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"Ich bin mit Gott vergnügt - Zuversichtlich durch die Zeiten" (I am content with God - With confidence through the times)

Georg Poplutz, tenor
Telemann-Ensemble Frankfurt
Dir: Andreas Köhs

rec: March 2021, Frankfurt/Main, Dreikönigskirche
Spektral - SRL4-22192 (© 2022) (57'14")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Ich halte treulich still (BWV 466) [1]; Jesus, unser Trost und Leben (BWV 475) [1]; Schaff's mit mir, Gott (BWV 514) [1]; Vergiss mein nicht (BWV 505) [1]; Wie bist du doch, o Seele, so betrübet (BWV 506) [1]; Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1692): Aus der Tiefen ruf ich, Herr, zu dir; (1665-1697): Jauchzet dem Herren alle Welt; Georg Melchior HOFFMANN (1679-1715): Meine Seele rühmt und preist; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebt (TWV 1,877)

Source: [1] Georg Christian Schemelli, ed., Musicalisches Gesang-Buch, 1736

Kerstin Fahr, recorder; Shogo Fujii, oboe; Barbara Hefele, Sophie Müller, violin; Petra Köhs, cello; Andreas Köhs, organ

For many centuries, the motet was one of the main genres of sacred music. It was a fixed part of the liturgy in the Christian church of the West, and continued to take that place until our time, at least in the Catholic Church. In Lutheran Germany, the liturgy was a mixture of tradition and renewal. Luther added an important genre: the chorale or hymn in the vernacular, which was initially sung by (school) choirs, and later by the congregation. These hymns did not replace the motets: in the early decades of the 17th century several collections of 16th-century hymns were published. These were mostly from the pen of Catholic composers, but that was not considered a problem, unless the texts were in conflict with Lutheran doctrine. These motets were still sung when Bach was Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He even purchased copies of the old motet collection for performance in the Thomaskirche. This very fact is interesting in that it shows that composers of the 17th century did not write any new motets for the liturgy. Motets were composed, for instance by members of the Bach dynasty, but these were mostly intended for special occasions, in particular funerals. This was due to another development: the emergence of the sacred concerto.

This genre attests to the growing influence of the Italian style. Heinrich Schütz, who was called the 'father of German music', paved the way with his Symphoniae Sacrae and Kleine Geistliche Konzerte, scored for solo voice(s) and instruments, and written on either a Latin or a German text. Composers of the next generations followed in his footsteps, and the result was a large repertoire of sacred concertos, which could be used in the liturgy but also as part of private worship or as Tafelmusik at aristocratic courts. Towards the end of the century the sacred concerto would develop into the cantata, in which the text is divided into recitatives and arias. The disc under review here includes two specimens of each genre.

Christoph Bernhard was one of Schütz's main pupils. He absorbed what his teacher composed, but also went to Italy himself to broaden his horizon. There he became a pupil of Giacomo Carissimi in Rome. Aus der Tiefen ruf ich, Herr, zu dir is a perfect example of the way German composers translated the Italian monody into a sacred concerto on a German text. The opening phrase, a rising figure spanning nearly two octaves, is an eloquent example of text illustration, of which Schütz was a supreme master. A melisma and an ostinato bass motive are used to illustrate the waiting for the Lord ("Ich harre des Herrn"). The scoring for solo voice, two violins and basso continuo was the standard at the time, and was also frequently used by Schütz.

Nicolaus Bruhns uses the same scoring in his sacred concerto Jauchzet dem Herren alle Welt, a setting of Psalm 100. Bruhns was one of the main exponents of the North German organ school and has become best-known for his organ works. However, he also composed a number of sacred concertos, which betray the influence of the Italian style, although he himself never was in Italy. This work includes quite a lot of coloratura. Again, it is a model of text expression. Notable is the proclamatory character of the third verse: "Erkennet, dass der Herre Gott ist!" (Know that the Lord is God).

With the two cantatas by Georg Melchior Hoffmann and Georg Philipp Telemann we are in the 18th century. Both pieces have the form of an Italian chamber cantata: three arias separated by recitatives. The earliest of the two is that by Hoffmann, who started his career as a choirboy in Dresden, and later went to Leipzig to study law, like Telemann. He succeeded the latter as organist and music director at the Neukirche in 1705. Meine Seele rühmt und preist was attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach and included in the Schmieder catalogue as BWV 189. It is written for the Visitation of Mary; the text is a paraphrase of the Magnificat. The scoring is for tenor, transverse flute (here played by a recorder), oboe, violin and basso continuo. In the second aria, which is written in a marked dance rhythm, the soloist is accompanied by basso continuo alone.

Ich weiss, dass mein Erlöser lebt by Telemann was also attributed to Bach, with the number BWV 160 in the Schmieder catalogue. The attribution was based on a manuscript copy by Bach's student Heinrich Nikolaus Gerber. However, several other manuscripts have Telemann as the composer, and today it is considered an authentic work from his pen. The text was written by Erdmann Neumeister; the work is intended for Easter Sunday. The scoring is for tenor, violin, bassoon and basso continuo, which is similar to the scorings in Telemann's Fortzsetzung des Harmonischen Gottesdienstes (1731/32). This cantata dates from around 1725. In the opening aria the violin often imitates the voice. Significant words are illustrated with coloratura and Telemann uses sighing figures (Seufzer) on "verschmerzen" (suffer).

In the opening paragraph I mentioned the chorale as one of the additions to the liturgical music of the Lutheran church. These were to be sung by the congregation, but were also part of private worship. The collection of hyms that Georg Christian Schemelli published in 1736 in Leipzig under the title Musicalisches Gesang Buch, today generally known as Schemellis Gesangbuch, bears witness to that. These hymns are for one voice with basso continuo. Although the entire collection has been included in the Schmieder catalogue, Bach's contributions are limited: he may have written some of the melodies, but in other cases he provided only the basso continuo part. It is understandable that they have become quite popular; some figure in many recordings, often in all sorts of arrangements. Even so, many songs are little-known and complete recordings of the collection are rare. Any recording of these fine songs is most welcome.

This recording seems very much a personal project of Georg Poplutz. It was inspired by the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. "The Schemelli songs have been my constant companions throughout the 'Covid times', both in worship services and prayer services because they are timeless and are still able to give us strength and courage in times of worry, sickness, and stress. They radiate trust in God and the assurance of faith!" This recording is also a message: "I would like to pass on what I have been singing about: Courage does more good than despondancy and pessimism".

The musical result of this project is highly satisfying. Bruhns's sacred concerto and Hoffmann's cantata may be known to some music lovers, the other items are not very familiar. That makes this disc an important addition to the discography. Poplutz is one of the best interpreters of German baroque music, and has participated in many recordings. Among his virtues are a very clear pronunciation and articulation, and because of that the text is always clearly intelligible. That is as it should be in German sacred music, and in line with the ideals of Heinrich Schütz, who was called musicus poeticus because of the attention he payed to the text. The coloratura comes off easily, and there are effective dynamic contrasts. Poplutz adds quite some coloratura; now and then he probably goes a little too far in this department.

It is crystal-clear that Poplutzs strongly believes in what he is singing, and that makes his performances all the more convincing. I did not know the Telemann-Ensemble Frankfurt; it is an excellent ensemble and Poplutz's perfect partner.

I strongly recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Georg Poplutz
Telemann-Ensemble Frankfurt

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