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Cantata BWV 87
Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen
Discussions

Discussions in the Week of May 20, 2001

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 22, 2001):
Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 87 according to Pablo Fagoaga's suggestion, the last one in his current proposed list of cantatas for discussion. High on the hills of last week’s cantata BWV 108, we are given again a cantata whose libretto was written by the poet Christiane Mariane von Ziegler. And indeed BWV 87 has many similarities with BWV 108. The orchestra in both cantatas is humble - the instrumentation in BWV 108 includes 2 oboes d’amore, where BWV 87 has 2 oboes and one oboe da caccia. In both cantatas Bach avoided using Soprano, probably because he did not have a suitable one at his disposal in the time when he set the music for both cantatas. But although both cantatas open with arioso for bass, the structure of movements is different - BWV 108 (Arioso for Bass, Aria for Tenor, Recitative for Tenor, Chorus, Aria for Alto, Chorale) against BWV 87 (Arioso for Bass, Recitative for Alto, Aria for Alto, Recitative for Tenor, Aria for Bass, Aria for Tenor, Chorale). The text of both cantatas is heavily based on quotations from the bible, and actually it is the same John chapter 16. But the most important factor of similarity between both cantatas is that the level of inspiration to which the poetic libretto evoked Bach’s imagination is very high. Coincidentally, as with BWV 108, we have here also 5 recordings to listen to and the forces are almost identical - Richter [2], Rilling [4], Harnoncourt [3] and Leusink [5]. But instead of the first recording of Karl Richter, we have here another veteran from the older ages – Fritz Werner.

The Recordings

I am aware of 5 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 87, and during last week I have been listening to them all. I do not know of any other recording of this cantata, neither in a complete form, nor of individual movements from it. See: Cantata BWV 87 - Recordings.

[1] Fritz Werner (1961)
[2] Karl Richter (1973-1974)
[3] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1979)
[4] Helmuth Rilling (1980-1981)
[5] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)

Review of the Recordings – Movement by Movement

Mvt. 1 - Aria for Bass

“This libretto is based on John 16: 24. Bach sets the text contrapuntally, but not as a fugue, and in the minor. The reason for the rather stern tone - which is completely absent from Christ’s words in the Gospel - emerges in the two succeeding numbers of the cantata.”
Mvt. 5 - Aria for Bass
“These are Christ’s last words in Chapter 16. The sixfold repetition of the first clause and the rather close-knit vocal writing make this number a little disappointing. Its most expressive moments are the first nineteen bars and the last nine of the final ritornello.”

[1] Franz Kelch (with Werner) gives a direct, simple and convincing rendition that captures the heart of the matter.

(2) Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (with Richter) puts into his interpretation all the expression he can find and its gives his rendition a lots of interest, because we can hear nuances un-revealed by other singers of this aria. He also adds bottom and volume to his singing as much as he can, but one can clearly hear that he does not have a real bass voice.

(4) Walter Heldwein’s timbre of voice is very similar to that of Fischer-Dieskau, but his singing and expression are much less interesting. To my ears he sounds here one-dimensional and superficial. Definitely he is not convincing in the role of Jesus.

(3) The instrumental opening of the first aria for bass in Harnoncourt’s rendition is jumpy and cheerful. To me it sounds that the interpretation totally misses the message of this movement. Poor Ruud van der Meer tries to do the most out of this problematic situation, but he cannot succeed.

(5) The instrumental introduction of Leusink is flowing charmingly, much better than Harnoncourt does. Ramselaar is the right man for the job, because he conveys the message from internal conviction, and he does not have to use all the expressive and technical means that Fischer-Dieskau is using.

Mvt. 2 - Recitative for Alto
“The librettist is here, and in the aria, clearly thinking of the Epistle for this Sunday (James 1: 22-27) which exhorts Christians to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.”
Mvt. 3 - Aria for Alto
“This is the lament of a guilt-ridden soul. Arpeggios continually rise in supplication in the continuo part. Bach twice repeats the low-pitched phrase at ‘and still with us have patience’ which paints a picture of true humility. The words of the middle section, ‘Lord, at Thy bidding, ah, speak not more in parables, help us rather to intercede', are based on John 16: 25 'the hour cometh when I shall no more speak to you in proverbs'. This has even greater intensity of emotion than the first section.”

