Cantata BWV 54
Widerstehe doch der Sünde
Discussions - Part 1
Discussions in the Week of March 26, 2000 (1st round)
Aryeh Oron wrote (March 26, 2000):
This is the week of cantata BWV 54, according to Jane Newble's suggestion. After the overload of listening to the rich BWV 106 last week, it was a refreshing experience to listen to this small cantata. Only one voice and no Choir, very modest instrumentation (violins, viola and Continuo and no wind or brass instruments), only 3 movements and around 12 minutes of music. The music is also very simple and can stand repeated successive hearings.
The linear notes to Deller’s recording , written by S.W. Bennett, summarise the important things to be said about BWV 54:
The score employed in this recording of the cantata BWV 54 is not that of the Bach – Gesellschaft, which was shown by Smend to be based on a rather carelessly copy, but on a manuscript discovered later in the Bibliotheque Royale a Brussels. It opens with what Schweitzer describes as “an alarming chord of the seventh… the trembling of the basses and violas, and the sighs of the violins between them give the movement of a somewhat disturbing effect. It is meant to depict the horror of the curse upon sin that is threatened in the text”. The music, as he proceeds, also portrays, somewhat more tenderly, the anguish of heart. Smend proves that this Aria had originally written for the lost St. Mark’s Passion (BWV 247), on the text “Falsche Welt, dein schmeichelnt Kussen…” Thus the music that Bach had originally written on the theme of Judas became a more general exhortation to withstand temptation and sin. The recitative that follows begins, in the words of Arnold Schering, in “an almost impersonally calm, declamatory style”, with a touch of “visionary” as the instrumental accompaniment makes itself heard. In the final Aria, Schering finds that “the chromatically descending quarter notes represent sin… the sixteenths continually circling about the single note represent the Devil, while the bass stamps down in a restless quarter notes. With the entry of the singer, a fugue begins its soaring flight, with the searing dissonances, and with appearance of the word “davongemacht”, “the events develop at a breathless pace, and there is no end to the surprises, including overwhelmingly complicated canons, until the composition is at the end”.
Review of the Recordings
During last week I have listened to 12 recordings of this cantata. 2 of them are by the same conductor and 2 others by the same singer. 8 of them have counter-tenor as the solo singer and the rest have female Altos. 9 of them are with HIP accompaniment and 3 with conventional instrumentation. For the comparison below, I have listened to each recording at least twice.
 Gustav Leonhardt with Alfred Deller (counter-tenor) (1954)
Intro: In the linear notes to this recording, it was written that ‘This CD represents the very first recording of historic instruments made by Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, in the early days of the endeavour in the producer notes. ‘I first heard Alfred Deller’s voice during the late 1940’s, in 2 lovely Purcell songs on a 78 rpm disc. In 1952, the young GL, while recording for me in Vienna, mentioned Alfred and asked if I would be interested in recording him. I instantly said yes!’
Singer: I have to admit that I like very much Deller’s voice. He has a kind of elegiac quality to his voice, that I do not recall hearing from any other counter-tenor singer. And at the time of this recording, he was at the heights of his powers. I know that in those old days, his voice sounded very strange to many people, and some of them even felt very uncomfortable hearing him. But I believe that he could hold his own even in our times, when our ears are better tuned to the counter-tenor voice, and we have more than one of them available. And although he was a pioneer in this field, he was also very expressive. Deller’s really touch your heart, but I feel that somehow Bach was not Deller’s nature playing field. He sounds even more convincing in some of Händel’s arias, which appeared in the second part of this CD.
Accompaniment: HIP. Charming, gentle, precise and sensitive.
Summary: Looking at the TT, you could think that this is a very slow performance, But not to my ears. This is a fascinating performance, that capture your attention and does not let you doing anything else while listening to it. It still satisfying and holds an honourable place among the best recordings of this cantata.
 Kurt Thomas with Marga Höffgen (contralto) (1961)
Singer: A nature Bach voice, authoritative and knowledgeable, even if it is not matching contemporary taste (too much vibrato). A very expressive and convincing singing.
Accompaniment: Non-HIP. Slow, heavy handed and stiff.
Summary: If only she could enjoy a better accompaniment...
 Helmuth Rilling with Julia Hamari (contralto) (1975)
Singer: Good and rich alto female voice, with expressive and dramatic projection.
Accompaniment: Non-HIP. Light, delicate, soft and misses some of the drama.
Summary: So and so. Enjoyable but unbalanced.
 Gustav Leonhardt with Paul Esswood (counter-tenor) (1976)
Singer: Beautiful voice, but sounds one dimensional in comparison to others.
