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"Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest - Johann Sebastian Bachs Störmthaler Kirchweihkantate und die Zacharias-Hildebrandt-Orgel"

Annette Herr, organ
Anastasiya Peretyahina, soprano; Klaudia Zeiner, contralto; Tobias Hunger, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, bass; Pauliner Barockensemble (David Timm)a

rec: June 16, 2018 (live), Störmthal, Kreuzkirche
Querstand VKJK 1818 (© 2019) (64'23")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Sonata in B flat (Wq 49,4 / H 32) (andante); Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Fantasia super Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (BWV 651) [1]; Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (BWV 709); Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest (BWV 194) (Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, chorus)a; Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist (BWV 667) [1]; Prelude and fugue in d minor (BWV 539); Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (BWV 642) [2]; Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (BWV 690); Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (BWV 691); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (BuxWV 198); Carlmann KOLB (1703-1765): Praeludium quintum; Johann Ludwig KREBS (1713-1780): Vater unser im Himmelreich (Krebs-WV 506) [3]; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Adagio in C (KV 356 / 617a)

Sources: Johann Sebastian Bach, [1] 18 Choräle von verschiedener Art; [2] Orgelbüchlein; [3] Johann Ludwig Krebs, Clavier Ubung Bestehend in verschiedenen vorspielen und veränderungen einiger Kirchen Gesaenge, [n.d.]

Störmthal, a small village southwest of Leipzig, has a fame which goes way beyond its size. According to Wikipedia, it had just 512 inhabitants on 31 December 2014 ( Its fame is based on its organ, built in 1723 by Zacharias Hildebrandt, and on its connections with the biography of Johann Sebastian Bach. The disc under review here offers the recording of a concert which was part of the Bachfest Leipzig 2018.

In 1722, the village's church was renovated and extended, and part of that was the building of a new organ. The chamberlain Statz Hilmar von Fullen, an official of the elector's court who had settled in Störmthal Castle and who had largely funded the new church, entrusted the task of building the organ to Zacharias Hildebrandt, who had been trained by the famous Gottfried Silbermann, and had just set up his own business. It took him less than a year to build and erect the organ. Johann Sebastian Bach, who had taken up his duties as Thomaskantor in Leipzig in May 1723, was invited to examine the organ in November of that year. According to sources in the Störmthal parish archive, "on 2 November 1733 [the instrument] was taken, examined and tested by the famous Princely Kapellmeister of the Court of Anhalt-Cöthen and Music Director, also Cantor of Leipzig, Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, who recognised and lauded it as capable and consistent".

That was not all. Bach also performed a cantata to celebrate the occasion, Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, scored for four voices, three oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. It is a reworking of a secular cantata Bach composed during his time in Köthen. He later performed it several times in Leipzig. The text from the pen of an unknown author is connected to the consecration of the church rather than the inauguration of the organ. That is already expressed in the opening chorus included here: "Most highly desired festival of joy, which the Lord to his renown in the newly erected sanctuary lets us gladly celebrate." This has the character of a French overture in binary form, the A part including the typical dotted rhythms.

One of the features of many village organs in Germany is that they have largely escaped the adjustments to the taste of the time, which was common practice in the larger towns during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The reason is that villages mostly simply did not have the money for such adaptations. That seems to have been the case in Störmthal as well. Only minor adjustments took place, which in 2007 were rectified, when the organ was returned to its original state of 1723. Today it is pitched at Chorton (a'=462 Hz) and its temperament is Silbermann 1/6 comma. As is explained in the booklet, this has consequences for the choice of music, and sometimes requires a transposition to another key, and also for the collaboration with an instrumental ensemble, as here in the opening chorus from Bach's cantata.

Obviously, Bach takes centre stage in the programme. Annette Herr, the incumbent of this instrument, selected a mixture of free organ works and pieces based on then common hymns, such as Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist, Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten and Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend. The latter hymn was often sung before the sermon. It is not sure whether Bach intended the Prelude and fugue in d minor (BWV 539) to be connected, but today they are mostly played that way. The fugue is Bach's own adaptation of the fugue from the Sonata in g minor (BWV 1001) for violin solo.

Other composers represented in the programme are either from an earlier or a later generation. Dieterich Buxtehude had a major influence on Bach as a composer of organ music. Jesus Christus unser Heiland is probably an early work, when Buxtehude was working in Helsingør in Denmark. The least-known name is certainly Carlmann Kolb, who worked as an organist in the Benedictine Abbey of Asbach, near Passau in Bavaria. The Praeludium quintum comprises five sections, and may have been intended as a piece for the alternatim practice in the liturgy. Johann Ludwig Krebs was one of Bach's main pupils, who stayed pretty close to his teacher. Like him, he composed a collection of keyboard works under the title of Clavier-Übung, which comprises preludes to and arrangements of then common hymns. The pieces by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were not intended for the organ, but sound well on it. Bach's Württembergische Sonaten were written for the harpsichord and Mozart's Adagio in C for the blind glass harmonica virtuoso Marianne Kirchgessner. The latter piece may have been chosen because Ms Kirchgessner lived in Gohlis near Leipzig for a while.

Annette Herr is lucky to be the incumbent of this fine instrument. She knows exactly how to use it for the music she has selected. The organ may not be very large - one manual and pedal - but has all that is needed for the pieces performed here. Ms Herr delivers excellent performances, well articulated, with a nice choice of registers. The performance of the opening chorus from Bach's cantata BWV 194 is less convincing. The four voices don't blend that well, and the miking is a bit too close for comfort. Moreover, the oboes tend to outweigh the strings. However, the organ pieces are the main subject of this disc.

The programme as performed in June 2018 opens and closes with the ringing of the bells of the church. As a bonus, we get here a demonstration of the effects of the temperament of the organ. It is a nice gesture that the spoken German texts are translated into English in the booklet. During the restoration, it was discovered that the temperament of the present organ was the one originally intended by Hildebrandt. As I pointed out above, this has consequences for the choice of music and sometimes requires a transposition. That is demonstrated here with Bach's Prelude and fugue in e minor (BWV 533): first the prelude is played in the original key, then the whole piece is performed in a transposition to D minor. This way the effects of the temperament is eloquently demonstrated.

This is a very fine disc, historically of great importance, and musically highly satisfying and stimulating. Both lovers of Bach and of historical organs should not miss it.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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