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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) The Cantatas - Volume 2
Recorded: Protestant Church, Weinsberg, Germany, March 1957
Friedericke Sailer, Maria Friesenhausen, Agnes Giebel, Emiko Iiyama, Ingeborg Reichelt, Edith Selig, Hedy Graf (sopranos)
Claudia Hellmann, Emmy Lisken, Barbara Scherler, Hertha Töpper (altos)
Helmut Krebs, Georg Jelden, Theo Altmeyer, Friedrich Melzer, Kurt Huber (tenors)
Erich Wenk, Jakob Stämpfli, Barry McDaniel, Franz Kelch, Bruce Abel (basses)
Heinrich Schütz Choir, Heilbronn
Pforzheim Chamber Orchestra
Württemberg Chamber Orchestra (BWV 102,137,150)
Südwestfunk Orchestra, Baden-Baden (BWV 51, 104)
Conducted by Fritz Werner
WARNER ERATO 2564 61402-2 [10 CDs: 75’22 + 73’11" + 68’45" + 62’57" + 71’43" + 72’18" + 74’38" + 73’01" + 75’04" + 75’01". Total: 722’00"]

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Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, 1962
Meine Seel erhebt den Herren, BWV 10

Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, 1965
Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde, BWV 53/Anh.II 23

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, June 1963
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, June 1963
Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht, BWV 105

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, June 1963
Ich weiss, dass mein Erlöser lebt, BWV 160/Anh.III 157

Recorded: Protestant Church, Weinsberg, Germany, March 1957
Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben!, BWV 102

Recorded in Schwaigern, Germany, October 1972
Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren, BWV 137

Recorded in Schwaigern, Germany, October 1972
Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, October and November 1972
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51

Emiko Iiyama (soprano); Maurice André (trumpet)
Recorded in Schwaigern, Germany, October 1972
Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?, BWV 8

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, autumn 1961
Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, BWV 130

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, autumn 1961
Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft, BWV 50

Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, June 1964
Es erhub sich ein Streit, BWV 19
Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, June 1964
Man singet Freuden vom Sieg, BWV 149

Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, October 1964
Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 180

Recorded in Schwaigern, Germany, February 1970
Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen BWV 56

Barry McDaniel (bass); Pierre Pierlot (oboe)
Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, November 1964
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV 98

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, June 1963
Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig, BWV 26

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, autumn 1961
Es reisset euch ein schrecklich Ende, BWV 90

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, June 1963
Wachet! betet! betet! wachtet!, BWV 70

Recorded in Schwaigern, Germany, February 1970
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140

Recorded in Schwaigern, Germany, February 1970
Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn und Schild, BWV 79

Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, June 1964
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, October 1959
Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, 1966
Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131

Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, June 1964
Gottes Zeit ist der allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 (Actus tragicus)
Recorded: Concert Hall, Heilbronn, Germany, June 1964
Preise Jerusalem, den Herrn, BWV 119

Recorded in Schwaigern, Germany, July 1965
Bekennen will ich seinen Namen, BWV 200

Barbara Scherler (alto)
Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, July 1966
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51

Ingeborg Reichelt (soprano); Walter Gleissle (trumpet)
Recorded: Protestant Church, Weinsberg, Germany, March 1957
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, October 1959
Ich bin ein guter Hirt, BWV 85

Recorded in Ilsfeld, Germany, October 1959
Du Hirte Israel, höre, BWV 104


A little while ago I reviewed the companion volume of cantatas conducted by Fritz Werner . I have since reviewed a further box containing his recordings of all Bach’s major choral works which was Volume Three in this series. Much of what I had to say there generally about the merits - and the occasional snags - of Werner’s approach to Bach apply to this volume as well and for the sake of brevity I’d like to refer readers to those reviews. Not only is Werner’s approach pretty consistent - as you’d expect - but so is his line-up of soloists. In fact only one singer who appeared in Vol. 1, Marga Höffgen, is absent from the roster of soloists here.

