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Cantata BWV 6
Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden
Discussions - Part 1


Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 20, 1998):
Back from a trip to NYC I am finding many illuminating postings - thanks to all!

My report on my "Quest for the better BWV 6":

I got hold of Richter's version [5]! For that I had to buy Volume 2 of the current Archiv issue, which contains five CD's, all of "Easter Cantatas" which seems befitting for the time of year. My opinion after listening is that this is a very nice rendition in the Richter's tradition, which radiates a lot of seriousness. I am glad that I bought it, however "the quest goes on"!! - this one is not fully satisfying either, still missing that elusive "focus" in the opening chorus.

This is to George Munru:
A. Thank you for the recommendation about the Fritz Werner version [3] - it is on my shopping list now.
B. Regarding the likeness to "Ruht Wohl" from St. John: Indeed Dr. Simon Crouch mentioned the same feeling on his Cantata Page, so you are not the only one! I am no musician and I certainly cannot say if the chords are similar, but "Bleib by Uns" sounds to my ears like a more accomplished piece than "Ruht Wohl"....

George Murnu wrote (April 21, 1998):
Fritz Werner (was Re: BWV 6)

[3] I myself got back from a trip to NY this weekend and I bought a few Bach recordings, more specifically another re-issue of some of the cantatas conducted by Fritz Werner. So far Erato has re-issued four sets, each with two CD's, of these recordings originally made in the sixties, some in the early seventies; I only have three of these sets in my collection. First of all this is not a complete series: Werner did not record all Bach cantatas, although he did manage to record a great number of them. He uses the Heinrich Schütz choir of Heilbronn, of which he was the founder, and the Chamber Orchestra of Pforzheim. Some of the instrumental soloists are first rate musicians: Maurice André, Hermann Baumann, Pierre Pierlot, Marie-Claire Alain, etc. (naturally, none appear in all the recordings but they are frequently featured nonetheless.) These are vintage readings for that period, which means that the tempi are moderate, even slow by today's standards, the ensembles larger than today, and the phrasing conservative. Sometimes such an approach can work, yet many times one wishes a little more imagination, a little more interpretation, a little more vigour especially in the fast sections. My biggest problem with these performances is the recitatives. As for the soloists, some are excellent, especially Helmuth Krebs, but the bases usually leave a lot to be desired with the exception of Jakob Stämpfli. I generally like the performances of slow movements: it is refreshing to hear somebody taking their time to bring the majesty of Bach's music. So I would conclude that while these are not my first choices even among modern instruments performances, I am nonetheless glad to hear them.

As for the performance of BWV 6 I would repeat and say that I especially like the opening chorus taken very slowly (8:06 in comparison with Rilling's 5:37 [6]; Rilling is more vigorous in the fugue of the middle section though), but that overall as a performance I prefer Rilling. So not the perfect BWV 6, but one which made me see different aspects of the work.


Discussions in the Week of April 8, 2001 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 8, 2001):

This is the week of Cantata BWV 6 according to Pablo Fagoaga's suggestion. At least two associations come to mind when listening to this marvellous cantata. The first is the opening Sinfonia of Cantata BWV 42Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats’ (On the Evening of That same Sabbath), which was discussed in our group about a year ago. In that Sinfonia the soothing calm of the melody seems to paint the quiet in the countryside at twilight. This is done with broad vision of a great painter, who is taking his time to draw many details. Here, in Cantata BWV 6, the orchestral part also paints a picture of the twilight, as the choral voices together or in separate strands with the melody repeat their plea ‘Stay with us’. The urgency here is much stronger and therefore the instrumental introduction is much shorter. As if they say, we do not have time for landscape pictures, we are desperately asking ‘Stay with us’.

The second association is the concluding chorus, before the chorale, of Johannes-Passion (BWV 245). As Robertson wrote in his book: “This relationship is beautifully opposite as Cleophas, one of the two disciples whom the mysterious stranger has joined on the road, after expressing astonishment at his request to know what was the subject of their earnest conversation recalls the crucifixion and death of Jesus and their bitter sorrow that he has disappointed their hopes of his redeeming Israel. It is his reply that, later, they said caused their hearts to burn within them’.

