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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788): "Grosse Festkantaten" (Festive cantatas)

Monika Mauch, soprano; Margot Oitzinger, contralto; Mirko Ludwig, tenor; Guillaume Olry, bass
Cantus Thuringia; Capella Thuringia
Dir: Bernhard Klapprott

rec: March 8, 2014 (live), Leipzig, Thomaskirche
CPO - 777 958-2 (© 2017) (73'08")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Ich will den Herrn lobsingen (Wq deest / H 821b); Wer sich rühmen will (Wq deest / H 821a)

[CantTh (ripienists)] Anna Kellnhofer, Dorothea Wagner, Marie Luise Werneburg, soprano; Christoph Dittmar, Thomas Riede, alto; Benjamin Kirchner, Tobias Mäthger, tenor; Joachim Holzhey, Carsten Krüger, Oliver Luhn, bass
[CapTh] Daja Leevke Hinrichs, Amanda Markwick, transverse flute; Luise Haugk, Petra Ambrosi, oboe; Eva-Maria Horn, Christian Seidel, bassoon; Robert Vanryne, Thomas McCall, Nigel Paul, trumpet; Ulla Bundies, Gundula Mantu, Karina Müller, Irina Kisselova, Claudia Mende, Cosima Taubert, violin; Beatrix Hellhammer, Johannes Platz, viola; Olaf Reimers, cello; Barbara Hofmann, violone; Jan Weinhold, organ; Ingo Wernsdorf, timpani

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is not immediately associated with religious music. Some of his oratorios and a couple of other sacred compositions are fairly well known and have been recorded on disc, but the largest part of his sacred output is hardly known. He started to compose music for the church, when he succeeded Georg Philipp Telemann as Musikdirektor in Hamburg. Part of his duties was the composition of music for the services in the five main churches. There is no reason to assume that he did so reluctantly. We should not forget that in 1750 he applied for the job of Thomaskantor in Leipzig, as successor to his father. He did not succeed, but five years later he applied again, and once again he didn't get the job.

Obviously the composition of cantatas for every Sunday and feast day of the ecclesiastical year was a heavy burden. It is impressive that Telemann was able to meet the demands of his job, resulting in a huge number of cantatas. His successor was not able to follow in his predecessor's footsteps. This must be the reason why he often made pasticcios, comprising extracts from cantatas by other composers. One of his favourite composers seems to have been Georg Anton Benda, but sometimes he also turned to the music of his father.

One category among Bach's sacred works is represented by so-called 'inauguration cantatas'. The musicologist Heinrich Miesner (1929) wrote: "It is not until [Erdmann] Neumeister had been appointed to the St. Jacobi in 1715 that the musical portion for deacons and preachers was designed in the same way as for the induction of a Hauptpastor (...), which, as always, ocurred with large numbers of the public in attendance." Telemann had developed a form for these inaugural cantatas which Bach took over. Apparently his compositions met with great approval. "The great popularity enjoyed by the induction compositions precisely in Hamburg can be recognized from a sentence from the Acta of 1789: 'The extraordinary compositions of the ordination and induction of the preachers (...) can by the way be maintained without changes'."

Carl Philipp Emanuel has written 18 such works, and these consist of two parts, respectively performed before and after the sermon. Their scoring was mostly sumptuous, including trumpets and timpani, which were mostly only used in the first part, the second part being more intimate in character. That certainly has to do with the fact that in the second part the preacher's late predecessor was commemorated. Ich will dem Herrn lobsingen is different in that here trumpets and timpani are used in the second part, which can be explained from the fact that it ends with a song of praise: "Let us praise Jesus's teachings, let us put Jesus's teachings into practice." This text is first sung by the bass in the form of an arioso; the same text returns in two choruses embracing the chorale 'Du süße Lieb, schenk uns deine Gunst' - the chorale which also ends Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (BWV 169).

Ich will dem Herrn lobsingen dates from 1771 and was written for the inauguration of Pastor Johann Matthias Klefeker on 5 November. The text was from the pen of Christian Wilhelm Alers, a pastor, philosopher and poet, who had been a pupil of Telemann and wrote the libretto of the latter's Singgedicht Der Tag des Gerichts. The cantata is scored for four voices (soli and tutti) and an orchestra of three trumpets, timpani, two flutes, two oboes, strings and bc. It opens with a chorus in praise of God, followed by recitatives and arias whose texts reflect the feelings and thoughts of the Pastor: "You have summoned me, God, to stand on the holy steps of your altar." In an aria he calls himself "of sinful birth": "Why do you summon me, weak as I am, to strength?" In a chorale the congregation - represented by the tutti - urges its hope that the pastors "guard well and take care of every soul entrusted to them". At the end of the first part the Pastor takes heart: "This is my courage: Onward! I consecrate this heart, this life to your praise". The first part ends with the chorale 'Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren'. The central section of the second part is an aria for tenor, who acts as the voice of God: "Be pious, my son, and meek! The flock that weeps about me, loves me, and they shall also love you". Bach creates a strong amount of intimacy and tenderness here through the scoring for strings playing with mutes, and the basso continuo - without the organ - playing pizzicato. It closes with the song of praise I already mentioned.

The second cantata is from the end of Bach's life: in 1787 he wrote Wer sich rühmen will for the inauguration of Pastor Heinrich Julius Willerding on 11 September. The text was written by Johann Heinrich Röding, an author and educator from Hamburg. This cantata is very different in character from the previous work: it is shorter, there are fewer arias which are mostly a little briefer and the whole work has an "almost folk-like tunefulness", as Christine Blanken puts it in her liner-notes. The choruses are homophonic and the instruments mostly play colla parte. The scoring is the same as in the first cantata, plus two bassoons. In the second part the strings are joined only by two oboes. However, the latter are silent in the central aria from the second part: "You flew on high too early, O shepherd". Here the organ again is omitted from the basso continuo, and the string bass plays pizzicato. The cantata opens with an accompagnato for the tenor: "Let him who glories glory in this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord". The trumpets and timpani manifest themselves in the ensuing chorus - written by Benda and the only borrowed section in this cantata - and the first chorale: "Sun and storm preach to you". The power of God is the core of this cantata; the second part opens with the chorale "In awe we kneel before you, O Lord, in your sanctuary". The cantata ends with a chorale in three stanzas, in which God is asked to give the new Pastor "power, wisdom, courage and strength".

This disc is the recording of a live performance which may explain that there are some differences between the printed text in the booklet and what has been sung during the performance. But this is a minor issue. These are very fine performances by four excellent soloists who are part of a choir of fourteen singers (4/3/3/4). This is slightly larger than in Bach's time, who - like Telemann - usually had only eight singers at his disposal. But Wolfram Enßlin, in his liner-notes, quotes Charles Burney who visited Hamburg in 1772 and attended a Sunday Vesper service and noted that the ensemble was too small for the spacious size of Hamburg's main churches. This may have inspired Bernhard Klapprott to use a larger ensemble. Musically speaking that is no problem as the singers avoid vibrato and as a result the tutti sections are transparent enough. Here and there I would have liked a little more rhythmic freedom in the recitatives.

I assume that these two cantatas have been recorded here for the first time. That makes this disc an important contribution to the discography of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and increases our knowledge of his sacred music.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Mirko Ludwig
Monika Mauch
Margot Oitzinger
Cantus & Capella Thuringia

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