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Cantata BWV 65
Sie Werden aus Saba alle kommen
Discussions - Part 1

Discussions in the Week of January 3, 2000

Jane Newble wrote (January 3, 2000):
Some weeks ago I bought Koopman's Cantatas Vol. 8 [12], and thanks to the 'festive' days, I have only now had time to listen to it. I like it very much...my first impression. My question is, does anyone know if Vol.9 is out? I saw something about it somewhere, but I may be wrong. I have been playing BWV 65 over and over again, as it is the appropriate one for this week, and it's wonderful. But I do wish Herreweghe had recorded it with my all-time favorite Bass Peter Kooy. Just wishful thinking!

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 3, 2000):
Background

Based on Ehud Shiloni's suggestion, this is the week of cantata BWV 65. In my opinion, its most beautiful movement is the Aria for Bass, but it has some other splendid movements, such as the opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) and the Aria for Tenor (Mvt. 6).

Aria for Bass

Mvt. 4. Aria (Bass)
Gold aus Ophir ist zu schlecht
(“Gold of Ophir is but dross”)
Bass, 2 Oboe da caccia, Continuo

Regarding this Aria I would like to quote from Robertson’s book and Ludwig Finscher (linear notes to Teldec recording).

Robertson wrote:
"There are long runs for the Bass on ‘Gaben’ as if the gifts are to be despised, as explained below. The ritornello, after this, is a triple canon between the oboes and Continuo obviously in illustration of the gold, incense and myrrh. “Away, only away with vain gifts, which ye from the earth break”. Jesus wishes to have the heart: “Give this O Christian flock to Jesus at the New Year”. This is a most ingeniously devised Aria and worth a closer examination than can be given here."

Ludwig Finscher wrote:
"From a musical point of view the work is a Christmastide cantata per excellence: splendid in its setting, festive in expression, with its dancelike character playing a splendid role… The Bass Aria (Mvt. 4) adopts the festive, singular sound, which marks the entire cantata. The use of two oboes da caccia is just as unusual in this movement when heard in the deprecating motif of the first measures, the same motif frequently recurring in the instrumental parts."

Review of the Recordings

The 5 performances I have listened to (in the order of listening) are: [9], [8], [3], [6], [7] in the list: Cantata BWV 65 - Recordings.

[9] Helmuth Rilling with Wolfgang Schöne (bass) (1978; Aria for Bass: 3:02)
Schöne is his usual self. Maximum confidence and minimum flexibility. This Aria calls for more expression from the Bass, who will transfer joy combined with some sadness, but Schöne does not supply it. The oboes are not HIP, but they play beautifully and they are strong part of this Aria. The Continuo is too strong and tends to stand in the flow of the music. So, two components out of three cause the overall performance to be not one of the best that could be find in Rilling’s series.

[8] Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Ruud van der Meer (bass) (1977; Aria for Bass: 2:53)
Meer has, at least in this Aria, everything that Schöne does not have. His voice is much more varied than his predecessor is and he uses it very effectively to bring out every nuance and potential feeling hidden in this Aria. The oboes have very pleasant sound, but their combination with the voice leaves something to be desired.

[3] Günther Ramin with Johannes Oettel (bass) (1952; Aria for Bass: 3:51)
What a gorgeous voice Oettel has. It is a very rich and big voice, which reminds me in his timbre other big Basses of the past. Regarding beauty of tone, this is the most beautiful voice of all 5. But what Oettel has in his voice he does not supply in expression. One could even think that he does not care for the meaning of the words. Unfortunately the conducting does not help him much either. As much as I like and appreciate Ramin, I have to admit that this Aria is performed too slowly, up to sounding a little bit boring. The 2 oboes are doing their best, but their unclean playing disturbs. This performance relies on the big voice alone and it is simply not enough.

[6] Helmut Kahlhöfer with Jakob Stämpfli (bass) (1966; Aria for Bass: ?)
I have not listened to this recording for many years and I did not remember it very favorably. I could not have been more mistaken. Of all the 5 recordings I have listened to, this is the best, regarding the Aria for Bass. Stämpfli is a joy to hear. He has very beautiful voice, a lot of taste, and he moves through all the obstacles of this Aria in a very elegant way. The oboes contribute to the success of this performance by their cheerful/sad playing, which moves ahead in give and take dialogue with the Bass. The oboes of course are not HIP, but their playing here proves again that original instruments do not, in any way, assure a good performance. The Continuo is humble, as it should be. I have nothing but praise to this performance.

