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"Magdeburger Kantaten" (Cantatas from Magdeburg)

Melanie Hirsch, sopranoa; Marie Henriette Reinhold, contraltob; Michael Zabanoff, tenorc; Matthias Vieweg, bassd
Chamber choir of the Biederitzer Kantorei; Märkisch Barock
Dir: Michael Scholl

rec: Oct 19 & 20, 2018 (live), Magdeburg-Cracau, St.-Andreas-Kirche
Querstand - VKJK 1806 (© 2019) (69'29")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Johann Heinrich ROLLE (1716-1785): Auf, preiset Gott mit vollen Chörenabcd; Johann Friedrich RUHE (1699-1776): Ja, ich bin bei euch alle Tageabc; O lasset uns im Lichte wandelnab; Georg TEGETMEYER (1687-1764): Befördre dein Erkenntnisd; Ertönt, ihr Hütten der Gerechtenabcd

The German town Magdeburg is forever connected to Georg Philipp Telemann. He was born there in 1681 and received his education at the Altstädtisches Gymnasium and the Cathedral school. He also received lessons in singing, and taught himself several instruments. In 1693/94 he was sent to school in Zellerfeld, and later continued his studies in Hildesheim. In Magdeburg, he would never occupy any musical post. The disc under review here sheds light on some of the composers who worked in Magdeburg in the second and third quarters of the 18th century. Of the three composers, who are represented in the programme, only Johann Heinrich Rolle is relatively well-known, although only fairly recently his oeuvre is being rediscovered.

The programme opens with two cantatas by Johann Friedrich Ruhe. A token of his obscurity is his absence in New Grove. He was born the son of a musician who worked in Halberstadt, southwest of Magdeburg. His musical career probably started with his membership of the Wolfenbüttel court orchestra. In 1721 he applied for the position of Altstädtischer Kantor, who was responsible for the performance of the music in the main churches in Magdeburg - a position comparable with that of Telemann in Hamburg. It was Christian Friedrich Rolle - the father of Johann Heinrich - who was appointed in this position. After some years in Halberstadt, Ruhe succeeded in being appointed as musical director of the Cathedral, which was not under the supervision of the Altstädtischer Kantor - again we note here a similarity with the situation in Hamburg, whose Cathedral was independent from the other churches and had its own musical establishment, which for many years was directed by Johann Mattheson. Ruhe's oeuvre included sacred cantatas, several passions and occasional music. For a long time, almost all of his output seemed to have been lost; the only extant compositions were four sonatas and a suite for viola da gamba. However, not long ago some of his works were found in the music collection of Heinrich Ernest Grosmann (1732-1811), who worked as Cathedral Cantor in Århus (Denmark). This collection also includes some cantatas by Telemann, whose texts Grosmann replaced with lyrics in Danish. Four works are a mixture of music by Telemann and Ruhe. It is not known whether these compilations were put together by Grosmann or by Ruhe himself. O lasset uns im Lichte wandeln, performed in 1762 at the occasion of a congregation of clergy, is an example of such a compilation. It opens with a homophonic chorus in ABA form. This is followed by a secco recitative for alto, and then the soprano sings an aria, which is taken from Telemann's collection Fortsetung des Harmonischen Gottes-Dienstes (1731). The cantata closes with a chorale harmonisation. Ja, ich bin bei euch alle Tage seems to be entirely from Ruhe's pen. Its structure is unconventional: it opens with an aria for soprano, which is followed by a chorale. Then we get two secco recitatives for alto and soprano respectively, embracing an arioso for tenor. The cantata, written for the ordination of clergy, closes with a chorus. For this recording, the Danish texts have been translated into German; Telemann's aria has the original text.

