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"Christmas Cantatas of 18th century Gdansk"

Ingrida Gapova, sopranoa; Jan Medrala, altob; Krzystof Kozarek, tenorc; Szymon Kobylinski, bassd
Goldberg Baroque Ensemble
Dir: Andrzej Mikolaj Szadejko

rec: Sept 1 - 5, 2010, Gdansk, [Holy Trinity Church]
Sarton Records - 002-1 (© 2010) (69'21")
Liner-notes: E/D/P; lyrics - translations: E/P
Cover & tracklist

Johann Jeremias DU GRAIN (?-1756): Willkommen, Erlöser der Erden, cantata for the 1st Day of Christmasd; Friedrich Christian MOHRHEIM (1719?-1780): Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn, cantata for New Year's Dayacd; Johann Daniel PUCKLITZ (1705-1774): Denen zu Zion wird ein Erlöser kommen, cantata for the 2nd Day of Christmasabcd; Ist jemand in Christo, cantata for New Year's Day and the Feast of Circumcisionb; Johann Theodor ROEMHILDT (1684-1756): Kommt, ihr Herzen, kommt ihr Lippen, cantata for the 2nd Day of Christmasabcd; Nun danket alle Gott, cantata for the Sunday after Christmasabcd

The Polish city of Gdansk has a rich musical heritage which shows a strong German influence. In the 15th century the city was granted autonomy within the kingdom of Poland, and this status was held until the late 18th century. In 1793 it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. Danzig, as it was called in German, had a German-speaking majority, most of whom adopted Lutheranism. This explains the presence of music for the protestant liturgy in the library of Danzig which is now preserved by the Polish Academy of Science. The library, known as Bibliotheca Senatus Gedanensis, includes a large number of manuscripts with music which was performed in the various churches in Danzig.

Nearly 80 pieces in the collection are written for the period between Christmas and the first Sunday after Epiphany. They come from two churches: the majority from St John's, and just nine from St Catherine's. Almost all pieces date from the 18th century, and among the composers are well-known masters like Telemann, Georg Anton Benda and Carl Heinrich Graun, but also lesser-known composers, like Johann Theodor Roemhildt, Christian Gotthilf Tag and Georg Peter Weimar, as well as various anonymous composers.

Not all composers who are represented in the present selection have worked in Danzig. Roemhildt has never been in Danzig. He was born near Eisenach, and was a pupil of the Thomasschule in Leipzig under Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau, together with Graupner, Heinichen and Fasch. He worked in various places, and from 1731 until his death as Hofkapellmeister and as organist of the court and the cathedral in Merseburg. Two of his cantatas were recently recorded by Klaus Mertens ( He composed 236 cantatas, and his oevre is well represented in the Danzig library. Two cantatas are recorded here, which both contain parts for corni da caccia. Particularly nice is the duet for alto and tenor, 'Mein Liebster, leite mich' from Kommt, ihr Herzen, kommt ihr Lippen, with its swaying rhythm.

Johann Jeremias du Grain - also known as Dügren - was probably of French descent, as his last name suggests. He was a pupil of Telemann in Hamburg and his participation in performances of cantatas by Telemann in 1730 is documented. In 1739 he settled in Danzig where he performed some of his own music as well as compositions by Telemann and Handel. Later he was appointed organist of St Elisabeth. It is quite possible that it is due to Du Grain that the Danzig library includes a large number of compositions by Telemann. Willkommen, Erlöser der Erden opens with a chorus which is repeated at the end. The orchestral score includes parts for two trumpets, two oboes and bassoon. In the aria 'Rüstet euch, erboste Feinde' (Beware, raging enemies) the text is vividly depicted by the strings.

The programme includes two cantatas by Johann Daniel Pucklitz. He was from Danzig, and has left a corpus of 62 compositions, comprising cantatas with descriptions like concerto, sinfonia, aria, motetto or chorale as well as three oratorios and four masses. He wrote a cantata for Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, one of Johann Sebastian Bach's pupils. The two cantatas recorded here belong to a group of eight for the Christmas period. Ist jemand in Christo is for alto, two violins and bc, whereas Denen zu Zion wird ein Erlöser kommen requires an orchestra which includes oboe, trumpet and shawm. In the former cantata the A part of the opening arioso 'Ist jemand in Christo' (Therefore if any man be in Christ; 2 Corinthians 5, vs 17) contains rhetorical pauses after "old things" [are passed away] and "behold" [all things are become new]. The B part has a virtuosic violin part. The second cantata begins again with a dictum (a literal quotation from the Bible) in which a stanza of Luther's hymn 'Vom Himmel hoch', scored for bass, is incorporated.

The disc ends with the latest cantata of the six, Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn by Friedrich Christian Mohrheim, which according to the manuscript was written in 1762. The liner-notes don't tell where he was born. As his father worked in Neumark it is unlikely he was from Danzig. From 1733 to 1736 he attended the Thomasschule in Leipzig, and as a student of Johann Sebastian Bach he copied some of his works. Today Mohrheim is mainly known as a composer of organ works which show a strong influence of Bach. In 1764 he was appointed Kapellmeister of the ensemble of the city council which also performed at St Mary's. In this capacity he was the successor of his father-in-law, Balthasar Christian Freislich. Mohrheim's cantata, written for New Year's Day, is scored for five voices and an orchestra which includes two transverse flutes, two trumpets and kettledrums. It includes two stanzas from the hymn 'Helft mir Gott's Güte preisen'. The closing chorus is in two sections, the first for bass solo, the second for the tutti.

The quality of the cantatas on this disc justify a thorough investigation of the musical manuscripts in the Danzig library. With the exception of the cantata by Johann Jeremias du Grain all items have been recorded for the first time. The most satisfying aspect of the performances is the playing of the orchestra which is full of vigour and technically assured. The contributions of trumpets and horns deserve special praise. The choir sings well, but it is questionable whether a choir is needed in this repertoire. The liner-notes don't tell anything about the performance practice in Danzig at the time the cantatas were written.

Far less satisfying are the contributions of the vocal soloists. The voices of tenor and bass are not very attractive and both singers use a lot of vibrato. Soprano and alto make a better impression. They have fine voices and their singing is not damaged by an incessant vibrato. The arias are generally given good performances, but the recitatives don't come off very well as they are rhythmically too strict. The biggest problem is the German pronunciation, though. And it is probably because of this that the diction also leaves much to be desired. Considering that this ensemble is planning to perform mainly music on German texts I don't understand why they have not approached a language coach. The poor pronunciation is a major blot on these performances and damages the overall result of the admirable efforts to bring this hidden repertoire to our attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Goldberg Baroque Ensemble

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