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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Bachs Schüler - Motets
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795) Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Wake, o wake and hear the voices) (c.1780) [15:59]
Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783) An den Flüssen Babylons (By the waters of Babylon) [3:40]
Johann Friedrich Doles (1715-1797) Wer bin ich, Herr? (Who am I, O Lord?)* [7:38]
Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785) Die Elenden sollen essen (All the starving shall be nourished)* [2:38]
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) Bitten -17 Gott, deine Güte reicht so weit (O God, thy goodness stretches so far) [4:02]
Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780) Erforsche mich, Gott (Search me, O God) [6:01]
Johann Christoph Altnickol (1719-1759) Befiehl du deine Wege (Commit thou all that grieves thee) [19:18]
Vocal Concert Dresden; Dresdner Instrumental-Concert/Peter Kopp
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, 16-19 November, 2007. DDD.
Texts in German with English and French translations
* World premiere recordings.
CARUS 83.263 [59:33]
Experience Classicsonline

Some record companies seem to have an unlimited instinct for discovering gaps in the discography and plugging them. Carus is certainly one of these. Now that the predecessors of Bach have been reasonably well covered (see my review of the Hyperion Helios reissue of pre-Bach alto cantatas on CDH55230) they have turned their attention to motets by JSB’s pupils, turning in two world premiere recordings in the process.
 
It was my mistaken understanding that the motet form had been revived more or less for the last time by Bach, so I am surprised to discover these works by his pupils, several of whom were mere names to me before coming to this recording. Johann Friedrich Doles is unknown to the Oxford Companion to Music, though he does merit an entry in the Concise Grove, where he is credited with composing 35 motets. It was even more of a surprise to find myself enjoying most of the music on this CD more than Bach’s own motets: I’m sure the fault is mine, but I find them much less attractive than his cantatas.
 
The opening work, by JSB’s fifth son, the so-called Bückeburg Bach, is both livelier and more complex than his father’s better-known setting of these words in his Advent Cantata, No.140, though the original setting of Nicolai’s hymn is still clearly to be heard. This exhortation to wake, Wachet auf, makes an appropriate opening to summon our attention and it receives an appropriately lively performance. The Gloria sei dir gesungen section (track 3) moves the music onto a higher plane – the praise is stately rather than excited – with quotations in this section of JSB’s own setting, the whole ending with an elegant fugue, and the performance again matches the mood of the music exactly.
 
Kirnberger’s setting of An den Flüssen Babylons (By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept) is a setting of a much more serious text and it receives a serious setting, again well conveyed in the performance. I have recently been listening to the settings of this psalm which William Byrd shared with several of his continental fellow composers, notably Philippe de Monte. Those settings offer coded indications of the suffering of the Roman Catholic minority in England in Byrd’s time and are, thus, particularly intense. Kirnberger’s setting is less intense, though affective in the manner of much of the Passion music of this period, with such directions as ‘A profound melancholy’ and ‘Inner vexation of the soul’.
 
Doles inherited JSB’s post as Thomaskantor and held it for a long period. His setting of Wer bin ich, Herr, a setting of two verses of poetry typical of the pietist movement, together with the two Biblical verses which inspired them, is an accomplished work with a particularly effective solo tenor part; it demonstrates the more than workmanlike quality of his music which endeared Doles to the burghers of Leipzig for so long. The hesitant music of the opening very aptly matches the question Who am I? and the performers, rightly, don’t try to smooth out this hesitancy.
 
The rediscovery of the music of Gottfried Homilius has become something of a Carus speciality in the last couple of years, with excellent recordings of several of his major works. The short motet Die Elenden sollen essen is not one of these but it is attractive enough – feeling without sentimentality, as the notes put it – and it receives an appropriately light-toned performance, its first appearance on record. It isn’t certain that Homilius was actually one of JSB’s students, but the inclusion of this piece offers a brief reminder of the value of his music and reminds me to catch up with his longer works which Carus have recorded.
 
CPE Bach is quite deliberately placed at the heart of the programme. The best-known and most talented of JSB’s sons, he shone in a number of genres, though his vocal and choral music is now less well known than his orchestral compositions. On the basis of this prayer, Gott, deine Güte reicht so weit, he thoroughly deserved the high reputation which he had among his contemporaries; as the notes point out, ‘Bach’ in the second half of the 18th century meant CPE rather than JSB. Whereas much of his orchestral music looks forward to the newer forms, this motet, a setting of the words of the Enlightenment poet Christian Gellert, harks back more to the past.
 
Krebs, too, is as well known today for his orchestral music but his Erforsche mich, Gott, is an attractive work and, like JCF’s Wachet auf, pays what the notes aptly describe as formal homage to his teacher in the closing chorale.
 
The longest work here, Altnickol’s Befiehl du deine Wege, opens and closes with the clearest tribute to JSB, a clear echo of the tune which pervades Bach’s music from the Christmas Cantata to the St Matthew Passion, where it sets the words O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, ‘O sacred Head, sore wounded’. The music was not JSB’s own composition but it was then and is now indelibly associated with him. Otherwise, the work is modelled on Bach’s motet Jesu, meine Freude, though without obvious plagiarism. The notes single out Verse 10 (track 18) but I also found Verse 8 (track 16) particularly attractive music – and especially effectively sung.
 
Is this recording of purely academic interest? It certainly does fit that description, of course, and this may well be the main reason why one would wish to buy it. The notes by Christoph Kopp (or Koop? Both spellings occur in the booklet) claim that it is music valid for all time and, while I wouldn’t demur, I would certainly advise those who don’t yet know the music of Johann Sebastian thoroughly – and who does know it thoroughly enough – to make that their priority. After all, as Mr Organ Morgan in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood so accurately observes, the greatest of all composers was “Johann Sebastian mighty Bach – and afterwards”, as he hastily adds, “Palestrina”. Otherwise the quality of performance and recording – both instinctively right and neither ever less than thoroughly competent – would have deserved the ‘thumbs up’ accolade.
 
The translations which I have listed after the title of each work are those given by Carus themselves in the booklet; several are not literal translations but designed to aid recognition by those who may have sung these works in an English version. The booklet is, as usual with Carus, both scholarly and helpful to the unscholarly. The attractive cover depicts the Thomaskirche and –schule in 1749.
 
Brian Wilson

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

 

 


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