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Reinhard KEISER (1674 - 1739): "Passion Music"

Doerthe Maria Sandmann, Eeva Tenkanen, soprano; Olivia Vermeulen, mezzo-soprano; Julian Podger, Knut Schoch, tenor; Matthias Jahrmärker, Raimonds Spogis, bass
Capella Orlandi Bremen
Dir: Thomas Ihlenfeldt

rec: March 13, 2009, Hamburg-Harvestehude, St. Johannis
CPO - 999 821-2 (© 2010) (79'24")

Ich liege und schlafe ganz mit Frieden; Seelige Erlösungs-Gedancken; Wir gingen alle in der Irre

Hariett Herrle, Ales Rypan, Birgit Bahr, oboe; Jochen Grüner, Klaus Bona, violin; Bernhard Prokein, Annegret Meder, viola; James Bush, cello; Thomas Ihlenfeldt, chitarrone; Klaus Eichhorn, organ

In 2007 the German label CPO started a new series exploring the rich musical heritage of Hamburg. The repertoire recorded as yet reaches from the early 17th century to the time around 1800. Recently three discs with vocal music by Johann Mattheson were released, although for some reason two of them were not presented as part of this series. This disc is the first to shed light on sacred music by Reinhard Keiser.

Like Mattheson Keiser was mainly active as a composer of operas. His first was performed in 1694, probably at the invitation of Johann Kusser, who then was the director of the Theater am Gänsemarkt. In 1696 or 1697 he moved to Hamburg, where he succeeded Kusser as the director of the opera. He also composed sacred music, but much of this output in that department has been lost. His most famous sacred work is his St Mark Passion which Johann Sebastian Bach performed several times in Leipzig.

This disc presents three pieces under the title of "Passion Music", although the first item, the motet Ich liege und schlafe ganz mit Frieden is strictly speaking no Passion music. I would have preferred this piece to be left out - and hopefully be included in another disc of Keiser's sacred music - in favour of a complete recording of the last piece, Seelige Erlösungs-Gedancken. Because of a lack of space no less than three arias have been cut which is a big shame considering the quality of the music and the fact that it is unlikely that a complete version will be recorded in the near future.

This piece in itself is an extract from a larger work by Keiser. In 1711 he composed a Passion oratorio with the title Thränen unter dem Creutze Jesu (Tears under the cross of Jesus). Four years later he presented a selection from this work under the title Seelige Erlösungs-Gedancken. It is an early example of a Passion oratorio in which the text of the gospels is replaced by a paraphrase and which concentrates on the contemplation of the events by the various characters in the Passion story, here Mary, John and Mary Magdalene. Particularly expressive is the scene about the 'pious thief' who is crossed with Jesus. It consists of a recitative, an arioso and an aria, interrupted by an arioso of Christ, in which he promises the thief that he will come into paradise with him. The work ends with a recitative and aria of Christ: "Out of love I have become man; out of love I lay myself into the grave". The last words conclude the aria on a very low note. Notable is the accompaniment by the strings which play pizzicato during the whole aria.

The second work of the programme is a fragment of a St Luke Passion whose composer is unknown. Because of its stylistic trademarks it is attributed to Reinhard Keiser. It begins with a chorus on the text of Isaiah 53, 6: "We all went astray like sheep" and then tells about Jesus going to the Mount of Olives which is unusual as most Passions start with Judas' betrayal of Jesus. The Passion suddenly ends with the chorus of the scribes asking Jesus: "Then are you the Son of God?" This work is written in the style of the oratorio Passion which is built around the text of the gospel. There are roles for the Evangelist, Jesus, Peter, Judas, the maidservant and two servants. To this arias on a free poetic text are added. Particularly expressive are the soprano aria 'Weint, bestürzte Augen' (Weep, dismayed eyes) and the alto aria 'Verstummet, unglücksel'ge Lippen' (Fall mute, unhappy lips). Remarkable is the episode about the denial of Peter which leads to a so-called Cantata, which consists of an arioso, an accompagnato and an aria lamentosa of Peter: "Flow, your teary eyes, and bewail your guilt".

The motet Ich liege und schlafe ganz mit Frieden is for four voices, strings and bc, and begins with the 9th verse of Psalm 4: "I lie and sleep entirely in peace, for you alone, Lord, help me, that I may safely abide". It is introduced by a short Sonata, after which a soprano enters who is then joined by the other voices. The B section is fugal. This opening verse is repeated at the end of the motet. In between are soli and one chorus in which the subject of peace and safety is expressed in free poetic texts. The atmosphere of peace and quiet is reflected in the music which is dominated by long notes. This work is considered to be an early work, probably dating from around 1700.

As much as I find it disappointing that the last piece has been cut I am happy with what is on offer here, and one can only be grateful to the artists and the record company for bringing this music to our attention. The quality of the music is really good, and therefore this disc is an important addition to the catalogue of music for Passiontide. The performances are generally excellent. The tutti are sung by eight voices, which probably reflect the performance practice of religious music in Hamburg in Keiser's time. The solo parts are divided over the eight singers, and they all do a fine job. Only in some tutti Eeve Tenkonen uses a little too much vibrato, and Knut Schoch's performance of the part of the Evangelist in the fragment of the St Luke Passion could have been more speech-like. The instrumental parts are beautifully written by Keiser and executed immaculately by the members of the Capella Orlandi Bremen.

Thomas Ihlenfeldt has written the programme notes which have also been translated in English and French, and the booklet contains the lyrics with an English translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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