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"Lent Cantatas of 18th century Gdánsk"

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

rec: Sept 2 - 3, 2010 (*) & August 24 - 26, 2011, Gdánsk, [Holy Trinity Church]
Sarton Records - 005-1 (© 2011) (68'50")
Liner-notes: E/D/P; lyrics - translations: E/D/P
Cover & track-list

? GESSEL (?-?): Schmecket und sehet wie freundlich der Herr istabcd; Johann Jeremias DU GRAIN (?-1756): Herr, nun lässest du deinen Dienera*; Johann Daniel PUCKLITZ (1705-1774): Ach, Gott und Herr, wie groß und schwerabcd; Jesu meines Lebens Lebenabcd; Johann Theodor ROEMHILDT: Muß nicht der Mensch immer im Streit sein (RoemV 5)abcd

The Goldberg Baroque Ensemble presents the third volume in a series of recordings devoted to the rich repertoire which is preserved in the Bibliotheca Senatus Gedanensis which is now part of the library of Gdánsk. This repertoire consists mainly of sacred music performed in the Protestant churches in Gdánsk - then Danzig - during the 18th century. The second volume was devoted to cantatas for the Christmas period, this time pieces for the Lent period are performed. The gap between the two periods in the ecclesiastical year is bridged, so to speak, through the inclusion of two cantatas for the Feast of the Purification and for Sunday Estomihi respectively.

Among the composers we find largely the same as on the second volume: Johann Jeremias du Grain, Johann Daniel Pucklitz and Johann Theodor Roemhildt. A new name is Gessel, who is represented with many pieces in the library, just like Roemhildt, although neither of them has ever worked in Danzig. That is different with Pucklitz and Du Grain. The former was born in Danzig and worked there all his life. Du Grain was apparently of French descent, and had been a pupil of Telemann in Hamburg. It is likely due to him that a large number of pieces by Telemann are included in the Bibliotheca Senatus Gedanensis.

His cantata Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener, for soprano, strings and bc, opens the programme. It is written for the Feast of the Purification, and its starting point is the Canticle of Simeon (Nunc dimittis in Latin). The cantata consists of five sections: the first and third are dicta - quotations from the Bible; in this case the words of Simeon - which are both followed by a recitative. The last section is an extended aria, whose text shows strong similarities with that of Bach's cantata Ich habe genung (BWV 82): "Brechet, ihr verfallne Augen, schließt euch sanft und selig zu!". There are even parallels in the way the respective texts are set.

Next follows Ach Gott und Herr, wie groß und schwer, a cantata for Sunday Estomihi, by Johann Daniel Pucklitz. This is a chorale cantata as we also know from Bach's oeuvre. The 10 verses are largely set in the form of chorale variations, the solo voices singing the cantus firmus with contrapuntal voices in the orchestra. There are some evocative specimens of text expression, for instance the use of a piccolo and fast figuration in the strings on the text "Just like a tiny bird seeks refuge in tree hollows, when darkness is near, and commotion in the air terrifies men and cattle".
Pucklitz' other cantata - the Sunday for which it was written is not mentioned - is also a chorale cantata, Jesu, meines Lebens Leben. The eight verses are again set as a series of chorale variations. The last two lines of this chorale are a refrain which closes every stanza. In several sections the melody is sung as a cantus firmus by a solo voice, whereas the refrain is then given to the tutti. In the fifth stanza the cantus firmus is sung by the tenor, with the strings playing pizzicato and supported by the basso continuo. In the sixth verse all lines are set as fugues. The seventh verse is shared by alto and soprano, and here for the first time the melody is ornamented.

The library contains many cantatas by Johann Theodor Roemhildt, who was born in Eisenach and was a pupil of Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau in Leipzig. From 1731 until his death he was Hofkapellmeister and organist at the court and the cathedral of Merseburg. Muß nicht der Mensch immer im Streit sein is a cantata for Sunday Invocavit. It begins with a dictum, which is taken from the 7th chapter of Job (vs 1): "Has not man hard service on earth?" The reason for that is the burden of sin: "Miserable are the children of men, miserable in their sinful nature", says the alto aria which contains some strong text expression. The following recitative mentions Jesus' death as the solution: "Him, who puts his trust in Christ, shall not fear the battle". He should take God's Word as the shield to protect his faith, as the trio for soprano, tenor and bass says. The cantata closes with a stanza from Luther's hymn 'Vater unser im Himmelreich'.

The last composer is only known by his last name, Gessel. According to Danuta Popinigis in her liner-notes there are no less than five composers with that name who could be the author of the cantata recorded here, Schmecket und sehet wie freundlich der Herr ist. Up to now it is not possible to decide which of these five the composer of the cantatas in the Danzig library has been. The cantata is written for Sunday Laetare, and begins with a dictum, after Psalm 34, vs 9: "Taste, then, and see that the Lord is good. Happy the man who finds refuge in him!" It is set as a chorus in binary form (ABA). Particularly beautiful is the aria for soprano, accompanied by transverse flute, violin and bc: "God wants to keep watch, he wants to take care". The last three lines of the following accompanied recitative for alto and tenor serve as a conclusion and are set for the tutti: "To him who faithfully keeps watch over us we give praise and glory for all his good deeds". The cantata closes with a stanza from a hymn by Christian Runge (1636): "The Lord's deeds are nothing but good".

At the end of my review of the disc with Christmas cantatas I concluded: "The quality of the cantatas on this disc justify a thorough investigation of the musical manuscripts in the Danzig library." I can repeat that here. The cantatas on this third disc are without exception of remarkably good quality and often quite interesting in form and in the relationship of text and music. In comparison with the second volume it seems to me that the quality of the performances has improved. The soprano is excellent, and the alto quite good. The tenor is slightly better, using less vibrato, and his diction is also better. The bass is the only singer who is different from the second disc, and this one is clearly better. The German pronunciation remains a big problem, though, and the fact that the singers don't really feel at home in the language also damages their diction, in particular in the recitatives. The choir is too big, and I think that in this repertoire a choir is probably not even required. It sings well, though, and the instrumental ensemble is very good.

Despite its shortcomings I strongly recommend this disc. All the cantatas are recorded here for the first time, and that makes this recording even more important.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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