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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Celebration Cantatas BWV 205a & 249a"

Miriam Feuersinger, soprano; Elvira Bill, contralto; Daniel Johannsen, tenor; Stephan MacLeod, bass
Deutsche Hofmusik
Dir: Alexander Grychtolik

rec: Sept 10 - 14, 2018, Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075936392 (© 2019) (80'14")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Blast Lärmen, ihr Feinde! Verstärket die Macht (BWV 205a); Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen (BWV 249a)

Helen Barsby, David Rodeschini, Michael Dallmann, trumpet; Stephan Katte, Sebastian Fischer, horn; Jan De Winne, Christine Debaisieux, recorder, transverse flute; Lidewei De Sterck, Mario Topper, oboe; Mechthild Karkow, violin, viola d'amore; Heinrich Kubitschek, violin; Elisabeth Sordia, violin, viola; Gertrud Ohse, viola da gamba; Lea Rahel Bader, cello; Niklas Sprenger, violone; Adrian Rovatkay, bassoon; Aleksandra Grychtolik, Alexander Grychtolik, harpsichord; Frithjof Koch, timpani

Among the many cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach that have been lost, are a considerable number of secular works. Some of them can be reconstructed, as Bach later adapted them to a sacred text. One of these is Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen (BWV 249a). Bach lovers will immediately recognize the music of the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249).

'Oratorio' is how this work was called in the second version of 1735, which opens with the words "Kommt, eilet und laufet". The first performance took place on 1 April 1725, and in this version the first line was "Kommt, gehet und eilet". Only two months earlier, Bach composed his cantata Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen, which is called a 'pastoral cantata' by Alfred Dürr in his book on Bach's cantatas and by Alexander Grychtolik in his liner-notes to the present recording. It was intended as a congratulatory cantata at the occasion of the birthday of Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, on 23 February 1725. Bach had close connections to the Weissenfels court. In 1713 he had written his 'Hunt Cantata' (Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208) for the Duke's birthday.

Nothing of Bach's music has been preserved. However, there can be little doubt that the Easter Oratorio is an adaptation of this birthday cantata. The latter's text is included in the first volume of the poems by Christian Friedrich Henrici, alias Picander. The cantata has four characters: the shepherdesses Doris (soprano) and Sylvia (alto), both taken from Greek mythology, and the shepherds Menalcas (tenor) and Damoetas (bass), which appear in the pastoral poetry of Virgil. The cantata opens with a duet of the two shepherds, but when they are about to sing the dacapo, the two shepherdesses take over. "The fictional framework, inspired by ancient literature and mythology, is woven together with the real present-day festive occasion: Both shepherdesses are on the way to the duke's birthday and want to make him a wreath of flowers as a gift, but they need help from the goddess of flowers, who Sylvia summons in her aria, 'Come now, Flora'." (booklet)

Obviously, any reconstruction is to a certain extent speculative. That goes in particular for the instrumental scoring. In this version, made by Grychtolik, it is identical with that of the Easter Oratorio, but whether that was also the scoring Bach intended is anybody's guess. The recitatives cannot be reconstructed anyway, and have been written in Bach's style by Grychtolik. From a historical point of view this work is quite interesting, as it is the first documented collaboration between Bach and Picander. It also sheds further light on Bach's connections with the aristocracy of his time. Notable is that this cantata was intended as Tafelmusik, meaning to be performed during the meal. Grychtolik assumes that it was performed with costumes and staging. Taking this into account, the interaction between the singers could have been better. In cases like this, a live recording may be preferable.

Bach's parodies mostly concern sacred cantatas adapted from secular works. However, sometimes the parody was secular as well. That is the case with the first cantata included here, Blast Lärmen, ihr Feinde! Verstärket die Macht. Its number in the Schmieder catalogue reveals that it is an adaptation of Cantata BWV 205, Zerreißet, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft, also known as Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus. This is a dramma per musica and was written at the occasion of the nameday of the popular university teacher August Friedrich Müller in August 1725. The libretto was written by Picander again, and he may also have been the one who adapted the text for the version performed here, which was written at the occasion of the crowning of Friedrich August II as Augustus III of Poland in January 1734 and performed the next month. The performance of this 'Coronation Cantata', as Grychtolik calls it, took place in the winter hall of Zimmermann's Kaffeehaus by the Collegium Musicum under Bach's direction. Grychtolik mentions that only 100 copies of the libretto were printed, and from that he concludes that it must have been a relatively intimate performance. This is his argument to use only four singers in the tutti sections.

This cantata also has four characters, representing four virtues: Pallas (cleverness; soprano), Gnade (Grace; alto), Gerechtigkeit (Justice; tenor) and Tapferkeit (Valor; bass). It is a typical homage cantata, comparable with the Italian serenata, in which the character and deeds of a particular person are celebrated. For instance, Justice sings: "Lord! Thy zeal to maintain justice means that each of these thy servants help and safety here can find". Note that a text like this is not fundamentally different from sacred texts of the time and could find a place in a sacred cantata without much adaptation. The closing chorus is a typical example of the exaggeration which is a feature of such works: "Vivat August, August vivat! Till the frame of earth doth fall".

It is not known whether this cantata is the result of a commission. Grychtolik comes up with an interesting suggestion. The composition may have been "Bach's own initiative in order to remind the new King of an important petition; at this time, he has already been waiting for several months on a response to his letter, where he asked the art-minded Elector for the prestigious title of a Saxon Court Composer or Kapellmeister. This letter was supplemented by the vocal parts of the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass in B minor."

As one will understand, we don't get any 'new' music by Bach here. All the music is fairly well-known, although Cantata BWV 205 is certainly not a stock piece. However, anyone who has a special interest in Bach should investigate this disc. It is interesting for historical reasons and adds something to what we know about Bach's activities as a composer and about his social standing in his time. The texts of these two cantatas were known, but it is interesting and worthwhile to hear them on the music to which Bach in all probability set them. Alexander Grychtolik has presented his own reconstructions of such pieces before, and one can only welcome his activities in this field. The performances are generally quite good, although - as I have already indicated - they tend to be a bit static. The soloists could have been a bit more imaginative and the theatrical aspects are rather underexposed. That said, we have four fine singers here (even though I have some reservations with regard to Stephan MacLeod) and an excellent instrumental ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Elvira Bill
Miriam Feuersinger
Daniel Johannsen
Stephan MacLeod
Deutsche Hofmusik

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