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

Cantata BWV 7
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam
Discussions - Part 1

BWV 7 - Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam

Teri Noel Towe wrote (June 24, 2000):
Today, the 24th of June, is the feast of St. John the Baptist.

I have a special fondness for JSB's 1724 cantata for this feast day, "Christ unser Herr, zum Jordan kam", BWV 7, and I commend it to those of you who are unfamiliar with it, even though none of the commercial recordings of it with which I am familiar really does the work justice. (Both the bass and the alto arias seem always to be taken at terribly ponderous tempos!)

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 27, 2000):
The week to discuss BWV 7 has not yet arrived. However, I was tempted by JSB (BTW, what is your real name?) remark to listen again to this cantata. I am also very fond of BWV 7 and this fondness started many years ago, when I heard it for the first time in mid 1970's in Leonhardt's recording. Hearing it and listening to it again after so many less familiar cantatas fills my heart with the warmness one feels when he is coming back home. I believe that for many of you there are also special cantatas, which are dearer to their hearts more than the others are. There is no logical explanation why I feel so close to this cantata, only emotional.

I shall keep my comments shortest as possible, because I have to dedicate more of my free time to do my homework of BWV 76 and also because this is not BWV 7 turn. However, it is a nice idea to do small breaking outs of the usual order of discussion from time to time. At the moment I have 3 recordings of BWV 7. I hope to have more when its time to be discussed will come.

(2) Gustav Leonhardt
[4] Helmuth Rilling
[6] Pieter Jan Leusink

I agree with JSB (Again, I feel very uncomfortable to use this pseudonym) that Rilling's recording is played too fast and consequently losing most of the potential of this cantata. The same is true for the Leusink's recording issued lately [6]. But what you said about "none of the commercial recordings of it with which I am familiar really does the work justice" cannot in any way be applied to Leonhardt's recording [2].

I compared the 3 recording with open ears (so I hope) and I can say loud and clear that my definite conclusion is that Leonhardt [2] set a very high standard from which all the others are very far. In this cantata Leonhardt's rendering is in a class of its own. For me this is among the best cantata recording among my collection, which is not too small. The grandeur of the instrumental introduction could not be match by any of the other recordings. You can clearly hear the big waves, the small wavelets, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. In short, the streaming of Jordan River is always there, but this time it is anticipating the coming of Jesus. In Equiluz rendering the recitative for tenor becomes the centerpiece of the cantata. You want to believe him when he is saying: "Es sprach: Dies ist mein lieber Sohn" (He said: This is my beloved son), expressing all the love any father have ever felt to his son. All the sorrow and pain in the world are expressed by him in the consecutive aria.

Mercy and belief are the focus of the aria for alto. And when Paul Esswood sings, "Menschen, glaubt doch dieser Gnade" (Mankind, trust now in this mercy), he does not really need any accompaniment. When somebody is saying to you "believe me" it is much more convincing when there is not any playing in the background, which might divert you from giving full attention to the important things he has to say to you. I have always loved Esswood simple and pleasant voice, but I cannot recall hearing him singing so expressively as here. I cannot understand why the other performers of this cantata do it faster. If somebody wants to convince you, he has to speak slowly.

This recording is a masterpiece, and even if you are not very fond of the H & L cycle, you must have or at least hear this cantata in Leonhardt's recording [2].

I know that BWV 7 was also recorded by Fritz Werner in 1970 for Erato label. It was even reissued for a short while on CD, but this CD is no longer available. I do not have this recording. Let us see what other recordings of this cantata will be available when its time comes.

And now to BWV 76, which is awaiting us patiently, while we are giving some of our attention to another cantata.

 

Discussions in the Week of June 24, 2001

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 26, 2001):
Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 7 according to Thomas Braatz’ suggestion, the 5th one in his proposed list of cantatas for discussion.

