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Johann Gottlieb NAUMANN (1741-1801)
Zeit und Ewigkeit, cantata for soloists, choir and orchestra [57:48]
Heilig ist Gott der Herr for 2 choirs and orchestra [03:07]
Psalm 149 (Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied) for soloists, choir and orchestra [06:08]
Simone Kermes, soprano; Britta Schwarz, contralto; Marcus Ullmann, tenor; Gotthold Schwarz, bass
Körnerscher Sing-Verein Dresden; Dresdner Instrumental-Concert/Peter Kopp
Recorded in October 2001 in the Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany DDD
CPO 999 955-2 [67:15]


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The German composer Johann Gottlieb Naumann is mostly known for his operas. One of them, Gustav Wasa, which he composed in Sweden in 1786 and which he considered his best work, even became a Swedish national opera.

This recording shows a lesser known aspect of Naumann's output: his sacred compositions. It contains three works: a large-scale cantata and two short pieces, which are much more modest in scoring and style.

Naumann was the main musical figure in Dresden between Hasse and Weber. He was born in Blasewitz, near Dresden, and received his first musical education at the Kreuzschule in Dresden. At the age of 16 he travelled to Italy in the company of the Swedish violinist Anders Wesström. There he received musical lessons from Giuseppe Tartini and 'Padre' Giovanni Battista Martini. He also came into contact with Johann Adolf Hasse in 1762, who was in Venice at the time. In the same year his first dramatic work was performed in Venice, the intermezzo 'Il tesoro insidiato'. On Hasse's recommendation he was appointed second church composer in Dresden in 1764. The next year he became church and chamber composer and in 1776 Kapellmeister. He regularly travelled abroad: in the mid-60's and early 70's he went to Italy, and from 1777 to 1786 he spent some time in Sweden, where his opera 'Cora' was performed at the inauguration of the new opera house in Stockholm. Before returning to Dresden, where he became Oberkapellmeister in 1786, he was in Copenhagen. There he played a leading role in the reform of the court chapel and the court opera.

It was on his way to Sweden in 1777 that he visited Ludwigslust, the residence of Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Duke Friedrich was called 'the Pious', reflecting his strong adherence to Pietism. He had a not very large, but well-trained vocal and instrumental ensemble at his disposal. They were responsible for the 'concerts spirituels', where compositions by members of the ensemble as well as composers from elsewhere were performed.

Naumann was that much impressed by the performances he heard that he spontaneously composed a setting of Psalm 96 for the ensemble, which was well received. Naumann was asked to compose the music for the cantata recorded here, 'Zeit und Ewigkeit'. When he returned from Sweden in 1784 he went to Ludwigslust again, and there performed this cantata, where it got such a reception that it was frequently performed later during the 'concerts spirituels'.

The text of the cantata was written by Heinrich Julius Tode, a theologian employed by the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. It consists of recitatives, arias, choruses and chorales. "The present text concerns the contrast between the worldling who indulges in carefree pleasure and the Christian who piously keeps in mind the end of his life. While the first, surprised by Death, despairs, the latter welcomes the grave as a place of repose as well as a transitional zone to the last Judgment and to eternal life", Ortrun Landsmann writes in the liner notes. Although there is no specific indication as for which time in the year this cantata was composed, it doesn't come as a surprise that the first performance took place on 1 January 1784. The turn of the year is a very appropriate moment to reflect upon the transcience of life. It is no surprise either that the cantata contains a setting of the chorale 'Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig'.

Although the ensemble for which the cantata was composed didn't consist of virtuoso singers and players, the technical level of the music is such that one has to conclude that their skills must have been considerable. There are some traces of the past, not only in the use of traditional chorales, but also in the fact that the bass solo at the end is representing the 'vox Christi', which we know from several of Johann Sebastian Bach's cantatas. In fact, the cantata ends with the words of Christ as they are written down in the Revelations (3,11): "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown".

Naumann's work is still rooted firmly in the German rhetorical tradition which is shown by vivid illustrations of the text, like in the aria 'Die Zeit, die, kommend, träge schleicht' on the words "träge" (slowly), "rasch" (quickly) and "Sturm" (storm), or in the recitative 'So gehe dann sein Pfad' on the words "bergauf, bergab" (up the hill, down the hill).

A more modern feature of the cantata is that parts of it are 'through-composed': the last four sections merge into each other without interruption.

The two other works on this disc are strongly different in character. They were written for the 'Brüdergemeinde' (Moravian Brothers) in Herrnhut (Oberlausitz, Saxony). The setting of Psalm 149 was composed for them in 1780, after Naumann got acquainted with its musical practices through a Dresden family connected to the Brothers. He visited Herrnhut in 1790 and was so impressed by the way music was used in this community that he composed 'Heilig ist der Herr' for double chorus and orchestra for it. The rather simple instrumental parts reflect the musical practices in the community. In Psalm 149 Naumann wrote parts for the harp and three trombones, the playing of which was especially cultivated among the Moravian Brothers.

On the whole Naumann's works are given good performances here by soloists, choir and orchestra. I wonder, though, whether the quality of these works, in particular the cantata, are fully exploited. Sometimes I find the interpretation a little short on contrast, in particular in regard to dynamics. On the other hand I am not sure whether the sometimes quite virtuoso cadenzas in some arias are in line with what we know about the level of the ensemble for which this cantata was originally composed. The bass is a little weak in the accompagnato 'Schau hin'; he is much better at the end as 'vox Christi'.

To sum up, this is a very interesting recording of sacred music by one of Germany's most important composers of the classical period, performed well enough to give a good impression of its qualities.

Johan van Veen

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