bit easier (technically at least) than both the G minor and, especially, the C major fugues. I think the C major is the hardest piece in the book, harder than the Chaconne. I have never dreamt of looking at the Paganini concertos (and would never dream of drying to play any of the 24 Caprices) but they all sound very much harder, technically, than any movement by Bach.

I must say I was underwhelmed by Viktoria Mullova's Bach when she played 3 of the solo works in Bristol. I found her playing bland and unemotional. It was technically very assured, lacking in vibrato and very personal, but it just didn't speak to me. My favourite recording of these works is Julia Fischer on Pentatone. Not a baroque violinist but should be extremely satisfying to anyone. I think she is quite a bit better than baroque violinists Rachel Podger (?label) and Monica Huggett (on Virgin).

Jane Newble wrote (July 28, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton Wrote:
< The human voice, maybe. Although then again, there is a lady here in Krakow for example, ultra-high e (e'''') with the ease with which everyone else hits high C. >
I don't feel quite so optimistic about the 'ease with which everyone else hits high C'.

Of the five recordings I listened to, there was only one who seemingly effortlessly and with ease hit the high C, and that was Elly Ameling [20]. At the end she sounded as fresh as at the beginning, and I had the feeling that she could do it all over again quite happily.

Most of the rest of them gave the impression that it was jolly hard work, and that they themselves were wondering if they would get there. They appeared to breathe a big sigh of relief on the last 'jah', and had made me feel worn out in the effort of listening.

Greetings from Scotland, where it is warm!

John Pike wrote (July 28, 2008):
Cara Emily Thornton Wrote:
< I remember once upon a time hearing a recording of Janet Baker singing the Alleluia from Mozart's 'Exsultate, jubilate' WITH the high C at the end. Needless to say, my eyes about popped out when I heard it. For those who aren't intimately familiar with the piece in question, it was apparently written for a castrato whose name escapes me at the moment, and the score does not contain a high C anywhere (the highest note is A). However, there is an unwritten rule that if you have the high C (and aren't obsessive about doing everything exactly as written in the score), you transpose the final cadence up an octave, which gives you a high C. That means that almost every soprano good enough to be singing the piece in public *at all* puts it in, so that it is perhaps not even widely known that this is a deviation from the original. And like I said, Janet Baker had it as well. Probably it was the highest note in her range, but you have to her cheer her on for even trying... >
I heard Emma Kirkby doing that in Bristol Cathedral once. It was truly thrilling but I had no idea at the time that it was not, strictly speaking, Mozart.

John Pike wrote (July 28, 2008):
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< I don't know about any of you; but I've NEVER heard a satisfactory rendition of this piece; especially the last number. There's something about it that makes it very difficult to interpret convincingly. >
Personally, I have heard plenty of recordings which I found joyous and thrilling. I don't sit there with a score waiting for the high C, wondering whether they will hit it or not and I don't lose any sleep if someone sounds a bit weak on the high C. I'm not really in to listening to several recordings one after the other to make comparisons and draw up a rank order. I just try and enjoy a particular performance while I listen to it. Sure, over time, I will end up with my favourite recordings, and I will inevitably develop some sort of rank order in my mind, but I don't listen with creating one as an objective.

It's the overall effect that I am interested in and I think there are plenty of singers out there who have given a very enjoyable account of this particular cantata in that regard.

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 28, 2008):
[To Jane Newble] Elly Ameling [20] is a simply awesome vocalist. I have a number of her recordings and her energy does seem endless.

You're right--there should be no sigh of relief on the final note...that should happen after the performance and the recording session if at all.

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (July 28, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski, regarding Recordings] Did you ever hear the Hans Grischkat and Margot Guilleaume Recording [4]: for me, it is a summit !

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 28, 2008):
[Voice] I appreciated the post on Nadia. Hughes Cuenod was one of the tenors who worked with her and that is my only knowledge of her; but the Cuenod connection was quite broad. I felt in some ways like the description of Nadia was mirroring Hughes' views as well. Hughes was one of those tenors who was wonderfully expressive even at the top reaches of his tessitura. I suppose since you have less harmonics to play with at the soprano high notes, expressive abilities become more limited to volume and vibrato; whereas for the high notes for a tenor aren't all that high for them. Someday when time permits, I will get to studying Nadia more in depth.

I will say this about BWV 51. The greatest interpretive problem with it (and this hasn't been mentioned yet) is that in the final movement Alleluia is repeated over and over and over. Anyone familiar with the halleluja chorus (Händel) will khow difficult it is to give honor to the same word over and over again. The "praise" songs are always the hardest. How do you interpret praising an almighty creator? As if that wasn't hard enough, you are also saddled with the almost insurmountable duty of repeating the same word over 20 times. Its hard enough to give proper interpretation to a word when it is repeated once. But to give a word power and meaning over 20 times in a row is almost super-human. Its not the music that I blame for the difficulty of this piece and its difficulty to please me; its the libretto being a single word of praise.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 29, 2008):
[Voice] Nadia Boulanger was quoted:
>There is no true French alto voice, only mezzo sopranos, and they better be able, like Carmen, to sing those high notes and not stay down for safety.<
Is Nathalie Stutzman not alto enough, not French enough, or simply not yet around at the time?

