musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Friedrich Wilhelm ZACHOW, George Frideric HANDEL: "Triumph, ihr Christen seid erfreut - Cantatas"

Cantus Thuringia; Capella Thuringia
Dir: Bernhard Klapprott

rec: June 7 - 9, 2010, Marienmünster, Saal der Kulturstiftung
CPO - 777 643-2 (© 2011) (62'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

George Frideric HANDEL? (1685-1759): Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder; Triumph, ihr Christen seid erfreut, Dialogue for Easter; Friedrich Wilhelm ZACHOW (1663-1712): Bei Gott ist mein Heil, meine Ehre; Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben, cantata for Easter

[CanT] Gudrun Sidonie Otto, Margaret Hunter, soprano; Christoph Dittmar, alto; Mirko Ludwig, tenor; Guillaume Olry, bass
[CapT] Myriam Eichberger, Silvia Müller, recorder; Luise Haugk, Ales Ambrosi/Martin Jelev, oboe; Eva-Maria Horn, bassoon; Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch, Irina Kisselova, violin; Johannes Platz, Gundula Mantu, violin, viola; Matthias Müller, viola da gamba, violone; Bernhard Klapprott, Jan Weinhold, organ

In recent years other German composers than Johann Sebastian Bach have been given more and more attention. As a result the likes of Fasch, Graupner and also earlier composers such as Buxtehude have been represented on disc. One of the composers who have remained under the radar is Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow. That is especially surprising as he played a major role in the musical education of one of the greatest composers of the baroque, George Frideric Handel. As far as I know only some keyboard pieces, and in particular organ works, have been recorded. Last year a disc with Christmas cantatas has been released, performed under the direction of Ludger Rémy. I haven't heard that one, but it is very welcome, the more so as the present disc proves that Zachow's cantatas are really worthwhile.

The combination of Zachow and Handel is a logical one, of course, but the recording of two German cantatas under the name of Handel will cause some surprise. He is known for his Italian style, but he is usually not associated with music on German texts. For a long time a St John Passion was attributed to him, but there seems to be a common opinion among scholars these days that this piece was written by someone else, such as Georg Böhm, Reinhard Keiser or Christian Ritter. That leaves the Brockes-Passion as the only remaining sacred work on a German text from Handel's pen. As far as the secular music is concerned, the nine German arias need to be mentioned.

Handel's first biographer, John Mainwaring, states that Handel composed sacred cantatas every week from the age of nine. If that is true one has to conclude that most of them have been lost (or were destroyed by Handel, being unsatisfied with the result?). The compositional catalogue on includes a series of nine German cantatas from Handel's formative years as a pupil of Zachow (HWV 229). The two cantatas on this disc are not mentioned. They are attributed to Handel for various reasons, but there is no concluding evidence as to who composed them.

A manuscript with the cantata Ach, mich armen Sünder was once in the possession of Friedrich Chrysander, with the name of Hendel. But this manuscript disappeared during World War II. Another manuscript was found in which the cantata was surrounded by cantatas of Zachow, and scholars noted a strong similarity in style. On the other hand, in length it is very different from other cantatas by Zachow. It is a chorale cantata based on the hymn Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder by Cyriacus Schneegaß (1546-1597) on the melody of Herzlich tut mich verlangen. The opening phrase is an indication of the character of the hymn and the cantata: "Ah, Lord, punish not me, poor sinner, in your rage!" The various stanzas are set in different ways. The first is a chorale prelude with the soprano singing the cantus firmus and the instruments ornamenting the melody. The second stanza is written in the form of a motet in the stile antico for four voices and bc. The third is reminiscent of the lamentos of the 17th century, in particular because of the repeated notes in the strings. On the text "in death everything is quiet" the instruments fall silent, and the phrase of the tenor is followed by a general pause. The fourth stanza is for soprano and alto, and contains many Seufzer, which express the text saying "I am weary of sighing, have neither power nor might. (...) My bed is wet with tears, my body old from lament". The fifth stanza is quite dramatic: tenor and bass sing "Away, away, your evildoers". In the middle section the chorale melody is played by two recorders. The last stanza is another chorale arrangement, this time for four voices with ornamentation from the instruments.