Listening to and digesting thirty well-filled CDs has been a lengthy, if very stimulating process. During my listening I came across an appraisal of these sets by the critic and baroque trumpeter, Jonathan Freeman–Atwood. Writing of the contributions of Werner’s two finest soloists, Agnes Giebel and Helmut Krebs, he had this to say: "[Theirs] are small voices but ones which bring an unfailing nobility, poetry and genuine rhetorical discernment with which to illuminate Werner’s perceptive journey into the kernel of a work. It’s an approach to Bach performance which seems ever rarer these days, largely because it eschews all vanity." I have quoted these wise words because they tell us as much about Werner as about the two fine singers in question. Another comment by the same critic is equally pertinent. "[Werner’s] rhythms are gently sprung and his declamations disarmingly direct but he also seeks an Elysian sound for the sake of sheer beauty…" I wholeheartedly endorse these comments. It has to be said that Werner doesn’t always attain the "Elysian sound" for which he strives but when he doesn’t that’s usually because his performers can’t always meet fully those standards. Most of the performances are very good indeed, and some are even better than that, but just occasionally one is reminded of the great advances that have occurred in recent years in the standards of choral singing in particular.

This box contains 31 cantatas, including 15 for various Sundays after Trinity. There are also no less than three marking the feast of St, Michael and two others celebrate Reformation Day. Two of the cantatas, BWV 51 and BWV 140, come in two separate performances. A further three appear elsewhere in the series: an additional performance of BWV 147 is included in Volume Three and second versions of BWV 85 and BWV 104 appear in Volume One. Three of the works included, BWV 50, 53 and 200 are single movements only. It should also be noted that BWV 53, though long attributed to Bach is now believed to be the work of Melchior Hoffman (c 1678-1715). The solo cantata, BWV 160, is now known to be a composition by Telemann dating from the 1720s. However, I agree with the author of the liner note that Helmut Krebs’ fine performance justifies its inclusion here.

Let me first deal with the cantatas that are duplicated. In reviewing the 1957 account of BWV 147 Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, in Vol. Three I expressed reservations both about aspects of the performance and the recorded sound and I said I hoped the reading in this volume would be preferable. It is. In this 1963 traversal the choir is captured in much better sound. Their singing is also much more vigorous and incisive than that of their predecessors. In addition Maurice André was on hand in 1963 to lead the trumpet section with his silvery tone. The 1963 team of vocal soloists is preferable to those heard in 1957. Agnes Giebel’s polished singing is a delight, Krebs is equally good and there are fine contributions from Claudia Hellmann and Jacob Stämpfli. I still find Werner’s treatment of the famous chorale a touch ponderous but all in all this later performance of BWV 147 is incomparably better than the earlier one.

In the other duplicated works choice is not quite so clear-cut. In Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51 Emiko Iiyama sings very well indeed in the 1972 performance and she has the inestimable benefit of Maurice André as her trumpeter. Werner’s earlier account (1957), which is also included in this box, had Ingeborg Reichelt as the soloist. On balance I prefer Reichelt’s singing but her trumpeter isn’t in André’s league. Furthermore the performance is slightly hobbled by the recorded sound: we seem to be hearing the performers from the other end of a very long church nave. This was one of a number of recordings made in 1957 in the Protestant Church, Weinsberg and at that time the engineers clearly had not come to terms with the very resonant acoustic of that venue; later recordings from the same source are better. Comparing the two readings of this cantata one crucial difference is Werner’s pacing of the work. In general he was livelier in 1972 and this finally tips the balance in favour of the later recording, I think, though I am glad to have the opportunity of hearing Reichelt in the work too.

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 also features twice in this box, in recordings set down in 1959 and 1970. The two performances are pretty similar in terms of pacing. The fine opening chorus is a bit staid in Werner’s hands. On both occasions I’d have expected a bit more urgency in a movement, which, after all, is about being watchful! As it is the choral singing is just a bit too relaxed for my taste. As you might expect the 1970 recorded sound is a shade clearer than was the case in 1959. Despite this a couple of things incline me to prefer the earlier version. The duet ‘Wann kömmst du mein Heil?’ features a prominent violin obbligato and the 1959 performance is distinguished by some rather special artistry from Reinhold Barchet. In this self-same duet Ingeborg Reichelt (1959) is splendid though her partner, Franz Kelch, is not quite so memorable. There’s a second duet for soprano and bass in this cantata, ‘Mein Freund ist mein!’ In both performances the tempo is well nigh identical but the 1970 traversal doesn’t captivate quite as it should. In 1959 the performers inject more spring into the music and it makes a world of difference. Once again we mainly have Reichelt to thank for this since Kelch is a touch monochrome. The other great difference is that in 1959 the irresistible, rippling oboe obbligato is provided by the superb Pierre Pierlot. Throughout all three boxes every time Pierlot graces a performance with his playing it makes a difference and that is the case here, even if he is recorded a little more backwardly than was his colleague in 1970