The second composer in the programme is another unknown quantity, and not mentioned in New Grove. Georg Tegetmeyer was born in Badersleben, somewhat further southwest of Magdeburg than Halberstadt, but part of the same principality. In the latter town he attended the Cathedral school and acted as substitute for the organist of St Paul's. Between 1703 and 1708 he undertook a journey, and after his return he acted as organist at several towns, until he went to Magdeburg to become organist at the Cathedral. Here he played an instrument of the famous organ builder Heinrich Compenius the younger. He held this position for almost fifty years. He earned a reputation as improviser and was considered one of the most excellent organists of his time. He was acquainted with the oeuvre of Telemann, and was among the subscribers of two of his editions, the Musique de table and the Nouveaux Quatuors. This apparently influenced him as a composer: the Easter cantata Ertönt, ihr Hütten der Gerechten is included in the catalogue of Telemann's cantatas (TWV 1,478). It dates from 1723 and is scored for four voices, two of which (tenor and bass) also have a solo part, and an ensemble of oboe, two horns, strings and basso continuo. It opens and closes with a chorus; the former, in ABA form, is homophonic and includes solo episodes, the latter is fugal. The bass aria is particularly expressive; the tenor aria includes two parts for horns. Befördre dein Erkenntnis is for Trinity, and its score is preserved in Brussels, like that of the previous cantata. It is scored for bass, who has two pairs of recitative and aria to sing; the cantata opens and closes with a chorale setting. Considering the quality of these two cantatas, it is very regrettable that most of Tegetmeyer's oeuvre has been lost.

Johann Heinrich Rolle was - alongside Gottfried August Homilius - one of the main composers of sacred music in the second half of the 18th century in Protestant Germany. He was born in Quedlinburg, a town southwest of Magdeburg, as the son of the town music director. In 1721 the family moved to Magdeburg where, as we have seen, Rolle's father Christian Friedrich became Altstädtischer Kantor. His musical talents came to the fore at an early age; it is said that he composed his first sacred music at the age of 13. Some years later he was appointed organist of St Peter's. In 1737 he went to Leipzig to study law and it is assumed that at this time he participated in performances of Bach's Collegium Musicum. By 1741 he entered the court orchestra of Frederick the Great in Berlin as a violinist. This brought him into contact with some of the major composers of the time, such as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and the brothers Graun and Benda.

He left Berlin for Magdeburg in 1746 as he had been appointed organist of St John's, the town's principal church. In 1751 his father died and he succeeded him; he held this position until his death. It is also in this capacity that he composed most of his sacred works, among them many cantatas and motets. His fame was mainly based on his musical dramas, a mixture of opera and oratorio: the subjects were largely biblical, but many scores include stage directions. However, his cantatas and motets were also very popular, and copies have been found across Central Germany, but also in Denmark, the Baltic region and Transylvania. Auf, preiset Gott mit vollen Chören ("Up, praise God with full choirs") is a cantata for Thanksgiving, which found a wide dissemination across Germany and beyond, as the twelve copies in libraries indicate. In line with the festive tenor, the instrumental scoring includes transverse flutes, oboes, trumpets and horns. The cantata opens with an extended chorus, which includes parts for solo voices; after an instrumental introduction, the tenor opens the proceedings. Two pairs of recitative and aria for alto and tenor respectively follow, and a recitative for the tutti leads to the closing chorale, a stanza from the hymn Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut (Jacob Schütz, 1675) on the melody of Es ist das Heil uns kommen her.

This disc has to be considered a major contribution to our knowledge of sacred music in Lutheran Germany at the time of Bach and of his sons respectively. The growing interest in music of lesser known composers in 18th-century Germany deserves to be saluted. This recording documents that composers who are hardly known or even completely forgotten, may have written music that deserves to be performed and recorded. I was especially struck by the quality of Tegetmeyer's cantatas; it is the first time I have become acquainted with his music. I had heard some of Rolle's music before, and therefore the quality of his cantata performed here only confirmed my positive impressions. These performances do these cantatas justice. The chamber choir of the Biederitzer Kantorei is a fine ensemble, but I would have liked a little more transparency. A smaller ensemble than the 17 voices here would have been preferable. Melanie Hirsch and Marie Henriette Reinhold do pretty well; both have just one aria to sing and some recitatives. The tenor and the bass have the most extended parts. Michael Zabanoff has a nice voice, but I regret the flattering of his tone, which results in a rather unstable pitch. Matthias Vieweg is a seasoned interpreter of German sacred music of the baroque period, and his performances here are first-class. He is by far the most convincing of the soloists. Märkisch Barock deserves praise for its realisation of the instrumental scores.

If you are interested in German sacred music of the 18th century and are ready to look beyond the obvious - Bach, Telemann - you should investigate this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Marie Henriette Reinhold
Matthias Vieweg
Michael Zabanoff
Biederitzer Kantorei

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