This is the second
time I have come across the music of
Georg Gebel the Younger. The first time
was a couple of months ago when I reviewed
a recording - also on CPO - of his St
John Passion. I was very impressed by
this work, so I was curious to find
out whether these two oratorios were
as good as the Passion.
Gebel was born in Breslau
(now Wroclaw in Poland). At a young
age he was already attracting attention
for his virtuosity at the keyboard.
He worked in Breslau and Dresden, where
he was held in high esteem, both as
a performer and as a composer.
From 1746 to his death
in 1753 he worked at the court in Rudolstadt.
Here he composed the two works which
are presented on this disc.
These two oratorios
have the same structure. They are split
in a number of sections which start
with a chorus - or in some cases a recitative
or 'accompagnato' -, and end with a
chorale setting. In between are a recitative,
which is directly followed by a short
passage which Gebel calls 'arioso',
and an aria.
The Christmas Oratorio
is comparable with the Passion oratorios
as they were written from the 1740s
on. That means that they are not telling
the story as told by the Bible, but
are some kind of paraphrase, combined
with a message regarding the everyday
life of the audience.
In this Christmas Oratorio
the text of the Gospel is quoted only
once: in the second section about the
message of the angels to the shepherds
(Luke 2,8-11). There are more quotations
from the Bible, but not as part of a
story, and not from the Gospels (with
the exception of the chorus that opens
the first section, the choir of the
Angels from Luke 2,14).
There is a clear development
in the oratorio. The first section concentrates
on the joy of Jesus' birth and closes
with the chorale 'Fröhlich soll
mein Herze springen' (All my heart this
night rejoices). The second section
is - as has been said - about the shepherds
and how they found the child in the
manger. The third section, which begins
with a quotation from Isaiah 9,1: 'The
people that walked in darkness sees
a great light', elaborates on the theme
of 'light', for instance in the aria
'Nur im Lichte lebt das Leben' (In light
only life can live).
The fourth section
concentrates on 'love', the love of
God in sending his Son.
The oratorio for New
Year's Day also contains four sections.
The first is about God as Creator, in
particular of day and night and, as
a result, of time. It ends appropriately
with the chorale 'Ach wie nichtig, ach
wie flüchtig', which stresses the
vanity of all human things in the light
The second section
calls to thanksgiving with a chorus
on Psalm 136,1: 'O give thanks unto
the Lord', and ends with the chorale
'Nun danket alle Gott' (Now thank we
all our God). The third section underlines
the need for prayer. It contains the
aria 'Gebet kann Gottes Majestät':
"Prayer may move God's majesty to gentle
The fourth and last
section is about the new life of the
believer: it starts with a quotation
from 2 Corinthians 5,17: "Therefore
if any man be in Christ, he is a new
creature". This section also refers
to the new Jerusalem in the aria 'Neue
Stadt, ach komm': "New city, o come,
ye beautiful one!".
After a chorus containing
a request to God to listen to the prayers
of his children the oratorio closes
with another chorale.
Is this music as good
as the St John Passion I was referring
To some extent it isn't.
But that is only natural: passion music
tends to be more profound than Christmas
music. And if I compare the two oratorios
here I prefer the New Year's Oratorio,
for basically the same reason: there
is more depth, as it reflects on the
human futility in comparison to eternity.
Having said that I
think these two oratorios contain some
very good music. There are fine arias
in the Christmas Oratorio, like 'Geist
der Andacht, sanfte Flamme' for tenor
and the very vivid bass aria 'Nur im
Lichte lebt das Leben' with virtuoso
string parts, as well as the lovely
duet for soprano and alto 'Komm, süsseste
Hoffnung der ewigen Freude', with a
beautiful instrumentation of transverse
flute, bassoon and violins 'con sordini'.
The same instrumentation - only with
the viola, instead of the violins, playing
'con sordini' - is used in the recitativo
accompagnato which describes the appearance
of the angels to the shepherds, creating
a pastoral atmosphere.
There are more places
where Gebel uses the instruments to
illustrate the text, like in the bass
aria in the New Year's Oratorio 'Fliehe
nur, gemessne Zeit' (Flee, measured
time), where the first violin's semiquavers
are expressing the fleetingness of time.
Like the St John Passion
these oratorios contain 'modern' and
'old-fashioned' elements. To a large
extent 'modern' is the text: as I said
before it is a paraphrase of the story
of Jesus' birth and in particular a
message about its meaning for the audience.
Also modern is the fact that most arias
contain cadenzas and that the choruses
are predominantly homophonic.
But there are also
connections with the past. First of
all the use of mostly traditional chorale
melodies, like 'Ach wie nichtig, ach
wie flüchtig' and 'Nun danket alle
Gott'. A number of choruses are quotations
from the Old Testament in motet style,
which certainly is 'old-fashioned'.
And so is the fugue in the second part
of the chorus 'Danket dem Herrn' (New
The fact that the St
John Passion by Gebel impressed me somewhat
more than these oratorios is also due
to the level of the performance. On
the whole this recording is very good.
But there are a couple of things which
are a little disappointing and which
hold me back from labelling this performance
Some recitatives are
not taken with the necessary rhythmical
freedom. The use of ornamentation is
inconsistent: Kai Wessel adds them where
it is possible, Nico van der Meel hardly
adds any. The cadenzas – which I suppose
are improvised by the singers – are
not always very imaginative. The chorales
are sometimes a little too fast and
somewhat shallow, lacking a precise
expression of the text.
But these are only
small stains on an otherwise recommendable
recording. It offers an interesting
alternative to the usual repertoire
for the Christmas season.
Johan van Veen