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Johann Ludwig BACH (1677-1731)
Missa Brevis sopra "Allen Gott in der Hoh sei Her";
Cantatas: Der Herr wird ein Neues im lande erschaffen; Die Weisheit kommt nicht in eine boshafte Seele; Ich will meinen Geist in euch geben
Maria Zadory – soprano;
Kai Wessel - alto;
Wilfred Jochens -tenor;
Stephan Schreckenberger - bass
Rheinische Kantorei
Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
rec. Wuppertal. Immanuelskirche 1993/4; Mass recorded 2002. No other details available
CAPRICCIO 67 131 [66.31]

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This disc comes from a series of recordings dating back over ten years. Johann Ludwig Bach (the ‘Meiningen Bach’) was a little known cousin of the great J.S. and practically his contemporary. He is no weak link but has a voice of his own; no wonder J.S. seems to have performed no less than eighteen of his cantatas whilst he worked at Leipzig in 1726. He made fair copies of each of these works in the process. He must have thought a great deal of them. C.P.E. Bach, not one to praise unduly, as late as the 1770s, described them as "diligent work with pure writing".

This recording offers us three cantatas and the only surviving sections of a Mass. It allows us an opportunity to discuss the style of the music and compare him with J.S. Johann Sebastian has sometimes been described as the last great medieval composer. By that is meant that he used certain techniques which were mostly out of fashion by c.1700. For example he deployed the chorale melody at the opening of St. Matthew Passion using treble voices under he wove polyphony in much the same way that a renaissance composer would use plainsong melody. Then there is Bach’s total mastery of and perpetual use of complex counterpoint and its concomitant, fugue. He thinks in a linear way like an earlier master and is less concerned with the vertical. His contemporaries thought more in terms of writing a tune and accompaniment.

Now I know that this is a generalisation but it might help to give an idea of how different some of this music we are reviewing here could have appeared at the time. Johann Ludwig Bach, in the cantatas anyway is not a man of the baroque. Instead he looks forward to the classical period and must have appeared quite modern for his time. The Rococo decorative ceiling which adorns the CD case and booklet seems most appropriate.

So let’s go through these four works.

The two Mass movements are all that survive of a work written in July 1716. It has a curious combination of Latin original with German tropes sometimes sung together or sometimes separately by a solo or concertante group. It has some five-part contrapuntal writing. It is the most old-fashioned music on the disc mixing block-like alternations of vocal and instrumental ensembles. The mass culminates in a virtuoso ‘Cum sancta spiritu’.

This is followed by a cantata ‘Der herr wird ein Neues’ which is for the feast of the ‘Visitation of the Lady’ in Meiningen in 1714/15 where Johann Ludwig worked unspectacularly all his life. This follows the conventional pattern of opening chorus, recitative and aria for a solo voice - in this case an alto. In the centre of the work the longest aria (da capo in form) is for soprano and not surprisingly uses the Magnificat text in paraphrase. Then comes an arioso for a different voice followed by a recitative which may be divided between all the soloists as here. The final chorus is linked to a related chorale tune. The texts are anonymous but have a theme, including some biblical quotation, suitable for the day. This cantata, like the rest is tuneful but in the choral writing a little more severe and contrapuntal.

The next Cantata ‘Die Weisheit kommt nicht’ is also called a concerto for four voices but this time with two oboes, strings and continuo. This was written for Cantata Sunday, a new name to me but which falls on the fourth Sunday after Easter. The texts develop an idea from the letter of St. James Chapter 1. One interesting feature of this work is the unusually turbulent continuo writing during the bass arioso passage.

The last cantata ‘Ich will meiner Geist’ has instead of a pair of oboes a pair of horns which at first play without the main ripieno group. They only come together as the cantata reaches its climax towards the end. It is for the sixth Sunday after Trinity and begins "I will pour my spirit into you and will make such people of you shall walk in my commandments".

The performers are a mixed bag. Soprano Maria Zadory is delightful, light and airy and vibrato-less or I should say, she uses a discrete vibrato to enhance her ideal tone. Susanne Norin reminds me of a hooty counter-tenor; in fact twice I had to refer to the CD booklet to see if it wasn’t actually a man - the sound quality being so typical. (but see footnote - LM)

I find the tenor Wilfred Jochens rather tight in tone especially in the upper register but Stephan Schreckenberger has a natural and elegant bass voice with a fine range.

The choral work is perfect, neat and clean with good attention to dynamics and diction. The chosen tempi are lively and carefully paced. The recording slightly favours the voices over the orchestra but this not too detrimental. The booklet has a microscopically printed essay by Peter Wollny which is useful and informative. All texts are enclosed and translated.

All in all then, a worthy disc of some interesting music, well worth hearing at least once but I doubt if anyone would find it interesting enough for regular playings.

Gary Higginson

Please note that there is an error in the booklet and back of the CD of which Gary would not have been aware. The singer of the alto part is not (Ms) Susanne Norin, but (Mr) Kai Wessel..


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