Personal Viewpoint

Usually I read the relevant chapter of the Gospel as a background to the cantata. I do also translate the cantata’s text into Hebrew, in order to understand better the connection between the music and the text to which it was set. IMHO, nowhere in our weekly cantata discussions were the Gospel of the day (Easter Monday - Luke 24: 13-35) and libretto of the cantata so important to better enjoyment from the cantata as is the case here. The various movements of this cantata are inter-linked by the same theme - the hope that Jesus will stay with his true believers and will guide them in his light through the dark routes of life. And Bach uses it a springboard for his endless musical invention. There is not a single weak point in this cantata. It is a marvel from beginning to its very end. From the plea of the opening chorus; thorough the alto aria with the imagery of the sad night scene evoked by the oboe da caccia accompaniment; thorough the chorale sung by the angelic soprano with the violoncello piccolo accompaniment alleviates the gloom; through the despair of the recitative secco for bass; through the aria for tenor with the bright of the beams, which are portrayed by the accompaniment of the strings in the most optimistic movement of the whole cantata; up to the calmness of the concluding chorus.

Review of Complete Recordings

I am aware of 7 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 6. Of those I have been listening last week to 6. See: Cantata BWV 6 - Recordings.

[3] Fritz Werner (1961)
I have this recording on LP only, and it will have to wait until I have it transferred to CD.

[4] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1971)
The fragmented approach of Harnoncourt breaks the picture of the twilight into pieces. The warm singing of the choir improves the situation, but their singing fails to convince. Do they understand what they are singing about? Esswood is at his best in the ensuing aria for alto, convincing in his supplication. The playing of the violoncello piccolo in the chorale for soprano is very good technically and delightful musically (is this Mr. Harnoncourt himself?), but the boy soprano is a major disappointment. His voice is unstable and sometimes even unpleasant. He cannot hold his simple lines and it seems that he does not know what to do with his part. The playing of the violin in the aria for tenor is heavy, lacking bright and put millstone round Equiluz’ neck. In this rendition this aria is not at all optimistic. On the other hand, regarding the sombre mood of the whole cantata this approach is also legitimate. As if he wants to say, I want to follow your light, but really I cannot.

[5] Karl Richter (1973-1974)
Richter’s instrumental opening is very strong, but the overall performance of the first movement is somewhat dry and dogmatic, and does not reflect thplea written in the text. Anna Reynolds has warm and sensitive contralto voice, and she delivers the message much better than the choir does. The choir returns in the choral, this time only the women. Their singing is simply unsuitable. Their voices are too mature and the size of the choir is too big. I also think that Richter is using here regular violoncello instead of violoncello piccolo. Fischer-Dieskau is doing is best in the recitative for bass. The best movement in this recording is the aria for tenor. The violins describe strong and solid light, which Schreier is happy to follow in his optimistic singing. This could have been even better if it was performed a little bit faster, as Rilling is indeed doing it. Schreier is really happy and pleased with his situation and it seems that he is not running anywhere.

[6] Helmuth Rilling (1980)
Rilling paints the twilight with strong colours. Last year there was an exhibition in Jerusalem of the paintings from the Renaissance and the Baroque eras of the landscapes of Israel in the time of the Bible. Rilling’s rendition reminds me some of those old oil paintings. The strong and warm singing of the big choir fit in this picture very well. Caroline Watkinson’s singing has too much vibrato to really convince and her expression here leaves also something to be desired. I do not know who Edith Wiens is, but I think that Rilling did wisely by choosing her over other soprano singers in his disposal, like Arleen Augér. Her voice sounds fresh and immature and this is exactly what is needed here. Alfred Lessing accompanies her on the violoncello piccolo with solid playing, if not as sensitive as some of the players in the other recordings of this cantata are. Heldwein’s dark voice suits his recitative for bass. The light shines very brightly and Kraus sings bravely and enthusiastically his part. I find this rendition as reflecting the mood implied from the text of the aria for tenor in the most convincing way of all the renditions.

[8] Christophe Coin (1995)
Based on previous listening to the mini-series of Bach Cantatas by Christoph, we do already know what to expect – renderings of the highest order with a lot of charm, good singing and playing. And in the opening movement we are not disappointed. The mood is set but the tenderness and colourful playing, which portray so beautifully the twilight. The singing of the choir is so varied and they use every possible means to convince - they ask, they entreat, they implore, they urge, they cry. Andreas Scholl follows them with so much sensitivity, that I cannot imagine anybody daring to refuse the plea of both him and the preceding choir to stay with them. The exemplary playing of Coin in the violoncello in the chorale for soprano piccolo is the main cause to include this cantata in his collection, if not the only reason to listen to this recording. I am not so convinced by Barbara Schlick’s singing. Her singing reflects innocence as it should, but the timbre of her voice is somewhat heavy in comparison to some of the other singers of this aria, Holton for example. Schwartz is over expressive in the recitative for Bass, and it sounds improper. We want to follow the charming light portrayed by the violins in the aria for tenor, and Prégardien expresses every human heart in his moving singing.

