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Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714 - 1785): "Complete Organ Chorales"

Thomas Kientz, organ
Magda Lukovic, sopranoa; Martine Lorentz, contraltoa; Thomas Kientz, tenora; Jean Moissonnier, bassa

rec: July 20 - 21, August 10 - 11 & Sept 8, 2013, Porrentruy, Eglise des Jésuites
Hortus - 153-154 (2 CDs) (© 2017) (1.40'46")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Gottfried August HOMILIUS: Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder; Christ lag in Todesbanden I; Christ lag in Todesbanden II; Christ lag in Todesbanden III; Christ lag in Todesbanden IV; Der am Kreuz ist meine Liebe I; Der am Kreuz ist meine Liebe II; Dies sind die heilgen Zehn Gebot; Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott; Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ I; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ II; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ III; Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen; Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut; Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herre; Hilf, Herr Jesu, laß gelingen; Jesu, meine Zuversicht I; Jesu, meine Zuversicht II; Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott; Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit; Mein Gott, das Herze bring ich dir; Meine Hoffnung steht auf Gott; Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht; Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland I; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland II; O großer Gott, du reines Wesen; Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele; Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut; Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn; Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme; Weg, mein Herz, mit den Gedanken; Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten I; Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten II; Wie soll ich dich empfangen; Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud; Wo soll ich fliehen hin
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (BWV 91)a; Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (BWV 59)a; Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (BWV 180)a; Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn (BWV 338)a

Since the beginning of this century there has been a remarkable revival of the music from the pen of Gottfried August Homilius. Contemporaries considered him the best composer of sacred music of his time in Germany. However, the quality of his oeuvre was hardly noticed in modern times. It seems that only organists were aware of his skills: some of his chorale arrangements were part of their repertoire, although it would be exaggerated to say that they were played very often. The present production is not the first which offers the complete output in this department; I am aware of at least one previous recording, but as I haven't heard it I don't know whether it is really complete and whether it has been recorded on an appropriate instrument.

Homilius was born in Rosenthal in Saxony, and received his main musical education in Dresden, where he obtained a position as organist. In 1735 he went to Leipzig to study law. It must be during this time that he became a pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1742 Homilius secured the position of organist at the Frauenkirche in Dresden. In 1755 he succeeded Theodor Christian Reinhold as cantor of the Kreuzkirche and musical director of the three principal churches in Dresden, a position he held until his death.

The organ chorales date from the 1740s, when Homilius acted as organist of the Frauenkirche, whose organ was built by Gottfried Silbermann. They show much variety in their stylistic features, reflecting on the one hand the influence of Bach, and on the other hand the modern fashions of his time. The galant idiom as well as that of the Empfindsamkeit manifest themselves in the various chorale preludes. The chorale melody is treated differently in that sometimes it remains unaltered, whereas in other cases Homilius adds some ornamentation. However, he generally stays away from the elaborate embellishments of some of Bach's chorale arrangements. He mostly confines himself to little ornaments, such as trills and transitional notes.

Some pieces are strongly rooted in the style of the baroque era. That is the case, for instance, in Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud and Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, in which the cantus firmus is strictly canonic. Several arrangements are fugal, such as Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut and Wo soll ich fliehen hin. One of the most impressive examples - and one of Homilius' finest arrangements in general - is Christ lag in Todesbanden IV, in which every line of the chorale is treated fugally.

In some pieces Homilius uses harmony to express the content of a chorale. That is the case, for instance, in Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott - which does remind me of the famous arrangement of the same chorale attributed to Bach - and Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder. Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten II is an example of a piece written in the galant idiom. There is also some influence of the Italian style, which manifests itself in the figurations added to a chorale melody, referring to the ritornellos in Italian concertos. Examples are Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn and Christ lag in Todesbanden II.

It is not only the composer who is responsible for the expression of an organ piece. The interpreter substantially contributes to it, especially through the choice of an instrument and the use of the various registers. In both departments this recording deserves high marks. The organ is an instrument, built after historical models by Jürgen Ahrend. Its pitch is a'=440 Hz, the temperament a modified Werckmeister III, which seems appropriate for music from this period. Thomas Kientz, born in 1991, is an outstanding organist, who shows a good understanding of Homilius' idiom and of what it takes to bring out the expression of these chorale preludes. The dark colours in Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott are quite effective, and his registration in Christ lag in Todesbanden IV emphasizes its joyful character. The clarity of his registrations and his good articulation result in an optimum transparency, which is not easy to realize in recordings of organ music in a mostly pretty reverberant acoustic. The recording team also deserves praise for its work.

At several moments a chorale harmonization by Johann Sebastian Bach has been added. These chorale settings seem to be chosen at random and don't add anything substantial. Their melodies are very well known. It would have been more useful, if harmonizations of little-known hymns had been included, such as Meine Hoffnung steht auf Gott or Mein Gott, das Herze bring ich dir. If no such harmonizations would have been available, they could have been sung monophonically. That said, they are nicely sung by the four singers, among them the organist Thomas Kientz.

The main thing is that Homilius' organ chorales has been done full justice here. This is a really important recording and a nice addition to the growing discography of Homilius' vocal works. It should also be a stimulus for organists to delve into his oeuvre and play other chorale preludes than those we hear so often. The organ music from the post-Bach generation as a whole certainly deserves more attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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Thomas Kientz

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