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"Josephs Neuer Kayser-Thron"

Concerto Stella Matutina
Dir: Alfredo Bernardini

rec: August 28 - 29, 2013, Brixen, Priesterseminar (church)
fra bernardo - fb 1506262 (© 2015) (63'43")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score BWV 71

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Gott ist mein König (BWV 71); Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657-1714): Actus homagiali Mulhusino; Ouverture VI in g minor [1]

Source: Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, VI Ouvertures ... nach französischer Art, 1693

Judit Scherrer, Jessica Jans*, soprano; Matthias Lucht, Cornelius Glaus*, alto; Jakob Pilgram, Nils Giebelhausen*, tenor; Dominik Wörner, Christian Feichtmair*, bass
[* ripienists]
Wolfram Schurig, recorder; Katya Polin, recorder, viola; Alfredo Bernardini, Ingo Müller, Elisabeth Baumer, oboe; Herbert Walser-Breuss, Bernhard Lampert, Ulrich Mayr, trumpet; Silvia Schweinberger, Susanne Mattle, violin; Lucas Schurig-Breuss, viola; Thomas Platzgummer, cello; Makiko Kurabayashi, bassoon; Barbara Fischer, violone; Johannes Hämmerle, organ; Georg Tausch, timpani

The name of Joseph in the title of the disc to be reviewed here refers to Joseph I who was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1705. The programme includes music by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach and Johann Sebastian Bach. What is their connection with an emperor in Vienna? The music performed here was written for performances in Mühlhausen, a town in Thuringia where Bach was organist from 1707-1708. It was an imperial free city which was under the control of the emperor himself. In 1705 the town was to celebrate Joseph's accession to the throne. As a representative of the emperor Count Anton Albert of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt attended the ceremony of homage and in his retinue was Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, who was Kapellmeister in Rudolstadt from 1681 until his death in 1714. It is remarkable that the count commissioned his own Kapellmeister to write the music for the occasion. The result was a work called Actus homagiali Mulhusino, the only work from his pen which has come down to us in an autograph copy.

The work opens and closes with a marche for two trumpets, two oboes, two violins, viola and bc. In this performance they are joined by timpani which are included in the scoring of the two vocal works: the serenata Josephs neuer Kayser-Thron and the concerto Exultemus, gaudeamus, laetemur. The serenata comprises six stanzas in German with the same music, which is performed in a mixture of soli and tutti. The ensuing concerto has the form of a sacred concerto as it was written in the 17th century. The first, third and fifth section are for the tutti, the second for soprano and tenor, the fourth for alto and bass. Soprano and tenor largely move in parallels, interrupted by some solo episodes. The alto and bass are more independent from each other, although there is quite some imitation between them. They are mostly supported by staccato chords in the strings. The Actus ends with a repetition of the marche. Stylistically this is a work of the 17th century; it often reminded me also of the music written by composers who were active in Vienna and other towns in Austria in the time of Biber. Erlebach was a prolific composer of sacred music. Unfortunately a large part of his output has been lost in a fire. His extant output in this genre shows that he was a very good composer, and that is confirmed by the Actus homagiali Mulhusino.

Erlebach was also one of those composers who were under the spell of the music as performed in Paris, especially the operas of Lully. They wrote orchestral suites in the style of Lully and were known as lullistes. In 1693 Erlebach published VI Ouvertures begleitet mit ihren darzu schicklichen Airs nach Französischer Art und Manier. From this collection Concerto Stella Matutina plays the last. If one expects a purely French piece of music one will probably be disappointed or at least surprised. It does sound rather German, and there seem several factors responsible for this. First of all, we should not forget that the German orchestras were different from their French counterparts. In the latter the parts of second violin and viola were allocated to three different instruments, and in the time of Lully the cello was not used in France but rather the bass violin. Secondly, German orchestral suites were modelled after those by Lully but were still German. Reinhard Goebel, director of the former ensemble Musica antiqua Köln, once stated that French composers would not have recognized suites by German composers as being French. That said, I have heard performances which did sound more French than what we get here. This could be the effect of the performance practice: the addition of percussion to Erlebach's scoring - for which I don't see any reason - and especially the pitch.

In these performances the pitch is what is known as Chorton: a=465 Hz which was the pitch of the organs of the time and therefore also of sacred vocal music. The liner-notes refer to the score of Bach's cantata 71 in which several instruments - recorders, oboes and cello - are notated as 'transposing' instruments. They were a tone lower than the traditional instruments which indicates that the Chorton was indeed the standard pitch in Mühlhausen. It seems reasonable to use that pitch also in Erlebach's music performed just three years earlier. But that is not the ideal pitch for Erlebach's Overture in g minor: the common French pitch was a=392 Hz and there are reasons to believe that this pitch was also adopted at many courts in central Germany. In my ears this overture doesn't sound that well at such a high pitch and that goes in particular for a piece like La Plainte. From that perspective its inclusion in the programme is a little unfortunate, also because it has no connection to the events which this disc is about.

The second event is the council election of 1708 which took place in February and was followed the next day by a service. For this occasion Bach composed Gott ist mein König (BWV 71), one of the few cantatas from Bach's pen which was published during his lifetime. The word cantata does not appear in the score; it was called Mottetto diviso in quatuor Chori. Those 'choirs' were four groups of instruments: three trumpets and drums; two recorders and cello; two oboes and bassoon; two violins, viola and violone. We are also informed about the number of singers involved: four concerti and four ripieni; the latter are optional. This 'cantata' is not that different from Erlebach's Actus in that it is rooted in the 17th century. The first section is headed tutti e animose and is a setting of Psalm 74,12: "God is my King of old, who works all the salvation that comes to pass on earth". It is followed by an 'air' for tenor, with the soprano singing the sixth stanza from the chorale O Gott, du frommer Gott. The third movement is a fuga al ottava â 4. voci. The form of the dacapo is not used in Bach's early vocal music but in the bass solo 'Tag und Nacht ist dein' we find one of the first arias with a dacapo structure. In the A part the bass is supported by the choirs of recorders and oboes respectively, the B part is with basso continuo alone. The ensuing short 'air' for 'alto e trombe' includes short interjections of the trumpet choir which returns for the ritornello at the end. Then we hear another tutti section, with the indication affettuoso e larghetto. The tutti section which closes the work is called arioso and has the form of a motet. Here we find a reference to emperor Joseph I which directly connects this work to Erlebach's Actus: "Good fortune, salvation, and great victory must daily anew delight you, Joseph, so that in all places and lands there remains quite constantly good fortune, salvation, and great victory".

This recording tries to live up to the original performing conditions as much as possible and that has resulted in a convincing and compelling interpretation. The soloists are all excellent: the text is given much attention and is well understandable; the balance between the voices and the instruments just right. The instrumental ensemble delivers colourful performances. But it is especially the combination of Erlebach and Bach which makes this disc attractive; this is the first recording of Erlebach's Actus. I am less enthusiastic about the overture, even though it is very well performed.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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