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Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785)
Music for the Frauenkirche, Dresden: Der herr ist Gott, de runs erleuchtet (Cantata for Whitsun); Selig seid ihr, wenn ihr geschmahet werdet (Cantata for the Sunday after Ascension); Heilig ist unser Gott, der herr Gott Zabaoth (Cantata for Trinity Sunday); Gott fahret auf mi Jauchzen (Cantata for Ascension day)
Vasiljka Jezovsek (soprano); Anne Buter (alto); Hubert Nettinger (tenor); Christian Hilz (bass). Dresden Kreuzchor; Dresden Barockorchester/Roderich Kreile
Recorded at the Lukaskirche, Dresden, May 2004
CARUS 83.183 [73.23]

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It was one of the darkest moments of the Second World War and certainly one of the most controversial when Allied bombers destroyed the beautiful city of Dresden in response to the Nazi destruction of Coventry, Warsaw, London and elsewhere. It took some considerable time for Dresden to rise again phoenix-like, but it has indeed done so, retaining much of its ancient charm. This disc is in honour of the rebuilding and re-dedication of its greatest church, the ‘Frauenkirche’ in Autumn 2004. The front cover of the booklet is adorned with an elegant picture of what it might have looked like.

And the composer featured was one of its ‘greatest ornaments’, Gottfried Homilius, four of whose two hundred or so cantatas are featured here. Cantatas in fact for Ascension, and its following Sunday, Whitsun and Trinity Sundays. Like the great J.S., Homilius wrote cantatas for all of the special feasts and for each Sunday. Some Sundays therefore having two or three to chose from. But to most music lovers Homilius will be unknown. He worked at the two main churches in Dresden, the Kreuzkirche, destroyed in 1760 by invading Prussian forces and then at the Frauenkirche. The advertising which accompanies the CD talks of Homilius’s work "finding widespread acceptance outside the capital of Saxony". He had attended Leipzig university and studied under Johann Scheider organist in Leipzig. He was recommended to the Frauenkirche and eventually worked there after a five year spell at the Kreuzschule. His life was, it seems, quite uneventful thereafter.

It is difficult when listening to the music to decide if the composer is basically high baroque or classical. Each cantata has elements of both, so that Homilius, in a way, forms a link between J.S. Bach and Mozart.

The plan and form of the cantatas is more or less the same for each. Let me give, as example, the Cantata for the Sunday following the Ascension. This falls into five sections beginning and ending with the full choir, the last item being a simple harmonized chorale. The central sections consist of recitatives and in the middle of the sandwich an aria, the longest single item in the work. The Cantata for Trinity Sunday has more sections and has three arias, one for alto, one for tenor and one for soprano.

The texts for each cantata verge on the philosophical. They certainly use biblical quotations as a starting point. They were performed alongside liturgical readings and linked with pastor's sermon. There is a verse from the Bible at the head of the work and a hymn for the congregation at the end. It is not known who wrote the texts for the arias and the non-biblical recitatives.

The inside of the booklet is given over to a lovely photograph pictures the many young voices singing in a hearty and attentive manner. The picture sums up their ecstatic contribution which is for me a real highlight. The soloists are good although a lighter more gentle approach in the recits would have pleased me more.

But no matter how good the performers are the music is no more than second-rate and although it is worth hearing it really does not stir the soul or make a lasting impression.

All texts are given both in German and in English. There is biographical detail on the performers and a succinct but handy essay by Gerhard Poppe. The recording is well balanced and very immediate with a not particularly church acoustic.

Gary Higginson

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