I have the Kahlhöfer/Stämpfli recording on LP issued in the US by Vanguard label many years ago. As far as I know this recording was originated from Cantate label in the 1950’s ot the 1960's. This label did a very important pioneering effort (after Ramin had built the foundations) by recording some dozens of cantatas in the 1950’s and early 1960’s by various East (and West?) German ensembles, conductors and soloists. About a month ago I wrote to that label (they have a Web site), asking if they have any plans to reissue those important recordings. Their answer was that they do not have any plans to do so, because in year 2000 there will be already many cantatas recordings in the market celebrating the 250 years to Bach’s death. What a pity.

[7] Karl Richter with Theo Adam (bass) (1967; Aria for Bass: 2:37)
There is nothing wrong in this performance, except its breakneck tempo. It is played so fast, that no time remains to express anything. The glorious approach of Richter is working fine for the opening chorus (Mvt. 1), but not for the Bass Aria. Adam’s voice is very impressive and pleasant. The oboe da caccia parts are played by English Horns, and they are also very good. Played in the right (medium) tempo, this could have been one of the best performances of this Aria. But it comes to an end so quickly, that most of its potential is lost.

Conclusion

To sum up. For my taste, the best performance of this Aria is by Stämpfli/Kählhofer. But it does not mean that I dislike the others. I cherished every performer who is ready to dedicate his time, heart and energy to the performance of the cantatas. As many cantatas in various performances that I hear, my conclusion is that you cannot judge in advance whose performance will be the most satisfying. The results of detailed comparison between various performances of the same piece of music may bring out more than once very surprising results, especially in so varied and rich group of musical works such as Bach cantatas.

This cantata was also recorded by Koopman [12], Funfgeld [10], Werner [5] (and maybe others) and it is a part of the newly issued Epiphany Mass on Archiv. But I do not have (yet) those recordings, neither have I heard them.

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

Enjoy and Happy New Bach Year,

Jane Newble wrote (January 3, 2000):
Only a few weeks ago I bought Koopman’s Vol. 8 [12], and that was the first time I had heard this cantata. I have no others, so I cannot compare it to anyone else. All I can is that I like it, as I do other Koopman recordings, and I also like Klaus Mertens, but I keep wishing that Herreweghe had performed this with my favorite Bass Peter Kooy. Perhaps that is because it reminds me of some of my favorite Arias in Herreweghe's cantatas. (Timing of the Koopman Bass Aria is 2.51, after reading what Aryeh says about Richter [7], it made me wonder what the timing was... faster than Koopman?)

In the Koopman booklet the comment is (by Christoph Wolff):
The four-part choir is supported by the sort of instrumental forces that are normally reserved for festive occasions. -- The large-scale opening movement is cast in the form of a prelude and fugue. Both Arias are exquisitely wrought, the Bass Aria a quartet with two oboes da caccia and Continuo, while the tenor Aria (Mvt. 6) draws on the full complement of instruments.

I wish I had others to compare this one with, but I shall have to be patient!
Listening to BWV 65, which gets more beautiful with every repeat...

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 3, 2000):
1. Regarding timing:
Timings are shown above. Kahlhöfer [6] - timing is not shown but I believe that it is somewhere between the extremes. So, Koopman [12] is not the fastest. But I have to admit that when I am listening to various performers of the same cantata movement, doing comparisons by careful listening, I usually do not look at the timing. I think that the most important factor is not the time itself, but the approach. What the interpreter is doing within the time he chooses to perform is much more important than the time limit itself.

2. Regarding Herreweghe:
I have many Herreweghe's cantatas recordings. His intimate approach is working fine for some cantatas and sounds bloodless in some others. I do not believe that there exists anywhere an absolute performer, whose work is the best for every cantata and every movement in each cantata. I recommend you to listen to more performers in the rich cantata field. You will learn more and enjoy much more by hearing cantatas you think that you already know, as it is performed by more than one interpreter.

Jane Newble wrote (January 4, 2000):
I totally agree. I was curious because of you saying that Richter [7] was so fast, as the few Richter recordings I have are rather slow. But I agree that in itself that doesn't make it bad or good. And I do like the Richter recordings I have.

Again I agree. I only wish I had the cash necessary to get all the possible recordings of my beloved cantatas and the time to listen! As it is I have not even got half of all of them! Every new one is a wonderful discovery!

