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Cantata BWV 90
Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende
Discussions - Part 1

Question about BWV 90

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 18, 2002):
I am listening to this right now, and I could swear that I know the violin part from the first aria. Where is this from?

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 18, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] This sounds like a typical Bach violin figure. It is catching and irresistible as many of his sequential figures are.

Alfred Dürr, who wrote the KB for the NBA on this cantata makes clear that this cantata was composed just before its performance on the 14th of November 1723. It is definitely not a reworking of any earlier work (by looking at the original score: if it is a very clean autograph, it is being copied and reworked by Bach has he writes out the score, but this score is so full of mistakes that it is difficult to decipher certain parts of it - this indicates that it is entirely original.

Usually the NBA indicates any possible direct connections with other works by Bach, but not in this instance.

If anyone reading these lists finds the connection, we should probably let the NBA and the musicologist know about it.

Jane Newble wrote (July 18, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] It reminds me of the Allegro Assai from BWV 1062 (harpsichord), but that may be just me...:o)

Ludwig wrote (July 19, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] The opening aria---"Es reißet euch ein schrecklick Ende". Yes, the opening Tenor aria sounds familiar to me, also, but I can not locate my vol II of the Harpsichord Concerti to compare as suggested by someone else. (for the benefit of those who may not have BWV 90 or have never heard it; it consists of 2 tenor secions, one alto section, one bass section, and the usual ending Choral. BWV 90 was written for the 25th Sunday after Trinity (which if I have counted correctly fell on 14 November 1723 in Bach's time) based on the 1584 text of Martin Moller) so if you have all of the Harpsichord Concerti---would you agree or not agree that the tune was either borrowed from it or from BWV 90

My question is does anyone know the contemporary alternate name for the Choral--whose tune also seems familiar to me?

Ludwig wrote (July 19, 2002):
Perhaps Bach cast this cantata the way he did from the point of those receiving the hell fire and damnation accusatory message of the libretto ("There ripens fast for you destruction") in that man is not without sin. The Roman Mass equivalent of this is the Dies irae but it does not carry the force of this libretto. The Chorale is about the only part of this Cantata that indicates any redemption for those so accused and damned.


Discussions in the Week of November 17, 2002 (1st round)

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 17, 2002):
BWV 90 - Introduction

The subject of this week’s discussion (November 17, 2002), according to Thomas Shepherd’s suggested list, is the Solo Cantata BWV 90 ‘Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende’ (A dreadful end carries you away).


The background below, quoted from the liner notes to the Telerfunken recording by Schröder, was written by Christoph Hellmut Mahling:

See: Cantata BWV 90 - Commentary


The details of the recordings of this cantata can be found at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website: Cantata BWV 90 - Recordings

Since this is an early cantata, five of its seven complete recordings come from recorded cantata cycles (Rilling [3], Leonhardt [4], Koopman [5], Leusink [6], and Suzuki [7]). The other two, although both recorded during the 1960’s, earlier than all the rest, are very different from each other: the almost always reliable Werner [1] with his traditional approach, and the equally promising Schröder [2], in a semi-HIP recording from an excellent mini-cycle.

You can listen to Leonhardt’s recording [4] through David Zale Website:

Additional Information

In the page of recordings mentioned above you can also find links to:
The original German text (at Walter F. Bischof Website); English translations by Francis Browne and Z. Philip Ambrose; Hebrew translation by Aryeh Oron;
Score (Vocal & Piano version);
Commentary: in English by Simon Crouch (Listener’s Guide); in Dutch (by Johan De Wael); in Spanish by Julio Sánchez Reyes.

I hope to see many of you participating in the discussion.

Juozas Rimas wrote (November 21, 2002):
I'll be basing my "review" on two recordings of BWV 90 - Suzuki's [7]and Leonhardt's [4].

The title of the cantata, at least in the English translation, sounds like a threat: "There ripens a dreadful ending for you" (as Crouch translated it: I hardly understood Ambroze's Old English translation of the tenor aria's text). The music of the tenor aria, which opens the cantata, is quite demonic too. It approaches the style and quality of the Vivace from Bach's famous concerto for two violins.

Suzuki's orchestra [7] is very good but there's quite a lot of echo, which reduces the sharpness of the instruments. Gerd Türk sang the aria well: I could enjoy the composition by listening to his rendition if it were the only one available. But when I put on Leonhardt and Equiluz [4], I thought I had been listening to Suzuki from behind a door and now the door opened (no, flew open!) and I was inundated, in the good sense, by harsh, almost aggressive strings and Equiluz' lively voice. I imagine how hard it is to sing this aria well, by uttering the threatening text with all those HIP strings behind you and not cross the limit between singing and shouting. I must say Equiluz succeeds in here: he is very assertive but doesn't cross the line. Having regard to the small number of recordings of this cantata, I sincerely doubt someone has made a better recording of this aria.