Accompaniment: HIP. Although it is a little bit faster, this interpretation sounds very similar to Leonhardt’s older recording. The recorded sound is, of course, better.
Summary: A little bit more flexibility from the singer’s side would make it a perfect performance.
 Jean-François Pailliard with Birgit Finnilä (contralto) (1977)
Singer: Much bigger and deeper voice than we became accustomed to from Bach female Alto singers, but Finnila is doing a very fine job. Her timbre reminds me some of the counter-tenor singers, although her interpretation is not Bach oriented. Maybe it is the conductor’s fault.
Accompaniment: Non-HIP. Weak and tiresome. This is Bach’s music, but it seems that the conductor does not know it. .
Summary: The unsuitable conducting destroys it all
 Robert King with James Bowman (counter-tenor) (1988)
Singer: Full and rich voice, a joy to the ear, from a singer who succeeds in keeping interest along the first long Aria.
Accompaniment: HIP. Beautiful, sharp and brisk.
Summary: Pure and clean performance, which does not have any weaknesses. Do I miss something? A little bit more enthusiasm perhaps, but on the other hand, too much enthusiasm might stand on the way of repeated hearings. I know that the same singer with the same orchestra and the same conductor had recorded this cantata for another British label (Meridian) about 2 years before they did this one. I have not heard their previous recording and I do not know what they wanted to improve in their newer one. But the results they achieve here are perfect from every aspect, including the interaction between singer and accompaniment. It is a clear candidate for the first place.
 Jeffrey Thomas with Drew Minter (counter-tenor) (1990)
Singer: Very dramatic and distinct voice, sensitive and clear production, from a singer who understands what he is singing.
Accompaniment: HIP. Alert, flexible, crisp and vigorous.
Summary: A first rate and original performance. If the accompaniment represents the Devil who is pushing ahead, then the voice sounds as saying ‘Go away, I am not afraid of you’.
 Roy Goodman with Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto) (1994)
Singer: Pleasant voice, which sounds unsuitable for Bach. Over expression and operatic pronunciation in the wrong places.
Accompaniment: HIP, sensitive.
Summary: Very strange feeling to hear such a voice in HIP environment.
 Ton Koopman with Andreas Scholl (counter-ten) (1996)
Singer: First rate. I would not like to sing here the praises of Scholl, but he could do even better.
Accompaniment: HIP. Low profile and missing drama.
Summary: Leaves something to be desired.
 Masaaki Suzuki with Yoshikazu Mera (counter-tenor) (1996)
Singer: Small, but pleasant and delicate voice. Here and there he stresses too much.
Accompaniment: HIP. Very fast, but precise. The conductor favours too fast pace to my taste.
Summary: Vivid and pictorial. Convincing, yet missing a greater voice with more dramatic sense.
 Philippe Herreweghe with Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor) (1997)
Singer: The complete singer for this cantata. You can feel that Scholl does not only have the most expressive tool and the most beautiful voice in all ranges. You have the feeling that he is really enjoying singing and hearing himself singing, In that sense He reminds me Dietrich Fischer Dieskau in his better period.
Accompaniment: HIP. Lively, flexible, sensitive, rich and beautiful.
Summary: The best recording of this cantata.
 Pieter Jan Leusink with Sytse Buwalda (counter-tenor) (1999)
Singer: A very unique voice, from a singer who is not afraid to express his feelings.
Accompaniment: HIP. Relaxed, but expressive.
Summary: Good interaction between the singer and the accompaniment. Very high level performance, which does not leave you with the feeling that it could be improved in any factor.
After so many hearings of this cantata, I can say that it belongs to that group of masterpieces, which grow gradually in your head with every listening. It does not capture your ear immediately, like BWV 106 or BWV 131 (which were discussed lately in this group) do, but you can hear it many more times. To summarise – in terms of interpretation, most of the better performances of BWV 54 seems very close to each other. There are differences of course, mostly in tempi, but there are still more similarities then differences. As though the frame of the music and the minimal means dictates a unique kind of interpretation. For me the best of them are Deller/Leonhardt  and Scholl/Herreweghe  and the worst are Höffgen/K. Thomas (due to the conductor and not the singer) and Stutzmann/Goodman (due to the singer and not the conductor). In between there are more performances on very high level.
I am aware that there are more recordings of BWV 54. I have already ordered the one sung by Maureen Forester (on Vanguard). I have great expectations from that performance. Forester has a wonderful and glorious voice and most of her career she was singing sacred music and oratorios. Anton Heiller conducts her accompaniment in that recording and he is a man who knows what Bach music is all about.
