In this secular and democratic
age we don’t think of the appointment of a new minister in
our local church as anything in particular to celebrate. In
C.P.E. Bach’s Hamburg this was the
occasion for an all-day municipal festival including a concert
with original music for brass band and chorus. And sermons,
of course. Perhaps it was that incongruity which caused scholars
to overlook this music for so long, but here we have works
which recall the secular cantatas of Bach’s father J.S., music
of jubilant celebration and dramatic pageant performed with
enthusiasm and excitement by virtuosos.
This is one of those marvelous
disks you put on to hear a little to see if you’ll like it,
then it captures you and you hear the whole disk through;
when it’s over you’re sorry there isn’t more. I have said
several times that the 21st century will be the century of
C.P.E. Bach* and to me this disk is neither unexpected nor
surprising. C.P.E. composed superbly for voices and ensembles
and now we have a chance to hear a variety of moods and texts.
Unfortunately for non-Christians
all this music consists of prayers of one sort or another,
but we Anglophones can revel in our incomprehension, as we
do with J.S. Bach’s cantatas, and accept these pieces as musical
poetical expressions. Worse still, all these exhortations
to a just and powerful God to guide and protect the people
are thinly disguised praise to the aristocracy and celebrations
of the dictum: One God in heaven, one Pope in Rome, one king in
Hamburg, or whatever
the Protestant equivalent of that is. So my advice is, don’t
read the texts even though they are unusually well translated.
The print is fine; lose your glasses.
The solemn chorus “Du bleibst
ewiglich...” would fit right into The Magic Flute.
Hear the brilliant chorus “Herr Gott du bist unsere Zuflucht...”
as an operatic triumph. Accept the beautiful soprano aria,
so meltingly sung by Julia Kleiter, “Unwandelbar, welch ein
Gedanke!...” as any of many beseeching arias from a favorite
opera. These days we take for granted the many fine counter-tenor
voices, but Henning Kaiser deserves special commendation for
his exquisitely beautiful performance of “Nun, so tritt mit
heiterm Sinn...” Think of Jan Kabow’s brilliant declamation
of “Wenn einst vor deinem Schelten...” as any of many angry
tenors heading off to war. And well they may be such when
we finally have revived all of C.P.E. Bach’s operas.
And so on through. The
emotions expressed here are in great variety, from solemn
beseeching piety to brilliant determination, anger, triumph.
All the performers throw themselves completely into the drama
of the moment and give us their very best, determined to show
us the beauty and passion in this music. The military trumpets
and drums are played with great force and flair. If this were
an anthology of the greatest arias and choruses from C.P.E.
Bach’s operas we would enjoy it no less, so why not pretend?
German-speaking atheist democrats will have to come up with
their own work-around, but even they will be seduced by the
beauty of the music in spite of the texts. You may find yourself
whistling “Erhebe dich in lauter jubelchören...” but you will
not be able to match Veronika Winter’s beautiful coloratura
flourishes. Who could fail to love the brilliant fugue with
soloists, chorus, trumpets and drums “Der Herr lebet and gelobet
sei mein Hort...” which could be right out of one of J. S.
Bach’s Easter cantatas?**
Recording quality is exceptional
to match the quality of the performance.
*We are all aware of the
illustrious career of P.D.Q. Bach, but some of Bach’s other
brothers were notable as well. C.P.A. Bach and W.M.F. Bach
never wrote music, but became very wealthy through international
investment in sauerkraut futures. C.E.O. Bach become head
of a large financial company. C.P.U. Bach and C.R.T. Bach
changed their names to Hewlett and Packard and moved to San Francisco. On the other
hand, J.G. Bach never made it out of long pants, and the less
said about J.O. Bach the better.
**We must remember that
when he was preparing his father’s manuscripts for publication
or performance C.P.E. had to fill in and recreate many a bar
of real Bach here and there when the original was missing
or damaged beyond legibility.