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 29, 2008):
[Voice] >I will say this about BWV 51. [...] How do you interpret praising an almighty creator? As if that wasn't hard enough, you are also saddled with the almost insurmountable duty of repeating the same word over 20 times.<
In many traditions, you praise the Creator by chanting his name, in repition. I do not know the Lutheran specifics, but is that a possibility?

You could also contemplate the Creator, contemplating his creation. In which case you might sing, <Hallelujah> while thinking <He has a weird sense of humor>. Come to think of it, some of those coloratura runs sound suspiciously like laughter. Ja, ja? Ha, ha.

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 29, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski, regarding Voice] Ed, you have me laughing again.

When I learned the Alleluia I didn't think of any amusing angles, but I was fascinated with the structure of the piece and where the notes went, and the challenge to make nice lines. So I never became bored.

Repeating key words is not unusual.

In college we sang Randall Thompson's Alleluia...one word only and a very popular selection for Lutheran's of that era. The tension and excitement in that piece build, as one would also might hope to happen in the final movement of BWV 51.

Jane Newble wrote (July 29, 2008):
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote [Voice]:
< But to give a word power and meaning over 20 times in a row is almost super-human. Its not the music that I blame for the difficulty of this piece and its difficulty to please me; its the libretto being a single word of praise. >
The good thing about it is that it is a word with 4 syllables, every one of which can be accented, so that gives at least 4 different words, and more scope for variation.

Personally, I love those hymns where I can sing this word several times at the end of a verse. Somehow, it is a wonderful Hebrew word to sing. Is it because it is perhaps the only Hebrew word in most of Christian songs of praise?

I am not surprised that Bach made the most of it.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 29, 2008):
Jane Newble wrote [Voice]:
< The good thing about it is that it is a word with 4 syllables, every one of which can be accented, so that gives at least 4 different words, and more scope for variation. >
One of the reasons that Handel's Hallelujah Chorus is so rhythmically arresting is that Handel constantly shifs the accent.

Take the opening:

HAL-lelujah, HAL-lelujah,
Halle-LU-jah, Halle-LU-jah,
Hal-LE-lujah.

Ending of course with a nuclear hit on "YEAH!

Bach has some measure of this playfulness in the syncopated Hallelujahs at the end of the first chorus of "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" (BWV 4).

Joel Figen wrote (July 29, 2008):
Jane Newble wrote:
< I don't feel quite so optimistic about the 'ease with which everyone else hits high C'. >
I think you/re all making too much of the high c. It's only one note in a totally spectacular piece. It's a fairly unimportant note to boot. It occasionally happens in singing that one or two high or low notes are outside a singer's best range.... so what? It's still possible to turn in a spectacular performance.

I'm thinking of Lotte Lenya's 1950s performances of parts Kurt Weill had originally written for her, before her voice got lower. She could no longer hit all the notes, so she, well, didn't. And he was no longer alive to rewrite them. She substituted notes she could still sing, and in many cases they weren't even notes from the same scale - just microtonal suggestions of <higher note>. But to this day the performances are memorable, because they're Lenya's final recorded thoughts on the parts. (and not because of her, uh creative intonation...:)

I'm not advocating such a cavalier treatment of Bach. But, really, how well madam x hits high c is such a minor aspect of the whole gestalt that I think I can say I really don't care if the performer hits it or not, let alone how well. It s only one note, after all. It would have a nice jazzy quality to substitute a high b. :) B flat would work to, as would a or g. No, none of these would be right, but it's over so quickly that it scarcely matters. (It's fun to think of what notes would bereally really bad here... f# for instance...)

Not to keep harping on Weill/Brecht, but

Gott sei Dank geht alles schnell vorüber
Auch die Liebe und der Kummer sogar.
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern abend?
Wo ist die Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

As in the old zen parable, just put the woman down on the other side of the river. When that note is over, clear your mind and move on to the next. The contrapuntal texture is so rich in the Alleluja that you must be missing something if you're still thinking about high c half a bar later.

John Pike wrote (July 30, 2008):
[To Joel Figen] I absolutely agree with this.

Mary Vinquist wrote (July 31, 2008):
John Pike wrote:
< My favourite recording of these works is Julia Fischer on Pentatone. Not a baroque violinist but should be extremely satisfying to anyone. I think she is quite a bit better than baroque violinists Rachel Podger (?label) and Monica Huggett (on Virgin). >
John, I'm absolutely in love with Podger's recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas and quite fond of Huggett as well. That's the joys of lots of choices. Something for everyone.

