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Johann Sebastian BACH & Johann Adolf HASSE: Vocal and instrumental works

[I] Johann Sebastian BACH, Johann Adolf HASSE: "bacHasse - Opposites attract"
Benno Schachtner, altoa; Stefan Temmingh, recorderb
The Gentleman's Band
rec: Sept 28 - Oct 2, 2015, Stamberg-Percha (D), Malteserstift St. Josef
Accent - ACC 24315 (© 2016) (62'33")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (BWV 182) (Leget euch dem Heiland unter)ab; Ihr werdet weinen und heulen (BWV 103) (Kein Arzt ist außer dir zu finden)ab; Partita for violin in d minor (BWV 1004) (allemanda)b; Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn (BWV 119) (Die Obrigkeit ist Gottes Gabe)ab; Prelude in f sharp minor (BWV 883)d; Suite for cello No. 5 in c minor (BWV 1011) (sarabande, transp to g minor)c; Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783): Bella, mi parto, oh Dio, cantataa; Cantata per flauto in B flatb; Scrivo in te l'amato Nome, cantataab

Domen Marincic, viola da gamba, cello (soloc); Wiebke Weidanz, harpsichord (solod), lute-harpsichord, organ

[II] Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783): "del Signor Hasse - Works for Flute"
Imme-Jeanne Klett, Nele Lamersdorfef, flute
Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg
rec: March 1 & April 11 - 12, 2015, Geesthacht (D), St. Petri-Kirche
Es-Dur - ES 2062 (© 2015) (58'16")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/Jap
Cover & track-list

Johann Adolf HASSE: Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in Ga; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in b minorb; Sonata for transverse flute and bc in e minor, op. 1,10c; Sonata for transverse flute and bc in d minor, op. 1,11; Robert VAENTINE (1685-c1735): Duet for 2 transverse flutes in G, op. 5,7e; Duet for 2 transverse flutes in D, op. 5,8f

Jürgen Groß, Albrecht Kühner, violinab; Micaela Storch, violaab; James Bush, celloabcd; Alf Brauer, double bassab; Jörg Jacobi, harpsichordabcd

Johann Adolf Hasse was the most internationally-known German composer in the second and third quarters of the 18th century. His reputation was particularly founded on his numerous operas which were performed across Europe, from Napels to London, often with a leading role for his wife, the mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni. In comparison Johann Sebastian Bach was not more than a provincial Kapellmeister who never left Germany and whose music was not known outside his own country. Even within Germany he was not ranked among the most important composers. Only his qualities as an organist were undisputed.

It was quite an original idea to bring these two composers together. They seem worlds apart, also because Bach focused on the composition of sacred music, instrumental and keyboard music. Although Hasse did contribute to those genres as well - his output of sacred music is quite large - his operas are the most important part of his oeuvre. It is quite likely that the two men knew each other personally but there seems to be no firm documentary evidence of that. In an interview with Karsten Erik Ose in the booklet to his recording "bacHasse" Stefan Temmingh states that Bach visited opera performances in Dresden, together with his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann, and even became friends. But Alberto Basso in the article on Hasse in the Oxford Composers Companion about Bach is much more cautious in this matter. He also refers to Bach's biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel who wrote that Hasse, together with his wife, visited Bach in Leipzig and admired his talents. It has also been suggested that Bach's cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51) may have been intended for Faustina Bordoni.

In the end, this is all speculation. But there is nothing speculative about Bach being influenced by the Italian style, especially the Vivaldian solo concerto. The Italian influence is also notable in his cantatas, with their sequence of recitatives and arias. What we get on this disc is a mixture of sacred and secular pieces. Temmingh states: "My intention with this CD is to break with modern conventions. You can hear both sacred and secular music. These days these two genres are seldom mixed. And for all our apparent liberalism and multiculturalism today, this separation shows just how conservative we really are. In these politically explosive times, my hope is for more cultural openness - at least as open-minded and liberal as Bach was when he used secular cantatas as the basis for his Christmas Oratorio."

As Temmingh is a recorder player it was to be expected that this instrument would play a role in the programme. That is less obvious than one may think as the recorder was rather old-fashioned at the time Bach and Hasse were colleagues. Bach didn't compose a single sonata or concerto for the recorder. It was included in two of the Brandenburg Concertos, but otherwise Bach used it only in sacred works, for instance in the three cantatas from which the arias on this disc are taken. In all three the recorder - of different kinds - plays an obbligato part.

As Hasse was a more 'modern' composer his writing for the recorder is even more remarkable. The Cantata per flauto - in fact a sonata - which opens the programme was found in the library of Count Harrach, who came from Vienna and acted as Habsburg Viceroy in Naples from 1728 to 1733. Hasse was in Naples at the end of the 1720s, and this explains the presence of this piece in Harrach's library. Equally unusual is the participation of the recorder in his cantata Scrivo in te l'amato Nome. This can be explained from the text which includes a reference to songbirds in the recitative and to the nightingale in the closing aria. In the latter the recorder plays some figures which imitate birdsong. It is notable that the work-list in New Grove does not include a cantata with this title in this scoring. A cantata with this title is ranked among the cantatas with orchestra; the scoring is for two transverse flutes, two oboes, two horns, strings and bc. Is the cantata performed here another piece or is it in fact an arrangement of the cantata with orchestra?