Personal Viewpoint

To put things straight, I shall draw my conclusions right at the beginning. Cantata BWV 7 is one of the few cantatas with whom I feel personal connection. And I consider Leonhardt’s recording [2] of it as one of the highest picks in the oeuvre of the recorded Bach Cantatas. I hope that the explanations of the reasons for which I cherish this recording more than any other, will come out of the my review hereinafter of the recordings of this cantata. I heard this cantata for the first time in the first half of the 1970’s, while I was a young student. I remember buying the first two volumes of the ‘Browns’ (The brown boxes of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt complete cantata cycle). I opened with trembling fingers the cellophane, looked inside the boxes, saw the scores, the brochures and everything else, all organized in a new standard of packaging. Even the LP’s themselves has a special aroma of quality. I heard all the cantatas one after the other in sequential order, discovering the charms BWV 1, the beauty of BWV 2, waiting impatiently to hear BWV 4, which was the only cantata I knew before I bought those two boxes. And after BWV 5 and BWV 6, I found BWV 7, waiting there for me. It was a love from first hearing. I loved every minute, every second of this cantata, including the recitatives. I loved it so much that I avoided myself of hearing it too often. It has been like dear jewellery, to which there is a recommendation of not taking it out of its box too often, because it might be harmed by over-exposure. But this week was cantata BWV 7 all to itself. I have heard it countless times and I am still eager to hear it more. It is still growing on me.

This cantata is full of pictorial realism in both choral numbers. The recitatives are dramatic and the arias are melodious. There are three arias in this cantata, and each one of them has a unique character. All the movements together are interconnected and create a complete unity and particular beauty. One could think that all the numbers are optimistic, but a special rendition can reveal more dimensions to this cantata. Each one of the movements deserves special attention. All the potential of this cantata as a whole and of each movement in particular is revealed only in Leonhardt’s rendition [2]. Highly recommended!

Complete Recordings

I am aware of only 5 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 7, and during last week I have been listening to 4 of them. There is also one recording of individual movements from it (the recitative & aria for tenor), by one of the most renowned singers of the new generation of Bach singers. See: Cantata BWV 7 – Recordings.

[1] Fritz Werner (1970)
I do not have this recording, which was reissued on CD couple of years ago, but is no longer available.
[2] Gustav Leonhardt (1971)
[4] Helmuth Rilling (1982)
[5] Ton Koopman (1999)
[6] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)

Recordings of Individual

(M-1) Fabio Biondi (2000)

Background and Review of the Recordings

As a background to the review of each movement I shall use this time Robertson’s book.

Mvt. 1: Chorus
“This is one of Bach’s finest chorale fantasies. It is cast in concerto form for it is obvious that the composer wishes the solo violin part to stand out prominently. With the continuo, it accompanies the first two entries of the chorus. The chorale melody, in long notes, given to the tenors, is one of the very few instances of their being so singled out in all the chorale fantasies. It is difficult to resist the suggestion that the complex texture is meant to illustrate Bach’s picture of the river Jordan. The text continues ‘So would He establish for us a bath to wash us from sins, to drown also the bitter death through His own blood and wounds, there prevailed a new life’. These words are the real clue to the heart of the matter which is summed up in the final triumphant phrase at ‘life’.”

[2] Leonhardt’s rendition of the opening chorus is the slowest of them all (7:50) and still sounds the most correct. The movements of the waves, the small ones and the big ones, are so pictorial. There is feeling of spiritual uplift in the singing of the choir as they look at Jesus walking slowly to the Jordan River, ready to wash them from their sins. The music is so captivating in this rendition, that one can enjoy it even without understanding a word (like I did in the early 1970’s). Knowing the words and the enjoyment is doubled. .

[4] I was disappointed by Rilling’s rendition of the opening chorus (5:49). Firstly, it is too fast. I do not think that there is any hint in the text that suggests such hurry. Secondly, instead of being trilled by the rare occasion, it seems that the choir pushes Jesus impatiently to finish his mission as fast as he can.

[5] The picture of the waves as illustrated by Koopman is charming, but hearing it head to head with Leonhardt’s and one can realize that there is more than simple charm to this chorus.

[6] I have not expected it, but Leusink’s rendition of the opening chorus is more convincing than Koopman’s. The singing of and the playing are a little bit less polished, but more spontaneous and more sincere.

Rating - Leonhardt [2], Leusink [6], Koopman [5], Rilling [4]

Mvt. 2: Aria for Bass
“These two lines have to suffice for the whole of the first section of this didactic aria, and to involve a lot of repetition. The remarkable feature of this movement is the demisemiquaver figure in the continuo below which, counting the da capo, is heard no less than 129 times. It is indeed meant to be symbolic of the baptismal water its continual occurrence in the middle section does not consort with the text, which stresses that the water visible to the eye is not water inwardly but God’s Spirit and His word, that enable us to reach heaven.”

