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Johann Cyriacus KIELING (1670 - 1727): St Matthew Passion

La Protezione della Musica
Dir: Jeroen Finke

rec: Nov 2019, Bennungen, Altes Rittergut
Arcantus - arc 20020 (2 CDs) (© 2020) (1.46'54")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Malwine Nicolaus (Ancilla, Uxor Pilati), soprano; Clemens Walter Thom (Judas, Zweene Testis), alto; Michael Gattwinkel (Caiphas, Petrus, Zweene Testis), Felix Heuser (Evangelist), tenor; Vincent Berger (Jesus), Arthur Leopold Engel (Pilatus), bass
Margot Simon, Jesper Burandt, oboe; Polina Malysheva, bassoon; Nadi Perez/Aida Perez, Vladyslav Snadchuck, violin; Alma Elisabeth Stoye, Marie-Alice Stoye, viola da gamba; Dávid Budai, violone; Tobias Tietze, lute; Lisa Bork, organ

Passiontide is one of the most important stages in the ecclesiastical year. This has resulted in large numbers of compositions of different kinds, reflecting the religious and national traditions. In the baroque era, these differences are more distinct than in the Renaissance, especially before the Reformation. The latter resulted in a marked difference in what was written for this time of the year. Obviously, the Stabat mater, which was frequently set by composers from the Roman Catholic part of Europe, was not something the exponents of the Lutheran Reformation were interested in. They also largely ignored the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which were frequently set in the 15th and 16th centuries, and continued to be performed in France and in Italy. In Protestant Germany, on the other hand, it was especially the narrative of the gospels which attracted composers. This was in line with the doctrines of Luther. His theology was called theologia crucis, as the Passion and death of Christ was the key of his doctrines. Every human being needed salvation for his sins, and that could only come through Christ, paying for them in his place.

In the wake of the Reformation quite a number of settings of the Passion story were written. Today, especially the oratorio Passions by Bach are known and frequently performed. The increasing interest in the vocal oeuvre of Telemann has resulted in various recordings of the Passions he wrote in his capacity as Musikdirektor in Hamburg. However, more than half of his output in this genre has been lost, and that seems indicative of the fate of many Passions written in Protestant Germany in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Now and then a forgotten work is discovered. In 2019, Christophorus released a recording of such a work, the St Mark Passion by Johann Georg Künstel. Last year, another unknown work was presented, this time from the pen of Johann Cyriacus Kieling.

Little is known about him; it is hardly surprising that he has no entry in New Grove. He was born in 1670 in Bennungen (Südharz) and died in Stolberg. He first studied in Halberstadt and then in Halle. In 1691 he became organist in Rochstädt and in 1693 in Bennungen. In 1697 he was appointed Kantor in Brücken. In 1701 he moved to Stolberg to become Kantor and in 1712 he entered the service of the Count of Stolberg as Kapellmeister. His extant oeuvre comprises the St Matthew Passion, a missa brevis (consisting of Kyrie and Gloria), four cantatas and ten motets. However, the St Matthew Passion presented on this set of discs is only partially from his pen.

No autograph score of this work has been preserved, and there is no written evidence about such a Passion being written and/or performed in Stolberg. What has come down to us are two printed textbooks and a copy of the score as well as some isolated parts by Johann Georg Nattermann, who from 1715 onwards was Kantor in Bosenröde. The preface by the pastor and librettist Johann Georg Scharff from 1719 says that he has arranged the Passion "in such a way that I have retained the story according to St Matthew, written new arias for it and selected various verses from well-known chorales". The arias were set to music by Georg August Domrich, Kantor in Kelbra, a cousin of Scharff. About Domrich nothing is known, except that he was Kantor and died in 1724. From this one has to conclude that we have no original work by Kieling here, but rather a kind of 'co-production' of Kieling and Domrich. Apparently Kieling's Passion was received well. The textbook mentions that during his lifetime it was performed every year "to the greatest edification, with a mellifluous band of instruments". There is also documentary evidence of performances in 1731, 1733 and 1737.