And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.
Marie Jensen wrote (March 27, 2000):
The "Widerstehe" cantata (BWV 54) is a short one. Two arias for Alto connected by a Recitativo are all. This is a Weimar work. In Leipzig no cantatas were performed in Lent.
For many years all I had was a taped live version from 1985 with an awful Counter-tenor Ledroit . I hoped the Leusink boxes I ordered had arrived this weekend. I was too optimistic , but I have the BCJ Vol.3 Suzuki/ Mera . The first aria has this "Widerstehe" deeply incorporated in the passionate steady string accompaniment. Yes Aryeh, Suzuki is fast. In fact the Aria becomes a baroque tango! And what a funny anachronistic coincidence that the (sinful) tango is used in a song about sin! I like this version- also Mera earnest Recitativo about the essence of sin, typical didactic baroque poetry, but going straight into heart and imagination, the attractive but false gold, the empty shadow, the concealed grave. If Bach does not end a work with a chorale, he ends it with a fugue...like here... great too.
Ryan Michero wrote (March 28, 2000):
(To Aryeh Oron) Thanks for another nice overview of the recordings of this cantata, Aryeh. You remind me that I need to get that Deller disc  (I don't recall having ever seen it for sale). I myself have six versions of BWV 54, and it was really interesting to compare the different ways performers deal with the emotional content of the cantata. The key movement for me is definitely the opening aria. Much has been said about the pungent dissonant accompaniment of an interval and a seventh pulsing through much of the movement. What I really love about this movement is the string ritornello above it though: At first there is a single statement of the key motive, then it layers over itself with clashing intervals, it becomes more lyrical with longer note values, it builds in intensity and rises as the harmony changes, it playfully stops at the climax to state the first fours notes of the opening motive at different intervals, then it lyrically sweeps down to the tonic key and, best of all, finishes with an extended cadential line for the violas (two of them in this cantata) again echoing the rhythm of the first four notes of the opening motive. Gorgeous.
 (Leonhardt/Esswood) This one is not one of my favourites. Esswood is okay here--not really one-dimensional in my opinion but lacking emotion. Also, Leonhardt's tempo is a bit sluggish to my ears, and, while the sound is beautiful, other conductors phrase the accompaniment more persuasively.
 (J. Thomas) I couldn't have said it better myself! I particularly like Aryeh's visualisation of the Devil accompaniment vs. the steadfast Christian singer. Minter is great, and this is one of my favourites now. One note: this is one of the two recordings of this cantata that uses a one-per-part string section in the first aria (the other is Koopman's). This seems to be the most historically correct choice, and it certainly works here even if the sound of the violins is weaker. Regardless, I do prefer the sound of the HIP groups that use two or more violins per part (See, I'm not too much of a 'purist').
 (Koopman) Again I agree with Aryeh. It doesn't bother me that the strings are under-powered but that their sound seems to be smoothed out and 'sanitised'. The impact of the cantata is diminished by this performance. Or is it that I know both Koopman and Scholl can do better?
 (Suzuki/Mera) Aryeh makes good points, and I do feel that this just misses being a great performance. Mera sings wonderfully and with a great range of expression, but I agree that he stresses a few words randomly. The last phrase of his first solo passage comes to mind--he sings it "Sonst ergreifet dich ihr GIFFFTT!". It's beautiful until he gets to the last word and then...huh? Strange. This was one of Mera's first recordings as a soloist, though, so I chalk his idiosyncrasies up to inexperience (he quickly became a more confident and assured singer). Despite my reservation, though, this is a fine performance overall. And the instrumental playing on this version is my absolute favourite--THIS is how the string ritornello of the first aria should sound. The solo violas of the BCJ send chills up my spine!
 (Herreweghe/Scholl) I agree that this is an excellent recording, but I can't call it the best because I like the others so much. Scholl is impeccable--a wonderful, intensely expressive and moving singer. Herreweghe's handling of the first movement isn't as convincing to me as others, but the final fugal aria is fantastic. Perhaps Herreweghe's orchestra, with multiple strings per part, doesn't sound enough like a Weimar 'chamber' group? There is little to complain about, though. This one is excellent overall, and I will return to it.
 (Leusink/Buwalda) I'm afraid my opinion here diverges greatly from Aryeh's. In my opinion Buwalda sounds just plain bad. Mera may do some strange things here and there, but Buwalda seems to do them with every breath. To my ears, it sounds like an awkward, under-rehearsed first take that should have been discarded. If it is not, then I seriously doubt Buwalda's talent and competency. (Am I being too hard on him? Are my ears too used to the rarefied pleasures of Scholl and Minter?)
