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Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649 - 1725): "Musicalischer Seelen-Friede - Sacred Concertos"

Klaus Mertens, bass
Hamburger Ratsmusik

rec: Nov 3 - 6, 2015, Heilsbronn, Klosterkirche (Refektorium)
CPO - 555 037-2 (© 2018) (67'04")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/[D]
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ach Herr, wie ist meiner Feinde soviel; Fortunae ne crede; Herr, warum trittest du so ferne; Meine Seele harret nur auf Gott; Rühmet den Herrn; Sonata à 4

Source: Musicalischer Seelen-Friede, 1697

Christoph Heidemann, Gabriele Steinfeld, violin; Simone Eckert, viola da gamba; Christian Walter, bassoon; Ulrich Wedemeier, theorbo; Sebastian Knebel, bassoon

The composers who were the link between the 17th century and the 18th in Germany have not received the same attention. Dieterich Buxtehude is the most famous of them. However, for a long time he was almost exclusively known for his organ works. Only fairly recently his vocal output has been given the attention it deserves. Another one was Johann Kuhnau, Bach's predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. A few years ago the German label CPO started an ambitious project: the recording of Kuhnau's complete output. Ambitious indeed, as he has left a sizeable oeuvre. The latter also goes for Johann Philipp Krieger: thanks to the fact that he painstakingly noted the cantatas he composed, we know that their number is around 2,150 pieces. Unfortunately, most of them have been lost: his extant oeuvre includes only around 80 cantatas. It is regrettable and, considering their quality and historical importance, hard to understand that so few of them are available on disc. Therefore the present recording of five cantatas is of great importance.

Krieger was born in Nuremberg; he was the elder brother of Johann Krieger. He was educated at the keyboard and at an early age he already showed extraordinary skills. As a teenager he went to Copenhagen to study with Caspar Förster. After his return he entered the service of Margrave Christian Ernst of Bayreuth. When the latter became involved in the war against France, Krieger was allowed to travel to Italy. There he studied with Johann Rosenmüller in Venice and later went to Rome to study with Bernardo Pasquini. After his return he went to Vienna and played for Emperor Leopold I, who ennobled him. In 1677 he was appointed organist in Halle at the court of Duke August of Saxony-Weissenfels. When the latter died in 1680, he was appointed Hofkapellmeister by his successor, Johann Adolph I. The new Duke rated music even more highly than his predecessor, and that was reflected by a new order of worship which was introduced in 1684.

In 1697 Johann Adolph I died, which Krieger experienced as a personal loss. That same year he published Musicalischer Seelen-Friede, comprising twenty sacred concertos, mostly on texts from the Book of Psalms in German and in Latin. These were the pieces which Johann Adolph very much appreciated, and Krieger dedicated the collection to the deceased Duke. The scoring is for solo voice - high (S/T) and low (A/B) respectively - and basso continuo, with two violins either obbligato or ad libitum, which largely follow the vocal line. This allowed for performances by different ensembles, which was commercially profitable. The same goes for the fact that these concertos are not connected to a specific time of the ecclesiastical year.

These pieces are in the tradition of the German sacred concerto, which was through-composed. Interestingly these settings include passages of a more declamatory character. They can be considered the forerunners of the recitatives, which were to become such an important part of the German cantata in the first half of the 18th century. As one may expect in German sacred music, these pieces include various specimens of text expression.

The programme opens with Rühmet den Herrn, a setting of Psalm 22: "Praise the Lord, all who fear him". There is no instrumental introduction: the soloist opens the proceedings. "All those who are fat on earth" is allocated to the low register of the voice. The piece ends with a coloratura setting of the "Halleluja". Next follows Ach Herr, wie ist meiner Feinde soviel. This is a setting of Psalm 3: "Ah Lord, how many enemies I do have". Krieger creates a strong contrast in the fifth verse: "I lie and sleep and awake, for the Lord keeps me". The opening is slow and in the low register of the voice, whereas the word "erwache" (awake) is highlighted through a lively rhythm and coloratura. Psalm 10 is the text of Herr, warum trittest du so ferne - Lord, why do you step so far away. It is one of the most expressive pieces on this disc. On "The poor man must suffer" the voice goes to the lower part of its register. This is part of a recitative-like episode; it is followed by a more lyrical 'aria', where several words are set to chains of coloratura. When the text says: "He [the godless man] says in his heart", Krieger turns to the form of a recitative again. There is something sinister in the way he has set some phrases in the next verses: "He sits and lies in wait in the villages", "He lies hidden in wait like a lion in his den".

Meine Seele harret nur auf Gott is a setting of Psalm 62: "My soul waits for God alone". It comprises four stanzas, which are embraced by the opening line and its repetition, taking relatively most of the time of this piece. Fortuna ne crede is one of six pieces with a Latin text in this collection. It is not a setting of a biblical text; unfortunately the booklet does not indicate who wrote it. The strophic text is of a moral rather than biblical character, and seems not fit for liturgical use. It opens with the line: "Don't trust fortune. Leda is dishonest; she loves and hates, defends and betrays at a quick pace. Don't trust fortune". This is used as a refrain, following each of the stanzas. Leda refers to a figure from Greek mythology, the Aetolian princess who became queen of Sparta and the subject of the story known as 'Leda and the swan'. Only in the last stanza the concerto turns sacred: "Away, you vanities! The victory is mine! My desire is to die for love, for I'm a citizen in Jesus' realm. I'll triumph and love Christ, my chamber's bridegroom". This image connects this piece to the world of German pietism.

In 2013 Carus released a recording of four pieces from this same collection, performed by Dorothee Mields and Hamburger Ratsmusik. The latter played also three sonatas from a set of twelve sonatas of 1693. Here Klaus Mertens sings five concertos for a low voice. He is a seasoned interpreter of German baroque repertoire, and that results in ideal performances. His diction is immaculate, as always, and this guarantees that the text is perfectly intelligible, even without looking at the lyrics in the booklet. No element of text expression is lost on him. Hamburger Ratsmusik is the perfect partner, and adds a sonata that has come down to us in manuscript.

This disc bears witness to the importance and the musical quality of Johann Philipp Krieger's oeuvre. It deserves to be thoroughly explored.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Klaus Mertens
Hamburger Ratsmusik

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