The alto recitative is simple and similar to the tenor recitative of this same cantata. Robin Blaze's [7] voice has little masculinity and I enjoyed it. It's much softer and less exalted than Esswood's [4] which often (usual in his recitatives) is on the verge of unpleasant wailing.

There is something ironical in the bass aria. The music is jolly, almost happy while the text is about - I presume I'm not mistaken - suffering and houses full of death? It resembles then the scenes in horror films when during vicious killing, you can here merry music from a cartoon or some "Jingle Bells" in the background, to strengthen the contrast, so to say. As to the actual performances, I have a question: is the trumpeter playing okay with Leonhardt? I'm no professional here but perhaps he has problems with fingers slipping or breathing or control? Or is there a certain species of Baroque trumpet used that no one can play nowadays? Anyway, Suzuki's trumpeter gives the impression as if Leonhardt [4] used an amateur village trumpeter for this aria. Suzuki's trumpet [7] is much cleaner and controlled better, no doubt about it. Kooy is very suitable for festive music. His voice is not strong and when he decides to put emphases and sing loud, no exaggeration occurs. Egmond is only little lower than Mertens (who is below Dieskau) in my pantheon of Bach's basses, however, IMHO, jolly music is not his specialty: he feels more comfortably when the music is slower and quieter. Having in mind the inferior quality of the Leonhardt's trumpet, Suzuki's rendition with Kooy is definitely better.

The Tenor ris sung exquisitely by Equiluz [4] - so easily and emotionally at the same time. Gerd Türk is slower and sings the word "Israel" with even greater care than Equiluz. Nice detail. Türk [7] is also more careful in his emotional peaks but Equiluz can control his loud singing better than just about anyone else. Enjoyable short performances by both singers, with a slight edge to Equiluz for a very soulful voice.

The choral is, according to the terminology of the Cantata Listener's Guide, "straightforward", that is, as I understand it, having no or little instrumental accompaniment, and although beautiful but meant primarily to perform the necessary function of finishing a cantata. Anyway, Suzuki [7] handles the choral with a greater caress...

So my bottom line is: tenor aria and recitative - Leonhardt/Equiluz [4], alto recitative - Suzuki/Blaze [7] and bass aria - Suzuki/Kooy [7].

Christian Paase wrote (November 21, 2002):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< The title of the cantata, at least in the English translation, sounds like a threat: "There ripens a dreadful ending for you" >
I would translate the cantata title "A dreadful ending will sweep you away". I saw this
confusion (which seems to be based on a typo or the unfamiliarity of some reader with the German sharp s, the letter "ß") before: the German verb used here is not "reifen" = "to ripen" but "hinreißen" (the prefix "hin" is separated and follows later in the second text line) = "to carry (or, in this ancient use of the word, better: sweep) away".

< There is something ironical in the bass aria. The music is jolly, almost happy while the text is about - I presume I'm not mistaken - suffering and houses full of death? >
I own solely the Leusink recording [6], and I hear a lot of drama and no joy here. Regarding the trumpet playing: I think Susan Williams' playing is outstanding in this
recording. I was also really impressed with the achievements of Bas Ramselaar und the overall performance in this aria.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 22, 2002):
BWV 90 - Provenance:

See: Cantata BWV 90 - Provenance

Philippe Bareille wrote (November 23, 2002):
It seems to me that this cantata was composed on a stormy afternoon in summer. It is imbued with a sense of foreboding (very apt in the current international situation!).

I have listened to Suzuki [7] and Leonhardt [4]. Both give accomplished performances.

All in all, I prefer Leonhardt rendition [4] (especially of the tenor aria). He brings out the sense of gloom more powerfully that Suzuki [7] who sounds a bit too gentle. However, in the bass aria, Egmond is obviously not at his best in an aria that requires a stronger voice to berate the sinner. Kooij conveys God' s ire more convincingly. The trumpet dissonances are understated by Susuki's trumpeter in order to sound "in tune", which I believe is not the right thing to do in this aria.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 23, 2002):
BWV 90 - Commentaries: [Voigt, Schweitzer, Dürr, Ludwig Finscher (notes for Teldec series), Chafe, Klaus Hofmann (for Suzuki’s notes), Nicholas Anderson]

