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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788): Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (Wq 240 / H 777)

Lore Binon, soprano; Kieran Carrel, tenor; Andreas Wolf, baritone
Vlaams Radiokoor; Il Gardellino Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Bart Van Reyn

rec: June 15 - 18, 2021, Antwerp, AMUZ
Passacaille - PAS 1115 (© 2022) (69'15")
Liner-notes: E/DF; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

[VRK] Sarah Abrams, Annelies Brants, Kristien Nijs, Evi Roelants, Charlotte Schoeters, Barbara Somers, Sarah Van Mol, soprano; Helena Bohuszewicz, Eva Goudie-Falckenbach, María Gil Muñoz, Lieve Mertens, Sandra Paelinck, Noëlle Schepens, Kerlijne Van Nevel, contralto; Gunter Claessens, Frank De Moor, Paul Foubert, Ivan Goossens, Paul Schils, Roel Willems, tenor; Conor Biggs, Jan Van der Crabben, Lieven Deroo, Harry van der Kamp, Marc Meersman, Kai-Rouven Seeger, bass
[IGBO] Jan De Winne, Jan Van den Borre, transverse flute; Marcel Ponseele, Nele Vertommen, oboe; Eyal Streett, bassoon; Alessandro Denabian, Mark Demerlier, horn; Sander Kintaert, Elena Torres, Bram Mergaert, trumpet; Jacek Kurzydlo, Maria Roca, Julie Rivest, Gisela Cammaert, Aleksandra Kwiatkowska, Laura Andriani, Lilia Slavny, Marleen Vandaele, violin; Michiyo Kondo, violin, viola; Kaat De Cock, Jonathan Ponet, Amaryllis Bartholomeus, viola; Ira Givol, Phyllis Bartholomeus, cello; Géry Cambier, double bass; Stanislav Gres, harpsichord; Jan Huylebroeck, timpani

In 1767 Georg Philipp Telemann died, leaving the post of director musices in Hamburg vacant. His godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach applied for this post, and was appointed. Part of his duties was the composition and performance of the music for the liturgy in the five main churches, including an annual Passion. Up until that time Emanuel had composed barely any vocal music. Apart from a handful of large-scale pieces he had mostly written songs for voice and keyboard. Therefore he had very little to fall back on. All of a sudden he had to direct about 130 performances in the five churches every year. No wonder he made extensive use of music by colleagues. When he died, his estate catalogue contained a large number of sacred works by composers such as the Graun brothers, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel and Gottfried August Homilius. Part of it were also four complete annual cantata cycles by Telemann. It was only at a later stage of his career in Hamburg that he could reuse some of the material he had written before. And that is exactly what he did: many sacred pieces of the later 1770s and the 1780s are pasticcios - pieces put together from different sources.

Not only did he use music by Telemann, he also followed in his predecessor's footsteps in that he composed music both for the liturgy and for public performances. The reasons for this two-track policy were twofold. For performances in the churches of Hamburg the director musices only had a limited number of singers at his disposal, and his instrumental forces were also rather small. For performances in the concert hall he could attract additional singers which allowed him to compose larger-scale pieces, with a full orchestra and a choir with more singers than just the soloists and a quartet of ripienists. The second reason was that some sacred pieces were not suitable for performances in church for reasons of scoring, length and lyrics. Bach's oratorio Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu is an example of such a piece.

Today it is generally called an oratorio, but Bach himself wrote about his "Ramler cantata", referring to the author of the libretto, the poet Karl Wilhelm Ramler, a representative of the German Enlightenment. His most famous libretto was Der Tod Jesu, which was set to music by Carl Heinrich Graun and Telemann. In 1778 Bach performed his setting of Ramler's libretto Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu. It was received well; a German newspaper wrote that "our musical artists and singers sought to outdo each other in demonstrating their talents, conveying this powerful and highly expressive music". The oratorio found also appreciation outside Hamburg. In 1788, one year after the score was printed by Breitkopf, Baron Gottfried van Swieten organised one public and two private performances in Vienna, all conducted by Mozart.