(1) What a wonderful voice Hertha Töpper (with Werner) has – low, warm, flexible and expressive. Unlike many singers of her generation she uses her vibrato economically and when she has long notes to hold, she does it easily with full control, without any strain or effort.

(2) Anna Reynolds (with Richter) has also contralto voice, but her too felt vibrato is somewhat disturbing. I also find her interpretation less interesting and varied than Töpper’s.

(4) Julia Hamari’s voice (with Rilling) is somewhat lighter than that of her two predecessors, but her expression is full-blooded. She is convincing in her supplication, which she conveys with humble soul. The accompaniment she is getting from Rilling is somewhat cheerful to my taste.

(3) I heard Esswood immediately after the three ladies, and I have to admit that although he has wonderful counter-tenor voice, his interpretation is much less convincing than either of them.

(5) Although Sytse Buwalda timbre of voice suits very well the mood of the aria for alto, both his technique and interpretation cannot match those of the three ladies. Furthermore, he does not have full control on his voice as Esswood has.

Mvt. 4 - Recitative for Tenor
“Bach interpolated this recitative to prevent three arias following in succession. It ends with a brief arioso, ‘Seek me to comfort’.”
Mvt. 6 - Aria for Tenor
“Heartfelt sorrow and contrition are poured out I this beautiful aria, in the tempo of a Sicilienne. The first violin breathes out sympathy for and comfort to the soul and in the middle section he lifts up his troubled heart and casts away despair.”

(1) Helmut Krebs (with Werner) has a very unique tenor voice, which can be identified easily. But more important is his expression, which touch directly your soul. His grief is so deep that you feel that nothing can be done to help him extricate himself from it.

[2] The expression of pain and sorrow comes to Peter Schreier (with Richter) quite easily and naturally. The weeping strings in the ritornellos complete the picture.

(4) Aldo Baldin (with Rilling) has nothing to be ashamed of in comparison to Schreier. He conveys less sadness than Sdoes, but his voice have a kind of warmth, which I like very much. It sounds as if when he sings his aria he has already overcome the agony and the pain.

(3) Kurt Equiluz (with Harnoncourt) goes to the heart of this aria and brings to us the deepest sorrow. He cannot overcome his agony, even when the accompaniment is trying to uplift his soul.

(5) Nico van der Meel’s singing (with Leusink) is not as expressive here and his technique is not as impressive as those of all the other tenor singers are.

Mvt. 7 - Chorale
“Verse 9 of Heinrich Müller’s ‘Selig ist die Seele’ (1659) set to Johann Crüger’s ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ (1653).”

Conclusion

BWV 87 belongs to the group cantatas, which grow on you gradually and capture your attention more and more with every repeated hearing. Even after four full rounds of listening to all the 5 recordings of this cantata, I still feel unsaturated. But I have to pick up one movement from this cantata in one rendition only, I shall go for Töpper’s aria for alto (1).

Before sending this review I have listened to Werner’s recording (1) in its completeness one more time, and I can conclude by saying that I find it the most satisfying of them all. Indeed it is the slowest, but regarding the atmosphere and the message of this cantata, this slow tempo sounds to me the most appropriate of them all.

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 23, 2001):
In the cantata (BWV 108) discussed last week, we found out the source of Bach's cantata text written by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, the daughter of Franz Conrad Romanus, a former mayor of Leipzig. From the book entitled: "Versuch | In | Gebundener | Schreib-Art. | Leipzig | Bey Joh. Friedrich Brauns sel. Erben, 1728." ("An Attempt to Write in Verse-form"), Spitta determined the basis for the cantata texts of BWV 68, BWV 74, BWV 87, BWV 103, BWV 108, BWV 128, BWV 175, BWV 176, BWV 183. It is important to note the verified date of the first performance of the cantata on May 6, 1725. Bach was working from an earlier draft, or even handwritten original, which may have undergone further changes between 1725 and the publication of the book in 1728. We also saw that Bach occasionally modified the text to suit his purposes, a method which he continued to employ with this cantata, the next one in this series. Remember also that Bach suddenly stopped using these texts, although there were others in the book still available for him to use. In order to observe the process by which the words Bach used in his cantata eventually took on the form they received under his pen, I thought it would be instructive to investigate the 'never-ending' battle concerning the chorale strophe in the last mvt.

