musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Der Herr ist König - Baroque Bass Cantatas"

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

rec: Nov 1 - 12, 2010, Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf, Trinitatiskirche (Gemeindesaal)
CPO - 777 646-2 (© 2015) (74'15")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

LIEBHOLD (?-c1730): Des Menschen Sohn ist kommen; Mein gantzes Wißen soll Jesus seÿn; Johann Theodor ROEMHILDT (1684-1756): Nichts soll mich von Jesu scheiden (RoemV 217); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Der Herr ist König (TWV 7,31); Sprich, treuer Himmel: ja! (TWV 11,30); Christian WOLFF (1705-1773): Ihr Sorgen laßet mich zufrieden; Meines Bleibens ist nicht hier

Benny Aghassi, recorder, bassoon; Katya Polin, recorder, violin; Ofer Frenkel, Ekkehard Hering, oboe; Walter Reiter, Dafna Ravid, Dorothea Vogel, violin; Thomas Fritzsch, viola da gamba, cello; Claus-Peter Nebelung, double bass; Ophira Zakai, theorbo; Shalev Ad-El, harpsichord, organ

Discs of German sacred music from the baroque period mostly focus on composers who worked at the main courts in Germany, such as Dresden, Eisenach, Zerbst and Darmstadt. Other composers were in the service of a large town: Leipzig, Frankfurt or Hamburg. What about the smaller towns and villages? What kind of music was performed there? One may assume that in the villages it was mainly the congregation which sang its hymns accompanied by an organist of limited capabilities. In smaller towns there were probably more possibilities to perform music written specifically for the Sundays and feast days of the eccesiastical year. However, the churches there had to rely on local musicians, often amateurs, who had enough skills to perform music which was technically not too complicated.

The present disc includes music which has been preserved in the archive of the Kantoreigesellschaft of Mügeln in Thuringia, one of the very few which have come down to us. It probably gives a fairly good impression of the kind of music which was performed in smaller towns in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. One the one hand it contains cantatas by some of the most important composers of the time, such as Georg Philipp Telemann. These were either copied from printed editions or from manuscripts. On the other hand it includes cantatas by composers of regional importance.

For the two cantatas by Telemann recorded here the Mügeln archive is the only source. Sprich treuer Himmel: ja! is a wedding cantata in which the word "yes" plays a key role; it is repeated several times in the various arias. The instrumental scoring is unusual, but vintage Telemann: violin and bassoon. The programme ends with Der Herr ist König which is a setting of the first five verses from Psalm 97 and was written for Reformation Day. It is divided into four arias. The instrumental scoring is for two oboes and bassoon. The bass opens the first aria with "Der Herr ist König" (The Lord is King) and is then joined by the instruments. These are effectively used in the second aria, in particular the second and third lines: "Lord, the floods rise up and lift their voices. The floods lift up their waves". This aria is a model of text expression. The last aria is a ciacona, and the repeated bass pattern reflects the text which speaks about the "true teaching" of the Word of God and the "eternal adornment of your house". The aria ends with a repeat of the opening section of the first aria.

The other composers are from the region. The least-known is a certain Liebhold, whose Christian name is not known. Ute Poetzsch, in the liner-notes, states that "[according] to a contemporary observer, he was not held in good repute". The reasons are not given, but his two cantatas are certainly not impressive, to put it mildly. In the opening aria from Mein gantzes Willen soll Jesus seÿn - a cantata for Whitsuntide - he writes coloratura on words like "allein" (alone) and "aller [Welt]" (the whole [world]) which makes little sense. The instrumental scoring is for recorder and violin playing colla parte. The other cantata, Des Menschen Sohn ist kommen, for the first day of Christmas, is slightly more interesting, particularly because of the obbligato part for violin. The cantata opens with a sonata and here the violin part shows its roots in the tradition of the German-Austrian violin school. It made me wonder whether Liebhold was probably a violinist by profession. The bass and violin parts are strongly interwoven in this cantata.

Christian Wolff is also represented with two cantatas. Only recently his identity has been established: he was Kantor in Dahlen in Saxony from 1730 to 1763. Both cantatas are settings of texts by Erdmann Neumeister from a collection of 1702. Ihr Sorgen laßet mich zufrieden is for the 5th Sunday after Trinity; the gospel of the day is the story of Peter who has caught nothing, but on Jesus's advice casts his net once more and catches such a huge quantity of fish that his net and boat could hardly contain them all. From this the conclusion is drawn which is expressed in the first line: "Ye sorrows, leave me alone, for I am content with my God". Notable is the long recitative which follows the first aria and the second recitative turning into an arioso. Meines Bleibens ist nicht hier is for the second day of Easter; its tenor is expressed again in the first lines of the opening aria: "My place is not here. So I shall play little heed to you, O world". Again the first recitative is quite long and the cantata ends with an accompagnato turning into an arioso. In the second aria a violin plays the melody of the chorale Valet will ich dir geben whose first stanza says: "I want to bid you farewell, you evil, false world. Your sinful, wicked life, is not pleasing to me at all."

The disc opens with a cantata by Johann Theodor Roemhildt who was from (Bad) Salzungen and attended the Thomasschule in Leipzig at the same time as the likes of Graupner and Heinichen. He worked as Kantor and Kapellmeister in Merseburg (today in Saxony-Anhalt). It is assumed that Nichts soll mich von Jesu scheiden was originally part of a complete cycle of cantatas for bass solo. It is for the 26th Sunday after Trinity and opens with the words: "Nothing shall part me from my Jesus, His love is beautiful". The text is connected to the gospel of the day (Matthew 25, about the Judgement of the world) as well as the epistle (2 Peter 3, about the expectation of a new heaven and a new earth). It is a short cantata - two arias embracing a recitative - with an instrumental scoring for recorder, two violins and bc. The first aria opens with an instrumental introduction, and the recorder is also prominently present in the rest of the aria depicting the 'beauty' of Jesus' love. The strings play forceful chords in the next line which says: "When everything conspires against me".

This disc sheds light on a little known liturgical practice. It is a sequel to a disc from 2007, Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich, with cantatas from the same collection. This disc was recorded fairly shortly after the first; it has taken a surprisingly long time for it to be released. Most of the composers here are unknown quantities: none of them, except Telemann, has an entry in New Grove. These cantatas are no masterpieces. Even Telemann's Sprich, treuer Himmel: ja! is not up to the usual standard; Der Herr ist König is undoubtedly the best piece of this disc. Even so, it is important that they are performed and recorded; most of them are good enough to enjoy. Liebhold is most problematic, especially Mein gantzes Willen soll Jesus seÿn.

If there is a singer who can raise these cantatas to a higher level it is Klaus Mertens. It is a miracle to hear what he makes of every single recitative and aria. His phrasing and articulation are perfect and so is his delivery: one can understand every single word without looking at the lyrics in the booklet. I was a little surprised that a slip of the tongue in the first aria from Liebhold's cantata I just mentioned has not been corrected (in the first statement of the closing line: "Geist" instead of "heist"). It is a very little blot on this disc in which the instrumental parts are given fine performances by the members of the Accademia Daniel.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Klaus Mertens

CD Reviews