A note about tempi: I listened to Suzuki's version  first, and the tempo seemed quite natural to me. The next morning, I listened to Herreweghe's recording and really enjoyed it. I wanted to compare Scholl's singing to Mera's with Scholl fresh in my mind, so I put on the first Aria of the Suzuki and--ACH! --It felt way too fast! So I decided that Herreweghe's tempo was the best. Then LATER that afternoon, I listened to Suzuki again, and it didn't seem too fast at all. Then I compared it with Herreweghe, and Herreweghe's tempo sounded sluggish and heavy-footed! My conclusion? All tempi are relative perhaps? At any rate, I will keep listening to and enjoying both recordings on their own terms.
Jane Newble wrote (March 30, 2000):
Although I have not been able to contribute for the past two weeks, I have finally caught up with reading the posts, and as always, I am very impressed with Aryeh's untiring work in providing such a wonderful guideline at the beginning of each week!
 (Leonhardt/Deller) It's worth getting. Deller is very expressive and there is a total sincerity about him. He does not sing to impress an audience. But of course he sounds quite different from modern countertenors. I agree with Aryeh that he seems better singing Händel though.
I only have three versions of this cantata: Deller , Scholl with Herreweghe , and Buwalda with Leusink . Listening to these several times I am having a really hard time to decide which I like best.
Voice-like, of course, nothing much can beat Scholl. He is in complete control of his voice, always sings exactly on the note, and you just feel confident that nothing is going to go wrong. Buwalda is in a different class, but although it took me a while to get used to his voice, I have to admit that I am totally fascinated with him. Considering that the Leusink cantatas were recorded after hardly any practice, I find them refreshing and un-polished. Probably much more like it would have sounded in Bach's time.
The instrumentation of Leusink sounds like a passionate pleading to resist sin, backing up the voice and the words. With Herreweghe, I feel the music is like sin, very appealing and tempting, and the voice sings against it.
Stephen Thomas wrote (March 31, 2000):
(To Jane Newble) Firstly, having just subscribed to this list and enjoying it very much, I wonder if there is a way to access older messages. Is this possible? Particularly Aryeh's 'untiring work'? Secondly, Jane, which Deller disc are you and Ryan speaking of ?
I have been learning Bach's keyboard works on piano and have always loved anything I've heard by Bach, except for vocal music in general. As a child, I sang in a couple of England style men and boy choirs that laid a foundation for me that I was completely not aware of until I purchased a Naxos disc of cantata BWV 80 on whim. It is all have listened to for the last two weeks now. Absolutely gorgeous. Moved beyond belief. Then the other day I noticed Harmonia Mundi was having a sale on it's Bach catalogue. So I gobbled up a couple of box sets of the cantatas etc. etc. The cantatas are a revelation and a turning point.
Johan van Veen wrote (March 31, 2000):
I would like to add my comments to some of these recordings.
 (Leonhardt/Deller) It is an interesting recording from a historical point of view, and of course Alfred Deller was a unique artist, and it shows in this recording. But I don't think it can compete with more recent recordings. The tempo is too slow, and he isn't doing enough with the text. I also note that his pronunciation isn't very good (there are some striking examples in the recitative).
 (Leonhardt/Esswood) I never liked Paul Esswood's voice very much, but he certainly knows how to deal with the text. The accompaniment is a little too slow, but the very strict rhythm is working rather well (in that respect it isn't that different from Suzuki  and Goebel - see below). I also think that the dissonants come across better than in most other recordings.
 (King/Bowman) The accompaniment is too smooth, too much legato playing. Bowman is good, but has a somewhat irritating tremolo now and then and doesn’t represent the text strongly enough. It is a little flat.
 (Herreweghe/Scholl) Unsatisfying. Scholl isn't convincing in his treatment of the text. In the da-capo of the first aria he sings some ornaments which don't convince me, and he gets in a little trouble with his phrasing as a result. This recording is one of the fastest (6'45") but the string accompaniment doesn't illustrate the content of the aria very well.
 (Suzuki/Mera) I have to say that I don't like Mera's voice. That is a matter of taste, of course. But it is the text again... That seems so difficult. Too few dynamic accents, too much "sung" rather than "spoken" in the recitative. The accompaniment is first rate. Alfred Dürr says that the opening chord is a sort of wake-up call. I think that can be said as well regarding the string accompaniment of the whole first aria. In this recording the strings produce a kind of "lashing" sound which goes on and on and on. Unfortunately the effect is a little undermined by easing off the "dynamic pedal" in the middle of both sections. Goebel goes further (see below).