Thanks for all your helpful comments and comparisons.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (January 6, 2000):
Koopman/Mertens [12] [as Jane said] clocks-in at 2:51. To me that sound leisurely when compared to McCreesh/Harvey [11], who deliver the Aria at 2:13! A world record...

I have only these two, and I like them both, although they are quite different in interpretation and sound. McReesh follows the reproachful nature of the text with a somewhat harsh, decisive and "impatient" style. Harvey sings forcefully, with phrases cut short and agitated (sorry for not owning the correct professional vocabulary - I hope the general message does get through); Koopman takes a more "delicate" approach, not as dramatic, and kind of lets the text speak for itself. Mertens singing is gorgeous - rich, confident, bright in color, and very pleasing to my ears.

There is also quite a difference in recorded sound: With McCreesh [11] I get the feel of attending a "live" performance, with the performers placed "back", and Harvey here and there overshadowed by the instrumental players. Koopman's sounds like a meticulous studio recording, with perfect balance and clarity. Mertens sounds "out front", never outdone by the ABO players.

With the opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) timing we get the reverse order: McCreesh [11] slow at 4:28, Koopman faster at 3:20. And - the magic of Bach – both approaches "connect"!

I like the "sweet harmony" of the choral as well, and - as Jane said - this cantata sounds more beautiful with every repeat.

Wim Huisjes wrote (January 11, 2000):
Though a bit late according to the schedule, there are still a few remarks I'd like to make about BWV 65. This schedule has one great thing going for it: it makes you more or less "re-discover" performances (most of them on LP) that were last listened to a long time ago.

I listened to [9], [8], [6], [7], [12], [11], [10], & [4]. Don't ask me how I ended up with all these performances: it just came about, in many years of cantata hunting. It gets even worse by the time we reach BWV 140 or BWV 147. It has become an art to avoid yet another one of those. I concur with most of the comments Aryeh made regarding [9], [8], [6], & [7]. As for the other ones:

[12] Mertens' glorious voice makes the Aria sound very natural. The long runs come off as if he were doing a small chore off-hand, while in reality the voice "color", expression and the ease he sings this not particularly easy Aria blends beautifully with the text. Koopman serves him well in the accompaniment.

[10] Daniel Lichti is no match for the other Basses mentioned: his voice sounds a bit shaky and he puts emphasis on almost each syllable, thereby breaking the flow of the music.

[11] I'm not quite sure how to view McCreesh/Harvey: in the context of the Epiphany Mass the cantata works wonderfully, but when taken out of this context Harvey's voice seems to lack the strength to bring it off.

While listening to these performances, I was very much surprised (again, after a few years) by the quality of the performances from the sixties on LP.

[6] Kahlhöfer/Stämpfli (my guess: mid sixties) just let the music go. There are no, more or less "artificial" attempts, for example by emphasizing syllables or strophes, to introduce some drama (there's no call for that in this cantata). Stämpfli sings confidently, with strength and ease even in the most difficult parts. His voice, with the right timbre deserves only admiration.

[4] Franz Crass has a slightly better voice than Stämpfli, IMHO: the timbre and ease with which he sings in this Aria works just a notch better for me. The joy and sadness are expressed very well and the Aria comes out "in one flow", just a bit more so than in the Kählhofer/Stämpfli recording. I find this the case for the whole cantata performances.

So if I would have to make a choice (fortunately I don't have to), it would be Crass, Stämpfli and Mertens, without disliking the others (though IMO, Daniel Lichti is outclassed).

It is indeed a pity that many recordings from the fifties and sixties with gorgeous voices like Adam, Stämpfli, Crass (and others like Sotin, Heinz Rehfuss, etc.) are hard to get, never released on CD, no longer available or whatever. Labels like CANTATE, EMI, PHILIPS, ERATO, CARUS (with quite a few recordings by Günter Graulich) and some small German labels (most of them now extinct?) could do many Bach fans a favor by opening up their archives. Dutch radio must have some performances with Rehfuss. PHILIPS...please?

I'm not sure whether Fritz Werner recorded BWV 65 [5]. If so, I must have been blind at the time. ERATO: there's work to be done on all of Werner's recordings. There's a lot more than the four 2-CD sets that are/have been available.

Carl Burmeister wrote (January 3, 2000):
[11] I've got the Epiphany Mass. It is the only recording of BWV 65 I have so caparisons aren't us. Taken as a whole, this recording of the Epiphany mass is one of the more creative I've heard in a long time. As I've said before these re-constructions are largely fantasies. In this case the result is a most pleasing fantasy. The opening Chorus (Mvt. 1) is very pleasing but this Aria, is a jewel. The Bass soloist is Peter Harvey. He's no Heinz Ruhfuss but is still quite good. And that blaring in horns at the ritornello before the Da Capo; was that historically inspired or just a nice musical touch? I'm sure McCreesh will never fess up. Anyway, this version of BWV 65 is without a doubt my favorite period instrument performance of a cantata (at least for another week or so).

