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"Einsamkeit, o stilles Wesen - German Cantatas of the Baroque"

Sybilla Rubens, soprano; David Erler, alto; Hans Jörg Mammel, tenor; Thomas Gropper, bass
L'arpa festante
Dir: Christoph Hesse

rec: Feb 22 - 24, 2017, Niedereggenen (D), Evangelische Kirche
Christophorus - CHR 77437 (© 2019) (77'13")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Alles was von Gott geboren (BWV 80a); Kleines harmonisches Labyrintha; Johann David HEINICHEN (1683-1729): Einsamkeit, o stilles Wesen; Musicalischer Circula; Christian August JACOBI (1688-after 1725): Meine Sünden gehen über mein Haupt; Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722): Ichc habe Lust abzuscheiden; Ernst Nicolaus THAUR (1673-1723): Der Segen des Herren machet reich

[ripienists] Maria Weber, soprano; Alexandra Rawohl, contralto; Thiago Olivera, tenor; Martin Peters, bass
Renate Sudhaus, transverse flute; Meike Güldenhaupt, oboe; Uschi Bruckdorfer, bassoon; Christoph Hesse, violin, viola d'amore; Angelika Balzer, violin; Ursula Plagge-Zimmermann, viola; Florian Mohr, viola d'amore; Anja Enderle, cello; Haralt Martens, violone; Johannes Vogt, lute; Ralf Waldner, harpsichord (soloa), organ

The cantata was one of the main genres of sacred music in Germany for a period of about one hundred years, from around 1680 to the last quarter of the 18th century. The earliest cantatas still bear the traces of the 17th-century sacred concerto. In the course of time, composers of cantatas embraced the form of the Italian chamber cantata, with its alternation of recitatives and arias. However, two important relics of the past were kept alive: choruses which link up with the tradition of the motet, and chorales which reflect congregational singing, which was one of the ideals of Martin Luther.

Today, the German sacred cantata is more or less identified with the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. In recent years, performers and ensembles have started to delve into the large output of Georg Philipp Telemann, and the most recent development is the exploration of the equally sizeable corpus of sacred cantatas by Christoph Graupner. The present disc includes three cantatas by composers who are either hardly known (Jacobi, Thaur) or not known for their sacred cantatas (Heinichen). The exception is Johann Kuhnau; some years ago CPO started a project of recording his entire oeuvre. Lastly, we get here a reconstruction of a cantata by Bach, which is mainly known in its later version as a cantata for Reformation day.

The genre of the cantata in the German baroque period shows great variety, as Martin Bail rightly states in his liner-notes. The cantatas included here bear witness to that. The programme opens with Meine Sünden gehen über mein Haupt by Christian August Jacobi. He was born in Grimma, where his father Samuel worked as Kantor. He studied in Leipzig and Wittenberg. His first job was that of Kapellmeister at the court of Duchess Louise Elisabeth von Sachsen-Merseburg in Forst in der Lausitz (1717). Little is known about his life and career between 1721, when he unsuccessfully applied for his father's position in Grimma, and his death, somewhere around 1725. Ten cantatas from his pen have been preserved, thanks to his father, who included them in his own collection of church music, which is now preserved at the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden. The cantata performed here, dating from 1711, is largely based on texts from the Bible. The author of the madrigalian poetry is not known. It opens with a chorus on the text of the fourth verse from Psalm 38, one of the penitential psalms: "Mine inequities are gone over mine head, as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me". It has the form of a motet with cantus firmus - a form we know from, for instance, several members of the Bach family. Three voices - alto, tenor and bass - sing the biblical text, whereas the soprano sings the chorale, a stanza from the hymn Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ. Next is a recitative for bass on a verse from Paul's letter to the Romans (ch 5, vs 20), which has the form of an arioso. The next section is a duet for soprano and alto on a free poetic text. An accompagnato for bass is followed by a chorus in the form of a chorale arrangement and a secco recitative for bass. The cantata closes with another chorus, which ends with a fugal section.

Johann David Heinichen is a pretty well-known name, but then especially as a composer of instrumental music and secular cantatas. As far as his sacred music is concerned, some of this large-scale compositions on Latin texts have been recorded. I have never heard any of his German cantatas. According to New Grove, his oeuvre includes fifteen German cantatas and motets. These seem to date from before his sojourn in Italy, when he was in the service of Duke Moritz Wilhelm von Sachsen-Zeitz. Although his time in Italy strongly influenced his style of composing, the cantata included here shows that even before he had adopted the Italian style. The writing for voices and instruments in Einsamkeit, o stilles Wesen is very much Italian and more virtuosic than in Jacobi's cantata. It dates from around 1709 and is intended for the Sunday after Easter. It opens with a sonata which leads to an aria for soprano, which has the character of a chorale, and then turns to a chorus. The text of the ensuing aria for alto - "Leap asunder you chains of hearts, Jesus will come to you" - is illustrated by powerful figures in the basso continuo. Heinichen's Italian leanings come to the fore here also in the fact that this aria has a dacapo. That is also the case with the lively aria for bass, 'Ich will künftig disputieren', but it is a bit different from the alto aria. The A part comprises two lines, then follows the B-section, and then we get the music of the A part, but with a different text. The two arias are separated by a chorus on a text from Matthew (ch 18, vs20): "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them". It opens with a passage for voices without instrumental accompaniment. The third aria is for tenor, and is much more restrained than the other two; it also omits a dacapo. This is undoubtedly inspired by the text: "When I am affrighted by dark shadows, dear Jesus, be my light." The cantata ends with a chorus, which includes a fugal episode.

