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Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (1690 - 1749): Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld

Veronika Winter, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, alto; Markus Brutscher, tenor; Martin Schicketanz, bass
Rheinische Kantorei; Das Kleine Konzert
Dir: Hermann Max

rec: June 14 & 15, 2019 (live), Leipzig, Thomaskirche
CPO - 555 311-2 (2 CDs) (© 2021) (1.50'28")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Kerstin Dietl, Katia Plaschka, Bethany Seymour, soprano; Anne Hartmann, Gudrun Köllner, contralto; Edzard Burchards, alto; Martin Fehr, Michael Schaffrath, Florian Schmitt, tenor; Simon Borutzki, Carsten Krüger, Paul David Lüschen, bass
Antje Sehnert, recorder; Simon Böckendorf, oboe; Rebecca Mertens, bassoon; Christoph Heidemann, Marika Apro-Klos, Bettina von Dombois, Almut Schlicker, Cosima Taubert, Christine Moran, Christine Trinks, Ulrike Teille, violin; Aino Hildebrandt, Uta Wise, viola; Christoph Harer, Johannes Berger, cello; Claas Harders, viola da gamba; Christopher Scotney, double bass; Carsten Lohff, organ

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel was one of the main composers in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. The theorist Johann Mattheson ranked him among the "learned and great masters" of his time. In 1739 he was elected a member of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Societät der Musikalischen Wissenschaften. Mizler even placed him above Bach in his list of leading German composers. The latter included the aria Bist du bei mir from one of Stölzel's operas in the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach.

Stölzel received his first musical education from his father. He went to Leipzig University, but soon started to participate in the performances of the Collegium Musicum that had been founded by Georg Philipp Telemann. At that time Melchior Hofmann directed the ensemble, and under his name the first of Stölzel's compositions were performed. In 1710 he moved to Breslau, where he continued to compose and wrote his first opera. He then worked for some time in Halle. At the end of 1713 he travelled to Italy, where he came into contact with some of the leading composers of the time, such as Alessandro Marcello, Vivaldi and Gasparini in Venice, and Antonio Bononcini and Domenico Scarlatti in Rome.

After his return Stölzel was staying in Prague. When the post of Kapellmeister at the court of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen became vacant in 1715, he presented himself as a candidate for the job. However, he didn't succeed: Prince Christian Wilhelm I elected Johann Balthasar Freislich, a decision which wasn't generally applauded by musicians and music lovers in Sondershausen. In 1718 he took the position of Kapellmeister at the court at Gera, and moved to Saxe-Gotha in 1720, where he held the same position until his death. In that same year Prince Günther I succeeded his father in Sondershausen. He was an intellectual and a great lover of music and the arts, and as soon as he became acquainted with Stölzel's compositions he very much regretted that Stölzel had not been appointed in 1715. As an alternative he asked him to compose a number of cycles of sacred cantatas, Passions and Te Deums as well as compositions for special occasions. Stölzel did so, but only after Freisling had given up his job as Kapellmeister to become the director of the opera at Danzig in 1731. It was mainly due to a strong admirer of Stölzel's in Sondershausen, Johann Christoph Rödiger, who was an alto singer and violinist at the court, and had sung as a treble under Stölzel in Gotha that Prince Günther got to know Stölzel's compositions, and his cantatas were performed in the 1730s. He also copied most of Stölzel's compositions for performances at Sondershausen for about 10 years.

It is this situation which has been a blessing for musicologists and musicians of today. Whereas most of the compositions which were only performed in Gotha have been lost, mainly thanks to his successor as Kapellmeister, Georg Benda, most of those pieces which were written for and performed in Sondershausen have come down to us, and this collection is the largest with music by Stölzel. It includes 339 sacred cantatas, 2 Passions, one setting of the Te Deum, and 10 secular cantatas.

One of the Passions is the subject of the recording under review here. Die leidende und am Creutz sterbende Liebe Jesu, which is better known by the first line of the opening chorale, Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld, dates from 1720 and was one of the first works Stölzel composed in Gotha. He wrote the text himself. On Good Friday, 23 April 1734, Johann Sebastian Bach performed this oratorio in Leipzig. The libretto for this performance was given the title Der gläubigen Seele geistliche Betrachtungen ihres leidenden Jesus (The spiritual reflections of the faithful soul on its suffering Jesus). That is a good characterisation of the nature of this work.