In the baroque perios chamber cantatas were mostly scored for solo voice and bc, although Hasse's oeuvre includes a considerable number of cantatas with one or two obbligato treble parts. Bella, mi parto, oh Dio belongs to the former category; it is about a lover who has to leave his loved one and fears that a rival may turn up during his absence.

In addition to the vocal pieces we hear some instrumental items, all taken from larger works. There is no fundamental objection against playing pieces in a different scoring, but obviously there are some technical limitations. Bach's sonatas and partitas for violin solo include too much double stopping to be transported to the recorder.

I have listened to this disc with much pleasure. Temmingh delivers a very good performance of Hasse's recorder 'cantata'; the pathos of the adagio comes better off here than in Michael Schneider's interpretation whose tempo is too fast. Benno Schachtner is excellent in the vocal items. He sings the Bach arias beautifully and the cooperation with Temmingh is immaculate. His performance of Hasse's cantata Bella, mio parto, oh Dio is differentiated and expressive; I also liked his treatment of ornamentation which is never exaggerated. The cheerfulness of Scrivo in te l'amato Nome is very well conveyed. The recitatives are performed with the right amount of rhythmic freedom.

As the recorder was old-fashioned in Hasse's days the transverse flute was one of the most fashionable instruments, in particular among amateurs. Numerous sonatas, trios and quartets with a flute part were printed which were within the grasp of amateurs. Solo concertos may often have been too demanding, but there were a growing number of professional players of the flute, for instance in the Dresden court chapel. Although the composition of instrumental music was not part of Hasse's duties he nevertheless wrote a substantial amount of chamber and orchestral music. It is telling that almost all his sonatas and concertos are for transverse flute.

The Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg recorded two concertos and two sonatas by Hasse, with the flautist Imme-Jeanne Klett. The concertos are in three movements and follow the model of the Vivaldian concerto with its sequence of tutti-ritornelli and solo episodes. In the latter the flute is accompanied by the strings, without basso continuo. Several movements reflect Hasse's skills as an opera composer. The two sonatas are also traditional in structure as they both comprise four movements. The Sonata in e minor is in the usual order of slow-fast-slow-fast, but the Sonata in d minor opens with a fast movement, un poco vivace. It is a remarkable piece because of its strongly improvisational character. In fact, one could almost take it for a piece from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's pen. That is all the more notable as otherwise the two composers don't have that much in common.

The programme also includes two flute duets. They are from a collection of VIII Sonates pour deux flutes which was published in 1735 by Le Cène in Amsterdam under Hasse's name. However, there is every reason to doubt the authenticity of this attribution. They had already been printed around 1720 with the English composer Roberto Valentine as composer. That is much more plausible as these duets are arrangements of Valentine's sonatas for two violins and bc op. 4, published in Amsterdam in 1715. They also fit well into the general picture of a composer whose oeuvre tends towards the galant style. Question is whether they are intended for the transverse flute. Valentine was a recorder player, about half of his sonatas are for the recorder and this was still the most popular instrument in England in his time.

As much as I appreciate this disc for bringing a number of pieces to our attention which were not available on disc as yet, I am rather unhappy with the performances. It is not that the interpreters don't play well. The Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg is a fine ensemble and the performances of the strings and - in the sonatas - the basso continuo leaves nothing to be desired. I just wonder why on earth they decided to cooperate with a flautist who uses a modern instrument.

The booklet says: "The flute played by Imme-Jeanne Klett is a special instrument made from very rare Cuba coco(nut) wood which can no longer be obtained today and it was built in the Hans-Jochen Mehnert Workshop in Ottenbach. The bore of the flute is reverse conical and was built in the late 50s with an especially thin wall thickness. This enables the player to play extremely sensitively with numerous timbres and lots of dynamics." This flute may be able to produce different timbres, basically the upper, middle and lower register are far less different in character than period instruments. In the end it is a modern instrument which is based on an aesthetical concept which is fundamentally different from the 18th-century aesthetics. Partly because of that its blending with the period strings is rather problematic. The flute sets itself too much apart from the ensemble and behaves more like a solo instrument than as a primus inter pares. Obviously there are no such problems in the sonatas and the duets - in the latter Nele Lamersdorf plays a comparable instrument which is only slighly different - but if one is used to hear period flutes these modern instruments are hard to swallow.

That doesn't take anything away from the quality of these performances. But in my view the mixture of period and modern instruments doesn't make any sense.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Imme-Jeanne Klett
Benno Schachtner
Stefan Temmingh
Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg

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