Ryan Michero wrote (January 12, 2000):
Hi, folks. I thought I'd add my proverbial two cents to the discussion on BWV 65. Forgive me if I'm not as well prepared as I usually am for my Suzuki discussions, but I am trying to keep up!

This one is a nice little cantata, isn't it? I have four versions: [12], [8], [7], & [11]. But I haven't listened to Richter [7] or Harnoncourt [8] yet! I'll get back to you guys if they sound exceptional to me, but for now my pick is Koopman [12]. As Wim and Jane mentioned, Mertens is excellent in the Bass Aria (Mvt. 4). What clenches it for me, though, is Koopman's wonderfully joyous opening chorus (Mvt. 1). The colorful instrumentation sounds wonderfully rich on Koopman's period-instrument orchestra, and the vocal counterpoint is exceptionally clear and exciting.

[11] I like McCreesh's version a lot too, but it doesn't work quite as well outside of the context of the "Epiphany Mass" recording. The cathedral organ sounds fine, but I prefer the clearer acoustic of Koopman's recording overall. Suzuki might have trouble displacing my affection for Koopman in this one.

Marie Jensen wrote (January 3, 2000):
I would like to put another angle on BWV 65, an instrumentation one. In the opening recorders (flauti) among other instruments appear. We have the 3 holy kings entering, not the kind of guys who make their entries to triumphant trumpets, but peaceful spiritual leaders accompanied by horns and recorders. In BWV 182 Jesus rides into Jerusalem again not to trumpets but to a recorder, again a peaceful spiritual leader entry. Is the kind, sweet sounding flauto used symbolic? Is it a symbol of wisdom or an attempt to add a special Bach kind of oriental flavor? (He had never heard the Arab music from Saba I'm quite sure, but what a fantastic musical integration, if he had!). Other recorder cantatas are for example: BWV 106, BWV 46 and BWV 161. Here the instrument clearly is a symbol of eternal life.

There are not many recorder parts in the cantatas. The tonal range of the flauto is smaller than the traverso one, and it can't play so loud. In BWV 13 it underlines sadness. In the famous “Schafe konnen sicher weiden” from the Hunting cantata (BWV 208) it has a pastoral aspect, which oboes and traversi also often have. Did the baroque time have rules for using instruments symbolic?

It is well known that solo instruments could be replaced with others in chamber or orchestral music. On the other hand Albert Schweitzer once wrote, that the oboes were the shepherds and the angels the violins in the Christmas Oratorio Sinfonia (BWV 248), and In St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) the words of Christ are underlined by violin. Thank You in advance to any one who would like to write a little about instrumentation and symbols.

Simon Crouch wrote (January 3, 2000):
Off the top of my head I can't remember all the details but basically the answer is yes. The recorder was associated with pastoral settings and with death (so, for the latter, pre-figuration of death can be signaled by the recorder in an otherwise happy scene...) Also, there was a hierarchy of instrument "status" with the violin near the top and with the recorder near the bottom - the latter would definitely be someone's "second" instrument. A very good reference for this is Michael Marissen's book on the Brandenburg Concertos - he gives much more detail on this instrumental symbolism and status stuff than I can remember and argues that Bach enjoyed turning these hierarchies on their heads.

Marie Jensen wrote (January 4, 2000):
Thank you Simon for an interesting answer to my instrumentation question. You wrote: “Also, there was a hierarchy of instrument "status" with the violin near the top and with the recorder near the bottom - the latter would definitely be someone's "second" instrument.” A simple explanation could be: It is much more difficult to learn to play the violin than to learn to play recorder.

Yet organ had no high rank, and it must be very difficult to play. In the TV serial about Bach’s life from 1985: there was a scene about Bach’s troubles with his carrier as Kapellmeister in Weimar. Caused by different intrigues he was not promoted, and his job now "only" was to play the organ (A conflict which lead to imprisonment and later a new carrier in Kothen). The only musician with lower rank was "Der Stadt Pfeiffer". In the film he used words about the low rank jobs a little unsuitable for this list. Fiction of course, but it tells about hierarchies in the music world in those days.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 65: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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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