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Concert reviews

Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657-1714): Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde
Le Banquet Céleste/Damien Guillon
concert: Oct 21, 2019, Utrecht, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

Am Jammer und Beschwerlichkeit, da fehlt es hier zu keiner Zeit; Auf des Kreuzes Finsternis folgt die Sonne ganz gewiss; Des Tadlers Stich verlache ich; Die Zeit verkehret, was uns beschweret; Ich finde schlechte Freud bei Unempfindlichkeit; Liebe in Abwesenheit grünet durch Beständigkeit; Sonata V in B flat; Wer sich dem Himmel übergeben, wird endlich Ruh' und Glück erleben

Damien Guillon, alto; Simon Pierre, Paul Monteiro, violin; Isabelle St-Yves, viola da gamba; Etienne Floutier, violone; André Henrich, lute; Kevin Manent-Navratil, harpsichord, organ

It must have been around 40 years ago that I heard on the radio the recording of a concert with Mieke van der Sluis, at the time one of the leading voices of the early music movement. Part of the programme were two arias from the collection Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde by the German composer Philipp Heinrich Erlebach. At the time I hardly knew him, but I was impressed by the quality of these arias, and I hoped to hear more of them. Unfortunately since then I have heard pieces from this collection only sporadically. It is quite surprising that it has received so little attention to date, and therefore I was happy to see that Damien Guillon, with his ensemble Le Banquet Céleste, was to give a series of concerts entirely devoted to Erlebach and his arias. When they visited Utrecht, I did not want to miss the opportunity to maybe hear the arias which I heard a long time ago, or at least other pieces from this collection.

Johann Heinrich Erlebach shares the fate of many composers of his time: a large part of his oeuvre has been lost. In this particular case it was the fire which hit the castle of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt in 1735 which destroyed many of his works. Ironically it was the great appreciation of the court for its former Kapellmeister which caused this tragedy: after Erlebach's death it purchased all his music from his widow. At the same time Erlebach's reputation among his colleagues is the reason a respectable number of his compositions have come down to us as they collected and exchanged them to be performed where they were working. Still, we only have a relatively small number of the about 750 works Erlebach seems to have composed. He wrote music in all genres, both vocal and instrumental, sacred and secular. Also evidence of Erlebach's reputation is a contemporary poet. In one of his works the title character says: "From there I came to Rudolstadt, where Mr. Erlebach is music director to Count von Schwarzburg and among German composers gives the most satisfaction and outstandingly distinguishes himself".

The most substantial recording of his oeuvre is a twofer with cantatas, performed by soloists and the ensemble Les Amis de Philippe, directed by the late Ludger Rémy. Today the best-known part of his oeuvre is the set of VI Sonate à Violino & Viola da Gamba col suo Basso Continuo, printed in Nuremberg in 1694. Only a few arias from the above-mentioned collection have made it to disc. Three of them are included in a recording by Miriam Feuersinger, Franz Vitzthum and the Capricornus Consort Basel. One of them was also part of the concert by Le Banquet Céleste: Wer sich dem Himmel übergeben, wird endlich Ruh' und Glück erleben.

Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde is a collection of 50 "moral and political arias" which was printed in 1697 for solo voice(s), two violins and bc. It was reprinted in 1710 and that same year a second collection was published with another 25 arias. The arias are all strophic, but every stanza has a dacapo. Considering the time they were written, they are not unlike the opera arias composed at that time, as these often had a strophic texture as well. At the same time they can be seen as a stage in the development of the solo song.

The titles of the arias suggest that they are the first lines, but that is not the case. They rather sum up their tenor. The aria Die Zeit verkehret, was uns beschweret, for instance, opens with the line "Ihr Gedanken, quält mich nicht".

When I first heard some of these songs, I was struck by Erlebach's melodic gifts as well as his skills in writing for the human voice, and that was confirmed when I heard the discs mentioned above and Damien Guillon's performances during the concert. Erlebach shows a great sensitivity for the text and its emotional meaning, and is able to translate that into his music, not only in the vocal parts, but also through the contributions of the instruments. Des Tadlers stich verlache ich opens with fast figures, first in the strings and then in the voice, to illustrate the first phrase, about envious people shooting arrows at the protagonist. Quite effective are the descending figures in the first stanza of Liebe in Abwesenheit grünet durch Beständigkeit, which refers to the pain the protagonist feels in his heart. The same kind of figures illustrate the phrase: "sighs, don't rise up again", in Wer sich dem Himmel übergeben, wird endlich Ruh' und Glück erleben. Dissonances illustrate the word "Plagen" in An Jammer und Beschwerlichkeit, da fehlt es hier zu keiner Zeit ("Heaven, you know of my agonies"). One of the most expressive pieces in the programme was one also sung by Mieke van der Sluis many years ago: Die Zeit verkehret, was uns beschweret. Erlebach effectively explores the contrast in the text between the two halves of the first stanza.

Considering the size of the two collections of arias by Erlebach, we only heard a very small selection. It is to be hoped that ensembles and singers are willing to delve into this rich source. A commercial recording by Damien Guillon and Le Banquet Céleste could well help to bring this repertoire to the attention of other singers and ensembles. That is not the only reason to look forward to a recording. Guillon proved to be the ideal interpreter of these arias. His experience with German music, for instance the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach, explains why he feels at home in this repertoire. His command of the German language and his feeling for the character of German music resulted in a compelling performance of Erlebach's arias. The instrumentalists did an excellent job as well. In addition to the arias we heard one of the sonatas, nicely played by Simon Pierre, although I would have liked stronger dynamic differences.

The turnout was rather disaappointing but those who had come received the performances with great enthusiasm, and rightly so. They were rewarded with another beautiful aria by Erlebach: Meine Seufzer, meine Klagen.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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