I don’t know if it is because the oboes already announce the chorale melody in the instrumental part of this opening chorus, or because of the overall Advent sparkle, but I have always found the first movement of Cantata 62 Nun komm der Heiden Heiland one of the most beautiful of all Bach’s cantata opening choruses. I especially cherish the Herreweghe recording from 1997. Find that recording here on YouTube. Soloists are Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Sarah Connolly, alto; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. This cantata also features an impressive recitative and aria for bass.
I remember an anecdote from my mom’s time as a member of the Twents Bachkoor, somewhere in the early 1980s. Bass soloist Harry van der Kamp showed up for an Advent concert, thinking he was coming to sing the other cantata with the same Nun komm der Heiden Heiland title, Cantata 61, which includes a beautiful recitative for bass (discussed on this blog here), but nothing really challenging for bass otherwise. He found out during the warm-up rehearsal that it was in fact 62. He did a fabulous job and part of my admiration for him stems from witnessing that as an audience member during that concert.
In the bass recitative, listen for Bach’s musical illustration of the words “laufen” (walking — upwards sequence), “Gefall’ne” (fallen — 7th down), and “heller Glanz” (bright luster — a sparkling highest note).
Bach wrote this cantata for the first Sunday in Advent in Leipzig in 1724, as part of his series of chorale cantatas of 1724/1725. For nine and a half months, starting on June 11, 1724, he would write every cantata according to this same template: the opening movement is a chorale fantasia on the first stanza of an existing Lutheran hymn or chorale, with the tune appearing as a cantus firmus. The last movement has the last stanza of the same hymn as text, in a four-part harmonization of the tune. The text of those choral, outer movements was used verbatim, while the text of the solo, inner movements was paraphrased, but still based on the inner stanzas of the same hymn.
I have been following all these chorale cantatas in the order they were written in 1724 on this blog. If you missed it, you can start reading here. If you subscribe to this blog (on the left-hand side of this text when reading on a desktop computer, or at the bottom of this text when reading on a smartphone) you will receive an email every time I have posted a new story.
There is also a wonderful live performance by Herreweghe of this cantata on YouTube, albeit with different soprano, alto, and tenor soloists (Grace Davidson, soprano; Damien Guillon, countertenor; Thomas Hobbs, tenor), but again with Peter Kooij singing bass, and again Marcel Ponseele playing first oboe. It was recorded in the St. Roch Church in Paris in 2015 and you can find it here on Youtube. The camera direction in the beginning is a bit strange: perhaps the TV director didn’t know the piece or didn’t have the score in front of her/him, because the camera is on the altos when the sopranos have an entrance, and on the back of the basses and tenors when the altos have an entrance, but later on it gets better, and it is a wonderful selection of Advent and Christmas cantatas they present there in that concert.
The CD recording from 1997 is part of a very good album, which also includes the two other Advent cantatas: Cantata 36 Schwingt freudig euch empor from 1731 (more about this in the next few weeks) and Cantata 61 Nun komm der Heiden Heiland from 1713 (discussed here on this blog). Please consider supporting the artists by purchasing this album in its reprint from 2014. Or purchase the box from 2010, which also includes two CDs with Christmas cantatas.
Wieneke Gorter, December 2, 2017.