Features of the style of the 17th century are also present in the other cantata which is attributed to Handel, Triumph, ihr Christen seid erfreut, which is composed for Easter. It has the form of a dialogue in which various characters from the Easter story in the gospels are represented. The dialogue was a popular form in the 17th-century, and it is rather surprising to find also a very modern element in this cantata: it is the only work on this disc which includes two recitatives. It begins with a five-part chorus which ends with a fugal section. Then follow various arias which are rather short. The tenor - representing an angel - tells the women that they are coming in vain "to embalm Christ's body". It is followed by a chorale arrangement of the Easter hymn Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn (Today God's Son triumphs). Next two sopranos and an alto represent the three women at Jesus' grave, asking: "Who will roll away the large stone for us". A recitative for soprano - probably also representing an angel - tells the women not to be afraid and confirms that "the Crucified is no longer in his tomb". In the following aria he urges them to go to Galilee to meet Jesus. The women then react by singing in an aria that they will "hurry and run to see the Saviour". Then Jesus himself turns up: the bass sings a recitative and an aria in which he confirms again that he is alive and states that "sin, devil and death are defeated by my power". The cantata ends with a repeat of the opening chorus.

The two remaining works on this disc are definitely written by Zachow. It is therefore time to give some information about him. He was born in Leipzig from a family with a musical background. His father and his maternal grandfather were both Stadtpfeifer. It is likely that he was a pupil of the Thomasschule where he received some musical education. When the family moved to Eilenburg he may have been a pupil of the town organist Johann Hildebrand. At the time Johann Schelle was also working in Eilenburg, until his appointment as Thomaskantor in Leipzig in 1677. In 1684 Zachow was appointed organist of the Marienkirche in Halle, where he also was responsible for the performance of vocal church music. He became a respected teacher; Handel was one of his pupils. As Handel quoted his former teacher in several of his later works one may assume that he held him in high esteem.

The title page of the extant copy of Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben says that the cantata was performed on Easter Sunday and the third day of Easter in Grimma, a town southeast of Leipzig. The opening chorus and the chorus in the middle are settings of two verses from St John 11 (25 and 26) which were normally used for funerals. This suggests that it was originally designed as a funeral cantata which is emphasized by the closing chorale, 'Weil du vom Tod erstanden bist', the fourth stanza of the funeral hymn Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist (Nikolaus Herman, 1560). The opening chorus is written in a lively rhythm reflecting the content: "I am the resurrection and the life". The music slows down at the phrase "even though he should die", where the texture turns to homophony. After that the opening phrase is repeated. In the tenor aria (Praise God, my Jesus lives) the vocal part is calmly moving forward over a vivid bass line. The same vividness characterises the next alto aria (Praise God, now I too live). After another chorus we hear two arias for soprano and bass respectively. The closing chorus ends with remarkable coloraturas by the soprano on "Freuden" (joy). This cantata is a rather modern piece: all arias have a dacapo structure, which is quite remarkable for the time. Moreover, the instrumental scoring includes one part for viola - another modern feature.

The other cantatas on this disc all have two viola parts which was common practice in the 17th century. That is also the case with Bei Gott ist mein Heil, meine Ehre which begins with a sonata and continues with four short arias embraced by two choruses. The first chorus is a setting of Psalm 62, vs 8: "My salvation, my glory is with God". The four arias have no dacapo. Two of them are even in the style of a hymn, without any text repetition, lasting here less than 45 seconds. They all begin with the same phrase: "My hope is in God". The cantata ends with the 7th stanza of the hymn Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (Lazarus Spengler, 1524): "He who hopes in God and trusts in him will never be put to shame".

The liner-notes include an interesting remark about the preservation of this cantata which could have implications for the performance practice. "The cantata has been transmitted to us in the form of a copy in the Choral Society Archive in Großfahner (some twenty kilometers northwest of Erfurt). During the seventeenth century, citizens, craftsmen, and peasants in numerous places in Central Germany joined together to form so-called "adjuvant" choirs in order to assist the choirmaster and school choir of a particular congregation in the performance of church music (...). In Thuringia this tradition continued in part into the twentieth century." Does this imply that at least in music from this region one-voice-per-part performances are less historically plausible than elsewhere?

In this recording Bernhard Klapprott has opted for a scoring with solo voices. The instrumental ensemble also plays with one instrument per part. One wonders why performers have ignored Zachow's cantatas so long. Whoever may have composed the two cantatas which are attributed to Handel, they are well worth hearing. The performances are very good, convincingly displaying the high quality of these four cantatas. The soloists do a very fine job, both in their solos and together in the tutti sections.

This disc emphasizes the importance of a thorough exploration of the music by Zachow and composers from his environment.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Cantus & Capella Thuringia

CD Reviews