[10] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
They playing of the instruments at the beginning is charming, as could be expected, but the whole movement is not so focused and the singing lacks tension. Only when I understood the textual message they have to convey, I came to conclusion that the choir’s singing here does not convince anybody to stay with them. Sytse Buwalda’s singing is a nice surprise. He has to deliver the same message as the choir in the preceding movement, but he succeeds in doing it much more convincingly with a lot of sensitivity. The angelic voice of Ruth Holton’s is already a well-known phenomenon in this group, and it suits so well the demands of the choral for soprano. Here she is helped by the light and airy playing of Frank Wakelkamp on the violoncello piccolo. Ramselaar finds many nuances in his small recitative. The singing of Nico van der Meel in the aria for tenor lacks some depth, especially when compared to some of the other renditions. The playing of the strings is also too light to convince someone following this light. We find consolation in the warm singing of the choir in the concluding chorale, but this could also be said about most of the other recordings of this cantata.

[9] John Eliot Gardiner (1999)
I was immediately captivated by Gardiner’s instrumental opening. It is so tender with light colours and set the right atmosphere for the gentle singing of the choir. They do their outmost to convince the traveller to stay with them. We really need you, please, do not refuse to stay with us! And this small stop before the final round, cause your heart to stop beating with theirs. Fink continues this mood in her ensuing aria, with her soft voice and touching singing. Gardiner is following Richter’s approach [5], when he gives the soprano part in the chorale for a small women choir. Their voices are modern, which means lacking almost any vibrato. The give and take between them and the violoncello piccolo is fascinating. The weak point here is Julian Clarkson, whose timbre of voice sound to me improper to Bach. The playing of the violin here is full of bright as it should be, but the singing of Davisilim is full of pain and agony, as if he wants to say: I want to follow the light, but I know that I cannot. This is one of the best performances in Gardiner’s partial cantata cycle.

Review of Recordings of Individual Movements

[M-7] Amarilis (2000)
This record is called ‘Aria – J.S. Bach’, performed by Amarillis with boy soloists from the Boys Choir of Colmar. It includes the Chorale for Soprano ‘Ach belib bei uns Herr Jesu Christ’ (No.3) from Cantata BWV 6.

This recording is a splendid surprise. The voice of the boy soprano is coming from heaven. This is exactly how angel should sound. He is so much better than Harnoncourt’s anonymous boy soprano [4]. The playing of the violoncello piccolo, which opens the chorale and also float around the boy’s voice like an aura, is on the same par with Coin’s [8]. Although I usually do not like collections of movements taken from various cantatas, this CD as a whole, and especially this movement is highly recommended.


I remember that Simon Crouch wrote in his very helpful Site ‘Listener’s Guide to Guide to Bach Cantatas’ that he could not find a recording of Cantata BWV 6, which will please him from every aspect (Sorry, but according to my browser Simon’s site seems to be unavailable at the moment). I have to admit that I have to disagree with him this time. It might be that Simon had not heard all the recordings of this cantata up to the time when he wrote his background for this cantata. It might also be that I tend to be more tolerant and less critical as we are progressing in our weekly cantata discussions. Maybe this cantata is so strong, both in its textual and musical contents, that it covers most of the faults that might exist in its recordings. Whatever the reason might be, I find that every recording of this cantata has something to offer and none of them is a failure. The best of then is by Coin [8], but I enjoyed also from all the others.

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

Marie Jensen wrote (April 10, 2001):
“Am Abend da es kuehle war” (BWV 244) “Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats” (BWV 42) and now "Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden" (BWV 6), three different Easter evenings, three different moods, all wonderful Bach evenings. (Nice description, A!)

This evening in BWV 6 - the first after the resurrection - two of the disciples have met Jesus and cannot quite believe it. They hope He will never go away again. Night is near... Light and darkness... contrasts transformed into music. Lots of examples could be written down. This cantata is one of my favourites. I shall concentrate on the soprano/violoncello piccolo chorale.

The soprano voice - a symbol of light is so innocent and pure is begging Jesus to stay in His church. The violoncello surrounding it is of course darkness, and yet the theme creates lots of light. This theme is one of the most ecstatic Bach themes I know. It is a prayer getting more and more intense until it flows over in cascades of doubles, in fact in a very erotic way. At the same time it is so pure and spiritual. Could this be a bride and groom symbol? The soul and Christ united, where the soul is the soprano and Christ not the usual bass but a bass instrument?

This chorale is also the fifth in the Schubler collection. The first one "Wachet auf ruf uns dei Stimme" comes from BWV 140, the third "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" from BWV 93, the fourth "Meine Seele erhebt den Herren" from BWV 10, the sixth "Kommst du nu Jesus vom Himmel" from BWV 137. I cannot find the second "Wo soll ich fliehen hin?" Is it from a cantata now lost, or have I not been searching long enough?

