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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788): "Bürgercapitainsmusik 1780"

Hanna Zumsande, sopranob; Agata Bienkowskaa, Geneviève Tschumib, mezzo-soprano; Alon Harari, altoa; Mirko Ludwig, Julian Rohdeb, tenor; Ralf Grobe, Rainer Meseckeb, bass
barockwerk hamburg
Dir: Ira Hochman

rec: August 2014, Hamburg, Stellinger Kirche
CPO - 555 016-2 (© 2016) (62'57")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Oratorium und Serenate zur Feier des Ehrenmals der Herren Bürger-Capitains 1780 (Wq deest / H 822) (Hebt an, ihr Chöre der Freuden, Oratorio; Wq deest / H 822aa; Der Trommeln Schlag, der Pfeifen Spiel, Serenata; Wq deest / H 822bb)

[chorus] Santa Bulatova, Hanna Zumsande, soprano; Geneviève Tschumi, Agata Bienkowska, mezzo-soprano; Alon Harari, alto; Mirko Ludwig, Julian Rohde, tenor; Ralf Grobe, Rainer Mesecke, bass
[bh] Moritz Görg, Tibor Mészáros, trumpet; Idan Levi, fife, transverse flute; Polina Gorshkova, transverse flute; Anabel Röser, Christiane Ascheberg, oboe; Juliane Grepling, Jonas Finke, horn; Steffen Voss, bassoon; Maja Hunziker, Rupert Dintinger, Christine Schwarz, Katrin Ebert, Galina Roreck, violin; Rafael Roth, viola; Sven Holger Philippsen, Felix Görg, cello; Bernd von Ostrowski, violone; Alon Sariel, calichon; Olga Chumikova, harpsichord, organ; Frithjof Koch, timpani, drum

From 1721 until his death in 1767 Georg Philipp Telemann was director musices in Hamburg. Part of his duty was the composition of liturgical music for the five main churches, but also of music for political events. One of the most important of these was the festive banquet which took place every year in honour of the Captains of the civic guard. For such occasions Telemann composed his Kapitänsmusiken.

In the Middle Ages Hamburg had become an economically important city, especially since it joined the Hanseatic League. Its economic position resulted in many political conflicts, though, in particular with Denmark, with which it was in almost constant rivalry. Another effect was that Hamburg had been declared an imperial city in 1510. Because of this the city couldn't count on the protection provided by the imperial army and had to organise its own defence. The city founded a civic guard for defence from attacks from outside as well as for deployment in the fighting of natural catastrophes. Since 1619 it was a permanent institution.

The armed citizens were divided into companies and regiments according to the city's parishes. Since 1680 Hamburg was divided in five parishes. Consequently the civic guard consisted of five regiments, divided in 57 companies. In Telemann's time the city had more than 10,000 armed men in the civic guards. Each company was led by a Captain (Kapitän), and the Captains were elected by an electoral college which consisted of the colonel, the lieutenant colonel and the other captains of a particular regiment. As a permanently constituted college they formed a highly regarded institution in the city and were entrusted with various communal duties.

By way of thanks for their service to the community the city offered a festive banquet which was held almost every year on the Thursday after St Bartholomew's Day (24 August). It is at this occasion that a Kapitänsmusik was performed. Originally it consisted of just one part, being performed after the first course of the meal. In 1719 for the first time a composition was performed which was divided into an oratorio and a serenata. It is not quite known, when the two parts were performed. It is assumed the serenata was meant as 'table music'.

Although during Telemann's time in Hamburg the festive banquet took place 36 times, only nine of his Kapitänsmusiken have survived. After his death in 1767 his position was taken by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. His oeuvre includes only two such compositions, written for the celebrations of 1780 and 1783 respectively. The reason is not that other compositions have been lost, but that for several years only instrumental music was performed or no music at all. The Kapitänsmusik of 1783 has survived incomplete: the music of the oratorio has been lost.