See: Cantata BWV 90 - Commentary

Aryeh Oron wrote (November 23, 2002):
BWV 90 - The Recordings

Last week I have been listening to the following 7 recordings of Cantata BWV 90:

[1] Fritz Werner (1963)
[2] Jaap Schröder/Jürgen Jürgens (1969)
[3] Helmuth Rilling (1978-1979)
[4] Gustav Leonhardt (1979)
[5] Ton Koopman (1998)
[6] Pieter Jan Leusink (1999)
[7] Masaaki Suzuki (2000)

Background & Review

The background below is taken from the following sources:
Alec Robertson: ‘The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach’ (1972), and
W. Murray Young: ‘The Cantatas of J.S. Bach – An Analytical Guide’ (1989).
The English translations are by Francis Browne.

Robertson: To appreciate to the full the two powerful arias in this cantata the listener will be well advised to look up the appointed readings from the Epistle (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18) and Gospel (Matthew 24: 15-28) for this Sunday, the first of which speaks of the Lord descending from heaven ‘with a cry of command…and with the sound of triumph of God’ The Gospel has terrifying predictions of such tribulation coming as the world has never before seen, false Christs and false prophets arising, and the abominations in the Holy Place spoken by the prophet David.
Young: This is a grim cantata in its thought, but Bach’s excellent musical setting focuses our attention on the sound rather than the dire message.

Mvt. 1 Aria for Tenor
Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende
(A dreadful end carries you away)

Robertson: As the dramatic prelude ends the tenor bursts in with extended phrase to the denunciatory opening words, which the first violin afterwards punctuates with a wild upward rush of demi-semiquavers. The words of the middle section accuse the guilty sinners of forgetting their Judge.
Young: Strings and continuo play a short prelude before accompanying his denunciation of sinners in this dramatic movement. The quavering melody depicts the sinners’ fearful shuddering as they confront the wrath of their Judge whom they have forgotten. The da capo reinforces the impression of God’s anger towards them.

Timings: Werner [1] (6:59), Schröder/Jürgens [2] (6:35), Rilling [3] (5:41), Leonhardt [4] (6:05), Koopman [5] (5:45), Leusink [6] (5:33), Suzuki [7] (6:02)

Werner’s [1] approach is quite different from most of the others. It is very slow. Would I say too slowly? Sometimes this approach works. Here it does not, because his excellent singer, Krebs, has troubles to hold the tension of listener and to ‘feel the big gaps’ along the aria. Equiluz (with Schröder) [2] proves once again what a great singer he is in the first of his two recordings. With a tempo just a little bit slower than Werner’s he gives a moving performance. Nothing is exaggerated; everything is done with taste and inner conviction. The accompaniment he is getting is also first-rate: precise and lively and attentive to the singer. Equiluz’ second recording (with Leonhardt) [4] falls only a little bit short of his first. His interpretation has not changed much, but the accompaniment is dryer and less sensitive. Kraus (with Rilling) [3] brings drama and power to the aria and he is second only to Equiluz. IMO, none of the modern singers of this aria comes close to these two. Dürmüller (with Koopman) [5] is the best of them. One can hear that he is much aware of what he is singing with the care given to every word. His voice is also delightful. Schoch (with Leusink) [6] does not have the dramatic power and internal conviction to give a satisfactory rendition of this aria. You are almost getting bored along his singing. Surprisingly, the accompaniment in this aria is better than Koopman’s. From the opening ritornello we can hear the vigour and the drama conveyed by Suzuki [7]. His singer, Türk, is doing everything right, yet he does not move me as much as Equiluz or even Dürüller.

Preferences: Equiluz/Schröder [2], Equiluz/Leonhardt [4], Kraus/Rilling [3], [gap] Dürmüller/Koopman [5], Türk/Suzuki [7], [gap], Krebs/Werner [1], [gap] Schoch/Leusink [6]

Mvt. 2 Recitative for Alto
Des Höchsten Güte wird von Tag zu Tage neu
(The goodness of the Highest becomes new from day to day)

Robertson: None.
Young: She says that ingratitude for God’s goodness towards us is a sin, which will lead to our perdition. Then she gives the paraphrase of Romans 2: 4: ‘Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?’ God’s innumerable good deeds can be seen in the erection of temples which spread the manna of His word. Our wickedness makes His benefits useless to us.

