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"Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich - Baroque Bass Cantatas"

Klaus Mertens, bass-baritone
Accademia Daniel
Dir: Shalev Ad-El

rec: June 4 - 6, 2007, Polditz, Ev-Luth. Kirche Altleisnig
CPO - 777 298-2 (© 2009) (75'42")

Johann Gottfried DONATI (1706-1782): Mein Hertzens=Hauß bereite dich, cantata for Pentecost; ? HOFFMANN (?-?): Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich, cantata for Christmas; Emanuel KEGEL (1655-1724): Nichts ist süßer als die Liebe, cantata for the 19th Sunday after Trinity; Johann Theodor ROEMHILDT (1684-1756): Es geht kein andrer Weg zum Himmel, cantata for the 21st Sunday after Trinity; Meine Sonne stehet stille, cantata for Sunday Estomihi; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) (attr): Kaum ist der Heÿland auf der Erden, cantata for the Sunday after New Year; Christian WOLFF (1705-1773): Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, cantata for Purification

Benni Aghassi, recorder, bassoon; Xenia Löffler, oboe; Walter Reiter, Daphna Ravid, violin; Shlomit Sivan, viola; Thomas Fritsch, cello; Claus-Peter Nebelung, double bass; Shalev Ad-El, harpsichord, organ

In the 17th and the early 18th centuries there were ample opportunities to work as a musician in Germany. Many cities and aristocratic courts had their own chapels. The best musicians were expected to compose instrumental music, music for special occasions like birthdays and weddings, sometimes operas and, of course, religious works. As most music was performed only once and compositions were considered old-fashioned within about ten years, there was a continuous demand for new music. Against this background it is hardly surprising that some of the composers of the 17th and 18th centuries have so far escaped the attention of modern scholars and performers.

The composers who are represented on this disc all fall into that category. None of them has an entry in New Grove, and none of the cantatas on this disc has been recorded before. Wait a minute, what about Telemann? Well, the cantata Kaum ist der Heÿland auf der Erden is included in the catalogue of Telemann's works because the manuscript which was used for this recording bears the mark di TEL. But Telemann scholars are leaning to the view that it was composed by someone else.

Also questionable is the identity of the composer of whom only the last name is given in the manuscript of the cantata Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich. The various possible identities of this 'Hoffmann' are given in the programme notes, but so far it hasn't been possible to establish his true identity.

All these cantatas have been found in the archive of the Kantoreigesellschaft of Mügeln, a small town between Leipzig and Dresden. In the 18th century the Kapellmeister copied a large number of cantatas, usually for a small scoring of voices and instruments. Most composers are from Thuringia and Saxonia, and most cantatas are written in a rather conservative fashion. Johann Theodor Roemhildt, for instance, uses the recorder in the two cantatas on this disc, an instrument which in the early 18th century was going out of fashion.

This instrument also figures in the first item, Nichts ist süßer als die Liebe by Emanuel Kegel. He is the oldest composer represented, and from that perspective the use of the recorder is less surprising. The two other instruments are the oboe and the violin which in the first aria have independent parts, whereas the recorder mostly plays colla parte with the soloist. The cantata contains three arias, interspersed by two recitatives. In the last aria the oboe and the recorder play unisono. Here we find some chromaticism in the instrumental introduction which can be explained by the text which is about death.

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin is written for Purification, and like Bach's famous cantata Ich habe genug it refers to Simeon who meets the little Jesus in the temple and now is ready to die. Hence the first section with the text of Martin Luther's hymn 'Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin' (With peace and joy I depart). The text of the first stanza is sung by the bass on original music, whereas the two violins quote the hymn melody (Wittenberg, 1524) playing unisono. The content of this hymn returns in the strophic aria which closes the cantata. In between is a recitativo accompagnato.

Roemhildt, in the two cantatas recorded here, also makes use of accompanied recitative. Most remarkable is the role of the recorder. Both cantatas are scored for bass, recorder, two violins and basso continuo. The instrumental introductions to the arias give the impression of a recorder concerto. All arias are duets of bass and recorder. The use of chromaticism in the opening aria of Es geht kein andrer Weg zum Himmel stems from the reference to 'thorns', and in the first aria of Meine Sonne stehet stille the word "stille" (still) is set to a long-held note. These are just two examples of text expression found in the cantatas on this disc.

Hoffmann's cantata Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich begins and ends with the famous Christmas hymn, which is sung by the bass, with Vorimitation ('fore-imitation') in the oboe part. In the second aria the bass is accompanied by solo bassoon and basso continuo.

Mein Hertzens=Hauß bereite dich by Johann Gottfried Donati is written for Pentecost. The first aria contains some contrast in the B part between the two closing lines. The last aria has an obbligato part for the oboe d'amore, which reflects the text about "love beyond all utterance, love that no heart can grasp".

Kaum ist der Heÿland auf der Erden, attributed to Telemann, is written for the Sunday after New Year. Its subject is the Massacre of the Innocents and the flight of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Egypt. It is scored for bass, two violins, viola, cello obbligato and bc. The cello part is in the first aria, whereas in the last there is an obbligato part for the bassoon. It is not mentioned in the booklet, and probably was originally scored for the cello again, but played here on the bassoon instead. The aria 'Herr, die gantze Welt ist dein' (Lord, the whole world is yours) is particularly expressive.

I can imagine that some people may be sceptical about a disc like this. If this music has been neglected for such a long time, and if these composers are completely unknown, could that be explained by a lack of quality? My answer is: most definitely not. I was impressed about the quality of the cantatas on this disc. It just shows how much music is still to be discovered, and also how much splendid music was written in Germany in Bach's time. None of the music on this disc was ever printed, but that was very common. Some cantatas were widely disseminated in Germany, and this is because Kapellmeister often exchanged their works with colleagues in order to diminish their workload or sold them to increase their income.

Klaus Mertens is an expert in this kind of repertoire, and his performance is nothing less than brilliant. He grasps every detail in the text and his articulation and diction are immaculate. Even without reading the lyrics one can understand every syllable. The instrumental parts are performed equally well in a truly speechlike manner.

The booklet contains much information about the composers but little about the individual cantatas. I think this is a general problem because many of the lyrics of music of the 17th and 18th centuries are full of references and connotations which are hard to understand for many listeners of our time. So I would like to see the authors of programme notes going into more detail about what the texts of vocal music are about.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Accademia Daniel

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