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"Mitteldeutsche Barockkantaten II" (Baroque Cantatas from Central Germany II)

Heidi Maria Taubert, soprano; Steve Wächter, alto; Michael Zabanoff, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, baritone
Choir and Chamber Choir of the Biederitzer Kantorei; Cammermusik Potsdam
Dir: Michael Scholl

rec: June 13, 2010 (live), Groß Ammensleben, Klosterkirche
amati - ami 2603/1 (67'09")
Liner-notes: D; lyrics - no translations

Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Der Gottlose ist wie ein Wetter (FWV D,D2); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (TWV 1,77); Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt (TWV 1,951)

This is the second disc which Michael Scholl has devoted to cantatas from Central Germany. The first was recorded in 2006 and included compositions by Fasch, Telemann and Johann Ludwig Bach. On the present disc - the recording of a concert from 2010 but released only recently - he confines himself to the former two.

The disc opens with the longest work - here more than 33 minutes - which exists in two versions. Telemann composed Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt in 1732 at the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the castle church of Weißenfels. The next year he adapted it for a performance on Epiphany. It opens and closes with a dictum. The first is a setting of Psalm 100 (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands). It is divided into three sections: the first and third are for the tutti, the second is a duet for soprano and tenor. The tutti are accompanied by trumpets and timpani; the third section ends with a fugue with several subjects. The cantata closes with a setting of Psalm 150 (Praise ye the Lord) in which tutti and soli alternate. The choice of these two Psalms can be explained from the tenor of the cantata which is expressed in the first recitative: in the past the people walked in darkness but with the coming of Christ they live in the light of Jacob's star. Here we find a reference to the star of Bethlehem which led the wise men from the East to the place where Jesus was born as is reported in Matthew 2, 1-12 which is the Gospel of this Sunday.

The soprano aria, 'Mit Psalter und Harfen', refers to Psalm 150: "psaltery and harps" - here the strings play pizzicato - and "timbrell and dance"; on the latter words the singer is joined by trumpets and timpani. The misery of the people before Jesus' birth is described in the dark-coloured aria for alto, 'O Jammer, wenn in dicken Finsternissen'; the soloist is supported here by violettas. The trumpets and timpani make themselves heard again in the chorale 'Er hat uns wissen lassen'. They also turn up in the last aria, scored for bass, where they depict the text speaking about "foaming waves" and "raging storms".

The next piece is Der Gottlose ist wie ein Wetter by Johann Friedrich Fasch. It is for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity; the gospel reading is from Matthew 22 which tells about the Pharisees' trick question to Jesus whether it is right to pay tribute to the Roman emperor. This is expressed in the last aria, 'Wir wollen nach dem Guten streben': "We want to aim for the good, we want to give God and the emperor what belongs to them". This is extrapolated to a general statement about the Christian being under threat of Satan and the ungodly. This explains the choice of the opening dictum: "When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever" (Proverbs 10, vs 25). The cantata has no secco recitatives, only accompagnati; in the first we hear tenor, alto and soprano successively. Notable are the dotted rhythms in the chorus 'Stolze Feinde' in the centre of the cantata.

The programme closes with another cantata by Telemann, much shorter than the first. Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt opens with a sinfonia, followed attacca by a concerto. The latter's text is the most famous verse from the Gospel of John: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (ch 3, vs 16). It is part of the gospel reading of Whit Monday for which this cantata is written. This dictum is set as a duet for tenor and bass; the last words - "but have eternal life" (sondern das ewige Leben haben) is a choral fugue. The ensuing aria, 'Holdes Feuer', includes coloratura on the word "Feuer" (fire), undoubtedly depicting the flames. It is followed by an accompagnato for bass which includes two pairs of lines which are set in the form of ariosi. Next is an aria for soprano whose joyful character is expressed through dotted rhythms in the vocal and the trumpet parts. The cantata concludes with two stanzas from the chorale Alle Menschen müssen sterben, with the melody of Johann Rosenmüller.

I welcomed the first disc with cantatas from Central Germany but was not overly enthusiastic about the performances. I am happy to say that this disc shows substantial improvement in this department. Michael Scholl has invited four fine singers which deliver generally outstanding performances of the solo parts. Now and then Steve Wächter should have reduced his vibrato although it is by no means really damaging. I noted with satisfaction that the recitatives are sung with the necessary rhythmic freedom. Delivery and text expression are given much attention; I especially like the way Matthias Vieweg sings his recitatives and arias. The only serious point of criticism is the size of the choir. The chamber choir comprises 16 voices, the full choir 45. That is too much for this repertoire. The maximum seems 16, but it is quite likely that eight or even four would suffice.

Considering the quality of these three cantatas and the general level of performance this disc is an important addition to the discography of German baroque sacred music. That makes it all the more regrettable that the booklet omits any English translations, both of the liner-notes and of the lyrics.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Heidi Maria Taubert
Matthias Vieweg
Michael Zabanoff
Biederitzer Kantorei
Cammermusik Potsdam

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