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"Freud und Lust - Buxtehude and Bach"

Ryland Angel, altoa
The Holy Trinity Bach Players
Dir: Rick Erickson

rec: Jan 10 - 15, 2005, New York, N.Y., St Paul's Lutheran Church
Deux-Elles - DXL1147 (© 2011) (76'45")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703): Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte, Lamento for alto, violin, 3 viole da gamba and bca; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Komm, süßer Tod, song for solo voice and bc (BWV 478)a; O Jesulein süß, o Jesulein mil,d song for solo voice and bc (BWV 493)a; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c1637-1707): Jesu meine Freud und Lust, cantata for alto, strings and bc (BuxWV 59)a; Jubilate Domino, omnis terra, cantata for alto, viola da gamba and bc (BuxWV 64)a; Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in a minor, op. 1,3 (BuxWV 254); Sonata for 2 violins, viola da gamba and bc in F (BuxWV 269); Wenn ich, Herr Jesu, habe dich, cantata for alto, 2 violins and bc (BuxWV 107)a

Peter Kupfer, Amelia Roosevelt, violin; Susan Iadone, viola; Carlene Stober, viola da gamba; Patricia Ann Neely, violone; Daniel Swenberg, theorbo; Rick Erickson, organ

"The seventeenth century witnessed a veritable explosion in the writing of new hymn texts and the publication of hymnals that carried into the eighteenth century, as we see in the Schemelli hymnal. Whereas Luther's hymns had given poetic voice to the faith of the community (...), the later hymns tended to reflect a more personal spirituality". Thus Buxtehude scholar Kerala J. Snyder in the liner-notes to this recording. This is an interesting subject which is reflected in the choice of pieces for this disc.

One could discern two lines within German Protestant music. On the one hand composers made use of biblical texts and of hymns as written in the 16th century in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation. Luther wanted to return to the Bible as the sole source of faith, which explains the use of biblical texts. He also wanted the congregation to sing, which was answered by poets and composers in writing the hymns which are incorporated in many compositions from the 16th century until our own time. Such pieces were usually performed in church, as part of the liturgy.

On the other hand the mysticism of the Middle Ages was still very much alive. One of its main representatives was Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) who was held in high esteem by Luther. In Luther's theology the direct relationship between the individual believer and God was a central issue: Lutheranism did away with the role of the priest as mediator between the believer and God. In particular the Vier Bücher vom Wahren Christentum (1606-09) by the Lutheran theologian Johann Arndt (1555-1621) played a crucial role in the spreading of Bernard's mysticism in the world of Lutheranism. He also translated the Rhythmica Oratio into German which provided the text for Buxtehude's famous cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. During the 17th century this aspect of Lutheran thinking was enhanced by the rise of pietism, which was in favour of accommodating the subjective sentiments of fervour, compassion and emotion.

Not only Membra Jesu nostri, but also many other pieces bear the traces of pietism, albeit in a less drastic way. The cantata Jesu, meine Freud und Lust which opens the programme, is a good example. It is based on free poetry by an anonymous author, divided into seven stanzas. It expresses an emotional relationship with Jesus. Almost the whole piece is made up of terms to characterise him: "joy and desire", "food and fare", "light of my eye" or "sweet flowing nectar". It typically ends with "let us be inseparable, most dear sweet Jesus". It is rather unlikely that a piece like this would be performed in church. It is rather music for private devotion. The closing cantata, Wenn ich, Herr Jesu, habe dich, is again a strophic poem, this time by Anna Sophia, countess of Hesse-Darmstadt, dating from 1658. It is pervaded with the same spirit: "Whoever has Jesus in the heart, has potent comfort and joy of Heaven, even in the greatest heartache, and he will live though he dies". The scoring for solo voice of these two cantatas emphasizes their intimacy and pietistic character.

In 17th-century Germany the form of the lamento was very popular. Many composers wrote such pieces, and Johann Christoph Bach was one of them. Two such works from his pen are known: Wie bist du denn, o Gott, in Zorn auf mich entbrannt for bass, the other Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte for alto. The instrumental scoring of both is typical of the genre: violin, three viole da gamba and bc. Although the latter's text is put together from three books of the Bible, its character points into the direction of private use rather than a liturgical function.

In 1736 Georg Christian Schemelli published a book with sacred songs in Leipzig, which is generally known as Schemelli's Gesangbuch. It contains 954 hymns of which in most cases only the text is given, with an indication of the melody. It also included 69 songs for solo voice and basso continuo, which today are mostly recorded as being written by Johann Sebastian Bach. But in most cases he probably only provided the basso continuo part. O Jesulein süß, for instance, is written on a pre-existing melody. The collection was meant for use in church and at home. The hymns were suitable for liturgical use, but it is rather unlikely that the solo songs were used in church. Their texts and the scoring make them more appropriate for private use. That is certainly the case with Komm, süßer Tod, which reflects the positive attitude to, or even longing for death, which is very characteristic for German Protestantism in Bach's time, and which we also meet in his own cantatas.

The most objective piece, as it were, is Buxtehude's cantata Jubilate Domino, omnis terra, which is entirely based on a biblical text: Psalm 98, vs 4-6. Whether it was meant for liturgical use is impossible to say. Buxtehude was not expected to compose cantatas for the liturgy, but it seems likely that he did anyway. He also composed music for public performances, for instance the famous Abendmusiken. Like many of Buxtehude's cantatas it is included in the Düben-Sammlung, a collection of pieces which were put together by Gustav Düben, conductor of the Swedish court orchestra and organist of the German church in Stockholm.

The sonatas by Buxtehude were meant for public performance, for instance during the Abendmusiken, by the members of the Ratsmusik, the town's ensemble of instrumentalists which was responsible for performances at official occasions, in church and in private surroundings, like the homes of the town's upper class. The members of the Ratsmusik were all virtuosos on their instrument and the requirements of applicants were very high. This is well reflected by Buxtehude's sonatas which are written in the typical North-German stylus phantasticus, with a sequence of short sections of contrasting character. In the Sonata in a minor, op. 1,3 the frequent chromatic passages and dissonants are striking. In both sonatas the viola da gamba has a concertante part which is another feature of the North-German music scene. From that perspective the obbligato gamba part in the cantata Jubilate Domino comes as no surprise.

In 17th-century Germany much music of a high calibre was written, and this disc bears witness to that. It is a bit disappointing that the programme largely consists of pieces which are quite familiar and have been recorded more than once before. A little bit of research could have resulted in a programme including less familiar compositions. The performances are generally satisfying, though. Ryland Angel has a very nice voice, and avoids the incessant vibrato with which some of his colleagues are contaminated. His German pronunciation is reasonable, although several vowels don't come off perfectly. The "ch" at the end of words is often hardly audible, and in Jubilate Domino he seems to think that in the German pronunciation of Latin the p in "ps" should not be sung (salmi instead of psalmi).

I find some tempi a bit slow. That is in particular the case with Buxtehude's Jubilate Domino, but the solo song Komm, süßer Tod also suffers from it. In the two songs Angel hardly adds any ornaments which seems to me at odds with the performance practice of the time. There could have been stronger dynamic accents, both in the vocal and in the instrumental parts. The sonatas are well played, and in particular in the Sonata in a minor, op. 1,3 the bold harmonic progressions come off well.

This disc may not provide the ultimate interpretations of the repertoire but if you decide to purchase it you won't regret it.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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