musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Musica Baltica 1 - Baroque Cantatas from Gdansk"

Marie Smolka, soprano; Franziska Gottwald, contralto; Hermann Oswald, tenor; Markus Flaig, bass
Goldberg Vocal Ensemble; Goldberg Baroque Ensemble
Dir: Andrzej Szadejko

rec: Sept 5 - 6, 2016, Gdansk
MDG - 902 1989-6 (© 2017) (65'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Johann Balthasar Christian FREISLICH (c1690-1774): Das ist meine Freude; Gott ist die Liebe; Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt; Johann Jeremias DU GRAIN (17??-1756): Herzlich hab ich dich, o Herr; Johann Valentin MEDER (1649-1719): Singet, lobsinget mit Herzen und Zungen; Johann Daniel PUCKLITZ (1705-1774): Ich will in allen Sachen; Kehre wieder

Danzig - today Gdansk in Poland - was one of the major cities in the Baltic area. It was a member of the Hanseatic League, and between 1454 and 1793 it was subject to the Polish kings. In 1697 Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony, became King of Poland and this resulted in a personal union between Saxony and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The musical scene in Danzig was under strong German influence - like the whole Baltic region, partly due to the dissemination of Lutheranism - and this continued during the 18th century. The main figures in the music scene were all Germans, either organists or Kapellmeister. The present disc includes cantatas by Kapellmeister from the late 17th to the third quarter of the 18th century.

Most of them are little known. The best-known of them is Johann Valentin Meder; some of his vocal and instrumental works have been recorded, among them his St Matthew Passion, which dates from 1700. At that time Meder had already left Danzig. After finishing his theological studies at Leipzig University he worked in several places as a singer and as Kantor. In 1687 he was appointed Kapellmeister at the Marienkirche in Danzig. When in 1698 the city council refused to allow a performance of his opera Die wiederverehligte Coelia - now lost - he performed it in the nearby town of Schottland. This resulted in his being dismissed from his post. The disc opens with a short cantata for St Michael, Singet, lobsinget mit Hertzen und Zungen. It is not comparable to other compositions for this day; there is no battle scene here, and because of that no trumpets and timpani either. It opens with a sinfonia, which is followed by a chorus and a through-composed aria; the text is pretty long and looks like a recitative. It is divided into four sections, each of them allocated to one of the soloists. The cantata closes with a repeat of the chorus.

Next follows a cantata by Johannes Jeremias (or Jean) du Grain, whose family name is also spelled as Dügren. He was from Danzig, and was born from a family of French immigrants. He was a pupil of Telemann; in 1730 he participated as a soloist in performances of some cantatas to commemorate the Augsburg Confession (recently recorded by Concerto Melante). From 1732 to 1739 he worked in Elbing (now Elblag, Poland) and then settled in Danzig, where he performed his opera Der Winter (now lost) and works by Telemann and Handel. In 1747 he was appointed organist at St Elisabeth. In 1756 he died from a stroke during a concert. Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr is a cantata on the famous hymn, whose last stanza, 'Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein', was used by Bach at the end of his St John Passion. The cantata opens with a sinfonia, followed by the first stanza of the hymn, set as a chorale arrangement: the choir sings the chorale homophonically, whereas the strings add the counterpoint. It is notable that the second and third stanzas are both sung twice. The second stanza is first performed as a solo for the tenor, again in the form of a chorale arrangement; the tenor sings the melody unaltered. It is then repeated by the choir, with instruments playing colla voce. The last stanza is first performed in the form of a fugue for the tutti with basso continuo. The cantata closes with a repeat of the same stanza, again in the form of a chorale arrangement, with the choir singing in homophony.

The third composer on this disc is Johann Balthasar Christian Freislich (or Freisslich). In 1699 his half-brother Maximilian Dietrich had succeeded Johann Valentin Meder as Kapellmeister at the Marienkirche, and when he died in 1731 Johann Balthasar Christian succeeded him. He played an important role in the musical life in Danzig; he composed a number of occasional works and a considerable amount of sacred music. A complete cycle of 66 cantatas for the ecclesiastical year has been preserved as well as two Passions, one on the libretto of Barthold Heinrich Brockes. The present disc includes three different cantatas, two of them very short. Das ist meine Freude comprises only a chorus; here the parts are divided between the choir and the four soloists. Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt opens with a sinfonia, which is followed by three very short duets for soprano and alto; in fact they together have an ABA structure. The third piece is a cantata for Maundy Thursday, Gott ist Liebe. This piece is written for solo voices: it opens with a duet for tenor and bass, which is repeated at the end. It is followed by an aria for soprano and a recitative for alto. Next are two stanzas from the hymn O Jesu Christ, mein schönstes Licht in the form of chorale arramgements; the cantus firmus is sung by tenor and bass respectively. These two chorales embrace an aria for alto.

The disc ends with two pieces by Johann Daniel Pucklitz, the least-known composer in the programme and the only one, who has no entry in New Grove. He was from Danzig; his father was a guild musician. He himself belonged to the city council musicians and was active as a concert organiser. His extant oeuvre comprises 62 works, among them three oratorios and four masses. The two cantatas included here - called concerto - are both assigned to a Sunday of the ecclesiastical year. Kehre wieder is for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity. The opening chorus is followed by two pairs of recitative and aria and closes with a chorale. The second recitative is for four voices, singing in succession; the last section is an accompanied recitative, in which the strings play pizzicato. The second aria includes some graphic text illustration. Ich will in allen Sachen is assigned to the 27th Sunday after Trinity. It opens with a chorus, which partly omits a basso continuo. After a recitative for soprano and an aria and recitative for tenor the choir sings "Ende gut, alles gut" (All's well that ends well), in which the strings are joined by a trumpet; it includes a short passage for bass solo. The cantata ends with a chorale setting, the sixth stanza of Heinrich Albert's hymn Gott des Himmels und der Erden. The choir sings in homophony, the instruments, including the trumpet, play colla voce.

The cantatas performed here are less complicated than the works we know from the likes of Bach and Telemann. The arias are mostly rather short and technically not very demanding. This kind of works probably give us a fairly good idea of what was performed on a weekly basis in many churches across Germany. Therefore discs like these contribute to a more complete and more differentiated picture of the musical landscape in the first half of the 18th century. That said, these pieces are of good quality and I have really enjoyed this programme of pieces of various character. This is also thanks to the performers: the four soloists do a good job, although Marie Smolka uses a little too much vibrato. Especially Hermann Oswald and Markus Flaig are outstanding. I wonder whether a choir of 14 voices (4/4/3/3) was needed here. Although I know nothing about the performance circumstances in Danzig at the time, considering the picture of performance practice in Germany in general, a performance of the tutti by the four soloists, if necessary with the addition of four ripienists, would possibly be more plausible. The Goldberg Baroque Ensemble's contributions leave nothing to be desired.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Markus Flaig
Franziska Gottwald
Marie Smolka
Goldberg Baroque Ensemble

CD Reviews