I have the Leusink version [10] and a Rilling version [6] taped from the radio. Soprano Ruth Holton (Leusink) sings with innocence and beauty and I like Frank Wakelkamp's cello piccolo play very much. The Rilling cello (is it piccolo?) is not that elegant. Like Aryeh I don't like alto Carolyn Watkinson’s vibrato.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 10, 2001):
(To Aryeh Oron) Your interpretation and insights into "Bleib bei uns..." from the standpoint of the composition and the performances were excellent. I just finished listening to all 5 versions today and will try to give my report as soon as I can.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 10, 2001):
Marie Jensen stated:
< I cannot find the second "Wo soll ich fliehen hin?" Is it from a cantata now lost, or have I not been searching long enough? >
The KB of NBA IV/1 p. 137 lists all the cantatas you have mentioned, but this one is omitted. It must mean that the experts really tried, but could not connect it with any cantata, existing or non-existing.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 10, 2001):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< (Fritz Werner [3]) I have this recording on LP only, and it will have to wait until I have it transferred to CD. >
Erato has re-issued the Werner cantatas on CD's which were briefly available on the market but have now become hard to find. Luckily I do have BWV 6 on CD, and I can add a few points, especially about the grand opening chorus…

Werner [3] takes an entirely different course with the opening chorus, with a stately approach at an extremely slow tempo. In fact, he clocks in at no less than 8:06 mins., as compared with Harnoncourt at just 5:32 [4], Rilling/5:37 [6], Coin/5:43 [8], JEG/5:52 [9] and Richter/6:12 [5]. My personal taste usually goes with the faster tempos in Bach interpretation, but this case turned out to be an exception, and I found that Werner's approach casts a special kind of magic over the piece. The slow and measured pace, the large forces, the relentless harpsichord in the continuo sounding almost like heavy bells tolling, all combine to create an awe-inspiring effect, with a very strong underlying sense of tragedy. What Aryeh calls "this small stop before the final round" appears here as a dramatic climax at the end of a huge build-up of anguished tension throughout the midsection fugue - it takes your breath away. Obviously this approach differs from Coin's [8] gentle and contemplative way, beautiful in its own right.

I have a personal thought which may support the Werner interpretation [3]: If I am not mistaken, when the two disciples are asking the person to stay with them, he is still at that point a total stranger [they recognize his identity only later, during supper]. Still, while being in a state of terrible personal anguish and despair, with the most horrible situation fresh on their minds, they act in a most human and unselfish manner, concerned that this complete stranger does not wonder alone into the alien night, and extend their invitation to stay. Perhaps this most basic and honest touch of humanity had moved Bach to write what is surely a really grand choral piece, worthy of a "grand" event, and Werner emphasizes the "grandness" of this music. In any case, after listening to the Werner "extravaganza", both Coin [8] and the recent JEG effort seem too "thin" and powerless, at least to my ears.

Has any of you heard Werner's CD [3]? I'd like to hear other's impressions.

P.S.: One more comment about our subject: This story was powerful enough to move both Carravagio and Rembrandt to create masterpiece paintings of the "Supper at Emaus"!

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 10, 2001):
In order to understand the wide range of musical interpretations of this cantata, it helps to envision the two diametrically opposed reactions that the two disciples might have experienced. (Perhaps they experienced both, but not at the same time):

1) One is a shuddering, earth-shaking outcry for companionship, because they feel themselves so much alone with their purpose in life eroded and having no prospect for the future. They are angry because they feel forsaken. But they also sense that the stranger has rekindled a spark of life that they had completely lost during the events of the past few days. They now desperately want this stranger to stay with them, so as to continue to rebuild their shaken faith. Their voices are clamouring for companionship, and the fact that the darkness of night is fast approaching, causes them to increase the urgency in their voices.

2) The other describes two disciples who are completely exhausted as well as disheartened. They have been humbled by events that they have just experienced and are so lost in their thoughts that they do not really look carefully at the stranger who has joined them. When they hear that the stranger wants to leave them, they recognize that his presence has taken from them some of the heavy burden they carry. As a result they try to come out of the melancholy mood that they had been in and begin to recognize that it is evening and that they would actually enjoy some companionship. They use a kind, sincere, entreating voice as they beg the stranger not to leave them, but rather stay with them.

