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Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785)
St John Passion HoWV.I.4 (c1770-1780)
Jana Reiner (soprano) – Magdalene (arias)
Katja Fischer (soprano) – Magdalene
Fritz Vitzthum (counter-tenor) - Diener
Jan Kobow (tenor) – Evangelist
Tobias Berndt (bass) – Jesus
Clemens Heidrich (bass) – Pilate
Kruzianer Stephan Keucher (tenor) – Knecht
Kruzianer Christian Lutz (tenor) - Peter
Dresdener Kreuzchor
Dresden Baroque Orchestra/Roderich Kreile
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, March 2006
CARUS 83.261 [52:21 + 66:49]

Carus’s two CD sets devoted to Homilius – the other was the Passion Cantata HoWV.I.2 published in 1775 (see review) – have subtly shifted our appreciation of the kinds of choral music performed in Dresden at around that time. It’s clear that strictly scriptural Passions existed alongside a more textually diffuse and even literary construct, even though the latter obviously leaned heavily on Biblical precedent. In the case of the Passion Cantata for instance E.A. Buschmann wrote a new text and infiltrated some direct Old Testament texts. The St John Passion was part of the same modernising, literary trend and took poetic texts fusing them with biblical references.
Homilius was strongly saturated in Bach’s influence. He had been a student and had sung briefly in Bach’s choir in Leipzig. The keynote of the St John Passion is direct simplicity. The Chorales are stripped of artifice; the structure of the work is clear and unambiguous. Homilius abjured excess of fugal passages and complications of part division and the like. The string accompagnato – say for example to the recitative Als nun Jesus wusste alles - is direct and serves its dramatic purpose without undue theatre or drama.
Which is not to say that Homilius’s melodies for instance are in themselves unmemorable. Listen to the affecting simplicity of the counter-tenor’s aria Wer kann den Rat der Liebe fassen? to be fully aware of Homilius’s sensitivity in this respect. And listen to, in dramatic contradistinction, to the corni in the chorale Gloria sei dir gesungen which, by virtue of its dramatic and ebullient self-confidence, neatly undercuts everything I’ve just suggested about directness and supplicatory simplicity of Homilius’s setting.
This one rather anomalous moment aside however the tenor of the writing remains consistently calm and understated though not without variety. One of its most pleasing aspects is the subtlety of that variety. Try the jagged arioso Den Mörder, Barrabam to be aware that behind that simplicity Homilius was an artful composer. He gives his soloists a great deal to do. The sopranos join in a beautiful but long duet Wir Weinen dir und deiner Tugend and this grants consoling colour and variety to his writing. Certainly the chorales make one think of the St Matthew Passion – not least the final long chorus, O Gottes Lamm. 
Unlike the companion volume this one was actually recorded in Dresden – it’s not however a hybrid SACD. The performances are just as searching, sympathetic and successful as the Passion Cantata. The choir is superb, the soloists are excellent – on balance slightly better than on the other disc – and the direction is assured and understanding. Amazing to think that these works have never been recorded before.
Jonathan Woolf

Reviews of other recordings of Homilius on Carus 

83.170 - Christmas in the Dresden Frauenkirche - Cantatas II
83.183 - Music in the Dresden Frauenkirche - Cantatas I
83.210 - Motets
83.262 - Passion cantatas




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