Johann Kuhnau is often considered a rather conservative composer, who resisted the growing influence of the Italian cantata and opera in German sacred music. However, the more of his works are performed and recorded, the harder it is to hold that view. It is at least rather one-sided, as the cantata Ich habe Lust abzuscheiden shows. The libretto is from the pen of Erdmann Neumeister, whose texts were also set by Bach. This cantata was probably intended for Candlemas (2 February) and according to markings on the title page it was performed five times between 1717 and 1731, not in Leipzig, but in Grimma. The cantata is part of the above-mentioned collection of Samuel Jacobi. It has an overall gloomy character, which is due to the key of F minor, according to Johann Mattheson an expression of "dark, forlorn melancholy". It opens with a sonata which is followed by a chorus on a text from Paul's letter to the Philippians (ch 1, vs23): "I desire to depart and be with Christ". It is dominated by descending figures, like the preceding sinfonia. Next is an aria for bass, which comprises strongly contrasting sections: the A part is in a slow tempo ("How my sick body burdens me"), whereas ascending figures and a faster tempo illustrate the text of the B section: "Oh day of rejoicing, when will you come?" It is followed by a chorus on a well-known text from I Kings (ch 19, vs), a word of the prophet Elijah: "It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life". A tenor recitative refers to Simeon, and then he sings an aria which opens with the same words of Elijah. Next is a chorus on a text from Revelation (ch 14, vs13): "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord". It leads to a highly expressive aria for alto, in which the basso continuo, with bassoon, includes a sequence of figures, which illustrate funeral bells. The text says: "How sweetly does the death knell toll, how gently do you rock me". The latter phrase is depicted by melismas. The cantata ends with the chorale 'Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin'. It has the form of a chorale arrangement; the vocal parts are homophonic.

The least known composer in the programme is certainly Ernst Nicolaus Thaur, who is not even mentioned in New Grove. Very little is known about him. He studied in Gotha and Jena. He first worked in Eisenach and later entered the service of the court of Sachsen-Zeitz. Cantatas from his pen date from 1707. He died in 1723. Der Segen des Herrn machet reich ohne Mühe dates from 1719; the author of the text is not known. It is a relatively simple cantata. It opens with a sinfonia, followed by a chorus on a verse from Proverbs (ch 10, vs 22): "The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it." Next are four arias, alternately for soprano and alto. The former have a dacapo and an obbligato part for violin. The music is the same in both arias. That also goes for the two alto arias, which omit a dacapo. The voice is supported by basso continuo alone, but the arias close with a ritornello for the strings. The cantata comes to an end with a repeat of the introductory sinfonia.

The disc ends with a reconstruction of the first version from one of Bach's best-known cantatas, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (BWV 80). Alles was von Gott geboren was first performed in Weimar in 1715 or 1716. It was intended for Sunday Oculi, the third Sunday of Lent. In Leipzig, there was no figural music on this Sunday, and therefore Bach could not reuse it unaltered. The original cantata has been lost, but can be reconstructed, as has been done by Hans Bergmann; that is the version performed here. Bach did not change that much in the original text by Salomon Franck, when he turned it into a cantata for Reformation Day. The texts of the recitatives and arias have been slightly adapted here and there, and Bach added three stanzas of Luther's hymn. Only one of them is also included in the early version: the cantata closes with 'Mit unser Macht ist nichts getan', which in the second version was used in the bass aria 'Alles, was von Gott geboren'. Obviously the scoring of the early version is not known. In the duet for alto and tenor, Bergmann opted for a different scoring of the obbligato parts.

As one will have gathered by now, this is a substantial addition to the discography of German sacred music from the baroque era. Most pieces appear here for the first time on disc. According to the Bach Cantata website, the early version of Bach's cantata has been recorded only once before. Because of the variety in character and form, this recording also contributes to our knowledge and understanding of a genre, which was so important in the late 17th and during the 18th century. The performance is pretty much ideal. The four soloists deliver excellent performances. David Erler is impressive in the aria from Kuhnau's cantata, and Thomas Gropper makes an equally good impression in the aria from Bach's cantata. In the tutti each soloist is joined by a ripienist. The voices blend perfectly, and the balance between voices and instruments is just as it needs to be. The speechlike playing of L'arpa festante shows that the players are very much aware of the text and know what it takes to bring it out.

In short, this is a highly interesting and musically compelling recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

David Erler
Hans Jörg Mammel

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