 (Leusink/Buwalda) One of the less successful performances by Buwalda, who on the whole is the most expressive singer (I would even say the 'only' one) in this series. Here he underplays the emotions of the text, but isn't helped much by the accompaniment, which is lacklustre and flat. The only thing that is better here than in the other recordings I know are the last bars of the recitative, which illustrate "das uns durch Leib und Seele fahrt" - the cello gives a very vivid description of that.
Listening to the cantatas I noted a similarity in tempo in several recordings, in particular in the first aria. Bowman/King, Esswood/Leonhardt and Buwalda/Leusink  all need 8:15, which in my view is too slow. Koopman and Suzuki  are more convincing here.
I am going to cheat a little by referring to a studio recording by WDR Cologne, which I taped some time ago. Musica Antiqua Köln with Kai Wessel gives a very dramatic performance. The first Aria lasts only 6:05. The accompaniment of the strings is basically the same as that in Suzuki's recording , but even more radical. I think it matches the character of the first aria very well. The recitative is one of the best I have heard, and although I sometimes find Wessel a little too bland, he is doing very well here. Only the second aria is a little too fast in my view.
So, what's the best recording? None of these is wholly satisfying. But I think I'll go for Wessel/Goebel, with either Mera/Suzuki  or Esswood/Leonhardt  in second place.
Matthew Westphal wrote (March 31, 2000):
(To Johan van Veen) Maybe you should try Drew Minand the American Bach Soloists  or Scholl II with Herreweghe ?
Ryan Michero wrote (March 31, 2000):
< Johan van Veen wrote: I also note that [Deller's] pronunciation  isn't very good (there are some striking examples in the recitative). >
 This reminds me! I meant to mention the other day that Drew Minter's pronunciation bothered me in a couple of places on the Thomas recording. Unlike the correct "doch", with the German guttural "ch" sound, Minter repeatedly sings "dock" with a hard "k" sound. Big German pronunciation faux pas, and it distracts from his otherwise fine performance. Too bad.
 < I have to say that I don't like Mera's voice. That is a matter of taste, of course >
This isn't directly related to this comment, but does anyone else think Mera sounds like Drew Minter? Funny, some people love these two, some people hate them.
 < One of the less successful performances by Buwalda, who on the whole is the most expressive singer (I would even say the only one) in this series. >
I'll try not to judge him by his performance here, then.
< I am going to cheat a little by referring to a studio recording by WDR Cologne, which I taped some time ago. Musica Antiqua Köln with Kai Wessel gives a very dramatic performance. >
This is a studio recording? And it wasn't released on CD? ARGH! This partnership sounds very apt for interpreting this cantata. I agree--sometimes Wessel is very good, sometimes he is not.
Matthew Westphal wrote (March 31, 2000):
 < Ryan Michero wrote: This reminds me! I meant to mention the other day that Drew Minter's pronunciation bothered me in a couple of places on the Thomas recording. Unlike the correct "doch", with the German guttural "ch" sound, Minter repeatedly sings "dock" with a hard "k" sound. >
Funny, I never noticed that -- and I'm quite certain Drew knows better. (He studied in Vienna.) I suspect that's a quirk of the recording.
< This isn't directly related to this comment, but does anyone else think Mera sounds like Drew Minter? >
Yup. I think Little Yoshi sounds a lot like Drew did in his younger days.
Johan van Veen wrote (March 31, 2000):
[To Ryan Michero] No, it isn't. In fact, Goebel has made lots of recordings for German radio, which have never been released on CD. It is a great shame, because they are all very interesting. He has recorded about 6 Bach cantatas I think, all one-to-a-part, mainly with Schlick, Wessel, Prégardien and Schöpper. There are also many recordings of 17th century German sacred concertos (Schütz, Meder, Weckmann, Schelle, Bruhns, etc). He has also recorded 17th century sacred music with Cantus Cölln - an excellent combination. I have been very lucky that until last November I could receive WDR Cologne and tape these recordings (at that date my cable company in its wisdom removed it). But I would like to see a CD company releasing them.
Dyfan Lewis wrote (April 20, 2000):
Yesterday a friend who'd been in Rotterdam picked up five boxes of in total 25 CD’s or 78 cantatas for the princely sum of 35 US dollars, making about 45 cents per cantata. (It seems they are being sold in the US for about 5 dollars a disc instead. In England about $3.50) You even get brief but good liner notes, photos of the players and the German text.