As far as "Jauchzet", I heard a stunning performace in the early '80s by a ringer! at Aston Magna when it was still in its fully glory. [:)] Kirkby doing this live should have been simply wonderful. [:">] Her voice is perfect for the piece.

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 4, 2008):
BWV 51 recordings (footnote)

In my post last weekend, I left some details for a subsequent post, regarding tempos in BWV 51. Clearly, the comparative details of recordings are not everyones favorite discussion topic. Note that I have carefully identified this post as a supporting footnote to previously expressed opinions. It is not intended as social chat.

First the data: total timings for a few key recordings, listed from quickest to slowest, as well as the timings for Mvt. 1 and Mvt. 5 in parentheses.

Koopman [57]: 16:07 (4:27, 2:20), Mvt. 3; 3:38

Gardiner [55]: 16:29 (4:07, 2:10)

Stepner [59]: 17:04 (3:59, 1:58)

Huggett [41]: 17:30 (4:17, 1:50), Mvt. 3; 5:30

Leusink [54]: 18:12 (4:26, 2:30)

All timings are as published, except for Koopman and Huggett. In those two instances the combined times for Mvt. 4/Mvt. 5 are published, I have provided my own timing of actual playing for Mvt. 5.

Huggett [41] gives the impression of a quick performance, but this is solely from Mvt. 5. OTOH, Koopman [57] gives the impression of a very balanced performance, despite the quickest total . This appears to be from the middle movement, which is moderate rather than slow, but does not leave an impression of quickness.

These are all excellent recordings. Stepner [59] and Huggett [41] are especially welcome as a change from the mainstream, modestly priced (if still available), and led by the first violinists.

Contrary to some other opinions, I enjoyed very much having some insight from the resident vocalists as to high note technique, and having the opportunity to pay special notice to this detail in the recordings. I did not find that it detracted at all from enjoying the overall performances, indeed just the opposite. Rather like adding a bit of spice.

 

BWV 51 Alleluia tempo and some other comments on singing Bach

Jean Laaninen wrote (September 27, 2008):
As some of you may already know I normally sing two Bach cantatas (BWV 51 and BWV 52) daily for maintenance. Today I was listening to BWV 82a by Nancy Argenta and making some notes for myself on the key structure of the work since I want to record this eventually, and after finishing that task I allowed the CD to continue to BWV 51. Before it really started I wondered about matching Argenta's tempos [41], particularly in the Alleluia which flies like the wind, and I decided to sing along. Bear in mind in my voice lessons last year I studied French exclusively and learned after long-last to sing rapidly in French, and with comprehension. From my listening experience I have taken the point of view that those who excel in singing in French (if not native Germans) sing German better than those who do not have training in French. This is partly a matter of diction and being able to keep the sounds forward, and falls into the matter of IMO or better yet IMHO.

To my exceptional delight for the first time ever I was able to attain Argenta's tempo [41] in the Alleluia. In the view of some conductors perhaps the tempo is in the extreme, but I found it exhilarating beyond words to be able to carry this forward at such a pace, light and without any strain and to keep the velocity even in the upward runs which go to the oft-discussed high notes. In fact, after a year studying with Courtney Gilson-Piercey, both the vocal quality and the agility supported the more rapid tempo very well. Courtney is a doctoral student at ASU, studies with David Britton, and has held previous teaching positions in colleges in Michigan. She grew up as a stage kid in NYC, and is working on her dissertation in the area of French Romantic composers. She also sings Bach arias exceptionally well, though that is not her favorite area. I believe she will become well recognized as a teacher of voice when she takes up a new position following her graduation in 2010.

This experience today raised some thoughts in my mind about the matter of ideal tempos--a concept which I don't exactly follow, but one which in the case of greater ease and simpler breath management at the high tempo caused me to wonder if Bach would have had an ideal tempo for this particular part of the cantata. My objective in mentioning this is not to start a controversy, but to simply point out my discovery--the accelerated pace brings great results, though few would attempt the extreme, I think. And, of course I take into consideration the recording venue and so on as we discussed in the past at one point extensively. So I believe in mediating factors, but find tempo in this work quite interesting. Some have complained that a single word for a movement is boring, but at the accelerated tempo, I don't sense any boredom at all.

To be sure we all have and freely maintain our own points of view on such matters, as well we should. And I am so glad for the freedoms of today that allow us to maintain the music of the past without being slaves to the tyranny of who may or may not sing various works. Personal preference is certainly worth while as long as we don't impose it like law upon others.

Anyway, today was one of the best days I have had musically in a long time, and I wanted to share my experience with the group as well as to give my teacher some applause for making me a better singer.

 

Continue on Part 9

Cantata BWV 51: Details
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Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10
Article:
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: 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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Last update: żNovember 5, 2014 ż09:32:30