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Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657 - 1714): "Die Liebe Gottes ist ausgegossen - Cantatas"

Dorothee Mields, Margaret C. Hunter, soprano; Alexander Schneider, alto; Andreas Post, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, bas
Les Amis de Philippe
Dir: Ludger Rémy

rec: June 30 - July 5, 2007, Saalfeld-Graba, Gertrudiskirche
CPO - 777 346-2 (2 CDs) (© 2007) (1.43'15")

Ach daß ich Wassers gnug hätte, cantata for the 10th Sunday after Trinity; Betrübtes Herz, erfreue dich!, aria for alto, bass, 2 violins and bc; Die Liebe Gottes ist ausgegossen, cantata for Pentecost; Fürchtet euch nicht: Siehe ich verkündige große Freude, cantata for Christmas; Held, du hast den Feind gebunden, cantata for Easter; Ich will euch wiedersehen, cantata for Easter Monday; Siehe, um Trost war mir sehr bange, cantata for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity; Unruhige Gedanken, stellt alles Sorgen ein, aria for tenor, 2 violins and bc; Wer sind diese mit weißen Kleidern angetan, cantata for the 1st Sunday after Trinity

Andreas Kalthoff, Christoffer Wolf, natural trumpets; Ludwig Kurze, timpani; Luise Haugk, Sophie Rebreyend, Abigail Graham, oboe; Elisabeth Mergner, bassoon; Anne Schumann, Klaus Bona, violin; Lothar Haas, Eva Salonen-Jopp, Thordes Hohbach, Klaus-Dieter Voigt, viola; Carsten Hundt, violone; Margit Schultheiß, harp; Ophira Zakai, chitarrone; Ludger Rémy, Beata Röllecke, organ

Johann Heinrich Erlebach shares the fate of many composers of his time: a large part of his oeuvre has been lost. In this particular case it was the fire which hit the castle of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt in 1735 which destroyed many of his works. Ironically it was the great appreciation of the court for its former Kapellmeister which caused this tragedy: after Erlebach's death it purchased all his music from his widow. At the same time Erlebach's reputation among his colleagues is the reason a respectable number of his compositions have come down to us as they collected and exchanged them to be performed where they were working. Still, we only have a relatively small number of the about 750 works Erlebach seems to have composed. He wrote music in all genres, both vocal and instrumental, sacred and secular. Also evidence of Erlebach's reputation is a contemporary poet. In one of his works the title character says: "From there I came to Rudolstadt, where Mr. Erlebach is music director to Count von Schwarzburg and among German composers gives the most satisfaction and outstandingly distinguishes himself".

The commemoration of Erlebach's birth in 2007 was the obvious reason for Ludger Rémy to record some of his sacred music. This set of discs gives a good idea of Erlebach's style of composing and its development through the years. The earlier cantatas are strongly rooted in the 17th century, of which the scoring of two independent viola parts is an indication, whereas the latest works are two arias, in which Erlebach embraces the modern principle of the da capo.

According to a German scholar who studied Erlebach's life and works the texts of five of the seven compositions recorded here were written by the theologian Christoph Helm (?-1748) who from 1696 to 1704 was acting as ducal informer and choirmaster at the court of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. In his texts he combines biblical passages with free poetry. Most pieces are written in the style of the so-called concerto-aria cantata in which a biblical passage opens the work and is followed by some strophic arias.

What is impressive in Erlebach's cantatas is that he is able to deal with this rather strict form in a very creative way. He was helped by Helm's texts which are characterised by strong contrasts in Affekt. The cantata Die Liebe Gottes ist ausgegossen is written for Pentecost and begins with a quotation from St Paul's Letter to the Romans (ch 5,vs 5). This is repeated at the end of the cantata, and in between several other verses from the same chapter are quoted as well. The scoring is notable for the use of two sopranos and three viola parts. In this cantata we see several features of Erlebach's style of composing, like the mixture of homophonic and polyphonic elements, frequent text expression through the use of musical figures and changes in tempo and metre, fugal passages, the use of instrumental ritornellos and an alternation of soli and tutti, often without interruption.

Some cantatas have an instrumental introduction, sometimes these are very short and fully integrated in the first vocal passage. A special case is Wer sind diese mit weißen Kleidern angetan which is in two parts, both of which begin with an instrumental movement. The scoring is also remarkable as it contains four parts for viols (here played by violas). The whole cantata consists of biblical passages and was part of a larger work which Erlebach composed for the funeral of Countess Maria Susanna, the younger sister of Count Albert Anton of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. This cantata is the only part of this music - which originally consisted of seven pieces - which has come down to us, which is a great shame considering its strongly expressive character.

Two of the compositions in this collection are 'arias', for either one voice (Unruhige Gedanken) or two voices (Betrübtes Herz). They are from a collection of twelve arias published in Rudolstadt in 1704. Here we find Erlebach embracing the da capo technique: in each stanza the opening line is repeated at the end. But these pieces are still far away from the arias which we know from - for instance - Bach's sacred cantatas. It is therefore certainly right that the ornamentation used in these performances is rather moderate. Both arias end with a four-part section, which is a kind of appendix. In the introduction to the collection Erlebach explains that the "concluding ensemble with four voices and two violins" can be performed, insofar as is possible or necessary, not only to conclude the cantata but also at its beginning and end or, if need be, can be omitted.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand why some music has been neglected for such a long time. That is definitely the case here: the quality of these seven sacred works by Erlebach is such that this production is an important and exciting addition to the catalogue. Nobody interested in German music of this era should miss it. The performance is first class: the scoring with just four voices is certainly justifiable for historical and stylistic reasons - although the addition of four ripieno singers is an interesting and defendable option - and the four singers here are an ideal match. The instrumental ensemble plays its parts with great expression and good understanding of the texts.

The booklet contains a very extensive essay on the music, with a detailed analysis of most pieces performed here - very good and interesting, although perhaps a bit too elaborate for a CD production - and the lyrics of all compositions, with an English translation. I strongly recommend this production and very much hope more of Erlebach's vocal oeuvre is going to be recorded in the future.

For those interested in Erlebach I like to recommend recordings of the two extant instrumental collections: the sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and bc with Rodolfo Richter and the six orchestral overtures with the Berliner Barock-Compagney (Berlin Classics). Also recommendable is a disc by the Chicago Baroque Ensemble which contains some of the sonatas as well as four secular arias (Centaur).

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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