The original words for this come from the 9. verse of the hymn "Selig ist die Seele" ("Blessed is the soul") by Heinrich Müller (1659). The experts have been able to find it only in a single hymn book version from the year 1697. We have no idea, whether it had already undergone an editing process before being accepted in this solitary hymnal version. This should begin to tell us something about the problematical content of the entire hymn including the 9th verse. I will list the various versions and translations that I have found for your perusal, give you a very literal translation of Müller's 9th verse, and thereafter only comment on the changes that were made. Here is a very accurate copy of it with all of special orthography included:

(Heinrich Müller - 1659; 1697)

Werd ich oft betrübet: Wo mich Jesus liebet/
Ist mir aller Schmertz
Mehr als honig-süße: Seine Liebes-küsse
Laben Seel und Hertz:
Stellt die Pein Sich bei mir ein/
Kehrt doch seine Lieb in Freuden
Auch das schwehrste Leiden.

[Become I often sad: where me Jesus loves
Is to me all pain
More than honey sweet: His love-kisses
Refresh soul and heart:
Comes pain to me
Changes nevertheless his love to pleasures
Even the gravest suffering.]
(This sounds like a computer translation, but the purpose of this is to show
you where the words are in the verse.)

(Christiane Mariane von Ziegler 1725)

Autograph copy in Bach's hands. Notice the changes from Müller's version. Did Bach suggest changes that she did not want make in her original version, or did she keep working on it herself even after the cantata had been completed and performed? Bach's version of her text was probably close to, if not identical with:

(Christiane Mariane von Ziegler 1728)

Muß ich seyn betrübet, so mich Jesus liebet,
ist mir aller Schmertz
über Honig süsse tausend Zucker-Küsse
drücket er ans Hertz,
wenn die Pein sich stellet ein,
seine Liebe macht zur Freuden
auch das bittre Leiden.

[Ambiguity introduced because of the lack of clarity due to the removal of the colon in line 3 and of the capitalized word, "Seine" (Müller), which begins a new thought and the replacement of this word with "tausend," now in the lower case, thus making it appear as a continuation of the beginning of the line. The only thing that spares this from complete confusion is the fact that the hymn melody used, ("Jesu, meine Freude") has a fermate over a half note on the last syllable of "süße." Despite the latter fact, there still is a possibility that one might read it as follows: 'a thousand sugar-sweet kisses that are sweeter than honey,' instead of the original idea: 'all my pain is sweeter than honey; His [Jesus'] kisses of love refresh my soul and heart.'

Von Ziegler introduces a new verb, "drücken" ("press"), then she expresses "if pain comes to me" with an equivalent grammatical structure. She changes the verb "kehren" (with the prefix "um" understood) ("reverse, change to opposite") to "machen" ("turn, or transform into"), and the superlative form of the adjective "schwehrste" ("heaviest, most difficult") becomes simply "bitter" ("bitter, painful.")

J.S.Bach (1725) Does this come before or after von Ziegler's text? We do not know.
Did Bach make the changes, or do they represent an earlier effort of von Ziegler's? This is the most recent, definitive version of the text in the NBA I/12. Note that the beginning of each line is not capitalized as would be the case in many printed versions of poetry in German or in English, and two lines have been shortened so as to represent the actual fermati in the hymn more closely. Bach places the all-important comma after "süße" to avoid any ambiguity and to fit the actual fermati in the hymn melody.

Muß ich sein betrübet?
So mich Jesus liebet,
ist mir aller Schmerz
über Honig süße,
tausend Zuckerküsse
drücket er ans Herz.
Wenn die Pein sich stellet ein,
seine Liebe macht zur Freuden
auch das bittre Leiden.

Karl Richter (1973-4) [2] has his choir supposedly sing this (the following) German text, according to the notes that came with the cantata:

Muß ich sein betrübet?
So mich Jesus liebet,
Ist mir aller Schmerz
Lauter süße Wonne,
Wie die liebe Sonne
Leuchteer mir ins Herz.
Wenn die Pein sich stellet ein,
Seine Liebe macht zur Freuden
Auch das bittre Leiden.