I'm prepared to accept that there may be the odd dud but the only one I've heard so far is the beautiful alto cantata BWV 54 . Sytse Buwalda is certainly a bargain counter-tenor but this short work has been on my player for several trips already and is the best 45 cents-worth you can get anywhere. I raise a toast to the owners of the Kruidvat drugstore chain who can't be making money but are getting lots of good karma. Does anyone know why have they arranged the cantatas in the order given?
Cantatas BWV 54 & 170
Pascal Bédaton wrote (June 19, 2000):
My English is very poor but because I do not want to see this list stopped, I will try to participate to this good tool which has helped me for months in my quest to find the best (if possible) Bach recording for each work.
In particular, thank you to Aryeh for his good reviews.
 Today, I just would like to say something about the Deller's recording of the cantatas BWV 54 and BWV 170, which I found Saturday in a second hand shop.
I am not a musician, I am going to use my own words to try to say what I feel.
I like very much Deller's voice and Deller Purcell's recordings but I did not enjoy this one. I am surprised because I read a lot of good papers on it.
First, the recording is not good. I do not know if it is the same for some of you, but I am not enough musician to appreciate a very old recording recorded very far with external noises.
Second, the recording of these cantatas sounds like an opera and not like a sacred work. Maybe because it was the beginning of this kind of recordings. I found it too dramatically, too much theatrical.
For these cantatas, I have only heard Herreweghe  and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt  before for BWV 54 and only Herreweghe for BWV 170 and I like very much these recordings.
Is somebody could explain to me why this old recording is good, just to help me to go deeper in this work that I maybe did not appreciate at its own value.
Aryeh, I deleted by error the review you made about these cantatas, could you be kind enough to sent me a copy of it?
I am not an expert, so be kind with this opinion.
Aryeh Oron wrote (June 19, 2000):
(To Pascal Bédaton) Do not worry about the English. Some of the contributors to the list (myself included) are not expert in English. The idea of the group is to share ideas about the cantatas, and not examining your English level. A feedback in poor English is much better than no feedback at all.
< In particular, thank you to Aryeh for his good reviews. >
Thanks for your kind words.
 < Today, I just would like to say something about the Deller's recording of the cantatas BWV 54 and BWV 170, which I found Saturday in a second hand shop. I am not a musician, I am going to use my own words to try to say what I feel. I like very much Deller's voice and Deller Purcell's recordings but I did not enjoy this one. I am surprised because I read a lot of good papers on it. First, the recording is not good. I do not know if it is the same for some of you, but I am not enough musician to appreciate a very old recording recorded very far with external noises. >
I am also not a musician and I am judging a performance from the past only regarding its musical content and level of performance. Maybe it is because I am used to hearing old Jazz recording, some of them were done about 80 years ago! I really do not mind about 'white external noises'.
< Second, the recording of these cantatas sounds like an opera and not like a sacred work. Maybe because it was the beginning of this kind of recordings. I found it too dramatically, too much theatrical. >
Interesting viewpoint, but I do not agree. IMHO, even today Deller's recording of BWV 54  is among the very best. You can read it my personal view (see below).
< For these cantatas, I have only heard Herreweghe  and Harnoncourt/Leonhardt  before for BWV 54 and only Herreweghe for BWV 170 and I like very much these recordings. >
Herreweghe (with Scholl)  is among the best recording of BWV 54.Leonhardt (with Esswood) is also very good, if on a little bit lower level. BWV 170 has not been discussed yet in our group. Itis planned for the week of July 30, 2000 (according to Ryan Michero suggestion).
< Is somebody could explain to me why this old recording is good, just to help me to go deeper in this work that I maybe did not appreciate at its own value. Aryeh, I deleted by error the review you made about these cantatas, could you be kind enough to sent me a copy of it? >
You can read the original review, and all the following postings, plus some updates, in the following URL (This Page above).
< I am not an expert, so be kind with this opinion. >
Please, continue to contribute wherever you can.
Jane Newble wrote (June 19, 2000):
 (To Pascal Bédaton) I have just listened to Alfred Deller again, and still feel the same as I did when I first heard it. But I realise that my listening is coloured by personal associations, i.e. having read his biography, and having listened to and participated in the choir led by his son Mark Deller.
Trying to be as objective as possible, it is a bit of a shock to come to this recording after hearing for example 'perfect' recordings like Herreweghe. And I can totally understand your feelings about it. By our modern standards it probably is a bad recording.
