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Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (1690 - 1749): Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld

Ágnes Kovács, soprano; Péter Bárány, alto; Zoltán Megyesi, tenor; Lóránt Najbauer, bass
Purcell Choir; Orfeo Orchestra
György Vashegyi

rec: March 7 - 8, 2018, Budapest, Liszt Academy of Music (Grand Hall)
Glossa - GCD 924006 (© 2019) (58'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel could have taken an important place in today's repertoire of baroque music, if more of his output had been preserved. Unfortunately the majority of his compositions has been lost. To a large extent that is the responsibility of Georg Benda, who succeeded him as Kapellmeister at the court of Saxe-Gotha. As his music was considered old-fashioned, it was mostly destroyed. Fortunately he had ties to other courts where his musical heritage was treated more carefully. In his time he was held in high esteem: the theorist Johann Mattheson ranked him among the "learned and great masters" of his time. And in 1739 he was elected a member of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Societät der Musikalischen Wissenschaften. Mizler even placed him above Bach in his list of leading German composers. The latter included the aria Bist du bei mir from one of Stölzel's operas in the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach.

However, that was not the only way Bach expressed his appreciation for the music of his colleague. On Good Friday, 23 April 1734, he performed Stölzel's Passion oratorio Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld. It was first performed in 1720, shortly after Stölzel had taken up his post in Gotha. The text is of his own pen. Although it is ranked among the Passion oratorios, it is a bit different from other works of this genre, according tot Gergely Fazekas, who wrote the liner-notes to the present recording. In Passion oratorios the biblical text is paraphrased, and the arias are put into the mouth of biblical (Petre, Judas, Jesus) or allegorical (Daughter of Zion) characters. The most famous specimen of this genre is the Brockes Passion, which was also set by Stölzel as well as some of his main colleagues, such as Telemann and Keiser. Stölzel's oratorio represents a different type, which "leaves even the dialogical set-up behind and turns into a series of lyrical contemplations resting on the story of Christ's passion." We have to take Fazekas's word for it, because we don't have the original version here.

The performance in 1720 made a strong impression and was followed by other performances in Gotha and at other places, such as Nuremberg, Rudolstadt and Sondershausen. It was common at the time that a work like this was adapted to different circumstances and preferences. That was also the case with Stölzel's oratorio. It has come down to us in two versions. A manuscript in the City Library of Sondershausen seems to be (close to) the original version, whereas the Berlin State Library holds a different version. That is the one used for this recording.

In its original form the oratorio comprises two parts, each consisting of recitatives, arias and chorales, divided into groups of three of an identical structure: recitative - aria - chorale, representing the Evangelist, the faithful souls and the Christian Church respectively. Only at the start and the end Stölzel deviates from this model. The oratorio opens with a chorale, which is followed by a recitative and an accompagnato, and then come an aria and a chorale. The last section opens with a recitative, which is followed by a chorus - the only one in the entire work - and an accompagnato. A chorale brings the work to a close. The version recorded here is different in several ways. It is much shorter: the part of the Evangelist is almost entirely omitted and about a third of all the recitatives and arias has been deleted. Fazekas states that as a result, the structure of the oratorio has been changed, as the movements "are not arranged in threes". In fact, the difference is not that large. In some sections we have an accompagnato instead of a recitative (but the liner-notes don't mention whether that is any different from the original version) and in the fifth section of the second part, a recitative is followed by an accompagnato (but I don't know if these two sections are formally separated in the score).

Each recitative or accompagnato and the ensuing aria are scored for the same voice type. They are not allocated to a specific character. That is one of the differences between this oratorio and most other Passion oratorios. As I wrote, the part of the Evangelist was almost completely deleted by the unknown arranger, but the last accompagnato may be a remnant of this part. It is less personal and subjective: the tenor calls on the faithful souls to come and attend Jesus' funeral.

The oratorio opens with the chorale Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld. It is followed by a recitative for four voices, whose text reflects the character of this work: "Where, then, has my friend gone? Oh, where is he, whom my soul loves?" This is a clear reference to the Song of Solomon, by the way. Then follow an accompagnato and an aria for tenor. The arias are all of the dacapo type and relatively short, but quite expressive. Notable are the obbligato parts for oboe and horn. Stölzel was known for his art in setting recitatives, and this oratorio bears witness to that; these recitatives and accompagnati are models of expressive wordsetting.

The arias are of the same standard, and for the composer it must have been much easier to set texts of his own pen than if they had been written by someone else. Every aria is spot-on, but their effect also depends on how they are performed. It does not happen that often that every single soloist delivers top class performances, but exactly that is the case here. Ágnes Kovács has a lovely voice, which is perfectly suited for such a pastoral aria as 'Hirte, der aus Liebe stirbt': "Good shepherd, who died out of love". Péter Bárány lends exactly the right amount of urgency to the aria 'Haltet ein, ihr Mörderklauen': "Halt your murderous claws, spare my Jesus". Zoltán Megyesi delivers a moving performance of 'Dein Kreuz, o, Bräut'gam meiner Seelen': "Your cross, the bridegroom of my soul, is more than beautiful to me". Lóránt Najbauer's snappy account of 'Mein nagendes Gewissen' is exactly what is needed here: "My gnawing conscience rips asunder with the sharpest bite my tarnished soul". The recitatives and accompagnati are performed with much attention to the text, and key words are singled out to good effect. Both diction and articulation are excellent. Megyesi would make an outstanding Evangelist in Bach's Passions, judging by the way he performs the last accompagnato I mentioned above. In it the oboe plays the melody of the chorale O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid. Next is a stanza from this hymn, which closes the oratorio.

The choir is an outstanding ensemble, as it has already proved in recent recordings, for instance of French baroque operas. The four soloists take part in the tutti sections, which is fully in line with the performance practice at the time. The Orfeo Orchestra considerably contributes to the lasting effect this performance makes.

I am very happy that this work is available on disc in such a fine performance. At the same time, I regret that the performers opted for the shorter version, which apparently is not from Stölzel's own hand. I very much hope that one day we will get a recording of the original version. It is very sad that so much music by Stölzel has been lost. From earlier recordings I gained the impression that Stölzel was an excellent composer, and this oratorio confirms that. Any recording of whatever piece from his pen is welcome.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Ágnes Kovács
Orfeo Orchestra & Purcell Choir

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