Although this oratorio is ranked among the Passion oratorios, it is different from the standard. The best-known example of a Passion oratorio was what is generally known as the Brockes Passion, whose text was written by Barthold Heinrich Brockes. Several of the leading composers of Stölzel's time set this text, such as Mattheson, Telemann, Handel and Reinhard Keiser. Stölzel himself also set this text. In the libretto the biblical text is paraphrased, and the arias are put into the mouth of biblical (Peter, Judas, Jesus) or allegorical (Daughter of Zion) characters. In contrast, the leading role in Stölzel's oratorio is the Evangelist, which is alternately sung by a tenor and a bass. He acts as a real storyteller, who describes the events as if he himself has witnessed them; Stölzel makes use here of the praesens historicum (the historic present). The narrative - a paraphrase of the biblical texts - has the form of a secco recitative. Each of them is followed by an accompanied recitative and an aria, which is put into the mouth of a Faithful Soul; this part is allocated to each of the four soloists. The aria is then followed by a chorale, sung by the Christian Church. Because of this structure, the work is a kind of sequence of scenes, each of which represents an episode of the story.

Leipzig was not the only town where Stölzel's oratorio was performed. Performances in Sondershausen, Rudolstadt and Nuremberg are documented. It was pretty common at the time to adapt a work to local circumstances. That also happened with Stölzel's Passion oratorio. This explains why it has been preserved in two different versions. In 2019 Glossa released a recording of the version that is kept in the Berlin State Library, which is much shorter, as the part of the Evangelist is almost entirely omitted and about a third of all the recitatives and arias has been deleted. I appreciated the performance, but expressed the wish that the original version, which is kept in the Sondershausen City Library, would be recorded at some time. Exactly that version is presented here. Hermann Max put together a score from the parts that are preserved in Sondershausen. Whereas in the Berlin version, the oratorio is split into two parts, the Sondershausen version comprises four partes. The latter is not only longer, there are also differences in the scoring. There is no horn as in the Berlin version, and instead of two recorders and two oboes, there is just one of each. The orchestra also includes a viola da gamba, which is not part of the score of the Berlin version.

Even more than the latter, this version is an impressive testimony of Stölzel's compositional skills. One of the highlights is the very first aria, for tenor, with an obbligato part for oboe, and the strings playing pizzicato: 'Ach, wo nehm ich Tränen her' - "Alas, where shall I find the tears to bewail my sins?" It is given an incisive performance by Markus Brutscher. Another very fine aria is 'Allerhöchster Gottessohn' ("Supreme Son of God, you are the throne of mercy that grants me God's grace"), another one with an obbligato oboe part, and this time for bass, excellently performed by Martin Schicketanz. 'Haltet ein, ihr Mörderklauen' is an operatic rage aria: "Desist, ye murderous claws, and spare my Jesus! Am I to behold the angels' delight and the succour of my heart covered with wounds?" Its belligerent character is fully explored by Franz Vitzthum, accompanied by strings and basso continuo, with the oboe playing colla parte. The next aria is for soprano, 'Ach! welch ein Mensch bin ich', in which the recorder has an obbligato part. Veronika Winter is at her sensitive best here. Pars III opens with a recitative, which is followed by an aria for tenor, accompanied by oboe, violin, bassoon and basso continuo. Arguably the most impressive and expressive aria is the one for soprano in this same section, 'Ich finde mich beizeit': "I find myself in good time with faith, remorse and sorrow at your side, my Saviour. That which you did for me, if I take possession of it, shall surely make me blessed." That is also due to the obbligato part for the viola da gamba. Veronika Winter and gambist Claas Harders deliver a wonderful performance. This aria is one of those that has been omitted in the Berlin version. Pars IV is the shortest; it includes a highly expressive chorus, 'Mein Jesus stirbt' - "My Jesus has died". The pain and misery which the text refers to, comes perfectly off. The whole ensemble plays staccato from start to finish. The work ends with an accompanied recitative and a chorale. In the recitative the Faithful Soul - here the tenor - urges mankind to come with him and go with him to Jesus's body: "Come, give him the last goodnight, come, kiss his bleeding wounds". Whereas in the Berlin version the oboe plays the melody of the chorale O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid, here it is the soprano, who sings the first and seventh stanzas of this hymn, which makes this episode all the more dramatic. The work then ends with the eighth stanza of the same hymn: "O Jesus blest, my help and rest, with tears I now entreat thee: make me love thee to the last, till in heav'n I greet thee!"

We can only be very thankful for this recording, not only because this version has much to offer that is absent in the Berlin version, but also because the performance is so good. There is really no weak spot as far as the performances of soloists, choir and orchestra are concerned. The only issue is that it is a live performance, and acoustically not entirely satisfying. Markus Brutscher has a stronger presence than Franz Vitzthum, and that seems not entirely due to the difference of voices. I would prefer a studio recording. However, it is a minor point. This is a great performance of a brilliant work, that deserves a place among the standard repertoire for Passiontide. It is to be hoped that this version will become available in a printed edition.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Markus Brutscher
Martin Schicketanz
Franz Vitzthum
Rheinische Kantorei & Das Kleine Konzert

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