Timings: Werner [1] (1:59), Schröder/Jürgens [2] (1:31), Rilling [3] (1:44), Leonhardt [4] (1:17), Koopman [5] (1:25), Leusink [6] (1:33), Suzuki [7] (1:17)

Hellmann’s voice [1] is not stable and the slow tempo directed by Werner does not help. Watts in her first recording (with Schröder) [2] is much better than in her second (with Rilling) [3]. In the first, her voice is fully controlled and her expression is simply mesmerising. The vibrato in her second is too strong and her voice has lost some of its beauty. Esswood (with Leonhardt) [4] is the best of the three counter-tenors who recorded this cantata. Bartosz (with Koopman) [5] has a pleasant voice and delicate expressiveness. With Leusink [6] we have Buwalda at his worst: artificial voice production and tasteless interpretation. Blaze (with Suzuki) [7] has tender delivery and delicate expression. However, his performance lacks drama and tension.

Preferences: Watts/Schröder [2], [gap], Bartosz/Koopman [5], Esswood/Leonhardt [4], Watts/Rilling [3], Hellmann/Werner [1], Blaze/Suzuki [7], Buwalda/Leusink [6]

Mvt. 3 Aria for Bass
Tromba, Violino I/II, Viola, Continuo
So löschet im Eifer der rächende Richter
(Therefore in his zeal the revenging judge quenches)

Robertson: The text of this tremendous aria is made up of quotations from Revelations 2: 5 and St. Luke 19: 46 (the latter describes the desecration of the Temple at Jerusalem denounced by Christ).
The fanfares at the start seem to indicate the trumpet, though the very quick runs that follow would need a very skilled player. This is finely declamatory aria with rushes up and down the scale suggestive of dissolution. The words of the middle section accuse sinners of defiling the holy place, making it a place of murder. The first utterance of the text is followed by successive phrases of rapid notes in the continuo, then in the second violin and viola parts, which intensify the horror of the scene.
Young: The alto’s didactic theme is continued in his declamation, portraying dramatically God’s anger. Trumpet fanfares illustrate the two added paraphrases of Scripture denoting God’s ire on Judgement Day: Revelation 2: 5 and Luke 19:46.
This aria paints magnificent panorama of the terror on the Last Day.

Timings: Werner [1] (3:37), Schröder/Jürgens [2] (3:40), Rilling [3] (3:43), Leonhardt [4] (3:33), Koopman [5] (3:34), Leusink [6] (3:44), Suzuki [7] (3:37)

Please, take notice that all the recordings of this aria fall within a very short range of timing. Wenk (with Werner) [1] has the dark voice, dramatic powers and technical finesse needed for a convincing rendition of the aria for bass. Only last week I sang the praises of Nimsgern, and here I have the pleasure of hearing him again. In Cantata BWV 26 he sang with Harnoncourt, and he sings this week’s cantata with Rilling [3]. Whoever the conductor is, Nimsgern gives his best for both. He has the right colour of voice for this kind of aria, and he conveys all the drama one could wish for with a voice that sometimes is simply frightening. Egmond, as Equiluz, has also recorded this cantata twice [2] [4], and with the same conductors. His voice is lighter than either Wenk or Nimsgern, but he covers up for this with tasteful expression in both recordings. I prefer his first recording for the same reason that I prefer Equiluz’, the accompaniment. Although expressive, Mertens’ voice (with Koopman) [5] lacks the bottom needed for a convincing rendition of the aria. The whole performance sounds rushed and somewhat superficial. Ramselaar (with Leusink) [6] sounds more authoritative than Mertens. This is not the first time that I find Kooy (with Suzuki) [7] more convincing than Mertens. Maybe the difference comes from the approaches of the conductors: Koopman more pleasant and rounded, where Suzuki is more dramatic and precise. With Suzuki there is real dialogue between the singer and the accompaniment and as a result much more drama.

Preferences: Wenk/Werner [1] = Nimsgern/Rilling [3], [gap] Kooy/Suzuki [7], Egmond/Schröder [2], Egmond/Leonhardt [4], Ramselaar/Leusink [6], Mertens/Koopman [5]

Mvt. 4 Recitative for Tenor
Doch Gottes Auge sieht auf uns als Auserwählte:
(But God's eye looks upon us as the people he has chosen)

Robertson: The Father’s power is manifested in danger and gratefully acknowledged by His own.
Young: He imparts a ray of hope to the elect, whom Jesus will protect in that fateful day and also through their lives before that time. This is the only glimmer of light in this stern cantata. His secco declamation retains the dramatic tone of all the previous movements. God’s eye watches over His chosen and the Hero of Israel will help them resist their countless foes. The strength of His word becomes more evident in times of danger.