Mvt. 1 Generally, but particularly in regard to the first movement of the cantata we have Harnoncourt [4] taking the strongest approach according to number 1 above. A kinder characterization of his performance is that it is 'very energetic' and very 'dramatic.' But I would venture to say that here we have too much of a good thing. Many times the voices in the chorus are actually screaming and not singing. Harnoncourt's inconsistencies abound as he attempts to fracture even the long held notes on "Bleib bei uns." Rilling [6] also follows this tack, but he has much greater control of his choral forces and he manages to obtain the greatest clarity in the vocal lines, even bringing out subtleties that evaded the other conductors. Leusink [10] primarily belongs to this group as well, but comes in near the bottom of this group with a very slow tempo that might befit category number two, but, very strangely, there are times the voices are 'hol' and not singing. Are these outcries of despair? Frequently I can hear the individual soloists' voices in the chorus. What ever happened to blending a few voices to make them sound as one? Richter [5] almost has a bit of both categories, he sometimes obtains a sweeter effect in the first and last sections, but then in the middle section (fugue) everything is belaboured and cumbersome (and he uses that atypical organ sound only in this fugal section - Why? It's a difficult choral section. But it sounds so cheap!). In the second category there is Coin [8] and Gardiner [9]. I have not heard the Gardiner, but am including it here because Aryeh's description makes clear that it belongs here. The charm in Coin's performance, which Aryeh characterized in his review, is precisely that which sets this apart from all the others that I listened to. Despite the small number of vocalists in the choir, and perhaps just because of that small number, subtleties become evident that the other groups 'glossed over.' The entreaty in their voices sounds entirely genuine.

Mvt. 2 Esswood in the Harnoncourt [4] has a reasonable performance as it lists in my mind among his better recordings in the Teldec set. Rilling's Watkinson [6] has an unpleasant vibrato (too fast) for my ears and my attention turned to Rilling's treatment of the continuo. Here he indulges in a 'jazz-like' strong beat that adds more colour to the aria. Bach did indicate 'pizzicato', but Rilling takes this to a higher level, as he does in a number of instances in the Hänssler edition: he has the organ and the bass 'punch out' all the notes with an extremely percussive effect. Sometimes this helps to make a lacklustre aria performance even more interesting, but here it simply detracts from the singer who is trying to present a message. Reynolds in the Richter recording [5] is worth listening too, despite the slow tempo that adds just a bit too much heaviness to this performance. Leusink's Buwalda [10] is not entirely suitable for this aria. This is the first time I have heard his voice and what I perceive is a 'thinness', a lack of a 'round' quality to his voice. He is, for instance, unable to give a dark colouring to the word "Finsternis," where it is really needed. Because of the narrow quality of his voice, it sticks out 'like a sore thumb' in mvts. 1 and 6.

Mvt. 3 Here Ruth Holton [10] heads the pack with Richter's [5] all sopranos version at the bottom, because they can not hear that insufferable organ very well and the intonation is off for that reason.

Mvt. 4 is a toss-up between Fischer-Dieskau [5] and Heldwein [6], with Dieskau getting all the possible meaning out of the words in the text and Heldwein having the even darker quality (in German, he would be called "ein schwarzer Bass") of voice. Just compare Harnoncourt's van Egmond's version [4] recorded a semi-tone lower and Heldwein's at the higher pitch. Which voice sounds lower, deeper? Heldwein's, of course. Actually there are no really bad versions of this recitative with the exception of Gardiner's Clarkson [9], which I have not heard, and according to Aryeh's description, may not want to hear.

Mvt. 5 Here two versions compete for the 'bottom of the pile." They are Harnoncourt [4] and Leusink [10]. Harnoncourt in his usual perverseness insists on not following Bach's own phrasing indications. Now what does that tell you? I truly empathize with Equiluz [4] who sings this aria with conviction, but leave it to Harnoncourt to attempt to destroy what might have been a reasonably good recording. Unfortunately Leusink [10] does the same with his performance, imitating Harnoncourt's style (and I thought we had learned something from his mistakes!) by applying overly strong accents, cutting off in mid-phrase, etc., etc. The tempo is extremely slow as well. Richter [5] also is very slow. There is no joy, Everything here is legato, heavy, tragic, and gloomy. He misses the "halo effect" entirely. (I will try to document that in the score in my subsequent message.) Choose Coin [8] or Rilling [6] for this mvt.

Mvt. 6 Again Leusink [10] and Harnoncourt [4] are at the bottom of the list of preferred recordings. With Harnoncourt using the strong accents and plodding along heavily, the choir exudes an angry quality, and with Leusink there is a muddy quality in the combined voices, occasionally punctuated by a voice like Buwalda's sticking out above all the others and then receding into the group of singers again. Richter [5] has his usual long fermati, but Rilling [6] strikes a strong tone of affirmation. Coin [8] is the best here.

Andrew Oliver wrote (April 11, 2001):
For this cantata I have the Harnoncourt [4] and Leusink [10] versions, and I tend to agree with just about everything that has already been said about them on this list. Both recordings have weaknesses as well as strengths, but I still like them both anyway.