[2] With a singer in van Egmond’s calibre, one can come easily to the conclusion that repetition does not mean boredom. The warmth in his voice and the compassion which his singing delivers are so fascinating that you want to find yourself want to listen to him, where in some of the other recordings the bass singer might sound didactic.

[4] Hearing Schöne immediately after van Egmond in this aria, and most of his drawbacks come forth. There are rough edges in his voice, and his singing lack depth of expression to a degree that might cause you to run away. He is didactic rather than convincing.

[5] Mertens is the only singer in Koopman’s recording who could easily fit in Leonhardt’s recording without lowering its high level. However I still find van Egmond a little bit more interesting.

[6] Ramselaar timbre of voice reminds somewhat that of van Egmond, but the intensity of his singing is no doubt on a lower level.

Rating- van Egmond [2], Mertens [5], Ramselaar [6], Schöne [4]

Mvt. 3: Recitative for Tenor
“The text speaks of how He openly proclaimed at the baptism His Son as His heir and said, ‘This is my dear Son in whom I am well pleased’. Bach puts the quotation, based on St. Matthew 28: 19, in inverted commas, i.e. rests before and after. ‘He took our lowly state [here the music sinks in pitch] and weak nature. Accept Him, then, as Saviour and Lord and hearken to His holy teaching’.

Mvt. 4: Aris for Tenor
“This is a very imaginative aria. The ethereal parts for the two solo violins seem to portray the Holy Spirit, spoken of in the continuation of the text as appearing in the form of a dove. Bach, without stopping the fluttering instrumental phrases, gives moving expression to our redemption through the Son’s blood in a long-drawn vocal line in ‘redeems’.”

[2] With the pain at the beginning of Equiluz rendition of the recitative, one can imagine that it was taken from a Passion. I thought that such a depth of expression could not be deepened. But in the aria he climbs even higher. His singing of the aria is so touching, that I found myself speechless.

[4] Adalbert Kraus is the only singer in Rilling’s recording that rises to the occasion. His singing does not suffer in the comparison to Equiluz. Indeed it is more optimistic, yet still convincing. The accompaniment he is getting from Rilling is a little bit problematic. The heaviness of the dove’s fluttering here prevents her from flying high.

[5] Although Prégardien (with Koopman) has a lot of experience as Evangelist, I find that here is not getting under the external surface of both the recitative and the aria. The same could be said about van der Meel (with Leusink) [6].

[M-1] I have to admit that what I think about Bostridge’s rendition of the recitative and aria for tenor is not too flattering. His voice is beautiful indeed, but there is too little emotional involvement. It seems that he cares more for showing off the richness of his voice, rather than concentrating on the textual content. He is preening with his voice and over-ornamenting, instead of letting the beautiful music being simply and honestly expressing itself.

Rating: Equiluz [2], Kraus [4], Prégardien [5], van der Meel [6], Bostridge [M-1]

Mvt. 5: Recitative For Bass
“The strings come in at the arioso on the words that follow, ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all the nations’ (St. Matthew 28: 19) using the rising phrase at ‘resurrection’ a tone higher, proof of the intense care Bach generally took to make recitatives meaningful. The words finish the well-known quotation.”

Mvt. 6: Aria for Alto
“The continuo alone accompanies the first half of the opening and the other lines, after ritornellos, as if Bach wanted to emphasize the importance of the baptismal rite for the Christian.”

[2] Esswood’s voice and singing were created to sing this aria. Everything I wrote about Equiluz’ rendition of the aria for tenor can be applied to Esswood as well.

[4] Helen Watts (with Rilling) is so tasteful singer that you can easily enjoy her rendition. Had I not heard Esswood, I could not think that there are such depths in this a. In comparison to him she sounds here somewhat superficial.

[5] Markert (with Koopman) has a very special voice. Some may like it, some may not. I find myself in the second group. But the major problem with her singing is that it is so superficial, that some of the beauty of this aria is getting lost. I thought that it is not possible, but she proves that I am mistaken.

[6] Buwalda voice as heard in this aria is so strange. Sometime I like his voice, because for certain arias it is suitable. But here I find it so disturbing that despite the beauty of the music, I could not really enjoying it in this performance. I think that I found the reason why. With the good counter-tenor singers (Esswood, Scholl, etc.) the counter-tenor voice production sounds natural. You can imagine that they are talking to you as though this is their natural voice. With Buwalda it sounds unnatural. He is trying too much, and you can hear the efforts in his singing. Sometimes you might think that he is faking.