The reason why I personally enjoy it so much is that his sincerity and integrity comes through so much in his singing, even though I feel he is happier (and perhaps better) singing something a bit more 'light-hearted' like Händel and Purcell. Apart from that I value it as a historic document.
Many of these things are purely subjective. I always find it refreshing when someone does not like something I do, or the other way round. It makes me listen again, trying to see a different way of looking at it.
BWV 54 conducted by Glenn Gould
Aryeh Oron wrote (August 11, 2000):
 I found out that the famous pianist Glenn Gould recorded a Bach cantata as a conductor! Here are the details:
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 54, Overture BWV 831, Fugue BWV 552, Concerto BMV 1052 & 1054
Glenn Gould, Russell Oberlin and others
Music and Arts 654
I wrote to Music and Arts label and asked them if this recording is still available, or if it is expected to be available again. Their answer was as follows: "NEVER", because Sony asked us to destroy all our unsold Gould recordings about 5 years ago (which we did)..."
Cantata BWV 54 was discussed in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List couple of months ago, and nobody mentioned this recording during the discussion. Has anybody ever heard this recording? I am curious to hear his (or her) opinion.
Zachary Uram wrote (August 11, 2000):
 (To Aryeh Oron) Wow!
Aryeh, why did Sony tell them to do this? Talk about fascist!
Please if someone has this CD, I will pay him or her to dub me copy on tape and send it to me.
Jim Morrison wrote (August 11, 2000):
 I've never heard a CD of this recording, but you can see the performance on episode V of the video tape series "The Glenn Gould Collection."
Also included on that tape is the opening movement to the Liszt transcription of Beethoven's Sixth symphony (a majestic performance, by the way) and the Fifth Brandenburg concerto.
Both of the Bach's recordings feature Gould performing on something called the harpsipiano, a piano altered to sound a bit like a harpsichord.
Oscar Shumsky, who recently died, is featured on the Brandenburg.
These videotapes are really inexpensive now, between 6 and 10 dollars, but supplies are running out, so if you want them, you'd better order now. Both Amazon and Tower Records are selling the tapes.
Philip Peters wrote (August 12, 2000):
Zachary Uram wrote:
 < Please if someone has this CD I will pay him or her to dub me copy on tape and send it to me. >
And that goes for me as well.
Anne Smith Megan wrote (August 12, 2000):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
 << I wrote to Music and Arts label and asked them if this recording is still available, or if it is expected to be available again. Their answer was as follows: "NEVER" because Sony asked us to destroy all our unsold Gould recordings about 5 years ago (which we did)..." >>
Zachary Uram asked:
< Aryeh, why did Sony tell them to do this? Talk about fascist! >
Glenn Gould is Big Business. I don't know all the ins and outs of the problem, but I do know that the Glenn Gould Estate has had legal problems over who has the right to produce what. There is a lot of good material that C.B.C. can't release because of a question of who owns the rights to it.
Teri Noel Towe wrote (August 23, 2000):
 The disc also contains the first of the 3 sections of the so-called "St. Anne" Fugue, with Gould at the organ. He was an excellent organist, and it is a pity that all we have is that wonderfully eccentric and deliberately provocative recording that he made of the first 9 Contrapuncti from "The Art of Fugue".
The BWV 54 is downright weird. Gould's realisation of the continuo is bizarre. I am not myself a keyboard player, but all of the activity seems to be in the right hand, with little realisation of the figures in the left and a complicated and sinuous, almost melodic realisation in the upper voices. The instrument is even more bizarre, and I think it must be one of those doctored "harpsipianos" with which Gould was enamoured at one point. The male alto is the unique and remarkable Russell Oberlin. Unfortunately, his German accent is appalling. The performance, however, is impassioned in the best sense of the word.
The disc turns up from time to time on a second hand basis in stores like Academy in NYC, so you may be able to turn up a copy. I would not be surprised, however, if the performance is not issued "legally" by either Sony Classics or the CBC at some point, since, with good reasons, the collectors' desire for more Glenn Gould seems to be insatiable.
Teri Noel Towe wrote (August 27, 2000):
 I took the liberty of forwarding this exchange of e-mails to an old friend who is an advisor to the Gould Estate, and he asked me to let you know that he is urging the Estate to permit the official release not only of the recording of BWV 54 but also of an extraordinary performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No.5 that Gould gave with the Detroit Symphony.