As regards the alto aria, I think Buwalda [10] acquits himself well in terms of expressive and technical ability, but Tom is right when he says that, in this instance, Buwalda's is the wrong type of voice to use. This, of course, is not his fault but, rather, Leusink's for choosing him. The problem here seems to me to be partly due to the lack of contrast between the voice and the solo oboe. Because Esswood's voice [4] has a little more 'body' to it, the result Harnoncourt achieves is more favourable.

The playing of the 'cello piccolo in Mvt. 3 is one of the highlights of this cantata in both Harnoncourt's [4] and Leusink's [10] recordings. In combination with Ruth Holton's voice, this aria is both interesting and delightful. I would just add that my ears hear the boy soloist used by Harnoncourt more favourably than Aryeh's apparently do.

For the closing chorale, I prefer Leusink [10]. His version sounds more mellow, and is also much more legato than Harnoncourt's [4], which I find quite disconcerting because of the jerky sensation caused by the heavy stresses. Also, despite the timings given, Leusink's tempo is a little quicker. The time listed is 51 seconds, but actual singing time is about 35 seconds. Teldec say Harnoncourt takes 43 seconds, when it is actually about 39.

Daniel Page wrote (April 12, 2001):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< I remember that Simon Crouch wrote in his very helpful Site ‘Listener’s Guide to Guide to Bach Cantatas’ that he could not find a recording of Cantata BWV 6, which will please him from every aspect (Sorry, but according to my browser Simon’s site seems to be unavailable at the moment). >
Simon Crouch's site has moved. The new address is:

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 12, 2001):
[To Daniel Page] Thanks Daniel. I found it. And indeed Simon writes in his Site about Cantata BWV 6 as follows:
"Likethe St. John Passion (BWV 245), I have never heard a performance of this cantata that has fully satisfied me. There always seems to be something missing and I have ended up feeling that there must be much more in the music than I have just heard. Of the recordings that I know, that of Rilling [6]comes closest to being acceptable."

And I repeat my conclusion, and based on the reviews of other members in BCML, they have similar conclusion, that in this case I have to disagree with Simon. Cantata BWV 6 has more than one rendition that can satisfy. I agree that no performance of any musical work, especially Bach's vocal works, can be considered as ideal. But there might be a recording of a musical work that in a certain time and a certain situation will be heard to your ears as better or more 'correct' than the others are. From almost every recording of every cantata I try to find something to learn and enjoy from. As we, members of BCML, have different opinions about the recordings, so the performers have different views about the cantatas, according which they render their interpretations. As long as the interpreter is sincere in his message and doing his best to convey it, I am ready to hear him (or her).

Teri Noel Towe wrote (April 12, 2001):
[M-1] "Bleib bei uns" was one of the first Bach cantatas to be recorded. A 12" 78 of the opening chorus, from the sound of it perhaps with the Felix Mottl additional accompaniments, in the early 1930’s. The Copenhagen Academy Chorus and Orchestra and conducted by one Walter Mayer-Radon. The performance takes up one side of the 78, Polydor D 67061.

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 18, 2001):
[M-1] [To Teri Noel Towe] I would like to hear it! Has it ever been reissued in CD form?

Teri Noel Towe wrote (April 12, 2001):
[M-1] [To Aryeh Oron] Not to my knowledge, alas!

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (April 12, 2001):
Reading Aryeh’s contribution, while playing the only recording I have of BWV 6, the one by Leusink [10], I regret all the more that I do not possess those by Chistophe Coin [8] and John Eliot Gardiner [9], Aryeh is so enthousiastic about. For I already love the one I’m listening to right now so much, that I’m dying to hear the others. I will try to write in some more detail about the various parts, helped by some observations of Alfred Dürr and Simon Crouch.

The theme of this cantata is the Biblical notion that Jesus is the light of the world, that lighteth the people that walk in darkness (Isaiah 9:2). This is an ancient theme: the struggle between light and dark, of good and evil. The fading light at Emmaus is of course symbolic for the dying Light at Easter, just a couple of days before the event of the Gospel reading. The story is focussed on Jesus’ disciples who are left behind in desperation and darkness after the violent death of their master. At the moment when the cantata begins they are in utter confusion because they have heard from reliable sources that Jesus lives and is actually seen by some of their friends. The irony is that these two men are seeing blind. They beg Jesus to stay with them because night is falling, not realizing that by persuading Him to stay, they are inviting the true Light into their home.

