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Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf: Giob, oratorio a 6 voci in due Parti

Romelia Lichtenstein (Zara), Linda Perillo (Angelo), Jörg Waschinski (Baldad), soprano; Beat Duddeck (Elifaz), alto; Markus Schäfer (Giob), tenor; Ekkehard Abele (Ismaele), bass
Rheinische Kantorei; Das Kleine Konzert
Dir.: Hermann Max

rec: May 9 - 15, 2000, Kempen, Paterskirche im Franziskanerkloster
CPO - 999 790-2 (2 CDs; 76'41"/75'17")

Carl Ditters (1739-1799), now mainly known because of his symphonies based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, was a famous and much respected composer in his own time. In 1770 he went into the service of the prince-bishop of Breslau, who resided in Johannisberg. He was rewarded with the award of the Order of the Golden Spur and later elevated to noble rank, which brought him the additional surname 'von Dittersdorf', by which is mainly known today.

Dittersdorf composed two oratorios for the Tonkünstler-Sozietät in Vienna, Esther (1773) and Giob (1786). This last work was performed with great success in both Vienna and Berlin. Both emperors, Joseph II and Friedrich Wilhelm II, were very pleased by Giob. These performances were also very lucrative. It is only characteristic of the social position of musicians in the 18th century, that Dittersdorf nevertheless died a poor man.

This oratorio is based on the book Job in the Bible. Although the librettist - unknown but probably S.I. Pintus, with whom Dittersdorf had cooperated before - has remained quite close to the biblical story, he made some changes for dramatic reasons. The people who bring Job the news of the disasters that have hit him are the friends, who later lament his fate and accuse him of being a sinner. Job's wife, who is quoted only once in the Bible and whose name isn't given, has got the name of Sara here and is one of the main characters. Like in Handel's oratorios, the choir is playing several roles: Job's sons, his daughters, herdsmen and the people respectively.

Although the subject wouldn't suggest so, this is a Passion oratorio: it was commissioned by the Tonkünstler-Sozietät for Passiontide 1786. The link to Good Friday comes at the end, when Job - after God has given him twice as much as he once had - compares his fate with that of Jesus: "But what do I see? A new picture of him in myself? Poor and bare, covered with wounds, abandoned by my dear ones and in my pain, insulted and despised, these are shadows of the future." In a quintet Job, Sara, Eliphaz, Bildad and Ishmael sing: "Son of God, your death will open the gates of Heaven. With your blood will sinful mankind be redeemed."

This work has the characteristics of a classical opera. A number of arias are very virtuoso, in particular those of Sara. In the booklet they are rightly compared with the arias of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Zauberflöte. This "operatic" character was certainly one of the reasons this work was so succesfull in Vienna. But there are some "archaic" elements as well. Job sings a long lament, interspersed by the choir, which is plainchant-like and reminds of "laments" in Haydn's symphonies and of Mozart's Requiem. Another "old-fashioned" element is the long choral fugue at the end of the work, on the text "Al Redentore" (to the Redeemer). According to a contemporary critic this fugue was written in the spirit of Handel, "and wrings ardent admiration from connoisseurs and astonishment from ordinary audiences ...".

This recording was made after a performance in Breslau (now Wroclaw) - where the last performance during Dittersdorf's lifetime is thought to have taken place - in 1999 as a commemoration of Dittersdorf's death in 1799. On the whole this is an excellent recording, where none of the soloists disappoints. The vocal capabilities of Romelia Lichtenstein are remarkable. She not only deals with the virtuosity of Sara's arias, but also gives a convincing characterisation of her character. Markus Schäfer is doing well in the title role, but his coloraturas are a little stiff. I also think that some of the ornaments he sings in the lament at the start of part 2 are out of place: the character of the music speaks for itself. And the ornament on "son il riso" (I am laughed at) is too predictable.

My main criticism is the performance of the recitatives. They are slowish and as a result the interaction isn't as lively as one would wish. I also would like to hear more excitement and agitation. For instance, when his friends bring Job the one bad news after the other, they should be more agitated than they are here. Maybe it has also to do with the fact that none of these singers are native speakers of Italian, that the recitatives are somewhat formal.

But this can't hold me back from recommending this recording wholeheartedly. It is casting light on the classical oratorio, which doesn't get the attention it deserves - apart from Haydn's oratorios, of course. And it also gives us the opportunity to get a more differentiated picture of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, whose oeuvre hopefully will be explored more extensively. Once again Hermann Max, whose choir and orchestra are both brilliant in this recording, has given us a recording of unjustly neglected music.

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

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