Two cantatas for the Second Sunday after Easter, Ich bin ein guter Hirt, BWV 85 and Du Hirte Israel, höre, BWV 104 appear both here and in Volume One. The recording of BWV 85 in this box dates from 1959, whereas the performance in Volume One comes from 1970. Both performances have their virtues. In terms of the soloists I prefer Stämpfli (1970) to Kelch (1959) in the bass aria. The latter sounds more effortful and Werner set a more easeful tempo in his second version. Turning to the altos I also prefer the 1970 version where Barbara Schlerer’s tone is clearer than that of Hertha Töpper (1959). With the higher voices, however, matters are reversed. Hedy Graf sings well in 1970 but Ingeborg Reichelt (1959) outshines her. Given my admiration for Helmut Krebs you might expect me to plump for him in the 1959 reading. However, despite his undoubted artistry I find the sweeter tone of Kurt Huber (1970) even more persuasive. So it’s swings and roundabouts but either version will give listeners much pleasure.

Choice is much easier when it comes to BWV 104, where one is comparing a 1957 account with one from 1966. The recording in this box (1957) is one of Werner’s earliest and the sound itself vitiates much of the pleasure to be had from the performance. In the opening chorus the choir sounds to be miles away from the microphones and a sluggish tempo doesn’t help their cause either. To my ears it also sounds as if some of the singers don’t support all the notes sufficiently and an element of wavering in the tone results. Incredibly, this one movement lasts a whole two minutes longer in 1957 (8’18" against 6’18" in 1966) and the clock is a good guide in this instance. The later performance flows beautifully but I discern little life in the earlier reading. There are just two soloists in this cantata, a tenor and a bass. Krebs is the tenor in 1957. His light tone is as clear as a bell and he sings with his customary skill and intelligence (though the accompaniment is rather distantly heard). However, Huber (1966) also turns in a lovely performance. The 1966 bass, Stämpfli, is much more characterful than Kelch (1957) who, to be frank, sounds pretty monochrome by comparison – and that’s not just a question of the recorded sound, I fear. So the bass aria plods in 1957 but in 1966 it’s lilting and easeful, with both Stämpfli and Werner making a much better job of it.

The remaining cantatas in the box were only recorded once by Werner. Among the highlights is his 1962 traversal of Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21. This is a fairly early cantata but it’s one of Bach’s finest. The opening sinfonia is slow and stately here, but it doesn’t drag. Similarly the first chorus has gravitas but Werner also gives it life. The choir is unusually prominent in this cantata and Werner’s singers do well for him. The soloists also make good contributions and overall this is a fine performance

Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht, BWV 105 is a magnificent, eloquent work, written for the ninth Sunday after Trinity. The grave opening chorus is lovingly shaped by Werner. The soprano aria, ‘Wie zittern und wanken’ finds Agnes Giebel and oboist Pierre Pierlot in superb form. Giebel’s singing is gorgeously pure and this movement is a highlight of the whole set

The performance of Jesu, der du meine Seele, BWV 78, another Trinity cantata, also calls for comment. It begins with a substantial passacaglia chorus which Werner interprets gravely and which his choir sing well. Helmut Krebs, in one of his later appearances in these recordings is in fine clear voice in the aria ‘Das Blut, so meine Schuld durchstreit.’ Most interesting of all, however, is the aria ‘Wir eilen mit schwanken, doch emsigen Schritten.’ This is a duet for soprano and alto but here, uniquely in my experience, Werner performs it using a small group of singers from the choir. This works extremely well He sets a splendidly sprightly tempo and his singers impart freshness and charm to the music. As I say, I’ve never heard the movement done this way (Richter, for instance, in his 1961 reading, conventionally uses a pair of soloists) but it’s a delight.