Rating – Esswood [2], Watts [4], Markert [5], Buwalda [6]

Mvt. 7: Chorale
“This is verse 7 of Luther’s hymn.”

Rating: Leonhardt [2], Leusink [6], Rilling [4], Koopman [5]

Conclusion

LEONHARDT [2].

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

Charles Ervin McCarn wrote (June 27, 2001):
The correct title of the cantata is "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam".

Are the members of the List aware that there is a page devoted to the original organ player's part to this Cantata?

If not, it is an interesting essay about the history of its ownership. It now belongs to a man in Rhode Island named Terri Towe, and he is apparently an amateur Bach scholar of some repute. The address of the page is: http://www.npj.com/homepage/teritowe/jsbbwv7.html

Thanks for the detailed analysis, Aryeh. It is very valuable, and I am glad that I have joined this list. It would be helpful, though, if the timings of the individul movements were provided. BWV 7 has always been one of my favorites, too, but in every complete recording that I have ever heard the bass aria and the little alto aria have always been much too slow to me.

The only exception is the very old recording of just the alto aria that was included on a ten inch black disc of arias that the Bach Aria Group made for MGM about 1950. And that is not an easy record to find!

That Ian Bostridge CD [M-1] that has just the tenor aria on it is a spectacular disk!

PS: BWV 7 is for the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which is, like Christmas, an "immovable feast". Is it celebrated specifically in any of the churches nowadays. I confess I am not a church goer and am not up to date on such things.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (June 28, 2001):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< BWV 7 - Christ unser Herrscher zum Jordan kam
<snip> This cantata is full of pictorial realism in both choral numbers <snip>
Mvt. 1 - Chorus
“This is one of Bach’s finest chorale fantasies. >
I agree!! The opening chorus is really thrilling and captivating, and I can listen to it over and over again without getting bored. A fantastic, inventive piece of music, with some of the instrumental figures forshadowing dramatic moments later found in Beethoven's and Schubert's symphonies. I first encountered this cantata only this past year with Koopman's volume 11, and it provided me with that special thrill of a new "discovery".

Now a word about the "pictorial" inspiration:

< It is difficult to resist the suggestion that the complex texture is meant to illustrate Bach’s picture of the river Jordan. <snip>
Leonhardt’s rendition
[2] of the opening chorus is the slowest of them all (7:50) and still sounds the most correct. The movements of the waves, the small ones and the big ones, are so pictorial. There is feeling of spiritual uplift in the singing of the choir as they look at Jesus walking slowly to the Jordan River, ready to wash them from their sins. The music is so captivating in this rendition, that one can enjoy it even without understanding a word >
Luckily for us, Bach lived in lush Thuringia and consequently re-created the Jordan "river" based on his life-surrounding experience, with very little resemblence of the "real life" Jordan: Desert surroundings, suffocating heat in the summer [when the Feast takes place], depressing humidity, a billion flies all over, and a narrow stream of water more befitting of the title "bach" [=brook], with hardly any possibility of "waves".....But, this is all immaterial and irelevant as the music, whatever its inspiration, touches the heart forcefully.

< Conclusion
LEONHARDT
[2]. >
I only have the Koopman version [5] and the Rilling one [4]. Now off to Amazon to order the Leonhardt CD (2)!!

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 29, 2001):
BWV 7 - Commentary [Schweitzer (1905), Dürr (1971), Nicholas Anderson (1999, Oxford Composer Companions:J.S.Bach -{Boyd}), "Analyzing Bach Cantatas" by Eric Chafe's (2000)]

See: Cantata BWV 7 - Commentary

Commentary on the Recordings:

I have Leonhardt [2], Rilling [4], Koopman [5], and Leusink [6].