Whoa! What has happened here? We have lost entirely the poetic conceits of an emblematic nature. Richter [2], or someone who did this for him (shall he remain forever nameless!) has replaced the word pictures of "pain being sweeter than honey, and Jesus kissing my chest, where my heart is, with at least a thousand kisses as sweet as sugar," with "pain is a lot of sweet joy, and just like the dear sun, he [Jesus] shines into my heart." Such changes in Bach's texts have been undertaken frequently in the past, and only in the past thirty years or so, have the original cantata texts been more carefully adhered to. What were the reasons for these changes? Sometimes the excuse was "the words did suit the singer's voice very well -- an awkward word or vowel in the wrong place," or with a Victorian attitude "the listener, particularly in a church setting, might get the wrong idea that would detract from understanding the music," or "the poetic conceits are downright silly and do require a replacement of some kind to maintain the dignity of a Bach sacred cantata."

The reality of the situation with Richter's recording [2] is that he does not have the choir sing what is printed as the German text in the notes: "Lauter süße Wonne,/Wie die liebe Sonne/Leuchtet er mir ins Herz." Listen carefully and you will discover this error. So where does the text come from???

Leusink [5] has a text prepared by Clemens Romijn who also prints out correctly (except for capitalizing every first word of every line) the German text that Bach used. But which text does Leusink's choir sing? The same mysterious text that I was finally able to identify. By the way, since I had to listen carefully to each recording, I noticed something that I have not commented on before with Leusink's choir: When I first began listening to Leusink's cantatas a few weeks ago, I happened to be listening at fairly loud volume to a cantata from a different angle, just around a corner of the room where the speakers are located. For a minute or so, I could not identify a single German word that was being sung. When I sat in front of the speakers with score in hand, I had no problem with this. Now I can report that I had to listen even more carefully to Leusink's chorale version because the pronunciation of German is not as clear as in the other versions. Perhaps that is why you can listen with the German words in hand and think that you are actually hearing them, but you are not, because they are different words.

The Breitkopf & Härtel Edition (circa 1900) of Bach's cantatas, recently discussed on the BCML because of a new printable CD-ROM version, has in place of Richter's corrected version [2] which reads, "Lauter süße Wonne,/Wie die liebe Sonne/Leuchtet er mir ins Herz." the following text, "nichts als lauter Wonne,/ seiner Liebe Sonne/ füllet mir das Herz." (nothing but pure joy, the sun[shine] of His love fills my heart.) This, then, is the version that Richter and Leusink [5] have used. We also have just another reason to be very careful with using this, now cheaply available CD Sheet Music, version that has adulterated German text that does not represent Bach's original intentions in addition to other problems that were already discussed.

Just as Clemens Romijn has printed out Bach's original intention, so also does Richter's English translation [2] by Derek McCulloch (1975/6) truly represent what Bach had in mind as he composed the music.

Must I be downcast?
If Jesus loves me
All my pain
becomes sweeter than honey,
and He squeezes my heart
with a thousand sweet kisses.
When the pain subsides
His love turns to joy
the most bitter of suffering.

What had happened with Richter [2]? He had removed the 'bothersome' saccharine and amorous conceits and had replaced them simply with "sweet joy and Jesus' sun shining into my heart" or "nothing but pure joy, the sun[shine] of His love fills my heart." Even the French translation given in the Richter booklet that comes with the cantata recordings does better than Richter's own German versions. I suppose I could make a comment at this point about the French that might be construed as an ethnic generalization that has no place here, so all that I will say is that, with my limited understanding of French, the original poetic conceits as in Bach's cantata text seem natural and beautiful in French. I wonder if individuals who grew up using the French language would feel that there might be a problem in keeping the religious notion behind these words apart from any sensuality that might be implied. Would they snicker or squirm if they saw these words associated with Jesus? Perhaps Kirk McElhearn could comment on this and the quality of the translation:

Arrive-t-il que j´aie à me contrister?
Si Jésus m´aime,
Toute douleur me devient
Plus douce que le miel.
Il m´étreint en me dispensant
Mille suaves baisers.
Lorsque la douleur se fait sentir,
Son amour transforme en joie
Jusqu´à la plus amère souffrance.