In both cases the libretto was written by Christian Wilhelm Alers, who was a pupil of Telemann and wrote the libretto of Der Tag des Gerichts, Telemann's Singgedicht of 1762. In both the oratorio and the serenata the vocal parts are allocated to allegorical figures. The key figure in the oratorio is Hammona, who personifies the city of Hamburg. The other characters are Philanthropy (Menschenliebe), Patriotism (Der Patriotismus) and Gratitude (Die Dankbarkeit). The oratorio opens with a chorus of Virtues and Patriots in praise of God, as it is due to his grace, that Hamburg belongs among the first rank of Germany's cities. They are joined by Hammona. Gratitude warns against ingratitude as the evil demon of our times. Patriotism does not share this concern, because the individual citizen, out of gratitude to the city, is even ready to risk his life. Philanthropy joins the others as Hammona's friend and warns against her opponents: greed, gaming, and luxury. In their shared happiness Philanthropy and Hammona go on to remember their fellow human beings who suffer from war, while depicting the atrocities and horrors of war as a contrast to the sheltered world of the city of Hamburg, which has long remained unscathed. Patriotism and the Patriots agree, and all join together to thank the 'God of might, Hamburg's God'.

In the serenata we meet seven characters, which belong to opposing sides. One the one hand the virtues Joy (Die Freude), Honesty (Die Redlichkeit), Unity (Die Eintracht) and Patriotism (Die Vaterlandsliebe), on the other hand Hamburg's enemies Deceit (Die Arglist), Envy (Der Neid) and Revolt (Der Aufruhr). This part again opens with a chorus of Patriots: "The beat of the drums, the tune of the pipes awake in us the joyful feeling of mirth". They are joined by Joy and the Virtues. Then Deceit urges her accomplices to follow her in her attempts to spoil the party. They try to convince Patriotism that they want to "attend the happy banquets of contented citizens". Patriotism doesn't fall for her nice talk; she urges them "to get out of here - and fast!". When they withdraw, the serenata ends with a chorus: "Crown the festive cup at the patriots' banquet!"

The oratorio and the serenata both include some dramatic elements: in the former the long recitative - partly accompanied - and ensuing duet of Hammona and Philanthropy in which they depict the atrocities and horrors of war, in the serenata the recitative and aria of Revolt, who refers to the Gordon Riots of 1780 in London. The arias are mostly moderate in length - some recitatives are longer. There is a clear difference in style between the oratorio and the serenata. The latter has some folkloristic elements; especially the opening and closing choruses remind me of Haydn's oratorio Die Jahreszeiten through the dancing rhythms and the use of percussion. The arias are nice, but overall less brilliant than those in Telemann's Kapitänsmusiken, which could be explained by the fact that Telemann was one of the main opera composers of his time and Bach's main interest was in the field of instrumental music.

The oratorio has been recorded before: in 2014 deutsche harmonia mundi released a live recording under the direction of Michael Schneider. There the oratorio by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was combined with a serenata by Telemann. I found that rather unsatisfying, and I was not entirely happy with the performance either. In this new recording we have the benefit of being offered the complete music by Bach. Unfortunately the two recordings share the weak spot: the performance of the role of Hammona. Both Kateryna Kasper (Schneider) and Agata Bienkowska use too much vibrato, which rather spoils this part. The latter is able to reduce it in her duets; then why doesn't she do the same in her solos? Often the text is also not easy to understand. Alon Harari is a male alto, but sounds like a female contralto; he is not free of vibrato either, although it is less pronounced and therefore not as bothersome. Hanna Zumsande sings the role of Joy in the serenata, and does so very well. Mirko Ludwig and Ralf Grobe do fine jobs in their respective parts. I am not so impressed by Julian Rohde's attempts to depict the meanness of Envy by colouring his voice, which seems a bit exaggerated. The choruses - sung by soloists and ripienists - come off very well, and the orchestra is excellent.

Despite my reservations this is a major addition to the discography and colours a white spot on the map of Carl Philipp Emanuel's activities as a composer.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Ralf Grobe
Mirko Ludwig
Hanna Zumsande
barockwerk hamburg

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