Mvt. 1
[2] Leonhardt has a very relaxed tempo. What amazed me at first was the choir which was not the Vienna Choir Boys, not the Tölz, or the Hannover Boys' choirs. This choir had clean attacks, proper intonation with a delineation of each vocal part. Even the inner parts (particularly the alto part which frequently has to sing in the low part of the range, where it might not be heard) could be heard clearly, which is not often the case with the other choirs mentioned where the inner parts and sometimes the bass are too weak and the recording environment produced a muffled sound. Heard from this standpoint alone, this would be a superior recording. Where I encountered difficulties, was in the orchestral part, particularly the oboi d'amore which were out of balance with the other instruments. They were too loud and too obvious without a good reason for being so obtrusive. When the mvt. begins, you hear the jagged edges of the protruding-rocks motif, with its strongly rhythmic character coming from the dotted-note figures. This first section is marked 'forte.' Then follows the wave-motif with the 1st oboe d'amore playing staccato notes, while the other oboe rocks back and forth on a three-note phrase representing the wave. Bach has marked this section 'piano'. What does this 2nd oboe d'amore do? It slurs and slides from one note to the other while playing slightly out of tune. If that does not grab your attention, what will? First of all the oboes, as well as the other instruments, should be playing 'piano,' as marked. This provides a necessary contrast with the 1st section. There is no contrast in dynamics here, only that which issues from the notes that Bach wrote. Perhaps Leonhardt was thinking, "I want the listener to hear the wave theme." As you know from reading above there a numerous wave-motifs, so this one need not have a very special emphasis. Perhaps the instrumentalist wished to turn a deficiency in being able to play a newly acquired instrument into an advantage by overplaying this wave-motif, thus avoiding criticism of his playing ability.

[4] With Rilling's perfoyou are in for a real surprise. The tempo is much too fast. In a few spots, you can actually feel how the instrumentalists are being pushed to play faster. This is a breathless performance where everything feels rushed. What's the hurry? What does Rilling do with the 'piano' wave section? Does he at least take note of the dynamic indications? Yes and no. He takes the 'piano' section and divides it into two mini-sections, so as to create an echo-effect with the second mini-section. Clever, ingenious, and inventive, but not what Bach intended, because Rilling plays at a forte level where Bach has decisively marked it as 'piano.' Rilling also has the usual thick and heavy bass line. This is called emphasizing and recognizing the primacy of the bass line, a method that frequently disregards the balance between the instruments and voices, particularly solo voices, which, as we know, generally tend to be small voices nowadays. The little waves in the oboi d'amore were all played the same way. There was not much rocking or movement in the wave. Did the choir demonstrate its usual excellence in this mvt.? No. The first entrance is particularly difficult because of its low range. While Leonhardt's choir (the altos) could still be heard, almost barely, Rilling's group has even more difficulty here. When you couple that with the warbling/wobbly soprano line, the vibrato of the sopranos with operatic voices, then even the clean and clear top line of the choir is destroyed. My general impression of this mvt. under Rilling is that it is a very forceful presentation, so forceful that it sounds almost angry in the tone of its expression. With so much driving force expended here, I wanted to ascertain if there might be a good reason for this, thus making this a valid interpretation of the mvt. I decided that Rilling had chosen to express the battle against the forces of Death, as if the choir and congregation could help Christ in this activity. In the section beginning with the word, "Ersäufen auch" ("also drown") there is an irregular 'stepping-down' on the notes of the triad which is aptly prepared for by Bach, and by Rilling, as the bass line is emphasized with a similar downward moving figure just before the bass voice enters. That is worth listening for and very effective.

[5] Koopman: The waves are back. Leonhardt's were too loud, Rilling had lost the rocking movement of the wave and opted for an echo-effect, but Koopman gives us gentle waves. His tempo is more relaxed when compared with Rilling's almost hectic performance. But what does Koopman do with the little wave section marked 'piano'? He introduces a touch of Romanticism in an otherwise HIP performance. He does this by introducing a slight crescendo as he moves from the 'piano' section to the next 'forte' section. Whatever happened to tiered-dynamics? I thought this was a main-stay of period performances, ever since research had uncovered this important factor in playing Bach with proper dynamics. Does anyone know why Koopman is doing this? Does he know something from new research, that we have not yet heard about? The choir is very clear with all the parts in balance so that even the altos could be heard properly all the time. The quality of singing is just as good as Leonhardt's, if not slightly better in all respects. The soprano is wonderfully clear with clean singing (lack of vibrato). There are falsettists discretely singing in the alto parts. This helps to bring the low range in this part into balance with the other parts. On the words, "Ersäufen auch" the triad going downwards is also heard, but not as strongly.

