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Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727 - 1789): "Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt - Sacred Works"

Katrin Hübner, sopranoa; Andreas Weller, tenorb
NDR Chor; Mecklenburgisches Barockorchester 'Herzogliche HofKapelle'
Dir: Johannes Moesus

rec: August 23 - 25, 2011, Hamburg-Harvestehude, Kirche St. Johannis
CPO - 777 732-2 (© 2014) (67'41")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Eine Kirchen-Musik Zur Feyer des Friedens-Festes; Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, cantataab; Der 100te Psalm in Zween Chören (Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt)c; Motette über die Worte 'Freuet euch! Daß eure Namen im Himmel geschrieben sind' in D; Motette über die Worte 'Ich halte dich und will dich nicht lassen' in G; Sinfonia à 14 in D

[soloists from NDR Chor]c Katharina Sabrowski, soprano; Gesine Grube, contralto; Joachim Duske, tenor; Hans-Christian Hinz, bass

Once in a while one notices a remarkable interest in a composer who for a long time was more or less forgotten. That is certainly the case with Johann Wilhelm Hertel who was known mostly for his trumpet concertos. Recently his vocal oeuvre has received some attention. In 2013 I reviewed a recording of his oratorio Die Geburt Christi and recently a Passion oratorio was released which will be reviewed here shortly. This disc presents some specimens of his sacred output in various textures and scorings.

Hertel was born in Eisenach where his father Johann Christian was Konzertmeister of the court orchestra. He received violin lessons from his father and keyboard lessons from a pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach. When the duke of Eisenach died the duchy fell to Weimar and the court orchestra was dismissed. The Hertel family moved to Neustrelitz where Johann Christian was appointed Konzertmeister and Johann Wilhelm violinist and harpsichordist. When he was 18 years old he came into contact with Franz Benda, one of the greatest violinists of his time and a member of the chapel of Frederick the Great. It was Benda who convinced him that his greatest skills were in the realm of composing vocal music. His oeuvre comprises a number of secular and sacred pieces as well as instrumental works, including 45 solo concertos for various instruments and more than 40 symphonic works. A large part of his instrumental music probably dates from his time in Neustrelitz whose orchestra he rated highly.

In 1752 Hertel had to move again. The duke of Neustrelitz died and his son was not interested in keeping a chapel of his own. In 1754 Hertel was appointed court composer in Schwerin, and here he stayed the rest of his life. In 1767 the chapel moved to the new court in Ludwigslust but Hertel was allowed to stay in Schwerin because of his deteriorating health. He composed some of his largest works between 1780 and 1783 but from then on he was not able to compose because of a nervous disorder.

This disc includes works from various stages of his career. The Sinfonia à 14 in D is a fairly short piece in three movements which served as the introduction to a cantata, and dates from 1754. The scoring includes trumpets and timpani, but the middle movement is dominated by two transverse flutes. The two motets date from 1755. Both are for four voices; the soprano sings a chorale melody. In Ich halte dich, mein Jesu that is Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht (Christian Keymann, 1658) and in Freuet euch! it is Schreib meinen Nam'n auf's beste, the fifth stanza from the hymn Valet will ich dir geben (melody by Melchior Teschner, 1613). This kind of motets were very common in Central Germany, and are also present in the oeuvre of, for instance, Gottfried August Homilius.

A chorale melody is also the core of the cantata Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ which is from 1774 and was performed during Lent. The five verses of the chorale result in five sections which follow each other attacca. The first and last verses are for choir, the second is a duet for soprano and tenor, the third for soprano and choir and the fourth for tenor solo. In the opening verse the lines of the chorale are connected through orchestral passages. The last verse is divided into four episodes, each with its own tempo indication: largo, poco andante, allabreve and largo.

Earlier, in 1763, Hertel composed a Kirchen-Musik at the occasion of the end of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). It begins with an instrumental piece with the indication largo and the addition 'The Principal Hymn (...) before the Sermon'. This hymn is Sei Lob und Ehr mit hohem Preis, the 13th stanza from Es ist das Heil uns kommen her (text by Paul Speratus, 1523; melody 14th century). The melody is referred to in the instrumental introduction. After the sermon another hymn is sung: Herr Gott, dich loben wir on a text by the 17th-century poet Johann Franck to the melody of Nun danket alle Gott. This is preceded by another orchestral movement with an obbligato organ part in which the melody is quoted. The piece ends with an allegro with the addition 'During the Recession'.

The disc opens with the latest piece of the programme: in 1780 Hertel wrote the music for Psalm 100, at the occasion of the 63rd birthday of Duke Friedrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. It has some backward-looking traces, such as the scoring for two choirs and the inclusion of fugal episodes. The choirs sometimes alternate and elsewhere join each other, always in order to emphasize elements in the text. The second section includes short soloistic passages, sung here by members of the choir. Notable is the modulation at the end of the third section, which highlights the last phrase: "Danket ihm, lobet seinen Namen" (Give thanks to him, praise his name). This is further emphasized by repetition and the ensemble of the two choirs and the orchestra. The latter includes parts for three trumpets and timpani.

This disc attests to the quality of Hertel's vocal music which I noticed in my review of the oratorio mentioned before. His vocal oeuvre shows a remarkable variety and I am looking forward to further explorations of his output. The performances here are pretty good, although I would have liked a little more transparency and agility in the choral parts. Katrin Hübner and Andreas Weller are alright in the solo parts, but should have used a bit less vibrato. The orchestra is really excellent; the vibrancy of the instrumental parts comes off very well.

This disc is an asset to every collection of 18th-century music.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Andreas Weller
NDR Chor

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