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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788): "Erwacht zum neuen Leben - Oden/Sacred Songs"

Julian Redlin, bass; Jörn Boysen, harpsichord

rec: June 27 - 30, 2011, Kirchbarkau, St. Katharinenkirche
Brilliant Classics - 94309 (© 2012) (55'59")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Andenken an den Tod (Wq 198,12 / H 752,12) [8]; Belinde (Wq 202/B,3 / H 695) [4]; Betrachtung des Todes (Wq 194,26 / H 686,26) [1]; Das Privilegium (Wq 202/B,1 / H 693) [4]; Der 8. Psalm (Wq 196,4 / H 733,4) [6]; Der 23. Psalm (Wq 196,8 / H 733,8) [6]; Der 67. Psalm (Wq 196,18 / H 733,18) [6]; Der 86. Psalm (Wq 196,19 / H 733,19) [6]; Der Frühling (Wq 197,14 / H 749,14) [7]; Der Tag des Weltgerichts (Wq 197,13 / H 749,13) [7]; Der Unbeständige (Wq 202/C,1 / H 709) [5]; Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur (Wq 194,18 / H 686,18) [1]; Die Fortdauer der Lehre Jesu (Wq 197,21 / H 749,21) [7]; Die Küsse (Wq 199,4 / H 673) [2]; Die Zufriedenheit in Gott (Wq 195,6 / H 696,6) [3]; Osterlied (Wq 194,10 / H 686,10) [1]; Prüfung am Abend (Wq 194,7 / H 686,7) [1]

Sources: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, [1] Geistliche Oden und Lieder, 1757; [2] Oden mit Melodien, 1762; [3] Zwölf geistliche Oden und Lieder als ein Anhang zu Gellerts geistliche Oden und Lieder, 1764; div, [4] Clavierstücke verschiedener Art, 1765; [5] Unterhaltungen, 1768-70; Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, [6] Psalmen mit Melodien, 1774; [7] Geistliche Gesänge mit Melodien, 1780; [8] Geistliche Gesänge mit Melodien, II, 1781

Songs for voice and keyboard are an important part of today's music scene, and in particular German songs of the 19th century are frequently performed and recorded. The German word Klavierlied is often used for the whole genre.

The songs of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach are an important link in the history of the Klavierlied in Germany. In his time attempts were made to revive the solo song. The first half of the 17th century was its first prime, partly thanks to Martin Oppitz whose Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey led to a reform of German poetry. Towards the end of the century the genre had declined, mainly due to the increasing popularity of the Italian-style solo cantata. In the first decades after the turn of the century composers even looked down at the genre of the solo song. Things started to change in the 1730s. The ideal of music being 'simple' and 'natural' constituted the breeding ground for the solo song - generally called Ode.

The first collections of such songs were criticized for their lack of quality, for instance by Johann Mattheson. The most important collection of solo songs was published in 1741 by Georg Philipp Telemann, the Vier und zwanzig, theils ernsthaften, theils scherzenden, Oden (24 Odes, partly serious, partly playful). He laid down the ideals for such songs: they should have "easy melodies comfortable for almost every throat" and operatic embellishments should be avoided. He used mainly texts by contemporary poets which dealt with subjects like love, wine and nature. Most of them reflect the anacreontic ideals. 'Pleasure' was the goal of life, which meant first and foremost 'a quiet life', free from pain, fear and obsessions.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach represented the next stage in the development of the solo song. He started to compose them when he was still active as a keyboard player at the court of Frederick the Great. These still express the anacreontic ideals. Songs like Belinde, Die Küsse and Das Privilegium fall into this category. The concept of simplicity meant that songs had to be written in such a manner that they could be sung without accompaniment. On this disc Der Unbeständige is performed without the harpsichord.

Soon Bach felt the need to write more serious songs, though, and the largest part of his oeuvre in this department comprises songs of a religious or moralistic character. In these the accompaniments - not in the form of a basso continuo, but written-out keyboard parts - were more sophisticated. They were used to depict the content of a song, and they could even be played as independent pieces, without a voice. The first result of his attempts were the Geistliche Oden und Lieder of 1757, on texts of Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715-1769). From this collection songs like Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur, Betrachtung des Todes and Prüfung am Abend are taken.

Another important collection was published in 1774, when Bach was director of music in Hamburg. It contained settings of the rhymed translations of a number of Psalms by Johann Andreas Cramer (1723-1788), preacher at the court in Copenhagen, and friend of the German poet Friedrich Gottlob Klopstock. Most Psalms are strophic, and that limited the possibilities of depicting the content, which Bach regretted. Some Psalms gave him more freedom, though: Der 8. Psalm opens with two 'choruses', which are followed by three stanzas put into the mouth of 'the prophet', and then the Psalm closes with a repeat of the opening chorus. In Der 67. Psalm every stanza is followed by a chorus, which takes the role of a refrain.

The last two collections appeared in 1780 and 1781, on texts by Christoph Christian Sturm (1740-1786), pastor of St Peter's in Hamburg. From these collections songs like Der Frühling (Spring) - an ode to God's power in nature -, Andenken an den Tod (Thoughts of death) and Der Tag des Weltgerichts (Judgment Day) are selected. In some of them Bach vividly illustrates the text in the keyboard part.

The songs by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach were quite successful, and he arranged several of them for choir and keyboard or orchestra. Today they rarely appear in song recitals. The interest in the German solo song seems to start with Mozart. Bach's songs deserve much more attention. Therefore this disc is to be welcomed, especially as only a small number of pieces are also included in the three main recordings of Bach's songs, all released by CPO (references at the bottom of this review). That said, I am not that impressed by these performances.

The choice of the harpsichord is certainly possible, in particular in the songs from the 1750s, but in the later items a fortepiano would have been more plausible. My main problem is with the vocal interpretation, though. The secular pieces come off best; the two last items are particularly well sung (Die Küsse, Belinde). Many sacred pieces lack depth, and that struck me especially when I made comparison with the CPO recordings. Dorothee Mields and Ludger Rémy are superior in Prüfung am Abend, which according to the composer's indication should be sung slowly. Julian Redlin sings it slowly - although faster than Mields -, but he does too little with the text. On long notes he fails to vary his singing through dynamics or vibrato as an ornament. In general his performances are short on dynamic shading. The text of Andenken an den Tod is much better expressed by Klaus Mertens than by Redlin. In various songs the tempi are too fast, for instance in Die Zufriedenheit in Gott which makes the result rather superficial.

The main interest of this disc is that it brings the solo songs by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to the attention of those who are not familiar with them. It is a pity, though, that the booklet includes the lyrics but omits English translations. It also needs to be noticed - which is not mentioned in the booklet - that a number of songs are not performed complete. This is a bad habit, unfortunately also followed in the CPO recordings. No singer would ever skip stanzas from a Schubert song. Why should songs like these be treated differently?

For further listening these CPO productions are recommendable:
- CPhE Bach: "Sacred Songs after Christoph Christian Sturm" - Klaus Mertens, Ludger Rémy (999 708-2)
- CPhE Bach: "Lieder & Oden" - Klaus Mertens, Ludger Rémy (999 549-2)
- CPhE Bach: "Herrn Professor Gellerts Geistliche Oden und Lieder" - Dorothee Mields, Ludger Rémy (777 061-2)

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Julian Redlin

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