Timings: Werner [1] (1:49), Schröder/Jürgens [2] (0:39), Rilling [3] (0:49), Leonhardt [4] (0:36), Koopman [5] (0:38), Leusink [6] (0:43), Suzuki [7] (0:46)

See: Mvt. 1 above.

Mvt. 5 Chorale
Instrumentation not stated
Leit uns mit deiner rechten Hand
(Lead us with your right hand)

Robertson: Verse 7 of Martin Moller’s ‘Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott’ (1584) set to the associated melody of ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’, Luther’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.
Young: This is stanza seven of Martin Moller’s hymn, which is also the title of chorale cantata BWV 101. This movement is set to a melody of Luther’s German version of the Lord’s Prayer; it is plainly sung, although the instrumentation is not stated.

Timings: Werner [1] (1:09), Schröder/Jürgens [2] (1:01), Rilling [3] (1:08), Leonhardt (0:43), Koopman [5] (0:43), Leusink [6] (1:02), Suzuki (0:57)

Jürgens’ choir sings in the best German tradition [2]. Werner’s [1] is not far behind and so is Rilling [3]. Koopman’s choir [5] is light, clean and warm, where Leusink’s [6] is also light but unclean. Suzuki [7] is stronger than both are, more direct and cohesive. Leonhardt’s combined choir [4] sings with almost no feeling.

Preferences: Jürgens [2], Werner [1] = Rilling [3] = Suzuki [7], Koopman [5], Leonhardt [4], Leusink [6]


The best overall performance would be Schröder/Jürgens with a possible replacement of Egmond by either Wenk [1] or Nimsgern [3].

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

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 24, 2002):
BWV 90 - The Recordings:

This week I listened to the following recordings:

Rilling (1977-78) [3]; Leonhardt (1979) [4]; Koopman (1998) [5]; Leusink (1999) [6]; Suzuki (2000) [7]

Of these only Rilling’s recording is non-HIP.

The Timings:
In my group of recordings the timings are very similar. Mvt. 3 shows a variation of only 11 seconds while mvt. 1 has a divergence of a half minute between the fastest (Leusink) and the slowest (Suzuki [7], Leonhardt [4]). The variation in the usual ‘one-minute’-type final chorale shows a significant difference between Leonhardt and Koopman [5] racing through the chorale 15 seconds faster than Leusink [6] or Rilling [3]. This is a much more noticeable difference because of the limited time length of the final chorale.

The Movements:

Mvt. 5 (Final Chorale)
There was a time earlier (in the romantic and late romantic performance practices) when conductors tended to hold out the fermati at the end of each line for an inordinate amount of time. This was also a time when slow mvts. were often taken extremely slowly. There seems to be some agreement among Bach scholars that Bach’s tempi were probably not as extremely slow nor as extremely fast as we tend to hear them today. [Check out the opening chorus of Part 5 [“Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen”] of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) as performed by John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir.] Holding out the fermati excessively would seem to be a natural outgrowth of the extremely slow tempi preferred in the 19th and 20th centuries. This may have been due in part to the larger musical ensembles, choral and instrumental, that were used during that time. With the advent of the much smaller HIP ensembles and their playing styles, the conductors of these ensembles began to overlook the fermati almost entirely (‘they took too long’) and even preferred to shorten and deemphasize the final quarter or half note so that its time value is reduced and the syllable or word that is sung is prematurely ‘chopped off’ or terminated, sometimes become simply an unaccented grunt, as is often the case in HIP recordings. It appears that each performance period is guilty of certain excesses or exaggerations that will need to be corrected, often by the succeeding period that recognizes these shortcomings and seeks to improve on them.

What are some of the qualities that a superior performance of a chorale should have?

1) There should be a clean, clear, unwavering cantus firmus in the soprano voice. This is best accomplished with boy sopranos devoid of vibratos or tremolos. They must sing strongly with conviction a legato line that might only be interrupted by a punctuation mark, but not by every final consonant sound. Since Bach assigned certain instruments, particularly brass or oboes, to play colla parte, this might indicate how important this melody line is. The addition of a few extra boys on this c.f. would certainly be in keeping with Bach’s intentions. Female sopranos should only sing this part if they can control their voices and not lapse into noticeable vibratos or tremolos as can be heard in the Rilling recordings. ‘Chirping’ boy sopranos or males, who sing with a Buwalda-type voice, must be excluded in order to preserve the pure and clean image of the chorale melody line. Sometimes 2 or 3 boy sopranos can sing together so well that the listener would have difficulty distinguishing if more than one voice is singing. The intonation of the voices is solid and impeccable. Such a situation is ideal.