I can’t overlook either the reading of Gottes Zeit ist der allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 as it’s one of my very favourite works by Bach. Is there anything more serenely beautiful in his entire output than the inspiration of the short, aching sinfonia? Perhaps it’s just a touch heavy here - in terms of ethereal beauty Joshua Rifkin’s recording remains my personal benchmark - but the music still sounds lovely and under Werner it unfolds with real feeling. It sounds to me as if he opts for a reduced choir and that’s a decision I applaud since the work is so intimate in scale and mood. The chorus sings very well. The soloists all perform sensitively and the whole performance is a dignified, suitably restrained and lovingly crafted reading of this luminous cantata.

Mention must also be made of Barry McDaniel’s splendid performance of the solo cantata, Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56. He offers a dignified and elevated account of this moving cantata, as does Werner. McDaniel’s tone is even and full throughout the compass of his voice and he sings with sensitivity and intelligence, making the most of the words. In the great aria ‘Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch’ he has the inestimable benefit of a partnership with Pierre Pierlot. Pierlot’s playing is sprightly and stylish while McDaniel’s divisions are excellently clean. The performance of this cantata is one of the highlights of the collection.

Although Werner’s is essentially a lyrical approach to Bach he can be dramatic too. So, for example, there’s real bite and commitment in the opening chorus of the richly scored cantata for St. Michael’s Day, Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, BWV 130. The magnificent bass aria, ‘Der alte Drache brennt vor Neid’, in which soloist Jakob Stämpfli is accompanied by timpani and no less than three trumpets, is powerfully conveyed; Stämpfli is in commanding form. The performance of this cantata is a very distinguished one, crowned by the majestic final chorale. Another example of Werner in a similar mood is the single movement Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft, BWV 50. It is uncertain for what occasion Bach wrote this movement, which is almost certainly a fragment of a cantata that is otherwise lost, but it was probably a Big Occasion for the very full scoring suits such a purpose. The surviving sturdy fugal chorus is well sung here with the different strands of texture emerging clearly. Werner projects the piece with power and no little presence.

With so much glorious music contained on these CDs and so many fine performances too it’s all but impossible in a review to do more than give a flavour of what’s on offer here. As I hope I’ve conveyed there’s a great deal of distinguished, often inspired solo singing. More often than not the choir is also on good form. The instrumental solos are never less than superb and presiding over all with wisdom and perspicacity is Fritz Werner. The recorded sound is a bit more variable. The very earliest recordings, those made in the Protestant Church, Weinsberg in early 1957, are not too successful but before long the Erato engineers (or improved technology) seem to have tamed that venue and the later recordings made there and elsewhere are much more satisfactory. But in the last analysis any limitations in the recorded sound don’t detract too severely from the merits of the music making.

As was the case with the other two sets in this series, the documentation consists of detailed track listings (in which I noticed only a few small errors), a good general essay on Werner and Bach by Nicholas Anderson, the moving spirit behind these reissues, and brief notes on each cantata. This documentation is provided in English, French and German. Sadly no texts are supplied.

Listening to and absorbing 30 CDs of Bach vocal music directed by Fritz Werner has been a fascinating experience, especially as many of the performances were new to me. As I’ve commented previously I do think it’s unfair that Werner has been overshadowed by such contemporary peers as Karl Richter for he is without doubt a Bach interpreter of real stature. To be sure the 30 CDs are an uneven achievement, but this is scarcely surprising since one is assessing recordings made over a period of some fifteen years. But there are very few serious disappointments among the performances and this wise, discerning and humane Bach conductor has much to teach us, even (perhaps especially) in an age when we are so used to performances of Bach in period style and by small or smallish forces.

But the other thing that listening to all these performances has reinforced for me is how endlessly inventive, how eloquent and how moving is the music of Bach. I suspect that Fritz Werner would regard that as the best possible testament to his work.

I hope that in this review, and the two previous ones, I’ve conveyed my enthusiasm for these performances. Their reissue, especially at such an advantageous price, is a cause for rejoicing. My strong advice to all lovers of Bach’s vocal music is to snap up this box, and its companions, while they remain available. There are hours of enjoyment and fulfilment to be had from listening to these recordings and I recommend this box and the other two with the greatest possible enthusiasm.

John Quinn

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