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.
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)