The text of the opening chorus is taken from the Gospel reading for Easter Monday. The initial ritornello by two oboes and an additional oboe da caccia, supported by strings and continuo creates a mood of melancholy and sorrow. Lasting only a minute, one would love it to go on for a while. It anticipates the plea “Bleib bei uns, denn es wird Abend werden und der Tag hat sich geneiget” by the choir, which runs throughout the chorus, also in the instrumental intervals, now in the violins, now in the oboes. At times the melodic lines are polyphonically interwoven, at other moments they follow each other in fugual array. Especially on the higher notes both the choir and the orchestra give their plea extra urgency. The appeal on Jesus to stay lingers on for two minutes. It is repeated again and again with sustained notes on the words “bei’ and “uns” but especially on “bleib…”, sounding plaintive at first, then pleading, at times even passionate. Note the evocation of nightfall on “der Tag hat sich geneiget”. Simon Crouch writes on his site that the chorus reminds him of the final chorus of SJP “Ruht wohl, iht heiligen Gebeine”. Then there is a sudden change, when the emphasis shifts to the words “denn es wird Abend werden”. It is getting darker and darker. Night is drawing near. We feel the unrest in the urgency of the andante alla breve. All of a sudden the disciples seem to realize that daytime is running out. One after the other the voices sing out their worries that before long it will be a very dark and lonely night. Finally the sopranos/trebles return to their original plea, crying out loud for Jesus to stay with them, shortly followed by the other voices.

A lovely alto aria follows, “Hochgelobter Gottessohn”, in which Jesus is addressed on ascending notes to illustrate his majesty as God’s son, deserving our highest praise and love. The unknown poet has set a tone of humble adoration and devotion, Bach taking the opportunity to raise it to a higher level. The plea has turned into a prayer. Yet, there is no meekness in this aria, but respectful determination not to let go of Jesus in order to persuade Him not to let go of us. It reminds me strongly of Jacob’s wrestle with the angel at Penuel (=the face of God), when the angel said to him: “Let me go for the day breaketh” and Jacob answered: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” Then the angel told him: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob (= deceiver) but Israel (= warrior of God). And he blessed him there (Genesis 32: 24-30). Bach uses two dark instruments to make his point, the alto voice and the alto oboe da caccia. Yet, in spite of temporal fears, the night is warm. No loneliness, no despair, no wrestling with God here. Also Gethsemane with Christ’s desperate spiritual struggle seems long past. The general mood is one of faith, inner conviction that Jesus will stay as long as you ask him to. Not even the astonishing semi-tonal descent on “Finsternis” can shake this belief. The oboe concludes the aria with a ritornello that restores the tranquillity of the night. The fact that I find the aria so attractive, even charming, is - no doubt - also due to the beautiful performance by Sytse Buwalda and Peter Frankenberg on the caccia.

The following chorale for soprano solo and violoncello piccolo is another jewel in Bach’s crown. The first stanza by Nikolaus Selnecker (1572) is based on the final part of the German version of Philipp Melanchton’s “Vespera iam venit”. The second stanza is also the second stanza of Luther’s hymn “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort”. This chorale has also become famous for its organ-transcription in the “Schübler Chorälen” (BWV 649). Textually, the light is now shifting from Jesus Himself to his Word and Sacrament. Ruth Holton’s brilliant voice radiates serenity. Without any embellishments, she prays for steadfastness in her belief, while the violoncello piccolo weaves his intricate patterns around her. It sounds as if nothing can draw her away from Jesus, not even the splendid music of the little cello, played so convincingly by Frank Wakelkamp. Not only does he show himself a virtuoso master of the “tenor’ cello, he is also an excellent companion in music of the soprano, who seems insensitive to his lively presence.

In a short recitative, the only one in the cantata, the bass tells us that darkness has now clouded the light at many places in the world, because people no longer follow the righteous, Christian principles. Only accompanied by the organ and an expressive cello, Bas Ramselaar drives the message home to us, with a warning quote from Revelation 2:5, implying that God will cast away those who are not willing to repent and reform their ways and habits.

This leads up to a tenor aria, which is a prayer to Jesus to help us keep our eyes on Him so as to prevent us from living on in our sins. Friedrich Dürr already demonstrated in “Die Kantaten” that the main motif, starting on “Jesu”, clearly forms a cross, the pre-eminent Christian symbol relating to Easter, first in the tenor and afterwards in the strings. They play a virtuoso role in the aria. Bach again does a lot of wonderful painting. Mind the piercing dissonant on Sünden and the heavily trodding sinner in “auf den Sündenwegen gehen”. A sustained note on “Licht” and long melismas on “scheinen” and “meinen” illustrate how much easier and lovelier life will be when our heart has the intention to follow the Light.

