I remember some of the cantatas my mother played on the turntable in our house more vividly than others. One of those is cantata 132 Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn!, written for the fourth Sunday of Advent in Weimar in 1715.
To understand this, it helps to know how the Christmas season was celebrated in our house in The Netherlands in the early 80s. Christmas didn’t feature in store windows or on television until after St. Nicholas (December 5). We would not have a Christmas tree in our house until December 16. And while at school we would sing Christmas carols in the last week before the break and have a “Christmas breakfast” on the last Friday, at home we would not have any real Christmas music, including Bach’s Christmas Oratorio until Christmas Day (more about this next week). Until then it was Advent cantatas only as far as Bach’s music was concerned. And since my mother was also a fan of Sebastian Hennig, the soprano soloist in the 1983 Leonhardt recording of cantata 132, she probably played this cantata pretty frequently in the last week before Christmas.
Listen to the Leonhardt recording of cantata 132 Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! on Youtube.
As a child, I was very impressed by the soprano aria at the start of this cantata too, but I also vividly remember the “Wer bist du” words in the bass aria, sung by Max van Egmond on this Leonhardt recording. Except for the tenor aria (sung by Marius van Altena, qualified by my sometimes pretty judgmental mother as a “squeaky door tenor”) their recording of this cantata is unrivaled as far as I’m concerned.
If you like to watch a live performance of this (including some more wonderful playing by Shunske Sato in the alto aria), there is a wonderful live video performance of this cantata by the Netherlands Bach Society available here on YouTube. Soloists are Julia Doyle, soprano; Tim Mead, alto; Jan Kobow, tenor; and Dominik Wörner, bass.
If you have more time and would like to learn more about this cantata, I can highly recommend that you also watch the “background” videos that go with this Netherlands Bach Society recording, presented as interviews, in this order: conductor Alfredo Bernardini, soprano Julia Doyle, and bass Dominik Wörner.
Wieneke Gorter, December 17, 2016, updated with new YouTube links December 19, 2019.