Last week it was the 7th anniversary of my mother’s passing. I wasn’t sure what to write about that, so ended up not posting that day. If you would like to read more about the woman who still is my main inspiration for this blog, you can read my tribute to her here.
But as it turns out, it is not a bad thing to combine the cantatas Bach wrote for Trinity 23 & 24 in 1724 in one and the same blog post, since they both stand out for their bass arias. It is noteworthy that Bach ended both his 1723 and 1724 Trinity seasons in Leipzig with cantatas featuring impressive bass arias*. That the “End of Life/End of Time/Judgement Day” theme was on every Protestant’s mind in the 18th century around this time of year of course had a lot to do with this. Bach often associates the bass voice with this theme, see for example Cantata 20 O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort, discussed here on this blog.
Regarding Cantata 139 Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott, for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity (which was last week), I prefer the recording by the J.S. Bach Foundation (Bachstiftung). Especially the tenor aria is very well done by tenor Johannes Kaleschke and violinists Renate Steinmann and Martin Korrodi. Update from 2019: when I first wrote about this performance in 2017, the cantata was not available on YouTube in full length, but now it is! You can find it here. For those who can understand (a little) German, there is also a terrific explanation by conductor Rudolf Lutz of everything that happens in the cantata available on YouTube here. You can even download the same worksheet (“Lutzogramm”) as the audience is looking at here. Rudolf Lutz is at his best here, very clever, witty, and informative. He spent a lot of time prepping for this workshop, including entering entire orchestrations into his “Lady Yamaha,” which is very effective for understanding Bach’s incredible composition. Soloists are Susanne Frei, soprano; Antonia Frey, alto; Johannes Kaleschke, tenor; Ekkehard Abele, bass.
However, since the subject of this post is bass arias … the best interpretation of the extremely unusual bass aria appears on the Bach Collegium Japan recording. Peter Kooy does a fabulous job bringing out the different character for the 11 (!) different sections of the aria. I created a playlist on Spotify of this Bach Collegium Japan recording here. Soloists are Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Robin Blaze, countertenor; Makoto Sakurada, tenor (he doesn’t convince me or capture my attention, and I find his pronunciation of the word “getrost” a bit distracting); Peter Kooy, bass.
Peter Kooy/Bach Collegium Japan again wins “best interpretation of the bass aria” in Cantata 26 Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig for the 24th Sunday after Trinity in 1724. Listen to Bach Collegium Japan’s recording via a playlist I created here on Spotify. This cantata was released on the same album as Cantata 139, so the soloists are again Soloists are Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Robin Blaze, countertenor; Makoto Sakurada, tenor; and Peter Kooy, bass.
And what a bass aria this is! The calmly babbling brook from the lovely tenor aria earlier in the cantata has become a white water river in this bass aria. And the combination of bass voice with the oboes makes me think of Hades in Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Peter Kooy is great and my mother loved him very much, but in my humble opinion, the luckiest people today are those attending the cantata service in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, Netherlands, where my good friend and favorite Bach bass Marc Pantus will be singing this aria. The Kloosterkerk was also my mother’s church for the last decade of her life, so I have now successfully circled back to her in this post, and miss her much more today than I did last week.
Wieneke Gorter, November 26, 2017, updated November 21 & 24, 2019.
*The first cantata Bach ever wrote for this particular time of year was Cantata 163 in Weimar. It contains a bass aria accompanied by two cellos, an instrumentation Bach never ever used after that. The last two cantatas of the 1723 Trinity season were Cantatas 90 and 70. Read my post about Cantata 90 for the 25th Sunday after Trinity here and my post about Cantata 70 for the 26th Sunday after Trinity here.