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CD reviews

Christoph FÖRSTER (1693 - 1745): "Jauchzt, ihr frohen Christenscharen" - Cantata & instrumental works

Concert Royal Köln
Dir: Karla Schröter

rec: Nov 13 - 15, 2018, Schleiden/Eifel, Schlosskirche
Musicaphon - M56982 (© 2019) (71'48")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for oboe, harpsichord and bc in Ca; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in B flat; Concerto for 2 horns, 2 transverse flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, strings and bc in D; Concerto for 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, strings and bc in D; Concerto for organ in G; Jauchzt, ihr frohen Christenscharen, cantata for St Michael; Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor

Rahel Flassig, soprano; Kai Wessel, alto; Henning Jendritza, tenor; Patrick Cellnik, bass
Gábor Hegyi, Marion Kutscher, Paul Rhee, trumpet; Yoichi Murakami, Johannes Leuftink, horn; Miho Shirai, Filine Precht, transverse flute; Karla Schröter, Ulrich Ehret, oboe; Cordula Caso, Steffen Voss, bassoon; Javier Lupiánez, Justin Glorieux, violin; Sylvestre Vergez, viola; Michael Hochreither, cello; Martina Binnig, violone; Willi Kronenberg, harpsichord, organ; Christoph Lehmann, organa; Bärbel Hammer-Schäfer, timpani

Christoph Förster is not exactly a household name in music history. Some of his concertos and sonatas have been recorded, but overall very little of his output is available on disc, certainly not on period instruments.

Förster was born in Bibra in Thuringia. He received his first music lessons from the local organist and from 1710 he was the pupil of Johann David Heinichen in Weissenfels and then from Georg Friedrich Kaufmann in Merseburg. There he soon became concertmaster in the court chapel. He made journeys to Leipzig and Dresden, and in 1723 he was in Prague for the coronation of Charles VI of Bohemia. At that occasion he became acquainted with such masters as Johann Joseph Fux, Antonio Caldara and Francesco Conti. In 1743 he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister at the court at Rudolstadt. In 1745, the Kapellmeister, Johann Graf, died, and Förster succeeded him. Only a few weeks later he died as well.

Förster was a prolific composer, but as his oeuvre has not been completely sorted out and catalogued, it is impossible to know how much of it has been preserved and what has been lost. An additional problem is that many pieces which have come down to us in manuscript don't mention the Christian name of the composer, which makes it impossible to identify him with any certitude. Förster was highly respected in his time, especially as a composer of sacred music. At least 26 cantatas have been preserved, among them a complete annual cycle of 22 which were once owned by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The disc under review here includes a cantata for St Michael, Jauchzt, ihr frohen Christenscharen. It is scored for four voices and an ensemble of two horns, two oboes, strings and basso continuo. It opens with a chorus in ABA form, which is followed by a recitative, sung by the four solo voices in sequence. The heart of the cantata is a dacapo aria for alto with obbligato oboe. A short recitative for bass leads to the closing chorus on the melody of O Gott, du frommer Gott.

Förster was a typical representative of the goûts réunis, like Telemann, Graupner, Fasch and Bach, to name just a few. His French leanings come to the fore in a set of six overtures in six to eight parts. This part of his oeuvre is ignored here. It is rather the Italian influence that is documented in the programme, and the stylistic development from the baroque to the early classical style. The programme opens with the Concerto in D for a large scoring of three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings and basso continuo. It is in three movements, and in the central slow movement one trumpet is accompanied by strings. This piece is part of the library of the former Dresden court chapel (Schrank II), which is an indication of the reputation of Förster. This piece is followed by his only sonata for oboe; three other sonatas are for violin. It is part of a manuscript from the estate of Frederick the Great. It follows the four-movement Corellian model. In this recording the oboe is accompanied by the organ of the Schleiden castle church, whose pitch is a'=466 Hz, and because of that the oboe part has been transposed to D minor.

The Concerto in G for organ may have been written for the organ of the cathedral at Merseburg. The title of the piece explains the contrasts between soli and tutti; this work is clearly inspired by Italian concertos. There are similarities with Bach's organ arrangements of such works. The Concerto in C is scored for oboe, obbligato harpsichord and basso continuo. This is a scoring we also find in Telemann's collection Essercizii musici. It is an early example of a work in which the harpsichord is treated as a concertante instrument. It has only two movements, but the first consists of three contrasting sections: allegro, adagio, allegro. The second movement is a menuet with six variations.

The Concerto in B flat for oboe is a work that moves away from the baroque style and bears the traces of the Empfindsamkeit. The closing Concerto in D, a piece in one movement, goes a step further: the scoring for two horns, two transverse flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, strings and basso continuo is purely classical and makes this work a specimen of the early classical period.

This disc offers a most interesting survey of Förster's stylistic development as a composer of instrumental music. The cantata is a fine work, and suggests that this part of his oeuvre deserves a thorough investigation. I would like to refer here to a disc with Christmas cantatas, which includes one by Förster ("Jauchze du Tochter Zion"). It seems likely that several of the pieces recorded here, appear on disc for the first time. The performances are excellent in every respect. The four singers in the cantata are doing an excellent job, especially Kai Wessel in the only aria. Karla Schröter is a fine oboist and produces a clear, but never penetrant tone. Only now and then I could imagine a sharper articulation, but overall the performances are really good. That also goes for the contributions of the other players, individually and together. The use of the large organ of the Schleiden castle church is an asset of this production.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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