The credit for this French translation can be given to Jacques Fournier (1975/6). The same French translation without any credit given to the translator was included in the Teldec Harnoncourt and Leonhardt cantata series [3], but I also can not locate the name of the individual who translated this verse into English for this series. This is how that version comes out:

What is there to grieve me?
Jesus will not leave me;
He will love me still.
Thru His love I capture
Heaven's joyous rapture,
Conquer ev'ry ill.
For my grief He sends relief,
Thru His love the deepest sadness
Changes into gladness.

Here the effort to make the words rhyme predominates and controls the translation. This is a superb effort by the poet/translator to capture the original rhyme scheme, but whatever is gained in this regard, is lost in terms of the original poetic imagery. This version might even be singable in English, and from the standpoint of a version made palatable to general, religious audience, Richter [2] would have preferred this over the German original that was transmitted through Bach's own hand. There is nothing here that might disturb anyone in the audience, or even the singers as far as this goes.

Let's examine the English translation of this verse used in the Rilling series [4]. This is by Z. Philip Ambrose (University of Vermont), whom you will recognize as having kindly placed his English translation of the Bach cantatas on the internet for anyone to examine. There is however this comment, written by him, which you should read before trying to compare his version with the others:

"The intention behind these translations is to lead the reader, listener, or performer back both to the original text and to Bach's interpretations of it. The translations maintain the meter of the original text and, wherever possible, the placement of words, which are featured with special affect in the music. This often requires abandoning normal word order and means that the translations should be followed while reading the original text or listening to the performance of the cantata."

Must I be so troubled?
For if Jesus loves me,
Is my ev'ry grief
Sweeter e'en than honey,
Countless dulcet kisses
Plants he on my heart.
And whenever pain appears,
His dear love doth turn to gladness
Even bitter sadness.

Compared to the previous, very poetic version which deserves a high mark for rhyming, but not for retaining the original poetic imagery that was removed, Ambrose's version brings back the latter and still tries to maintain the meter, but does little for the rhyme, except for 'gladness' and 'sadness' which he correctly places in the sequence as Bach uses them. The previous version inserts these words contrary to the harmonizationthat Bach uses to underscore each of the words with the appropriate major and minor harmonizations. Although the final word, "Leiden," ("suffering") has a major third in the final chord (a usual procedure even in chorales that are entirely in a minor key), the chords used on the first syllable of "Leiden" are definitely minor, whereas "Freuden" reflects joy in a major key on all the notes used to sing this word. Ambrose is closer to the original intent of the verse than the previous poet/translator.

For some listeners, this type of discussion may seem to be centered on rather picayune items, that bear little relevance to the actual listening experience. Whereas this may be true when you first begin listening to the cantatas, eventually you will want to probe somewhat deeper, to become more aware of matters that concerned Bach as he fixed his mind on key poetic conceits contained in the texts that he had before him and attempted to translate these into his musical picture language. Likewise, you will become more aware of all the factors that are involved in producing a living representation in recorded form of the words that inspired him in the first place. It is difficult to imagine a Bach who produced these works not having a direct relationship with the words that were a source of inspiration for him. My personal feeling regarding this is that Bach was moved more by the uniqueness of the poetic conceits than the bland reworkings that we have seen above. He must have recognized that these specific images have a way of 'striking' the mind, igniting the imagination with a specific picture that is more easily remembered than the more generalized abstractions that are frequently used to express similar ideas.