2) Although the other vocal parts are not quite as important as the c. f., they, too, should exhibit similar qualities to those of the sopranos listed above and must be distinctly heard. The conductor must strive to create a balance between these voices so that none within the part (singing the same part) stand out with peculiar characteristics, nor should there be imbalances between the parts unless there is some important reason for them to stand out just a little more than the others (certain passing notes, etc.) Attacking the notes together without creating a machine-gun effect adds power and impact to the music being sung. The overall choir sound should generally be one where everything is in complete balance and no stray voices are obviously attempting to lead or drag the other more timid voices along. All the notes in the score must be audible and in tune!

3) The words of the chorale must be clearly understood. This means that forceful, clear diction, the pronunciation of the German words, plays a very important role in conveying the message. Along with the diction, expression also is important, but generally this should be subservient to the conviction (which implies intensity) with which the singers present the message. The emphasis on speaking or shouting parts of a chorale, a trait sometimes found among HIP choirs, does not enhance the effect of coherence that a baroque ensemble should be striving for; on the contrary, such effects serve more to undermine the solidity of sound that a chorale should have.

4) The instruments are in a supporting role here and should not overshadow the choir or draw too much attention away from the singing.

This is my impression of the finale chorale as sung by the groups listed above:

[3] Rilling:
Even with the modern trumpet playing along, there is unsteadiness in the c. f. This is due to the inability of these trained soprano voices to control their vibratos. The clarity and force needed for the c. f. is lost, and, as a result, the c. f. almost gets lost as it moves into the lower part of the soprano’s range. Without the trumpet and 1st violins playing along, there would probably be a problem in balancing the vocal parts. All of the other vocal parts sing with vibrato as well, because these are trained voices. Although this, in itself, would not necessarily be a problem, it does become one when certain voices begin to ‘stick out’ somewhat. There times when a single tenor is noticeable with a dry, raspy voice (a ‘Leihtenor’ or one who no longer has a beautiful voice, but is used because he ‘leads’ the other voices – in a word, he does not always blend well with the others.) On the positive side, Rilling does very well with precision attacks and impeccable German diction. Noteworthy is his interpretation of the line, “Verleih ein selges Stündelein.” The change of dynamics (becoming softer) as he moves to the startling Db major chord which is held for the full length of the fermata makes this rendition of the chorale quite memorable. Only Suzuki creates a comparable effect here.

[4] Leonhardt:
Immediately noticeable here is the shaky cantus firmus which is sung by a few boy sopranos who make no attempt to blend their voices which have developed vibratos. This c. f. should be clearer, firmer, and less wavering. Notice that Leonhardt does not use (perhaps does not dare to use) the tromba (da tirarsi) played unashamedly by Don Smithers in the preceding bass aria, even though the final chorale, based on comparison with quite a number of other cantatas, would include it here. All one can hear here is the thin, squeaky sound of a single violin playing colla parte. This does little to add much support to the vocal line, but rather calls attention to itself. The most distressing factor which contributes enormously to the failure of this chorale performance is the application of Harnoncourt’s ill-conceived theory of singing to the presentation of this chorale. This performance monstrosity involves destroying anything that might begin to sound like a legato line. Here Leonhardt adopts this HIP technique which operates according to the maxim, “Let’s make the singing of chorale become the exact opposite of a long-standing choral tradition. We will replace the old, ‘worn-out’ tradition with an entirely new one that is shocking and revealing. People will hear the chorale as it has never been sung before and will know that this is closer to Bach’s intended sound than anything else has ever been.” What Leonhardt ‘dishes up’ (to use P. Grainger’s term) up for us is the following: each note receives a heavy accent. This conjures up the vision of a heavy elephant lumbering through Bach’s magnificent tonal landscape while the listeners feel the heavy tread of these footsteps shaking the ground. Each note, each chord is a footstep, but after each step the elephant has to lift his heavy feet in order to move on. It is this lifting that causes the voices and instruments to recede in volume before throwing a heavy accent on the following note. Not only have Harnoncourt/Leonhardt destroyed the flowing, legato line (which is the goal that they are trying to attain), they have, in the process, destroyed the composition as well. At most, such a rendition as we hear in this performance becomes a comical parody. If the boy sopranos, who are usually the saving factor in a performance such as this, do not sing well, what is left over? The fermati at the end of each line are clipped short. They are actually sung with a shorter note value than the preceding quarter notes in the musical line! The fermata has become defined as its exact opposite and the non-discerning listener will accept this unquestioningly. The passing notes in the lower three voices become almost non-existent because they are treated as two-note phrases with a heavy accent on the first note which leaves almost no energy, volume, or pitch for the second. Now the listener is not only be cheated of full note values, but also of entire notes as well. Bach might just as well have left out the passing notes as far as Harnoncourt and Leonhardt are concerned. What they have offered us is not an enhancement of the score, but rather a mutilation thereof. After the remarkable moment on the word “Stündelein” which is cut short (that was the last shortest hour that anyone would experience in his/her lifetime), there is a sloppy attack on the next word “auf.” There is a general muddiness in the sound of the lower voices. It should not be a surprise to anyone that this rendition lacks conviction. There is no comfort in dying out the same way that this choir does at the end of the chorale.

