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Cantors at St.Thomas before Bach
Sebastian KNUPFER (1633-1676) Ach Herr, strafe Mich nicht; Es haben mi ride Hoffartigen
Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722) Gott, sei mir gnadig nach; O heilige Zeit
Johann SCHELLE (1648-1701) Das ist mir lieb; Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein; Aus der Tieffen rufe ich, Herr zu dir
Cantus Cöln/Konrad Junghanel
Recorded at the church of St. Osdag, Manelsloh. February 1992 DDD
DEUTSCHES HARMONIA MUNDI 74321 935632 [70.28]


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You can't go far wrong in 17th Century German repertoire when you are in the expert hands of Cantus Cöln. They have also proved themselves in Monteverdi since this recording was made and first issued in 1993. The only difference between that first release and this re-release is that the latter has an attractive slip-case with the CD title in French! In addition I have heard Cantus Cöln live at the York Early Music Festival singing Italian and German madrigals.

This CD marks one of the first recordings featuring the angelic counter-tenor of Andreas Scholl. Add to this the beautiful and expressive voice of the soprano Johanna Koslowsky. The only weak link, if this is not a little too harsh, is the bass Stephen Schreckenburger. He is sometimes rather challenged by the very lowest register.

It is incredible that twenty musicians are listed for this recording only six of which are singers. The rest are made up of the continuo and of the important ritornello players. Most of the cantatas have intervening sections for instruments alone. And not just strings ... we have clarino trumpets and a dulcian in Kuhnau's 'O heliege Zelt'. There’s timpani in Knupfer's 'Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht' which opens the CD.

The texts are all given in good translations. There is also an excellent accompanying essay by Peter Wollny who, we are told, is the editor of the Schelle pieces and one of Kuhnau items. The other editors are unnamed.

The texts are mostly taken from the psalms. However the cantata by Kuhnau 'O helige Zeit', the longest on the CD at nearly fifteen minutes, has an anonymous text. This is in free verse form whose general outlook would be suitable for any time or season.

The composers represented who were all cantors at St. Thomas' Leipzig, are very interesting. Certainly they should not have disappeared off the general musical map for as long as they have. The problem is that they were superseded by one of the all time greats with whom they cannot hope to compete, the inestimable J.S. Bach.

Each has a somewhat different style within the narrow confines of the 'Sacred Concerto'.

Knupfer shows a strong influence of Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) especially in the choral writing. Kuhnau, on the other hand, is quite classical in outlook, sometimes a little rococo; more Italianate. Some of the suspensions in 'Das ist mir lieb' reminded me of Corelli. Less strictly contrapuntal than Knupfer is Johann Schelle whose sadly all too brief cantata for two sopranos 'Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein’, is delightfully sectionalized so that each line has a differing idea.

Each cantata opens with all voices and is then broken up by solo sections. These sections are sometimes in definite verses; sometimes dueting in echo. Often the verses are divided by ritornello sections. Many pieces are very expressive, as for example the setting by Schelle of Psalm 130 'Out of the depths have I cried to thee O lord' (Aus der Tieffen rufe ich).

This is a very fine disc of rare repertoire, superbly and beautifully performed, ravishingly recorded. The whole enterprise, both in presentation and in music-making, is of the highest quality.

Gary Higginson

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