musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657 - 1714): "Süße Freundschaft, edles Band - Overtures & Arias" (Sweet friendship, precious bond)

Miriam Feuersinger, sopranoa; Franz Vitzthum, altob
Capricornus Consort Basel
Dir: Peter Barczi

rec: Feb 10 - 13, 2012, Binningen (CH), Kirche Heilig Kreuz
Christophorus - CHR 77366 (© 2012) (64'39")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Score Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde

Freundschaft ist das Band der Weltab [3]; Overture II in B flat [1]; Overture IV in d minor [1]; Seine Not recht überlegen wird manch Tränen-Bad erregena [3]; Sonata III in A [2]; Wer sich dem Himmel übergehen, wird endlich Ruh' und Glück erlebenb [3]

[1] VI Ouvertures begleitet mit ... Airs nach französischer Art, 1693; [2] VI Sonate à Violino & Viola da Gamba col suo Basso Continuo, 1694; [3] Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde, vol. I, 1697

Peter Barczi, Eva Borhi, violin; Matthias Jäggi, Lucile Chionchini, viola; Silvia Tecardi, viola da gamba; Daniel Rosin, cello; Julian Behr, theorbo, guitar; David Blunden, harpsichord, organ

It is commonly known that many compositions of the 17th and 18th centuries have been lost. Sometimes they were simply thrown away because they were considered old-fashioned; in other cases natural disasters as war or fire resulted in large amounts of music being lost for good. A large part of the music which Philipp Heinrich Erlebach in his time as Kapellmeister in Rudolstadt had collected was destroyed by fire: no less than 2500 pieces of music from his own pen and by other composers "were devoured by a fire", as an inventory specified. If one listens to the music by Erlebach which has been preserved this has to be considered a terrible shame.

He was born in East Frisia and received his earliest musical education probably at the East Frisian court. Supported by a recommendation of the court he went to Thuringia, where from 1681 until his death he acted as Kapellmeister at the court of Count Albert Anton von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. During these 33 years Rudolstadt developed into one of the main music centres of Thuringia, and Erlebach also made a name for himself as a composer of vocal and instrumental music. After his death the court bought his entire collection of music from his widow - an indication of how much he was appreciated.

In Germany some courts were very much attracted to the French style, also because they greatly admired the court in Versailles. Several composers wrote music in the French style, and one of them was Erlebach. In 1693 he published a collection of six ouvertures. The title - in translation - says: "VI Overtures, accompanied by their appropriate airs, in the French manner". In his preface Erlebach admits that he never has been in France. However, he believed that this would not prevent him from writing music in the French idiom. Just as one can learn about other peoples through travelogues and maps, "one might also, by diligently perusing, listening to, exercising and considering the matters they convey us in every of their arts, enter their particular ways, study their artistry, and by imitating it make proper use of it". This perfectly explains how many composers of the baroque era became acquainted with music from other parts of Europe, without travelling much. The two Overtures on this disc are performed with one instrument per part, which is a legitimate option. However, a more 'orchestral' performance would also be possible, just as the addition of oboes playing colla parte with the violins. I wonder how much is known about the way music like this was performed at German courts. The performances are very good and the ensemble delivers very lively and rhythmically compelling interpretations. Considering that this repertoire was first and foremost written for performances at aristocratic courts, one wonders whether the very fast tempo of the 'air bourrée' from the Ouverture IV is appropriate, and should be more solemn.

Only two collections of instrumental music were published in Erlebach's lifetime: one year after the Overtures a set of six trio sonatas was printed. They were scored for violin, viola da gamba and bc, which was a very common scoring in 17th-century Germany. As an alternative Erlebach suggested the more 'modern' scoring of two violins and bc; that is the way the Sonata III in A is performed here. The movements have French titles, but that was not the composer's intention. He apologised for the fact that - due to time pressure during the printing process - "some mistakes contrary to the Italian dialect slipped into the titles in which, in stead of Allemande, Courante, Saraband, Variatio and Gigue, should have appeared Allamanda, Corrente, Sarabanda e Variata and Giga". And these sonatas indeed show a strong influence of the Italian style, mixed with the contrapuntal tradition of Germany. The performance is of the same high standard as that of the two overtures. Those who would like to hear the complete collection in the scoring for violin and viola da gamba should turn to a disc by Rodolfo Richter and Alison McGillivray.

The three vocal items are from a collection of 50 "moral and political arias" which was printed in 1697 for solo voice(s), two violins and bc. It was reprinted in 1710 and that same year a second collection was published with another 25 arias. These are very nice works which show Erlebach's skills in setting a text. Seine Not recht überlegen wird manch Tränen-Bad erregen was the first piece by Erlebach I ever heard, performed in the 1970s by the soprano Mieke van der Sluis. It immediately struck me how well Erlebach wrote for the voice. This is an aria in two stanzas in da capo form. It has the traits of an opera aria and could give an idea of what Erlebach's secular works could have been like, which tragically are all lost. The other two arias, one of them a duet, have more the character of songs, and are somewhat simpler, although these also have a da capo form. The two singers give refined and stylish performances, and I would very much like to hear many more from these two volumes of arias. The quality of the pieces recorded here suggests that they are well worth being further explored.

All in all, this is a very good survey of Erlebach's compositional output. Fortunately a number of sacred cantatas have been preserved, and those who would like to hear some of them should investigate the recording by Ludger Rémy for CPO.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Capricornus Consort Basel

CD Reviews