[6] Leusink has essentially the same tempo. He does not do much with Bach's forte-piano sections. Sometimes he heeds the dynamic indications, but most frequently the instrumentalist simply plod through these sections without 'batting an eyelash," as they move from a 'forte' to a 'piano' and vice versa. Even with the falsettists singing the alto part, in some places they could hardly be heard (the first entrance is particularly difficult because of its low range.) Here is another one of those "primacy-of-the-bass-line" fanatics. The bass is very heavy and too loud. The entire mvt. is played rather matter-of-factly, as if getting all the notes is the primary purpose for this performance. The choir even had a good start for me this time (because the soprano and alto parts were set rather low here.) But when the falsettists in the soprano reach for a 'G' it is all over for me.

Ranking: Koopman, Leonhardt [2], Rilling, Leusink [6].

Other mvts. will follow.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 29, 2001):
BWV 7 Continued Commentary on the Recordings:

Mvt. 2: Aria & Mvt. 5: Recitative for bass
Ramselaar (Leusink) [6] sounds like he is holding back, or otherwise his voice is simply small by nature. He sings the notes clearly, but does not add much in the way of expression. van Egmond (Leonhardt) (2) really tries hard to obtain variety of expression and this is truly one of his positive points, but I find that his vibrato sometimes obscures the actual note he should be singing. Listen to his first note in the aria on the word "Merkt" - to me it sounds like a bleating sheep. When I go into the next larger room to hear his voice from a greater distance, this characteristic of his voice becomes even more apparent and I like the performance even less. The same thing happens when I listen to Matthias Görne singing a solo Bach cantata. Other voices I hear seem not to change or even improve in quality with the greater distance (Fischer-Dieskau). Schöne (Rilling) [4] possesses a substantial full voice, but there is less expression than with van Egmond. Also Rilling's bass is so loud that it may not allow Schöne to attempt more inflection in his voice out of fear that his voice might be covered by the instruments. Mertens (Koopman) [5] tries to give an excellent interpretation of the aria, but Koopman insists on a very fast, airy, and light treament of the music, which does not give Mertens very much of a chance for interpreting the text. His recitative, however, is excellent.

Mvt. 3: Recitative & Mvt. 4: Aria for tenor
Equiluz (Leonhardt) (2) has a fast vibrato like Esswood's, but with Equiluz it has a pleasant quality and is quite acceptable for pure listening enjoyment. Where Equiluz really excels is in his ability to project the meaning and feeling behind the words. I can accept what he sings without questioning whether he genuinely feels this (that it comes directly from the heart) or whether he is simply a good actor. In this case it does not matter, because the result is very moving and direct without any artificiality. Artifice, if it is present, is so completely under control that it is not apparent to the listener. Because he truly knows what he is singing about, and not simply mouthing words as many other singers do, there are places in this aria where his voice actually takes on wings. At least I thought I had perceived this. It is part of a magical quality that sometimes comes through in his performances. Leonhardt's deliberate tempo and discrete handling of the bass certainly help here. Kraus (Rilling) [4] has a faster tempo to contend with, and if there is anyone who can agilely pluck the high notes out of the air and create mesmerizing melismas, it is Kraus. But have him sing some simple quarter notes, which also appear in the aria, and the other Recitative-Kraus appears: the vibrato and emphasis are too much for me to handle. With Rilling the sound of the violins is very reminiscent of recordings made of Bach's Double Violin Concerto in the 1950's and 1960's. For an even faster version of the aria we can turnto Koopman [5]. This is too fast for my taste and I have the feeling that I am being rushed through the aria. The overall effect is one of lightness and speed that is typical for Koopman: "Let's just tap these notes lightly, boys and girls!" Where Bach has marked a 'forte' in measure 53, Koopman has it played 'piano.' Is he afraid that it will sound too heavy for his light treatment? Does playing lightly mean that everything has to be soft? Prégardien does not have much choice, except to try to keep up with Koopman's extreme tempo. This does not help his interpretation of the voice part. Generally, however, I would say that he is a definite improvement over some of Koopman's previous choices of tenor (Vol 10 and before). van der Meel (Leusink) [6] has an almost expressionles voice although he does sing the right notes. Leusink also has a light bass accompaniment (a major exception to the rule that the bass must be overemphasized). The same craziness persists in measure 53 of the aria. Since this recording was made the same month and year as Koopman's, did they conspire against Bach by saying, "We will prove to the world that Bach was wrong in marking this passage 'forte' and deliberately begin a tradition that all other performers will follow when they hear our version." Well, I may have overstated this, but isn't it curious that this quirk should only happen to two Bach recordings made in the same country, in the same month and year? (And who is slavishly copying from whom?)

