There are many Bach cantatas for New Year’s Day, or the Feast of the Circumcision and naming of Jesus. Apart from the fourth cantata of the Christmas Oratorio I discuss here, those are: BWV 190 from 1724, BWV 41 from 1725, BWV 16 from 1726, and BWV 171 from 1729. They are all impressive, usually with trumpets and timpani in the orchestra, but rarely get performed anywhere. I hope that will change sometime.
Today is also the first Sunday after Christmas. If that day did not fall on Third Christmas Day, Bach would write a cantata for that too, as you can see in this overview. It means there is an overwhelming treasure trove of cantatas to choose from today.
The ones I like best are cantata 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein (for the first Sunday after Christmas in 1724) and the fourth cantata from the Christmas Oratorio Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben (for New Year’s Day or the Feast of the Circumcision and naming of Jesus in 1735).
Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 122 Das neugeborne Kindelein on YouTube. It’s only 14 minutes long, but contains so many jewels. With soprano Vasiljka Jezovsek (stunning performance in the recitative), alto Sarah Connolly, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass Peter Kooij. I love every part of this cantata, but as a child I was most excited about the choruses: they still sounded like pretty Christmas music, but talked about the New Year!
For Herreweghe’s interpretation of the 4th cantata from the Christmas Oratorio Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben you have two options: There is a beautiful CD recording from 1989, which you can find here on YouTube. Soloists on this recording are soprano Barbara Schlick, tenor Howard Crook, and bass Peter Kooij.
There is also a fantastic DVD recording from 2013, with soloists Dorothee Mields, countertenor Damien Guillon (not singing in part 4), tenor Thomas Hobbs, and bass Peter Kooij. I can highly recommend watching this. Regular readers of this blog know how much I love Dorothee Mields and Damien Guillon, and they are terrific on this recording. This DVD is available at ArkivMusic, Barnes and Noble, and JPC (Germany).
I love this part of the Christmas Oratorio the best, because of the moving bass-soprano duet, the trio sonata disguised as a tenor aria with two violins, the famous echo-aria for soprano, and of course because it has horns in the orchestra! The presence of horns in the orchestra is the reason this cantata is often skipped in concert performances of the Christmas Oratorio. The entire oratorio is a bit too long for a regular concert program, there are no horns required in any of the other five parts, and natural horn players are expensive and hard to find, so presenters can save on production costs by not hiring any horn players at all.
By the way: Bach never intended for the Christmas Oratorio to be performed as a whole. He wrote each cantata for the six consecutive church Holidays in 1734/1735: First Christmas Day, Second Christmas Day, Third Christmas Day, New Year’s Day (or Feast of the Circumcision), Sunday after New Year, and Epiphany, and the separate cantatas were performed during the church services on those days. The music for the oratorio was largely based on existing choruses and arias from secular works. In this case of the fourth cantata, the opening chorus, soprano aria, and tenor aria all come from BWV 213 Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen aka Hercules at the Crossroads written in 1733 for the 11th Birthday of Prince Friedrich Christian, son of the Elector of Saxony.
I wish you a good 2017!
Wieneke Gorter, December 29, 2016.