The Luther chorale “Beweis dein Macht, Herr Jesu Christ” concludes one of my favourite Bach cantatas. Tomorrow will be Good Friday. Wishing all of you a happy Easter!

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 13, 2001):
This week I thought I would try a different approach to understanding and appreciating BWV 6. Consulting various texts that I have, it is possible to document how differently scholars viewed this cantata over the past 129 years.

See: Cantata BWV 6 - Commentary

The examples from the score can be viewed at Aryeh's site: Cantata BWV 6 - Examples from the Score with Commentary

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 16, 2001):
[9] (Gardiner) Fortuitously my local FM classical music station, WFMT (now available world-wide on the internet), played the Gardiner recording of this cantata today. This is the only recording that I could not report on, because I did not own the CD. Now I would like to give my impression of this recording, particularly after the excellent report it received from Aryeh. The first movement was played and sung beautifully, but with a mixture of interpretive styles. Gardiner's musical forces using baroque instruments are more similar to the number of singers and instrumentalists that Bach had, and yet Gardiner employed sforzandi and crescendi that you would not expect from a baroque style performance, and these are quite noticeable. Whatever happened to tiered-dynamics, which I still understand as being a main feature of a baroque performance? With Gardiner it is a romanticized version on baroque instruments with a small group of singers, who nevertheless sing more with an operatic style that is reminiscent of Richter's soloists [5]. This has a detrimental effect, when it is possible to hear, for instance, the voice of the bass, Julian Clarkson, in the midst of the choral sections at the beginning and the end of the cantata. This is not a voice you would really want to hear there, since one recitative is definitely enough for him. Gardiner employed a decidedly 'Harnoncourt-type' effect [4] when Gardiner accents the long, held notes (the calls across the field). If you heard these calls emanating from the distance, would they sound more like Harnoncourt-Gardiner, a 'barking' sound, or would these long notes be sustained at the same volume level for their full duration? Actually, the word, "bleib" = 'stay' implies the latter, particularly when you consider Bach's effort at 'word-painting' and the fact that he wrote these notes out with the intention that they should sound (or 'stay') the same for their full note value. Of course, Harnoncourt [4] is much more extreme in this matter than Gardiner. Having recognized this curious admixture of cantata performance styles, I can still maintain that this was an interesting recording worth listening to, even if some aspects of authenticity are lacking. Fink, the contralto in the 2nd mvt., has the proper dark quality of voice to suit the text, although I personally found her fast, trembling vibrato sometimes distracted me from experiencing the unity between the oboe da caccia, (which did not quite sound like the oboi da caccia in the other recordings), continuo and voice. Gardiner uses all the sopranos in Mvt. 3, which is fine, but Ruth Holton's performance under Leusink [10] provides more intimacy and balance between the solo instrument and voice. Hearing the bass alone in a short recitative was rather insufficient for forming an opinion other than I could not quite figure out what he was trying to accomplish by treating a short piece of only a few measures as if it were an entire opera, beginning with a sotto voce on notes which were almost indefinable, and working through a large crescendo, almost shouting some words in a blustery voice, and then dropping off as 'the candlestick was toppled.' The tenor sings his aria quite well, voice and phrasing among the best of the performances that I have heard, but there is a tendency for the instrumentalists to upstage the vocalist. In all honesty, the 1st violin does have a lot to do here with triplet-figures, two-note phrases and that wonderful yearning motif that I indicated previously in the score. I did almost miss the 'halo' effect, however, when Christ is referred to, and I do think that the tenor did not achieve the usual, positive resolution that Bach presents in the last aria of a cantata. As Aryeh stated, there is too much "pain and agony" throughout the entire aria. The finale chorale, with the exception of that indomitable, extruding voice of the bass soloist, is on a par with many of the other good chorale renditions given on the other recordings.

Charles Francis wrote (April 16, 2001):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Gardiner employed a decidedly 'Harnoncourt-type' effect
[4] when Gardiner accents the long, held notes (the calls across the field). If you heard these calls emanating from the distance, would they sound more like Harnoncourt-Gardiner, a 'barking' sound, or would these long notes be sustained at the same volume level for their full duration? Actually, the word, "bleib" = 'stay' implies the latter, particularly when you consider Bach's effort at 'word-painting' and the fact that he wrote these notes out with the intention that they should sound (or 'stay') the same for their full note value. Of course, Harnoncourt is much more extreme in this matter than Gardiner. >
Thomas, your musical insight astonishes me! I don't have the Gardiner BWV 6 [9], but I do have the Leusink version [10] and each time I listen, the singing of the boy sopranos reminds me of barking dogs. I don't intend any offence with this comment, its just the way I hear it.


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 6: Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden for Easter Monday (1725)
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