BWV 54 - Supplement (Genz/Güttler)
Aryeh Oron wrote (September 22, 2000):
 (Güttler/Genz) The solo cantata for Alto BWV 54 - Winderstehe doch der Sünde (Stand Steadfast against Transgression), for the Dominica Oculi (3rd Sunday in Lent), was discussed in this group about half a year ago. Couple of days ago I received a very unique recording of this cantata. It is included in a box set named 'Bach Made in Germany - Vol.5 - Ludwig Güttler/Virtuosi Saxoniae". The previous sets in this series (Vol.1-4) were dedicated to recordings of Thomaskantors - one box for each of the following Kantors - Günther Ramin (Vol. 1), Kurt Thomas (Vol. 2), Erhard Mauersberger (Vol. 3) and Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (Vol. 4). Vol.5 is much more modern. It was recorded during the 1990's and I have to admit that I was not aware of these recordings before ordering the box set from JPC. The box of 13 CD's includes - Weihnachtsoratorium, Orchestral Suites, Solo Cantatas Organ Works, Concertos & Cantata, Chamber Music, Cantatas Arias & Motet, Brandenburg Concertos, and Johannes Passion. The 5th CD includes solo cantatas - BWV 169, BWV 54, BWV 82, and BWV 51. Another solo cantata - BWV 55, is included in the 9th CD, and the 7th CD includes cantata BWV 208 ('Jagd Cantata').
Looking at the list of the soloists, most of them were unfamilto me, I have noticed that BWV 54 is sung by a Tenor singer, rather than the usual Alto. Of the 20 recordings of this cantata I am aware of, this is the only recording in which the solo part is sung by a Tenor. In the linear notes to the CD Hans-Günter Ottenberg wrote: "The cantata urges that the devil's temptation be resisted. The present recording imaginatively lends symbolic force to the idea of resistance by forcing the soloist to struggle and prevail against the ensemble. This is only possible with a high voice, which explains why the original alto part was rewritten for a tenor". However, it is not written there who made the rewiring. AFAIK it was not done by JSB himself.
I my review of the various recordings of BWV 54, I concluded by saying that IMHO the best recordings of this cantata are by Leonhardt/Deller  and Herreweghe/Scholl . I compared the new recording to these two. Surprisingly this cantata suits the tenor voice very well. Maybe it is not so surprising, because my preferred recordings of this cantata are also sung by male singers. And regarding the interpretation, Christoph Genz has a pleasant voice if not very unique. He does not have any technical or pronouncial problems, but I do not find his voice especially attractive. And he does not reach the levels of emotional intensity achieved by both Deller and Scholl. I found that the accompaniment of Ludwig Güttler and his Virtuosi Saxoniae, although rich and clear, is not as sensitive to the singer's interpretation as those of both Leonhardt and Herreweghe are. In short Güttler/Genz recording of BWV 54 is plausible but not outstanding, and its main cause of attraction is the using of Tenor as the solo singer.
BWV 54 - Widerstehe doch der Sünde
José Miguel wrote (March 22, 2001):
First of all, let me introduce myself, my name is José Miguel and I live in Spain. As a Bach Cantatas close follower I subscribed this excellent mailing list some months ago but I am afraid that I did not write very much... Anyway, I have read most of the mails sent to the list and I have learned plenty of interesting things.
About my favourites cantatas, I have several who I like to hear as often as I can...but maybe the cantata I am really fond of is BWV 54, "Widerstehe doch der Sünde". I only have the Harnoncourt's recording  of this not very long soloist cantata but I would like to ask to whoever member if there are another available recordings, as well as the quality that they deserve.
I would appreciate very much if anyone could tell me any notice about the history of this cantata...As far as I know, it was first played at Weimar on July 15th of 1714, so that it could be one of Bach's earliest cantatas, couldn't it?.
Thank you very much in advance for your replies. Warmest greetings.
Jane Newble wrote (March 22, 2001):
[To José Miguel] I think the one I like best of this recording is the Herreweghe one with Andreas Scholl, on HMC 901644 . If you go to http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV54.htm you will find a lot more information about this cantata.
Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 23, 2001):
(To José Miguel) welcome to the list. I think that the Herreweghe-Scholl CD  dedicated to the cantatas for alto (BWV 170, BWV 54, BWV 35) is a must for every Bach fan. Very fine is also the version recorded by M. Suzuki  (Bach cantatas Vol.3 together with BWV 12, BWV 182, BWV 162): this is the faster one.
Jill Gunsell wrote (March 23, 2001):
 Re the Herreweghe/Scholl version, it's here at Amazon: Amazon.com
and the Gramophone review (I forget which critic) said: "There is probably no living countertenor whom I would rather hear singing these [Bach, alto] cantatas than Andreas Scholl."
Continue on Part 2
Cantata BWV 54: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6