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"Das neugeborne Kindelein - Christmas Cantatas by Buxtehude, Telemann, J.S. Bach"

La Petite Bande
Dir: Sigiswald Kuijken

rec: Dec 16 - 18, 2017, Tielt (B), Paterskerk
Accent - ACC 24348 (© 2018) (52'39")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score JS Bach
Score Buxtehude BuxWV 52
Scores Telemann

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Ich freue mich in dir (BWV 133); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c1637-1707): Das neugeborne Kindelein (BuxWV 13); In dulci jubilo (BuxWV 52); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Missa sopra Ein Kindelein so löbelich (TWV 9,5); O Jesu Christ, dein Kripplein ist mein Paradies (TWV 1,1200)

Anna Gschwend, soprano; Lucia Napoli, contralto; Søren Richter, tenor; Christian Wagner, bass; Vinciane Baudhuin, Ofer Frenkel, oboe d'amore; Sigiswald Kuijken, Sara Kuijken, Anne Pekkala, Ortwin Lowyck, violin; Marleen Thiers, viola; Edouard Catalàn, bass violin; Mario Sarrecchia, organ

It can hardly come as a surprise that every year a considerable part of Christmas discs is devoted to music by German composers of the baroque period. The German-speaking part of Europe was divided into many semi-autonomous regions and towns, which - depending on their wealth and size - had their own musical establishments. As Martin Luther rated music highly as a way to imprint the biblical message into the people and to give the faithful the opportunity to express its faith, a large amount of music was written in the northern half of the country. The two discs under review here focus on three of the main composers from the late 17th century and the first half of the 18th. In all of them hymns take an important part, as this was the most important expression of Luther's ideas with regard to church music.

For a long time Dieterich Buxtehude was almost exclusively known for his organ music. Only a few of his cantatas were performed and recorded now and then. Much has changed since the latest Buxtehude year: in 2007 his death was commemorated, and this resulted in a complete recording of his oeuvre by Ton Koopman, directing The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir in the sacred music. Buxtehude takes an important place in the history of church music in Lutheran Germany, as in his oeuvre we find pieces which are the link between the sacred concerto of the 17th century and the cantata of the next. In dulci jubilo was one of the most popular Christmas hymns, which has a special character because of the mixture of Latin and German text. Buxtehude's cantata is scored for three voices (SAB), two violins and basso continuo. Buxtehude has set four stanzas, of which the last has a particularly jubilant character, with a prominent role for the violins. His cantata Das neugeborne Kindelein is a setting of the four stanzas of a hymn by Cyriakus Schneegass from 1597. Interestingly, in the third stanza Buxtehude uses a text which differs from the original text. "Despite Turks, the Pope and the gates of hell" is replaced by "Despite the Devil, the world and the gates of hell". As is often the case in pieces for the Christmas period, the last stanza includes a reference to the new year.

Johann Sebastian Bach used the same chorale (stanzas 1 and 3, in the latter with the original text) in his cantata with the same title (BWV 122). Rather than including that work here as well, Kuijken decided to turn to a different work, Ich freue mich in dir (BWV 133), intended for the third day of Christmas and first performed in 1724 in Leipzig. This is one of his chorale cantatas and is based on a hymn by Caspar Ziegler of 1697. The fact that it was relatively young could explain why Bach probably did not know it before he came to Leipzig, as Alfred Dürr suggests in his book on Bach's cantatas. The hymn consists of four stanzas; the first and the last are included unchanged in the cantata as the opening chorus and the closing chorale respectively. In between are recitatives and arias by an unknown author, which paraphrase the second and third stanzas. The second section is an aria for alto, accompanied by the two oboi d'amore, which also participated in the preceding chorus. The soprano in that part is supported by a cornett, but for some reason not mentioned in the booklet Kuijken has omitted it. After a tenor recitative, the soprano sings an aria, accompanied by strings and basso continuo. A recitative for bass then leads to the closing chorale.

Whereas many of Bach's sacred works are rather well-known, in the case of Georg Philipp Telemann the music-world is still in the process of discovering his contributions to the music for the Lutheran liturgy. He has written such music virtually all his life, but especially in Frankfurt, where he was city director of music and Kapellmeister at the Barfüsser Kirche, and often sang bass parts himself, and in Hamburg, where he started in 1721 as Musikdirektor and as such became responsible for the liturgical music in the five main churches. This disc includes two very different pieces. The first sheds light on what is probably the least-known part of his output: masses on a Latin text. Lutheran masses usually comprised Kyrie and Gloria, and were a common phenomenon in Lutheran churches in larger towns. Such masses were sometimes based on hymns, and that is the case with the Missa sopra Ein Kindelein so löbelich as well. The hymn has the character of a carol; the German text of the first stanza was a translation of the Latin late medieval song Dies est laetitia. Telemann uses the melody as a cantus firmus in the upper part. This work was written in 1720 in Frankfurt, is scored for four voices and basso continuo and written largely in the stile antico. It almost certainly is recorded here for the first time.

That is different with Telemann's cantata O Jesu Christ, dein Kripplein ist mein Paradies, which has been recorded at least twice before. It dates from 1748 and is stylistically much more up to date with the time. The text is by an anonymous author. It opens and closes with chorales. The opening section is the first stanza from a hymn by Paul Gerhardt (1653), whereas the last is the ninth stanza from another hymn of his pen, Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen. In between are two arias embracing a recitative, all for soprano solo. The last aria says: "Entice me like a hen", and here Telemann doesn't miss the opportunity to illustrate the clucking of a hen with a quickly repeated note in the violin. The first aria refers to "persecution, fear and pain" which are expressed in the harmony.

Sigiswald Kuijken has put together an attractive programme of pieces which are a mixture of the more or less familiar (Buxtehude, Bach) and the little-known (Telemann). It is a shame that the playing time is rather short. As we are used to in such recordings by Kuijken, these works are performed with one voice per part. This results in an optimum transparency, which is in the interest of the intelligibility of the text. This approach requires voices that blend perfectly, and that is indeed the case here. Anna Gschwend takes the main part in this recording, and she delivers excellent performances. Lucia Napoli is also in fine form in Bach, but the slight tremolo in her voice is regrettable. Søren Richter and Christian Wagner do everything right in their recitatives. Overall I like the performances, but I would have preferred some stronger dynamic shading. The two Buxtehude cantatas come off best.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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