[5] Koopman:
With a slightly smoother performance, one with less angularity (the very strong accents that Leonhardt used), Koopman, nevertheless uses the same basic concept that Harnoncourt had introduced: there is still a thrusting on each quarter note, and as a result there is an accent still followed by a slight hiatus after each note, but everything is on a less extreme scale. Koopman has attempted to ‘tame the monster’ but is still left with the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt heritage. The elephant has been reduced in size and is therefore less threatening; nevertheless, the pauses between notes are still noticeable. The fermati reduction is even more apparent because Kooopman attempts to ‘shape’ or ‘build’ a musical phrase with each line of the chorale. The characteristic of this phrase-building is that it either begins with or soon reaches a climax (the volume is slightly louder here) after which everything else is ‘downhill’(reducing the volume in an extended diminuendo) toward the end of the phrase. At the bottom of the hill (the note with the fermata noted over it), Koopman has a very soft note which he then abruptly cuts off prematurely. The sound of the tone and the word to be sung is at a very low level of intensity; this despite the fact that the words under the fermati are really very important: “Hand, Land, Wort, Mord, [the end of] Stündelein, sein.” Generally there is too much sotto voce singing. This leads to the impression that the members of the choir really do not firmly stand behind the words that they are singing. It’s more like a mental exercise for them, rather than a full commitment to the text and music. The remarkable passage with “Stündelein” is treated in a timid, overly scrupulous manner. This is part of Koopman’s general approach to the cantatas which is one of pursuing the ‘lite’-entertainment style rather than one deeply committed to performing Bach’s music with great reverence.

[6] Leusink:
How Leusink handles the c. f. can tell you all that you will want to know about this performance. The sopranos, consisting mainly of a Buwalda-type voice with an uncontrolled vibrato, meander their way through the chorale unconvincingly and even threaten to disappear completely at the end. The use of a tromba here might have done wonders to stabilize this shaky c. f. Leusink, as always, indulges in the most extreme treatment of the fermati, hardly recognizing the words and the notes under them. Powerful words like “Land, Wort, Mord” are entirely eviscerated of any importance that they usually convey. Leusink manages to surprise the listener by including a contradictory long fermata hold on “Stündelein” (at least we get to hear one fermata, but this time it really is only a suffix and not even a full word!) Listen to the terrible chirping attacks of (Buwalda?) in the soprano voice at the beginning of the last two lines of the chorale. If that does not ‘turn off’ a listener, I do not know what will. The general aspect of this performance is one of unevenness that is probably due to the ‘hit-and-miss’ style that becomes necessary when too much is undertaken in too short a period of time.

[7] Suzuki:
Suzuki is caught between the traditional and the HIP singing styles of a ‘simple’ 4-pt. chorale. He tries to create a compromise between both, a compromise that is ‘neither here nor there’ but everywhere at certain points of this recording. I would not consider this approach entirely successful, but we have certainly come a long way from the monstrosity created about 20 years earlier. Which aspects has Suzuki retained or attempted to incorporate in this rendition? There are still some unnecessary gaps created by ‘closing off’ the final consonants of words prematurely before attacking the next : “Leit uns” at the very beginning illustrates this unnecessary gap. The fermati still tend to be too short with a special accent on the words under the fermati. This accent would not be necessary if the fermati were treated with greater length. As remarkable as this group’s singing of German text is, it still lacks some of the force and exertion necessary to produce excellent German diction. Suzuki tries to make up for this by paying close attention to the balance between parts and the clarity of the lines not obscured by excessive vibrato. There is a tromba playing colla parte here! This makes this the only HIP version to dare to use this instrument and it sounds just fine here as it lends necessary support to the sopranos who are in peril because of the low range used here. Only in the high part [“uns allzeit dein heilges Wort, behüt fürs Teufels List und Mord”] do the sopranos come into their own and sing with conviction a clear and steady cantus firmus as it should be heard. There are some problems in coordinating the sibilant sounds which stand out more conspicuously in this particular recording environment. The overall balance and blending of the choir sound is occasionally marred by the entrance of a very strident, nasal tenor voice (on ‘ewig’, for instance.) The spooky effect on the word “Stündelein” is very successfully executed here.

