Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785) St John Passion HoWV.I.4 (c1770-1780)
(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
Dresden Baroque Orchestra/Roderich Kreile
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, March 2006 CARUS 83.261 [52:21
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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