This oratorio is in no way comparable to the Passions of his father, but rather links up with the tradition of the Passion oratorio, which had been established in the early 18th century, and whose best-known specimen is the so-called Brockes-Passion. Telemann was one of the composers who set this text, and also Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu. There is no Evangelist; the events are paraphrased by tenor and bass in sometimes long accompanied recitatives. The arias are reflections on the events. Unlike in many Passion oratorios, the soloists don't represent a specific character. Despite the title, the libretto focuses almost entirely on the resurrection; only at the very end it turns to Jesus's ascension.

The text includes only a few biblical texts. The opening chorus, following an instrumental introduction in dark colours, reflecting the state of affairs after Jesus's death, is a setting of the first verse of Psalm 16, whose text is slightly adapted: "For thou wilt not leave [his] soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." The first part ends with a reference to 1 Corinthians 15, 55-57: "Death! Where is thy sting?" A core in this work is a chorus, which is sung three times, each time with a slightly different text, but to the same music; each opens with the words "Triumph! Triumph!"

The events at Easter are quite dramatic, but as the focus of this oratorio are not the events themselves, but rather the reflections on them, this work has little drama. The most dramatic part is immediately after the opening chorus, when the orchestra plays fortissimo, depicting the earthquake that accompanied Jesus's resurrection. The baritone then describes the events, and Andreas Wolf's performance is spot-on, here and in the ensuing aria. The next aria is for soprano, and although it is not connected to a character, one could probably identify her with the one which in Passion oratorios is often called the Daughter of Zion: "How anxiously my song has mourned you! (...) I rejoice! You arise from the grave"

The undramatic approach to some of the most dramatic episodes in the story of the resurrection can be demonstrated with two examples. First Jesus's appearance to Mary who thinks he is the gardiner. The very moment she finds out that she is talking to Jesus himself was always treated in a highly dramatic way, full of tension and emotion, by composers of previous eras. However, here the bass soloist tells about it as if he was a newsreader, without showing much emotion. The orchestral part is the most dramatic, but here it is not the event itself, but rather the human emotion which is illustrated. The second episode is the appearance to the men of Emmaus. Jesus joins them, and then the recitative reports at length how he teaches them that he had to suffer and die and then to resurrect. Only at the end it is told very shortly, almost incidentally, that the men recognize him and he disappears. Again the role of the orchestra is almost more important than that of the singer, expressing the emotion of the men of Emmaus.

The arias deliver the comment on the events, and the audience is supposed to share the feelings which they express. Here again the orchestra plays a major role. The tenor aria 'Ich folge Dir, verklärter Held' portrays Jesus as a "hero" who has defeated death, and that is reflected in the scoring of a part for trumpet. The bass aria 'Willkommen, Heiland!' includes an obbligato part for bassoon. In the aria 'Ihr Tore Gottes, öffnet euch', following the description of Jesus's ascension, the bass is accompanied by an orchestra which includes three trumpets and two horns. The oratorio ends with a long chorus in three sections, ending in a fugue on the text: "Let all that has breath, praise the Lord".

Considering the quality of this work, it is rather surprising that only three recordings were available to date. It is also seldom performed in public, and that may well be due to the lack of awareness that there is something known as Eastertide, which is more than just the two days of Easter, and spans the period from Easter to Whitsun (Pentecost). It includes six Sundays as well as Ascension Day. The latter explains why the resurrection and the ascension are connected in a work like this. Given the relative lack of recordings, this new release is most welcome. Fortunately it is also a top-class performance. Andreas Wolf is the only soloist that I knew really well, and whereas I have not always appreciated his performances, here he is excellent in all his recitatives and arias. The bass plays the main role in this work, and he really carries this performance. I can't remember having heard Lore Binon and Kieran Carrel before. They both have very fine voices, which are perfectly suitable to early music. Binon sings her aria very nicely, and the two singers are a perfect match in their duet. Carrel makes entirely convincing contributions in both his arias and his recitatives. The choir is at full power in the Triumph choruses, and brings the work to a rousing close; the last chorus ends with the fugue. As I mentioned, the orchestra plays an important role here, and the wide dynamic range and the colour palette of Il Gardellino Baroque Orchestra makes sure that it comes off to full extent.

In short, this is pretty much an ideal performance of what certainly is one of CPE Bach's greatest works.

On a technical note: I noted what seems a deficiency in the recording of track 06 (tenor accompagnato), as the sound during the first seconds is coming from the background and is then faded in. It should have been corrected.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Andreas Wolf
Vlaams Radiokoor
Il Gardellino Baroque Orchestra

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