It is not entirely clear what the intended scoring is. In addition to the roles of the Evangelist and Jesus, the tutti are for four singers (SATB), who also take care of the roles of the various characters in the story. The maid and the wife of Pilate are scored for soprano, Judas and one of the false witnesses is an alto, Caiphas, Peter and another false witness are sung by the tenor, whereas the bass takes the role of Pilate. The singers are accompanied by basso continuo, but now and then the score requires obbligato instruments (oboes, violins). Each of the two parts of this Passion is preceded by a sinfonia, which has two middle parts. Those with the indication viola are performed by viole da gamba. Some recitatives require an accompaniment of strings, and the performers also decided to have some choral passages accompanied colla voce by the strings.

The fact that this work has been arranged at a later time has left its mark on the form, in which it has come down to us. With regard to the way the story is told by the Evangelist, this work shows strong similarity with the St Matthew Passion by Johann Theile. His part is called recitative, but it has little in common with the monodic style of 17thh-century Italian music, let alone the recitatives we know from Bach's Passions. It has the character of an arioso, and the performer has little room for rhythmic freedom. The arias represent a 'modern' element in this work, in comparison with the recitatives. That concerns both the text and the music. In as far as Passions of the 17th century had something like 'arias', they were not in any way connected to characters in the story. That is still the case in Bach's Passions. After Peter's betrayal of Jesus, it is an alto, who sings 'Erbarme dich', not Peter, who is a bass. This work includes some arias which point in the direction of the later Passion oratorios. Here the betrayal of Peter, a role for tenor, is followed by a tenor aria: "Break, ye eyes, break my heart, let blood and tears run, for my sinful beginning tortures me with the pains of hell: Oh, I have lost Jesus! Oh, I have conspired against Jesus". It is obvious that these words are meant to express Peter's feelings in the first place. However, that does not mean that the audience should not make these words its own, in that it identifies with Peter. Also modern is the previous aria, which reacts to Peter's denial that he knows Jesus: "Should you no longer know Jesus, O Peter? Yes, you know him". Musically, there are also some modern elements. Some arias have a dacapo, which was hardly used in the time this work was written, and which is also absent, for instance, in the earliest cantatas by Bach, which may date from about the same time. However, some arias are strophic, which is a relic of the 17th century. Most arias end with a repeat of the opening line, but without a full-blooded dacapo.

Chorales were an important part of Passions in Protestant Germany, and this one by Kieling and Domrich is not any different. Some are little-known (I did not recognize them), but others are very familiar, such as Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen; three stanzas are included in the second part, and follow Pilate's decision to release Barabbas and deliver Jesus to be crucified. When the narrative is about the road to Calvary, the words of the Evangelist are alternated by three stanzas from the hymn O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, the third of which seems to be unique for this work and may have been specifically written for it, either the original or the later adaptation.

By any account this is a most remarkable work. It would be nice to know more about its origin and in what way it was adapted and by whom. We probably will never know. The fact that it is a kind of amalgam does not compromise its quality; its inner coherence is remarkable. I have been quite impressed by this work, which is a very worthwhile addition to the repertoire of oratorio Passions of the German Baroque. That is also due to the way it is performed. It is a performance with one voice per part, which is plausible, although the addition of ripienists is certainly a possibility. The account of the part of the Evangelist by Felix Heuser is impressive: he is a real story teller, and he effectively emphasizes the particular dramatic moments in the story. Vincent Berger is in every respect his equal in the part of Jesus, which he performs with authority, but also with engagement and sensitivity. The four other soloists leave nothing to be desired in the other roles, and do a fine job in the arias. Some of these are probably a bit short on expression, but it certainly would be wrong to exaggerate that aspect. These arias are not comparable to those in later Passions, which we are acquainted with. The voices also blend nicely in the chorales and choruses. The playing of the instruments is spot-on.

In short, this is a major discovery, and I hope it will be made available in a modern edition, which would allow other ensembles to perform it.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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