Perhaps Bach also felt a kinship with von Ziegler whose life was also not a 'bed of roses.' Her poetic efforts may have reflected the experiences that she had in life. Here is a statement quoted from the booklet accompanying the Teldec Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series [3]:

(Lothar Hoffman-Erbrecht contributed this article on her life.)
"Before Mariane vin Ziegler became a poetess she suffered several hard blows of fate. Her maiden name was Romanus and she was the daughter of a prince elector's appeals court councillor who later became mayor of Leipzig. At the age of sixteen she married Heinrich Levin von Könitz who died shortly afterward. In 1715 she married Captain Georg Friedrich von Ziegler, but he too died, as did her children from both marriages, after a few years. From 1722 onward she devoted herself more intensely to the arts at her Leipzig parental home, playing the harpsichord, lute and transverse flute and writing poetry. Her literary inclinations increased when Gottsched was appointed to Leipzig in 1724. Her house became the meeting place [a salon?] for out-of-town and local artists. Gottsched, who counted her as one of his permanent circle, encouraged her to publish her works. The first volume of the "Versuch" already referred to above was followed in 1729 by a second containing an entire cycle of cantatas for that year. In the foreword she urged that her poetic writings be set to music. In 1731 she published a collection of letters, and in 1733 the University of Wittenberg appointed her "poeta laureata." In 1741 she married for the third time, a professor at the University of Frankfurt ad der Oder, Wolf Balthasar Adolf von Steinwehr. She died there in 1760."

Because Bach changed her texts more than he did any others, (was he searching for more acoustic images or images connected with singing?), she may have been annoyed about these changes. "Perhaps a contibutory reason for the break in relations was the fact that the poetess belonged to the Gottsched camp, while Henrici, the more favoured librettist of the Thomas cantor around 1725, was by no means associated with this circle. Thus Bach had no need to feel included in the invitation to provide music for Ziegler's annual cantata cycle of 1729." Remember also that this was the time when Bach felt most keenly his growing disenchantment with the entire environment for producing yet another cantata cycle.

With von Ziegler's texts there may also be an undercurrent of continuing battle between the sentimental aspects of Pietism and the stricter adherence to Lutheranism. We have to use our imaginations to gain a picture of just how this may have played itself out in Bach's role an cantor, where the use of a certain word here, or a pictorial, poetic conceit there, may have placed him in one camp or the other. Very worthwhile reading is an article, also contained in the Teldec series booklet by Detlef Gojowy, "Concerning the Language of Bach's Cantatas," which cites two books that Bach would have known. This books contained actual images that tied into the Gospel reading for a given Sunday. These images, called emblems, often went beyond the given text with an image only indirectly related to the Gospel reading, yet the impact of these pictures on the poets who created the texts that Bach used, should not be underestimated. However the author of the article also admits that many a puzzling allusion will still not be solved by reference to these 'emblem' books that are helpful in explaining some of the Bach cantata texts.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 24, 2001):
BWV 87 - Comments on the recordings of which I have four of the five Aryeh listed. I still do not have the Fritz Werner version.

Mvt. 1 & Mvt. 5 Basso solo & aria

In choosing my favorites in this group, I considered the fact that Jesus' words ought to be delivered with dignity, but matters of balance between voice and orchestra as well as the caliber of voice were also important. My two top picks are Fischer-Dieskau and Heldwein in the Richter (2) and Rilling (4) versions, but they are worlds apart in the manner of presentation. The difference for me could be compared somewhat to recordings that I have of Schubert's "Schöne Müllerin" with Fischer-Dieskau on one side who extracts all the possible meaning that he can from the words and still manages to produce wonderful vocal sounds at the same time, and on the other side Fritz Wunderlich, whose presentation is much more concerned with having a flowing, beautiful musical line of the bel canto variety, with less emphasis on the expression of each word. Both versions are remarkable, Fischer-Dieskau's because of all the prior experience with this cycle and intense preparation that preceded the recording, and Wunderlich's because it was recorded on short notice with little or no preparation. Fischer-Dieskau easily wins in the area of expression where words and music are welded together to bring about a remarkable unity between both, and Wunderlich, with his natural talent and voice, sings his heart out creating beautiful musical lines that one could listen to without knowing the words to the songs. Yes, this is an exaggeration, but an exaggeration with a strong element of truth about it. Similarly, you could apply this analogy to the basses in the Richter and Rilling versions. Fischer-Dieskau is the most expressive, and Heldwein the most lyrical. For those who listen to the Bach cantatas mainly for the music, I would think that they would prefer Heldwein over Fischer-Dieskau. We have both, however, so let's enjoy the different qualities in which they excel. Both Rilling and Richter preserve the dignity of the music in both mvts with solemn tempi. Rilling's bass line is too thick and too loud, but Heldwein's voice, probably the strongest of all the basses in these recordings, is able to stand up to the loud bass and orchestra. Harnoncourt's orchestra with HIP instruments manages to cover up Ruud van der Meer at times in the first mvt. Harnoncourt (3) has a much lighter accompaniment in Mvt. 5, thus giving van der Meer a chance to sing without being covered up. With the tempo faster than the other two recordings, some of the dignity of Jesus' words is lost. It becomes rather ridiculous when he sings "Angst" ("fear") the second time. Harnoncourt has no sense of proportion, when it comes to intrepreting the 'wavy-line' embellishment which should simply mean a slight increase in vibrato. To the credit of Harnoncourt, it should be mentioned that all the other versions do nothing at this point. As usual, Harnoncourt is prone to over-exaggeration at the expense of true musicality. Leusink's versions (5) are pleasant to listen to, but after hearing the others, this is simply not enough.