Mvt. 6: Aria for alto
Buwalda (Leusink) [6] sounds as if he is continuously trying to control his voice to keep it from slipping away or breaking. There is a thin raspiness. These factors along with a general lack of expression make this a less than desirable performance. Markert (Koopman) [5] does not have much of a voice, but when she attempts to achieve more volume, the amount of vibrato becomes intolerable. She only 'half'-sings many of the notes, simply touching them lightly and even cutting the note values in the process. She sounds like a female voice trying to imitate the quality of a falsettist's voice. Watts (Rilling) [4] is very much operatic with quite a lot of vibrato. She definitely sounds like she is past her prime here as the voice is no longer completely under her control. Esswood (Leonhardt) (2) exhibits his usual (not always) problems with intonation by generally singing flat. This coupled with his fast vibrato, which stands out too much, detracts from what should have been a very good recording of the work with excellent orchestral background.

Mvt. 7: Chorale
My ranking for the chorale is from top to bottom: Koopman, Leonhardt, Leusink [6], Rilling.
Rilling [4] loses out because of the bad sopranos (too much vibrato), but the flow and phrasing of the chorale is very good. Leonhardt (2) and Leusink [6] are afflicted with the short or non-existent fermati in their performances. Koopman [5] has it all here: good expression and legato singing with clean vocal lines.

 

Belated reply Re: BWV 7

Teri Noel Towe wrote (August 7, 2001):
[To Aryeh Oron] I am sitting in my "roomette" (as such are no longer called!) on the AMTRAK Crescent on my way back to NYC after a week in the South Land for family reunions and family business, and I am catching up on a mountain of backlogged e-mail.

[5] One of the recordings to which I have been listening through the speakers on my laptop is Koopman's BWV 7, and I have to say that it is the best of the commercial recordings. For once, the bass aria is almost, but not quite, fast enough, and the other tempos are as I feel that they should be, with the sole exception of the alto aria, which to me is WAY too slow! I also like the fact that we do not have to endure the harpsichord in addition to the organ playing keyboard continuo. Like William H. Scheide, I firmly believe that, with certain specific and well documented exceptions, the harpsichord was not generally used as a continuo instrument in the church performances and the harpsichord parts were created for rehearsal use primarily.

 

The "ownership" of the figured organ player's part to BWV 7

Teri Noel Towe wrote (January 5, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The documentation that this particular continuo part from BWV 7 is owned by Teri Noel Towe is published in the Appendix of Laurence Dreyfus's book, Bach's Continuo Group: Players and Practices in his Vocal Works, page 184. This cantata was first performed on June 24th, 1724, according to the information on page 210. That date is corroborated by the BWV (catalog) as well. >
The original figured organ player's part to the Bach Cantata, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, came into my possession on October 20, 1983. From the moment that I acquired it, however (and I certainly have had no happier moment in my life than the instant the auctioneer's hammer came down to confirm my winning bid), I have been uncomfortable about being described as its "owner."

I do not own the part in any sense other than the legal sense of "lawful possession."

What I acquired -- and what I possess -- is the extraordinary and rare privilege and joy of being the steward for and the custodian of an especially precious artifact, a personal memento of one of the greatest creative geniuses in the history of all civilizations.

Believe me, I am grateful that I have such great good fortune, and I do not take it for granted.

Every day I count my blessings and thank my lucky stars that it has been, and is, my joy to possess this remarkable artifact, something that Johann Sebastian Bach not only held in his own hands but also helped physically to create when he figured the part, added dynamic markings, and perhaps wrote in a couple of movement headings. To hold it in my hands is as close as I shall ever come, in this world at least, to shaking hands with Johann Sebastian Bach himself, and each time that I do hold it I feel an indescribable electricity surge through my soul.

During the more than 21 years that the part has been in my care, I have made it available for exhibition on numerous occasions and have supplied photographs and now digital scans to any and all with a genuine reason to have them.

