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"Cantate Domino"

Ensemble BachWerkVokal
Dir: Gordon Safari

rec: July 14/15 & 17 - 19, 2018, Hallein (A), Schaitberger Kirche
MDG - 902 2138-6 (© 2019) (65'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 190); Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 227); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Cantate Domino (BuxWV 12); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): O sing unto the Lord a new song (HWV 249b); Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Cantate Domino, canon a 9 (KV 73r,2); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (TWV 1,1345)

Electra Lochhead, Veronika Loy, Silvia Moroder, Zsófia Szabó, soprano; Sophie Allen, Tamara Obermayr, contralto; Christopher Zehrer, alto; Clemens Böck, Alexander Hüttner, Maximilian Kiener, tenor; Gian Bhogal, Roland Faust, Philipp Kranjc, Jakob Mitterrutzner, Max Tavella, bass
Julia Ströbl-Bänsch, Stjepan Nodilo, Arianna Zambon, oboe; Gerard Serrano Garcia, Simon Poirier, horn; Christian Simeth, Per Hakon Oftedal, Rudolf Matajsz, trumpet; Robert Schlegel, Cameron Drayton, trombone; Young Jin Hur, bassoon; Mathias Inuoe, Patrizia Bieber, Florian Moser, Gabrielle Maillard, Angelika Wirth, violin; Christoph Slenczka, viola; Marco Casonato, viola da gamba; Hannah Vinzens, cello; Theresa Schilling, violone; Ana Zauner-Pagitsch, harp; Hans Brüderl, lute; Arturo Perez Fur, harpsichord; Ayala Rosenbaum, Gordon Safari, organ; Rizumu Sugishita, timpani

Buxtehude, Bach, Telemann, Handel and Mozart in one programme - where's the logic? I was rather sceptical when I saw this disc in the list from which I was to choose the copies I wanted to review. However, a closer look at the programme reveals that it makes perfect sense: all the pieces are settings of two psalms which have much in common. One of them is Psalm 95: Cantate Domino canticum novum. Verses from this Psalm have been set by Handel in one of his Chandos Anthems and by Dieterich Buxtehude in a cantata. The opening lines were used by Mozart for a canon. The other is Psalm 98, which is slightly different but opens with the same words. Luther's translation is the text of a cantata by Telemann. The two works by Bach have the same title but their texts are largely taken from two other Psalms: 149 and 150. In the cantata the librettist has added other texts. The content of these pieces lends this programme a strong amount of coherence.

Some pieces included here are new to the catalogue. To a certain extent that also goes for Bach's cantata BWV 190, which was written for New Year's Day 1724. It has come down to us incomplete; the first two sections have survived only with four vocal parts and the parts for the violins. Other sections also need some reconstruction. This was probably why it was omitted in the famous complete recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt (Teldec). Since then it has been included in other complete recordings, such as those by John Eliot Gardiner, Masaaki Suzuki and Ton Koopman. Here we hear Gordon Safari’s own reconstruction. For the scoring of the opening chorus he turned to the closing chorale, which requires three oboes, three trumpets and timpani. In this chorus and in the ensuing chorale with recitative, the anonymous librettist has included lines from the German version of the Te Deum (Herr Gott, dich loben wir).

Entirely new to the catalogue is Telemann's cantata. The instrumental scoring is remarkable as it includes a part for harp, alongside two horns, trumpet, strings and basso continuo. The harp seems to have hardly been used in German baroque music; in Telemann's oeuvre it only appears in this cantata. As one may expect, it is given an obbligato part in the 6th verse: "Praise the Lord upon the harp; sing to the harp with a psalm of thanksgiving." There are also obbligato parts for horn and violin.

In 1717 Handel joined the household of James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, who later acquired the title of Duke of Chandos. The Earl built a mansion on the estate at Cannons, near Edgware. Here he established his own chapel, consisting of singers and players. For Cannons Handel composed eleven anthems, which are generally known as Chandos Anthems. He later reworked some of them for performances in the Chapel Royal. From this set we hear the fourth, O sing unto the Lord a new song, in the original version written for the Duke of Chandos. It is scored for three voices (STB) and an ensemble of oboe, bassoon, two violins and basso continuo. The forces Handel had at his disposal at Cannons were rather limited, and therefore it is a bit unlucky that Safari decided to use the full vocal ensemble. A performance with one voice per part seems perfectly justifiable.

That is exactly the line-up in Buxtehude's cantata, Cantate Domino. This is scored for three voices (SSB) and basso continuo. Buxtehude divided the text into seven sections, alternately set for one or three voices. The small line-up guarantees an optimum intelligibility of the text.

The opening verses are also used by Mozart for his canon Cantate Domino (KV 73r). It is in nine parts and has to be worked out by the performers. It is performed here in four different 'solutions', divided over the programme. The first is the original (rectus), the second all'inverso (reverse), the third cancrizans (crabwise) and the last "a version such as might have been heard on a merry evening in the Mozart household". Apparently the director thought the Mozart's would sing it through their nose. The crabwise version is also rather weird: the text is sung backwards: "arret sinmo onimoD etatnaC".

The disc ends more seriously with Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, Johann Sebastian Bach's motet for eight voices in two choirs, here again performed with one voice per part. There is something special about this motet. Its core is the second section in which the first choir sings an anonymous aria, "Gott, nimm dich ferner unser an", whereas the second choir sings the chorale "Wie sich ein Vater erbarmet", the third stanza of Johann Gramann's hymn Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (a paraphrase of Psalm 103). At the end Bach asks for a repeat of this section: "The second verse is as the first, except that the choirs change around; the first choir sings the chorale, and the second the aria". In most recordings Bach's wishes are ignored, and that is also the case here. This is a bit of a missed opportunity. Bach's motets have been recorded so often that it would have been nice if the performance here had been something different from what is already on the market.

That said, this disc deserves a warm welcome, especially as it includes several items which appear here for the very first time or at least in the form in which they are performed. The singing is generally very good, both of the ensemble and of its members in the solo parts. However, there are a few issues. It is absolutely right that in Handel's anthem Maximilian Kiener aims at expressing the text, which is so eloquently set ("The waves of the sea rage horribly, but yet the Lord who dwelleth on high is mightier"), but he exaggerates and his ornamentation is over the top. I am not impressed by Mozart's canon or the way it is performed here. The second section of Bach's motet is really too fast and tends to be a bit superficial. The chorales in Bach's cantata are also given too little weight.

The booklet leaves something to be desired. The name of the church where the recording was made is mentioned, but not the town or the country. The liner-notes are a bit too concise. More serious is the lack of translations of the texts.

Still, this disc is a fine debut of an ensemble which lovers of early music should keep an eye on. I hope to hear more from them.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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