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"Mitteldeutsche Barockkantaten" (Baroque Cantatas from Central Germany)

Susanne Gorzny, soprano; Steve Wächter, alto; Michael Zabanoff, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, bass
Biederitzer Kantorei, Chamber Choir of the Biederitzer Kantorei, telemann-consort-magdeburg
Dir: Michael Scholl

rec: July 16, 2006 (live), Klosterkirche Groß Ammensleben
Amati - ami 2305/1 (49'17")

Johann Ludwig BACH (1677-1731): Die mit Tränen säen; Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Gott, wir warten Deiner Güte; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Missa super 'Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein' (TWV 9,1); Wie der Hirsch schreiet nach frischem Wasser (TWV 1,1617)

The large number of court chapels and churches in Germany, in combination with the habit only to perform newly composed music, explains the huge amount of sacred music by German composers of the 17th and 18th centuries. The largest part of what has been preserved - which one may assume is only a probably small part of what was actually written - is still unexplored. Therefore it isn't much of a problem to produce a disc with music never been recorded before. Both pieces by Telemann and the cantata by Fasch are new to the catalogue; the cantata by Johann Ludwig Bach has been recorded before by Hermann Max.

The disc opens with a specimen of a genre which is typical for protestant Germany: a missa brevis with a cantus firmus, based on a hymn. These masses consist of Kyrie and Gloria only; the best-known examples of this genre are the four Missae breves by Johann Sebastian Bach. These are not based on any hymn like the Missa brevis by Telemann recorded here. The hymn 'Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein' was written by Martin Luther after Psalm 12 and dates from 1524. The melody appears in both sections of this Mass, which is for tutti with strings and bc. It is an extremely short work which lasts just four and a half minutes. It is well sung by the choir, but dynamically a bit flat, which is a feature of this recording as a whole.

For a long time Johann Friedrich Fasch has been in the shadow of Bach and Telemann, but recently he has come out of it, and rightly so. It is mostly his orchestral music which has been paid attention to, but his vocal works are of interest too. So far very little of them have been recorded, so the appearance of his cantata Gott, wir warten Deiner Güte is to be welcomed. It is a concise work written for the feast of the dedication of a church. This explains why the lyrics refer to "your temple", "this sanctuary" and "your house". The cantata opens with a short aria for tenor with obbligato violin and chorus, which is followed by an arioso for bass and an accompanied recitative for soprano. The cantata closes with a homophonic chorus which has the structure of a dacapo aria and a four-part chorale. The soloists deliver good performances, but again the choruses are a little flat. The closing chorale needs more dynamic accents and a better articulation than it gets here.

The third piece is a cantata by Johann Ludwig Bach who was born in Eisenach and worked most of his life in Meiningen. His oeuvre mainly consists of vocal sacred music: 23 cantatas, 11 motets and the funeral music for his patron, Duke Ernst Ludwig, who died in 1724. It is a shame that from the corpus of cantatas Die mit Tránen säen has been chosen as this is already available on disc. Hermann Max also delivers an overall better interpretation, in particular as far as the performances of choir and orchestra are concerned. The cantatas of Johann Ludwig Bach reflect the style of the late 17th century and follow the same pattern: they start with a text from the Old Testament, which is followed by a recitative and an aria; then a text from the New Testament, followed by an aria and a recitative and the cantatas close with a chorus and a chorale. In the latter we find another feature of the cantatas of Johann Ludwig Bach: the four-part hymn is embedded in a web of independent instrumental parts. The text from the Old Testament are the verses 5 and 6 from Psalm 126: "Who has sorrow planting reaps then rejoicing greatly". As one would expect the two opposing elements in these verses are set to contrasting material. The word "Tränen" is set to strong dissonances, with a coloratura on the first syllable. The aria 'Dringt, ihr Quälen, auf mich her' (Come, O torments, over me) also begins with dissonances. This aria and also the alto aria 'Tau und Tränen' are very expressive and are beautifully sung by the soloists here. I find the closing chorus a bit too fast and again too flat; the strings should also have played with sharper accents.

The disc closes with a cantata by Telemann, one of the large number he has written, and which we are not even beginning to really know. This cantata should help to overcome the prejudice that Telemann only wrote simple and catchy pieces. The cantata Wie der Hirsch schreiet begins with a movement of three sections: the first is an instrumental sinfonia, in the second the four voices are only supported by the basso continuo, and the last section is a four-part fugue on a partly chromatic theme. Chromaticism also appears in other parts of this cantata, and in the recitatives - most of which accompagnato - and arias several words are directly translated into music. The first part of tenor aria 'Will mich meine Sünde kränken' says: "If my sins hurt me, Jesu, only thinking of you makes me happy, liberates me". On the words "make me happy, liberates me" the three trumpets and timpani enter. The other aria in this cantata is for alto: 'Komm nur heran, erwünschtes Ende' , another expressive piece. The concluding chorale is a stanza from the hymn 'Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist' (Nikolaus Hermann, 1560). The alto and tenor are doing well here again, but the soprano is too pale in the arioso 'So fürcht' ich denn mein Sterben nicht'.

To sum it up: this is a welcome release because of the largely unknown repertoire, which is without exception of good quality. On the whole the soloists make a good impression, and there is no doubt that both choir and orchestra are good ensembles. It is just that the interpretation leaves something to be desired. There is a lack of contrast, especially in regard to dynamics, and the articulation should have been much sharper. In short, the interpretation should have been more speechlike. We get only a hint of what these works really have to offer. But for the time being it is all we have. I would like to take the opportunity to recommend the two discs with sacred music by Johann Ludwig Bach, which Hermann Max recorded for Carus and Capriccio respectively.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Biederitzer Kantorei

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