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Johann Peter KELLNER (1705 - 1772): "Sacred Cantatas"

Anna Kellnhofer, sopranoa; Christoph Dittmar, altob; Mirko Ludwig, tenorc; Ralf Grobe, bassd
Cantus Thuringia; Capella Thuringa
Dir: Bernhard Klapprott

rec: Sept 27 - 29, 2015, Gräfenroda, St. Laurentius
CPO - 555 159-2 (© 2017) (72'07")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ach, daß du den Himmel zerrissestabcd; All unser Schuld vergib uns, Herrabcd; Ehre sei Gott in der Höheabcd; Es bleibet wohl dabeiabcd; Lass es Jesu dich erbarmenabcd; Lasset uns mit Jesu ziehenacd; Lobt ihn mit Herz und Mundeabcd

[CanT, ripienists] Judith Devise, soprano; Stefan Kunath, alto; Benjamin Glaubitz, tenor; Carsten Krüger, bass
[CapT] Amanda Markwick, Teddie Hwang, transverse flute; Russell Gilmour, Thomas Friedlaender, trumpet; Nadja Zwiener, Gundula Mantu, Cosima Taubert, Irina Kisselova, Rahel Mai, Kristina Gerlach, violin; Andreas Pilger, Johannes Platz, viola; Olaf Reimers, cello; Marthe Perl, violone; Bernhard Klapprott (solo), Mikhail Yarzhembovskiy, organ; Ingo Wernsdorf, timpani

The present disc is probably the first ever that is entirely devoted to Johann Peter Kellner. He is almost exclusively known for his organ works, and even more for the many organ compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, which he and people from his circle - among them his pupils - collected. In many cases we owe to him the earliest versions of Bach's organ works, which is helpful in establishing the chronology of those pieces, their authenticity and Bach's development as a composer. However, this disc shows that he was also a good composer in his own right, in this case of vocal works.

Kellner was born in Gräfenroda, a small town in southern Thuringia. He received his education in organ playing and composition from several musicians in the region. His first position was that of school caretaker and organist in Frankenhain, and from 1727 until his death he worked in his birthplace as school caretaker, music director and organist at St Lawrence's Church. It seems that early in his career he came into contact with the Bach family, probably through Johann Bernhard, who was organist in Ohrdruf.

According to Johann Ludwig Gerber, in his lexicon of 1790, Kellner was "a very accomplished player and a great fuguist on the organ". He earned himself a reputation as an organ virtuoso and an expert in the field of Bach's organ music. Among his pupils were organists who were also to play an important role in the dissemination of Bach's music, such as Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Ernst Rembt and possibly also Johann Nikolaus Forkel. Kellner was well aware of the musical developments in his time and followed them closely. In his pedagogical activities he made use of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen shortly after its publication. We know that from the autobiography of his son, Johann Christoph, who developed into one of the main organists of his generation, but also composed a number of cantatas.

And that brings us to the subject of the present disc. Quite a large number of cantatas have been preserved either without the name of the composer or simply with the name 'Kellner', but mostly it is not known for sure whether they are from the pen of Johann Peter or from that of his son. Only in two cases do the copies mention Johann Peter as the composer: Es bleibet wohl dabei and Ach, daß du den Himmel zerrissest. A lot of research has been carried out, stimulated by the Johann Peter Kellner Society. A major role in the assessment of Kellner's output is played by Peter Harder, who wrote a book on the attribution of the cantatas (2012) and is also the author of the liner-notes to this production. The cantatas have been divided into three annual cycles. First, the cycle called organo obbligato, a series of cantatas, some of which include an obbligato organ part, and which are from the pen of Johann Peter; the texts were written by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (the composer of Bist du bei mir). The second cycle is called the Schüler-Jahrgang (the pupil's cycle); these cantatas were written by either Johann Peter or Johann Christoph. In some cases the son may have made the first draft of the cantata, which was then corrected by his father. This cycle also includes some cantatas with an obbligato organ part. The third cycle comprises only cantatas by Johann Christoph.

Most of the cantatas have largely the same structure. They open with a chorus, then there follow a recitative and an aria or a duet, and the cantatas close with a chorale. In the cantatas included here only two are slightly different. Es bleibet wohl dabei ends with a chorus rather than a chorale, and it is preceded by another recitative. In Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe the chorale is followed by a repeat of the opening chorus.

A couple of notable features need to be mentioned. Most of the cantatas open with the first line of the chorus being sung by a solo voice or four voices, either a capella or with a slight accompaniment. This works as a kind of motto. Then the tutti enter. It seems that Kellner started to compose cantatas after 1750, and this explains why they are largely homophonic. They include only a few polyphonic episodes. In the duets the two voices often sing in parallel motion. These also include obbligato instrumental parts. Most noticeable are those for organ. These were obviously intended to be played by Kellner. It is most interesting that in this recording Bernhard Klapprott plays them on the Kellner-Weise organ of 1736 in St Lawrence's Church in Gräfenroda, which was played by the composer himself. Four of the cantatas include an obbligato organ part. The tenor aria from Ach, daß du den Himmel zerrissest has an obbligato part for the transverse flute. In the duet in Lasset uns mit Jesu ziehen the soprano and the tenor are accompanied by transverse flute, violin and bc. In the A section the violin sometimes imitates the flute, which illustrates the text: "If you want to be called a disciple of Jesus, then take his cross and follow him". In two cantatas the scoring includes parts for two trumpets and timpani: Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe, a cantata for the first day of Christmas, and Es bleibet wohl dabei, a wedding cantata. The recitatives are either secco or accompanied, and always for one to four voices, which sing in alternation or together in different combinations. The chorales are of the kind which Bach also used: a simple harmonization. In some cantatas the chorale is missing or is incomplete. In the latter case Klapprott has made a reconstruction, and in the former case he and Peter Harder have made a reconstruction on the basis of a collection of chorale harmonizations of 1715.

This disc offers the first opportunity to hear Kellner's cantatas. I am quite impressed by the quality, and I consider them major additions to the cantata repertoire. A couple of arias are especially noteworthy. One of them is the long aria for tenor from Ach, daß du den Himmel zerrissest which is technically demanding. It includes virtuosic coloratura and some high notes, which ask for a flexible voice. Mirko Ludwig delivers a most impressive performance. I also would like to mention the way Kellner emphasizes the word "Ach" in the opening chorus. A further example of text expression is the tenor aria from Lass es Jesu dich erbarmen. "So I too lament with fear and trembling, when under the cross's raging storms my Jesus seems to sleep so soundly". The trembling is illustrated by repeated notes and chords in the strings, imitating a tremolo, and the aria is dominated by descending figures and Seufzer.

These cantatas are quite original and I hope that more from Kellner's vocal oeuvre will be recorded. The performances make a very good and convincing case for his cantatas. It is not Mirko Ludwig alone who delivers fine performances; all the singers are outstanding, especially Anna Kellnhofer, whose clear and flexible voice is perfectly suited to this repertoire. The instrumental parts leave nothing to be desired. The historical organ, excellently played by Klapprott, lends this recording a good deal of authenticity.

If you like German sacred music of the 18th century, this is a disc you should not miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Cantus & Capella Thuringia

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