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Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727 - 1789): "Woodwind Chamber Music"

Concert Royal Köln

rec: Sept 18 - 20, 2013, Schleiden/Eifel, Schloßkirche
musicaphon - M 56958 (© 2014) (65'18")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Wilhelm HERTEL: Concerto à 5 for trumpet, 2 oboes and 2 bassoons in D; Sonata à 4 for 2 horns and 2 bassoons in E flat; Trio for organ and oboe in C; Trio for organ and oboe in d minor; Trio for organ and oboe in F; Adolph Heinrich SPONHOLZ (1803-1851): Jesus, meine Zuversicht, chorale prelude for organ and oboe

Karla Schröter, Ulrich Ehret, oboe; Georg Köhler, Jörg Schulteß, horn; Gábor Hegyi, trumpet; Gergö Farkas, Marita Schaar, bassoon; Imola Gombos, cello; Stanislaw Gojny, archlute; Harald Hoeren, harpsichord; Willi Kronenberg, organ

Until fairly recently Johann Wilhelm Hertel was almost exclusively known for some trumpet concertos. Since about ten years several discs have been released which show that he has much more to offer. In 2005 Aeolus released a disc with solo concertos and sinfonias, and in 2010 another disc with pieces from this part of his oeuvre appeared on Tudor. CPO has released three discs with sacred works which confirmed the impression that Hertel was a highly original composer from the time of the sons of Bach. The latter is probably one of the reasons that for a long time he has been more or less neglected, certainly by representatives of historical performance practice. Ironically recent recordings show that the use of period instruments reveals the qualities of Hertel's output.

The three trios for obbligato organ and oboe are quite unusual as far as their scoring is concerned. Music for an obbligato keyboard and a melody instrument was very common in Hertel's time. Some composers, such as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Gottlieb Graun, even reworked 'traditional' trio sonatas to pieces for keyboard and a treble instrument, in particular the transverse flute and the violin. But those keyboard parts were written for a strung keyboard instrument, such as the harpsichord and the fortepiano. Hertel's trios are specifically scored for an organ, although a copy of the Trio in d minor mentions the harpsichord as an alternative.

The combination of an obbligato organ and a melody instrument - mostly a wind instrument - was not uncommon in Hertel's time. But it was mostly chorale arrangements which were scored this way. The first who composed such pieces was Georg Friedrich Kauffmann; these were published in the 1730s. Later composers such as Johann Ludwig Krebs and Gottfried August Homilius wrote a considerable number of such chorale arrangements. These were intended for a large organ; the wind instrument was to be placed in such a way that it sounded like a stop of the organ. In his liner-notes Willi Kronenberg assumes that these trios may have been written with the same intention. I am not so sure about that. It seems likely that these trios were played in the hall of the hunting lodge of Ludwigslust, which belonged to the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin where Hertel was court composer from 1754 until his death. The Duke was an avid player of the organ and owned a chamber organ which possibly stood in the hunting lodge. The fact that this was a chamber organ with relatively few stops - the organ has been preserved but the disposition has been changed and the original disposition is not known - changes the balance between the two instruments.

It is notable that in two sonatas instruments are added to play a basso continuo. They largely strengthen the left hand of the organist who plays the bass line. The autograph of the third sonata - the only one which has been preserved - includes the word Violoncello in some passages in the bass part. This has been taken as an occasion to add a string bass and a chordal instrument to two of the sonatas. As the original instrument has not been preserved, Willi Kronenberg plays a somewhat larger instrument from about the same time. The performances are outstanding, although the oboe is probably a bit too dominant in relation to the right hand of the organ part. In the opening movements the two instruments largely follow their own route, but in the last movements we find a considerable amount of parallel motion, either in thirds or in sixths. There is quite some expression in the slow movements, and that includes some passages with daring harmony.

The latter is also the case in some episodes from the Concerto a 5 in D, especially the second movement (cantabile). This is one of two pieces from Hertel's oeuvre which are scored for wind instruments without basso continuo. It is a kind of trumpet concerto, but then not with strings but with woodwind. The trumpet keeps silent in the cantabile. This piece is technically very demanding. The third movement, called plaisanterie, has a middle section which is a duet of the two bassoons. The Sonata à 4 in E flat has an even more remarkable scoring: two horns and two bassoons. The two horn parts are demanding in that one of them has to play very high notes, whereas the other is given "a bass line that exceeds the diatonic compass of the natural horn", Karla Schröter states in her liner-notes. Unfortunately she doesn't tell how the player of that part has solved this problem. The performances are impressive, both technically and stylistically.

As a bonus we get a late specimen of the genre which I mentioned above: a chorale arrangement for organ and oboe by the German composer Adolph Heinrich Sponholz about whom little is known (he has no entry in New Grove). He was organist in Rostock and composed orchestral and vocal music of various kinds as well as piano works. The performance of the chorale melody with a baroque oboe is a bit odd, especially as the organist chose here the darker colours of his instrument.

This is a highly interesting disc, from a historical angle - the rarity of the repertoire - and from a strictly musical angle. It attests to the excellence of Hertel as a composer and make one understand that he was held in high esteem in his time. There is every reason to look forward to a further exploration of his oeuvre. No lover of music for wind instruments should miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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