I did, in fact, provide scans to John Eliot and Isabella Gardiner, just as I did to Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Ton Koopman. (Maestro Suzuki did not respond to either of the two offers I made to him, via e-mail at his website, to provide him with scans, in advance of his recording the Cantata, and I was not aware of Maestro Leusink's project [6] until after the fact.) If memory serves me correctly, Helmuth Rilling had already made his recording when the part came into my possession.

Last spring, when I learned that the Bach Archiv in Leipzig was beginning a project to make digital scans of the 44 sets of parts that Anna Magdalena Bach turned over to the Thomasschule in exchange for an additional six months of her husband's salary, I immediately sent a set of the scans to Christoph Wolff to add to the scans that the Bach Archiv was making. ("My" part comes from one of those 44 sets.)

A couple of months ago, however, I made the original part available for a purpose that I had not made it available for before, a purpose that nowadays is unheard of, a purpose that I had long hoped would one day be a reality. On October 26, 2004, in Cannon Chapel at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, at the concert that concluded at the annual Reformation Day Commemoration there, the University organist, Timothy Albrecht, who played continuo had the part on his music desk, and, with a "at pitch" part beside it, played continuo from it in a complete performance of BWV 7.

I always shall remember the elated expressions on the faces of everyone in the room when Timothy made the announcement. After the concert, there was a euphoria in the room that was unique, to say the least! I made sure, incidentally, that the harpsichordist in the performance had a chance to play from it, and the 'cellist played a few measures from it as well. ("Those are my notes, too", she told me with a grin.) I also recall that the double-bass player, who was standing next to the postiv organ, craned over from time to time to read from the part.

As I later told Stephen Crist, a dear friend who is a well-regarded Bach scholar and the Chairman of the Emory Music Department, we had participated in a resurrection. The part lives again, having been used, perhaps for the first time since 1724, and almost certainly since Bach's lifetime, for the purpose for which it was written out. I cannot help but wonder if the event would qualify for a listing in the Guinness Book of World's Records.

No insitutional librarian would ever consent, or could consent, to allowing such a performing part to be used in an actual performance, and I would not have been able to either, had it not been for the fortunate facts that (1) the part is on 100 % rag content paper and (2) was bound in the 19th century, and thus is sturdy enough to allow it to be used in an actual performance.

I do not share this information and these anecdotes with you to toot my own horn or to pat myself on the back. I share them with you because I realize all too well the unique position in which I find myself.

I also realize that I am in a unique position in a bittersweet, poignant way.

In 1965, when I was 17 and first learned that this organ player's part was "out there," somewhere, in private hands, it was not yet a pipe dream to think that I might one day possess such an original myself. Today, however, it is, for all practical purposes, a pipe dream to harbor such a desire. If my understanding is correct, as of the beginning of the year 2000, there were fewer than 20 private "owners" of samples of the musical handwriting of Johann Sebastian Bach. That's fewer people than the number of players on the roster of a major league baseball team.

I am one of that "fewer than 20." I am immensely grateful that things arranged themselves, as Don Pablo Casals used to say, so that I have the joy, the privilege, and the responsibility of being the custodian of the original figured organ player's part to the Bach Cantata, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, but I also am deeply saddened to know that I am, inevitably, one of the last individuals to experience such an ineffable and unique condition. I feel so sad about those who are 17 now, as I was in 1965, and who harbor the same dream that I harbored. Their chances of making the dream come true are much slimmer than mine were; in fact, most likely, they border on the non-existent.

Thank you for putting up with this disquisition and for permitting me to share these thoughts with you.

John Pike wrote (January 5, 2005):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Another very deeply moving e mail. What an extraordinary wealth of experiences you have had, Teri! Knowing Pablo Casals and Rosalyn Tureck, and owning an original Bach manuscripts.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 6, 2005):
Teri Noel Towe wrote:
< conclusion: The organ player's part was not available to Moritz Hauptmann when he prepared the edition of BWV 7 for the BGA in 1850 and
1851. >
Actually, it was. If one remembers, the seat of the BG was Leipzig, and the Thomanerchor still performed things pretty much the way Bach did.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Also, could you e-mail me a copy? I am still in the midst of my Bach compilation project, and anything like that would be valuable.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Did you send it to the Thomaskirche or the Thomanerchor yet? I think it would be indeed a valuable piece for them to have, as they still perform regularly Bach's works.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 7: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýApril 21, 2013 ý13:41:57