Mvt. 4 & Mvt. 6 Tenor recitative and aria

Let's begin with the worst first. It is truly a shame that such a great Bach singer as Equiluz has to suffer so much at the hands of Harnoncourt (3). Equiluz could have been a top contender here, if it were not for Harnoncourt's lack of a sense of musical proportion. The recitative was done reasonably well (we know that Equiluz generally does quite well), probably because Harnoncourt could not do much damage in such a short segment. Let me see if I can follow the line of thought that quite possibly passes through Harnoncourt's mind at this point when he wants to perform the aria: "This is strange! There are lots of dotted three-note phrases, and, after a while, only a few two-note phrases. That's it! Bach must have wanted a special accent applied here, even though I can not see anything like that marked in the score. Hold it! The tenor is going to sing about "Schmerz" ("pain") . What a great opportunity to apply my 'heavy-accent-on-the-first-note-with-disappearing-second-note' syndrome! I'll knock them listeners right out of their seats when they hear this. I'll let them really feel the pain. We might even be able to call this 'Harnoncourt's Surprise Symphony,' when I do this properly." Unfortunately, Leusink (5) copies this idea of special accenting from Harnoncourt, but it is under somewhat better control with Leusink. Nico van der Meel does reasonably well, although I did not like his recitative as much as the aria. In some ways I liked van der Meel's aria better than Rilling's Baldin (4). Rilling also moves the tempo along rather fast. From this standpoint I really prefer the slower tempo that Richter (2) takes allowing the strings to really sing, and, of course, Schreier is excellent throughout.

Mvt. 3 Alto aria

Harnoncourt-Esswood (3): Everything sounds fractured here with numerous problems to mention (not Esswood's fault.) It is apparent that the acoustical environment which has no reverberation (it sounds like a telephone booth) accentuates the problems that the oboi da caccia players are having in trying to control their instruments. They are obviously still learning how to play them. The Dying-Note-at-the-End- of-Phrase Syndrome worsens what is already a bad situation in this poorly chosen acoustical environment. The only good thing that I can point to here is that the bass line is not too loud. But that may have happened due to the acoustics without any input from Harnoncourt himself. Leusink's version (5), recorded in a church, gives immediate relief to the problem that Harnoncourt was having. Buwalda does reasonably well, if you like that type of voice, but he does have some difficulty producing any volume at the lower part of his range. Richter (2) has the slowest tempo of the group. It was the only time I felt a need to look at the time on the CD player. All that I remember is that it was over nine minutes and the aria still had not finished. Reynolds vibrato did not make me very happy either, although I must admit that her voice does stand up to the full orchestra in all of her vocal range. Rilling's version (4) is faster, much to my relief, and the instruments were very much in the foreground with the bassoon (instead of cello/double bass as in the other recordings) coupled with the organ 'punching out' the bass line. What a joy to hear Hamari's voice! (There are a few recordings in the entire Rilling series where she is not at her best, but that is generally an exception to the rule.) She has a unique way of caressing the notes she sings without losing the necessary clear pronunciation of the German words. Listen to the beautiful way that she attacks a higher note in her range. Too bad that Rilling did not use her more often than he did.