Assessment: Suzuki [7] and Rilling [3], both with problems, but in a class by themselves;

Koopman for an innocuous reading of the chorale

Leonhardt [4] and Leusink [6] both have more serious problems and are not recommended as representative of what this chorale should and could sound like.

I have run out of time here because I wanted to go into greater depth with my discussion of the chorale renditions. The final chorales are an important part of the cantata, a part that deserves greater scrutiny and care on the part of the listeners and the performing artists as well.

Other favorites:

Mvt. 1 (Tenor Aria): Kraus [3] with Equiluz [4] very good (he is a great artist after all) but not with one of his best performances – with some straining, probably because he is being pushed too hard by the somewhat insensitive instrumental accompaniment.

If the above are in the top class, then the following are average to above average (which is still quite good): Dürmüller [5], Türk [7], and Schoch [6]

Mvt. 3 (Bass Aria): Nimsgern, Nimsgern and Nimsgern [3]!

The remainder, van Egmond [4], Mertens [5], Kooy [7], and Ramselaar [6], are half-voices that can only give you half of what Nimsgern can. These voices sing cleanly and these singers try to be as expressive as their voices with their limitations will allow.

Juozas Rimas wrote (November 24, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< not use (perhaps does not dare to use) the tromba (da tirarsi) played unashamedly by Don Smithers in the preceding bass >
By "unashamed", do you mean the trumpet playing in Leonhardt is really flawed or something else? I got the impression some notes could not be blown out properly.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 24, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] By present day standards, Smither's playing is 'not up to snuff,' this despite the fact that he was an expert in the field of Baroque trumpets and published scholarly articles and a book on the subject of Baroque trumpets. The quaint method of playing this aria mvt. (3) with all its miffs, intonation problems, some-notes-louder-others style of playing is now considered passé. Granted, this is a fiendishly difficult part to play on a modern reconstruction of a tromba, but now, a quarter of a century later, much more is known about these instruments and how to play them. Based on the most recent, authoritative book on the subject, "Die Bleichblasinstrumente in J. S. Bachs Werken" by the Csibas (Gisela & Jozsef Csiba, Merseburger Verlag, Berlin, 1994, there are a number of myths about trombas that have been circulating in recent times that have to be dispelled:

1) Bach, on purpose, composed the tromba part of BWV 77/5 in such a way that it was only imperfectly playable. This was done to underline the text of this aria: "Ach, es bleibt in meiner Liebe lauter Unvollkommenheit" ["O, there is yet so much imperfection remaining in my love"]

2) At no point in time were any of Bach's tromba parts played accurately without imperfections (an opinion still being held by a number of experts in the field.) Bach's performance standards were lower than we presently imagine them to be because he had to contend with many imperfections in his instrumental players (good players leaving, new ones that were not as good taking over etc.)

3) The court trumpeters, who were the highest paid (and those one would normally assume to be the most proficient on the tromba) and formed a guild of their own, felt it beneath their dignity to play a tromba da tirarsi. This left Bach with the only other option: to choose from among the Stadtpfeifer who would then be considered 'second best' compared to prima donnas of the tromba world in Bach's day. Hence the trumpet playing was not as good as it could have been.

The Csibas have located a news weekly devoted to music that appeared in Leipzig in 1768. In this article a statement is made about the "Türmer" ("The Tower Blowers" = a group of brass players that would play from the towers of churches) who had the capability of playing "die halben Töne, die tiefsten sowohl as die höchsten, auf der Trompete mit der größten Reinigkeit auszudrücken" ["the semitones, the lowest as well as the highest, on the trumpet with the greatest accuracy (also would imply intonational purity and no variations in volume of the notes in a scale.")]

The early experiments using reconstructions of old instruments have come a long way since the pioneering efforts of the HIP variety. In the future, listeners will play these recordings out of historical interest and realize that this did not represent Bach's intentions, the same way that using a modern piccolo trumpet does not resolve this issue. Both methods and applications are imperfect solutions for this ongoing problem. The Csibas have offered much information to remedy this situation.

The aria mvt. under discussion, BTW, is for the Tromba in B, a tromba not frequently used in Bach's works (only BWV 5/5 calls for the same instrument.)


Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 90: Details & Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements
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