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"Jauchze du Tochter Zion - Christmas Cantatas"

Hanna Herfurtner, sopranoa; Carola Günther, contraltob; Georg Poplutz, tenorc; Raimonds Spogis, bassd
Kölner Akademie
Dir: Michael Alexander Willens

rec: Jan 8 - 10, 2016, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
CPO - 555 052-2 (© 2016) (67'40")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Christoph FÖRSTER (1693-1745): Ehre sei Gott in der Höheabcd; Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785): Erhöhet die Tore der Welt (HoWV II.226)ac; Johann Heinrich ROLLE (1716-1785): Jauchze, du Tochter Zion; Siehe, Finsternis bedecket das Erdenreichbc; Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (1690-1749): Kündlich groß ist das gottselige Geheimnisab

[ripienists] Bethany Seymour, soprano; Pauline Schulenberg, contralto; Henning Kaiser, Sören Richter, tenor; Andrey Akhmetov, bass

One of the interesting recent developments in the performance and recording of German sacred music of the 18th century is that Johann Sebastian Bach not longer completely overshadows his contemporaries. Cantatas by Telemann, Graupner and Fasch receive more attention, and even those written by composers of the next generation are not longer considered products of a period of decay. The present disc bears witness to that. It includes two cantatas by contemporaries of Bach, who are relatively little known, and three by two of the main representatives of the generation of his sons.

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel has become relatively well-known, since it was discovered that Bist du bei mir, the famous song from the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach, is not from Bach's pen, but taken from Stölzel's (lost) opera Diomedes. Bach obviously appreciated him as a composer; he included another piece in the Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Stölzel was a prolific composer of music for the stage, oratorios, sacred and secular cantatas as well as instrumental music, but the largest part of his oeuvre has been lost. Only a few sacred cantatas have come down to us complete. Kündlich groß ist das gottselige Geheimnis is a short cantata for the third day of Christmas, scored for four voices, oboe, strings and bc, which lends it a rather intimate character. It opens with a chorus on a dictum from 1 Timothy 3; the second section is fugal. Next is a short dacapo aria for soprano, with obbligato parts for oboe and violin. After the fifth stanza from Luther's hymn Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ the alto has a very short aria - here less than one minute - with an accompaniment of two violins; the basso continuo is omitted. The cantata closes with the fourth stanza of the hymn Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter.

A contemporary of Stölzel is Christoph Förster, who is an almost unknown quantity; only some of his concertos have made it to disc. From 1717 to 1738 he worked at the court of Merseburg. He wrote some stage works which are lost. His instrumental oeuvre comprises overtures in the French style and concertos in which he follows Italian models. It is notable that a complete cycle of 22 sacred cantatas was once owned by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. That is an indication that he was held in high esteem by Bach's son; one wonders whether this cycle may have been used by his father in Leipzig. Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe focuses on the appearance of the angels to the shepherds in the night Jesus was born. The instrumental scoring appropriately includes parts for trumpets and timpani. They come into action in the opening chorus, which is a setting of the chorus of angels from Luke 2 (vs 14). After an accompanied recitative for four voices we hear the only aria of this cantata, scored for soprano with an obbligato part for transverse flute. This aria includes quite some coloratura. After a short accompanied recitative the cantata closes with the sixth stanza of the hymn Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich.

Gottfried August Homilius was considered the best composer of sacred music in Germany in his time. In recent years he has been rediscovered, and a considerable number of his compositions are now available in reliable editions and on disc. Erhöhet die Tore der Welt is a cantata for the first Advent. The scoring includes three trumpets and timpani. The opening chorus consists of two sections and is notable for its dotted rhythms. This cantata also has just one aria, again for soprano, with pairs of oboes and horns in the orchestra. The cantata ends with the third stanza of the hymn Herr Gott, dich loben wir.

Another prominent composer of the generation of the Bach sons was Johann Heinrich Rolle. In 1737 he went to Leipzig to study law and it is assumed that at this time he participated in performances of Bach's Collegium Musicum. By 1741 he entered the court orchestra of Frederick the Great in Berlin as a violinist. He left Berlin for Magdeburg in 1746 as he had been appointed organist of St John's, the town's principal church. In 1751 his father died and he succeeded him as Kantor of the Old Town Latin School; he held this position until his death. It is also in this capacity that he composed most of his sacred works, among them many cantatas and motets. Two of the former are included here. Siehe, Finsternis bedecket das Erdreich is a cantata for Christmas, which starts with a chorus on a text from the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, darkness covers the earth and gloom the peoples, but the Lord goes up over you, and his glory appears over you" (ch 60, vs 2). The opposition between darkness and light is eloquently illustrated here: the first part is dominated by descending chromatic figures; the strings play in low positions. In the second part Rolle switches from d minor to D major; the joy of the entrance of light is illustrated by rising figures and the participation of trumpets and timpani. The subject of this opening chorus dominates the whole cantata. The two arias, for tenor and alto respectively, are of considerable length and include candenzas; the influence of contemporary opera is unmistakeable. The alto aria includes a marked contrast between the A and B sections. The cantata ends with the third stanza of the hymn Ich steh' an deiner Krippen hier.

Jauchze, du Tochter Zion opens again with a dictum. This time the text is taken from the prophet Zephania (ch 3, vs 14): "Jubilate, you daughter of Zion, shout, Israel; rejoice and be glad with all your heart, you daughter of Jerusalem". It has the same structure as the other cantata. Notable is that the recitative which follows the opening chorus, is scored for three voices (ATB). The first aria is for tenor, with two obbligato parts for transverse flutes. It is in two sections, but the first is not repeated. This aria is about the Kingdom of Heaven, which has come near, and about the Word becoming flesh. The second aria is for alto; in the orchestra the strings are joined by two corni da caccia. Here the forgiveness of sins and the care and peace Jesus brings are highlighted. The cantata ends with the sixth stanza of the hymn Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her.

This disc delivers a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the cantata repertoire in 18th-century Germany. There is more than Bach: the increased interest in the likes of Telemann, Graupner and Fasch has shown that there is still a rich repertoire to be rediscovered. It is time that the generation of the sons of Bach is also taken seriously, not only in the realm of instrumental music, but also in the vocal department. From this angle this disc deserves an unreserved welcome. That is a little different in regard to the performances. The main solo parts are sung by soprano, alto and tenor; the bass only participates in the recitatives. Georg Poplutz is the most convincing of the three. Unfortunately Carola Günther and in particular Hanna Herfurtner use too much vibrato. That damages their solos, but also the tutti, because the choruses and chorales are sung by the soloists (except Poplutz) and single ripienists. The instrumental part of this disc leaves nothing to be desired.

It is a shame that so many of the booklets of CPO are badly edited. The track-list gives Johann Heinrich as the first names of Stölzel. Gottfried August Homilius is just Gottfried, and the year of his birth is wrong (1714 instead of 1715). The liner-notes refer to an aria as being scored for tenor, whereas it is for alto. In particular Förster's cantata has fallen victim to this sloppiness: a part of the first recitative (track 17) is omitted, and the text of the next recitative (track 19) is entirely different from what is actually sung. The first recitative of Rolle's Jauchze, du Tochter Zion (track 22) has been completely mixed up.

Despite some reservations this disc is well worth being investigated by those who have a special interest in baroque sacred music, and those who like to extend their collection of music for Christmastide.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Carola Günther
Hanna Herfurtner
Georg Poplutz
Kölner Akademie

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