Mvt. 7 Chorale

I would choose Rilling (4) for the best interpretation of how the chorale ought to be sung. The choir is well-balanced with good intonation. There are crisp attacks with superb German pronunciation of the text. And, most importantly, the choir sings with conviction and strength. Only Richter (2) can compare with this, but, unfortunately, he plays the organ with most of the stops pulled and the overall impression of the choir, particularly, in the middle voices, is a muddier sound quality which even affects the German diction. Both Harnoncourt (3) and Leusink [5] are affected by a limp quality, that gives the impression of a lack of enthusiasm or concern. Harnoncourt allows the ends of phrases to die out prematurely. Perhaps he is thinking of creating an arch which ends on each fermate, but the arch has nothing to stand on, so it collapses. Talk about architecture in Bach's music! With Harnoncourt you can learn how to undermine this architecture. Leusink (5) imitates this style only a little, but his problem with the choir is a general laxness. His choir is lax in attacking the notes and words simultaneously. The general impression is one of limpness, disinterest.

Summary:

Fischer-Dieskau (2), Schreier (2), Hamari (4), Rilling's choir (4) get the top marks in my book for excellent performances, although , if you have the other recordings, you will find some worthwhile efforts there as well.

Roy Reed wrote (May 25, 2001):
I have one reading of BWV 87, the performance of Leusink et al (5). One of their better efforts I would say. Fine work. As usual, I particularly admire the singing of Bas Ramselaar. He puts himself into his singing and yet his objectivity toward the music is carefully calculated. A different and refreshing work this. You have to admire the wonderful counterpoint of the brief opening movement, and the graphic, tender pleading of the following alto aria (Mvt. 3)......the naive yet effective arpeggios in the continuo. How does he keep getting away with stuff like that? So simple, so marvelous. Also, I never cease to be surprised and amazed at the variety of harmonizations Bach ventures for the chorales. This is one of the finest.

I pass along commentary by Eric Chafe from "Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of JSB." "The second of these works"......(BWV 86 being the first and BWV 87 the second)......"descends through the minor keys--d, g, and c--then ascends with the introduction of a major key--c, B flat, d. In the bass aria, 'In der Welt habt ihr Angst,' the flattest key, C minor, is associated with the world, while the ascent and major tonality turn suffering into a positive force. Both the key sequence and the general flat minor tonal region of this cantata are somewhat surprising in light of its pred, since they reflect Bach's decision to emphasize at the outset the negative aspect of the Gospel: 'Till now ye have asked for nothing in my name' (verse 24). Borrowing from the message of the Epistle as well (James 1: 22-27, follow the Word rather than merely hearing it), Mariane von Ziegler's text for Cantata BWV 87 elaborates the opening dictum with emphasis on mankind's neglect of Jesus' Word of promise of both the Law and the Gospel generally. Bach's tonal plan, realized in the surprisingly intense style of the minor-key arias (especially the G minor), followed by the relaxation offered by the B flat major Siciliano, 'Ich will leiden ich will schweigen,' adds an affective dimension that goes beyond the text itself. The message of promise is submerged until the introduction of the major mode in the middle section of the central C minor aria, which is set, like the opening movement for bass: 'In der Welt habt ihr Angst (C minor), aber seid getrost (E flat), ich habe die Welt Ueberwunden (return to C minor).' This second dictum, then, marks the turning point of the cantata, from the anxiety and torment of the world to trust in Christ. The positive tone is more pronounced in the last two movements, the Siciliano aria and the D minor chorale (which ends with the theme this cantata shares with Cantatas BWV 12, BWV 21, and BWV 199, "Seine Liebe macht zur Freuden auch das bittre Leiden'). This antithesis signifies the theology of the cross, which is made explicit in the acceptance of suffering voiced in the B flat aria, 'Ich will leiden, Ich will schweigen.' As in Cantatas BWV 12 and BWV 199, the pattern of discrete stages is clear: the first recitative urges repentance; the G minor aria expresses awareness of guilt and a prayer for forgiveness; in its change of tone, the C minor aria represents the turn to Christ; and the Siciliano voices the believing Christian's willingness to take the Christ of the Passion as his model The final chorale reflects Luther's belief that recognition of God's love works the change in us." (pp. 153-154)

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 87: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýSeptember 8, 2011 ý11:24:12