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Johann Sebastian BACH & Johann Friedrich DOLES: "Kantaten"

Doerthe Maria Sandmann, soprano; Annekathrin Laabs, contraltoab; Patrick Grahl, tenorab; Tobias Berndt, bassab; Johannes Unger, organ
Capella Vocale of the Freiburger Domchor; Batzdorfer Hofkapelle
Dir: Albrecht Koch

rec: Sept 26 - 29, 2014, Freiburg, Dom St. Marien
Querstand - VKJK 1511 (© 2015) (59'13")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score JS Bach, BWV 29
Score Doles, BanD 130

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir (BWV 29)a; Johann Friedrich DOLES (1715-1797): Der 111. Psalm (Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen) (BanD 111)b; Der 150. Psalm (Lobet den Herrn in seinem Heiligtum) (BanD 130)

For a long time the German sacred cantata was almost completely identified with the cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. More recently the output of other composers in this genre has been given attention: Buxtehude as representative of an earlier generation, Telemann and Fasch as Bach's contemporaries and in particular Gottfried August Homilius and Bach's own sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel as exponents of the cantata from the second half of the 18th century. The present disc includes two cantatas by a lesser-known composer of that same generation: Johann Friedrich Doles.

In some way or another German composers of his time were connected with Bach. That is also the case with Doles. He was born in Steinbach in Thuringia, where his father, Johann Andreas, was Kantor; he died when Johann Friedrich was just five years old. He was succeeded by his son Johann Heinrich, who also took care of his younger brother's musical education. At the age of 15 Johann Friedrich was already active as organist in Schmalkalden where he went to school from the age of 12. When he was 19 he enrolled in the Schleusingen Gymnasium and here he started to compose music. In 1739 he went to Leipzig to study at the University and continued his musical studies with Bach. In 1743 Bach recommended him for the post of Kantor in Salzwedel but although he was given the post he refused to take it, probably because he had set his sight on the more prestigious post of Kantor in Freiberg, not only at the Cathedral but also at three other churches; in addition he took a position at the Gymnasium.

It is certainly interesting that Doles' cantatas were recorded in the very space where he has worked for a number of years. However, they were not written during his time in Freiberg. No compositions from this period in his career have survived. The cantatas on this disc date from his time as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. In the second half of his time as Kantor in Freiberg he became involved in a bitter conflict about the role of music in the Gymnasium's curriculum. Doles' application for the job of Thomaskantor was probably a way to escape from all these troubles. In 1755 he was elected as the successor to Johann Gottlob Harrer who had succeeded Bach in 1750. He had the same obligations as his predecessors and he experienced the same problems as Bach. In 1784 he wrote a petition much like Bach had done and in 1789 he asked to be relieved of his post apparently annoyed by the ongoing conflicts with the rector of the Thomasschule. It was through a performance under Doles' direction that Mozart, who visited Leipzig in April 1789, became acquainted with Bach's motet Singet dem Herrn which made a deep impression. Doles was succeeded by Johann Adam Hiller later that year.

Doles's oeuvre comprises vocal music and works for organ. His secular songs were well received but he is especially important as a composer of motets and cantatas. In the latter he moved away from the style of Bach. It is not that he assessed Bach's works negatively but he felt that this 'learned style' would not be understood by the audiences of his time. In 1790 he stated: "It is far from my intention, a pupil of the late Sebastian Bach and myself the composer of many works in fugal style, to decry the value of the higher art of composing, still less to dispense with it. Nay, I merely disapprove of its untimely application." The two compositions recorded here are good examples of his view on music for the church. Both include extended obbligato organ parts.

Lobet den Herrn in seinem Heiligthum is a setting of Psalm 150. It opens with a section for chorus; it is largely homophonic - as are most of Doles' choruses - and in the second part the instruments which the Psalm refers to are depicted by the orchestra, the strings playing pizzicato at the verse about the psaltery and the harp. Next follows a dacapo aria for soprano which is very much in the style of opera, including extended coloratura. It ends with a cadenza, not for the soloist but for the organ. The obbligato part reflects the galant idiom of the time; it is accompanied by the strings whose parts include the then popular drum basses. The last verse of the Psalm is again a chorus.

Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen is a setting of Psalm 111: "I will praise the Lord with my whole heart." It opens with a large-scale chorus in two sections. The first begins with a long instrumental introduction. The soprano and alto sing the first line; then they are joined by the choir. The opening section is repeated and this time the alto and tenor open the proceedings. In the second section the organ has again an extended obbligato part. Next follows an accompanied recitative for four voices. The third section is a duet of soprano and alto; it has no dacapo but ends with a cadenza. After another accompanied recitative the bass has a solo aria but it is in fact the organ which plays the main role. There is something particularly interesting about this obbligato organ part as Vitus Froesch writes in the liner-notes. "The organ part is notated with manual differentiations and the composer explicitly requests an obligatory "organ, which contains an echo". It is even patently clear that he was thinking of a very particular organ when he was writing the movement: This festive psalm cantata was written for the 21st February 1773, the date of the inauguration of the newly refurbished organ at St. Thomas' in Leipzig, which had been adapted following a report by Doles. The most important change to the instrument, executed by the local university organ builder Johann Gottlieb Mauer, was the removal of the Rückpositiv which was then integrated into the Oberwerk. Knowing this fact, it is quite imaginable that the Oberwerk was used as echo organ in the aria described above." That is the way it is performed here.

The inclusion of one of Bach's better-known cantatas is very instructive as it demonstrates the stylistic differences between the two composers. The choice of Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir (BWV 29) is also appropriate as it includes an obbligato organ part, like Doles' two cantatas we have just talked about. It was first performed in 1731 at the inauguration of the Leipzig town council and another time in August 1739, only a couple of months after Doles started his studies in Leipzig. It is quite possible that he attended the performance. The cantata opens with a sinfonia for an orchestra of three trumpets, timpani, strings with two oboes colla parte and bc and an obbligato part for organ. It is a reworking of the prelude from the Partita in E (BWV 1006) for violin solo. The chorus is probably the most eloquent demonstration of the difference between Bach and Doles. This piece - which Bach later reused for the 'Dona nobis pacem' from his Mass in b minor - is an impressive example of Bach's treatment of polyphony. The tenor aria 'Halleluja, Stärk und Macht' has also an obbligato part, this time for violin; the soprano aria has one for oboe. The organ then returns in the alto arioso 'Halleluja, Stärk und Macht'; it follows attacca the preceding recitative for alto which ends with an 'Amen' for the tutti. The closing chorale is again different from the way Doles treats it; Bach here returns to the full orchestral scoring of the opening chorus.

This cantata is available in many recordings. It receives a good performance from all participants, although the choral sections are probably less transparent than one would wish. The booklet doesn't include a list of the members of the choir; therefore I can't tell how large it is, but it seems larger than is historically justified. The most important parts of this disc are the two cantatas by Doles which probably have not been recorded before. They are quite different from Bach's cantatas and one probably needs time to get used to Doles' style. However, they are valuable in their own right and good examples of the style of church music in the second half of the 18th century. The performances do them justice. Johannes Unger delivers excellent interpretations at the Silbermann organ of Freiberg Cathedral, including the echos in the bass aria from Ich danke dem Herrn. The soloists are very good, although I regret the slight vibrato in Tobias Berndt's contributions. Doerthe Maria Sandmann is impressive in her dealing with the coloratura in the aria from Lobet den Herrn.

It is unfortunate that the booklet omits English translations of the lyrics. However, a translation of Bach's cantata is easily available on the internet and for the two Psalms by Doles one can turn to an English translation of the Bible.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Tobias Berndt
Patrick Grahl
Annekathrin Laabs
Doerthe Maria Sandmann
Johannes Unger
Freiberger Domchor
Batzdorfer Hofkapelle

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