Christmas Cantatas of 18th century Gdansk - Volume 2
Johann Theodor ROEMHILDT (1684-1756)
Kommt, ihr Herzen, kommt ihr Lippen (1727) [14:37]
Nun danket alle Gott [7:41]
Johann Daniel PUCKLITZ (1705-1774)
Ist jemand in Christo (1740) [7:51]
Denen zu Zion wird ein Erlöser kommen (1758) [8:10]
Johann Jermeias du GRAIN (d.1756)
Wilkommen, Erlöser der Erden [11:02]
Friedrich Christian MOHRHEIM (c.1719-1780)
Preise Jerusalem den Herrn (1762) [19:20]
Ingrida Gapova (soprano); Jan Medrala (alto); Krzysztof Kozarek (tenor); Szymon Kobylinski (bass)
Goldberg Baroque Ensemble/Andrzej Mikolaj Szadejko
rec. Holy Trinity Church, Gdansk, September 2010
Texts and translations included
SARTON 002-1 [69:21]

Nearly eighty Christmas Cantatas are preserved in the Gdansk library. They come from two specific churches in the city, the vast majority from St John’s, and nine from St Catherine’s. The composers were all either German or immersed in German musical traditions, amongst whom Telemann takes a prominent place, contributing nearly a third of the works. Other leading contributors invariably include the Kapellmeisters who served the city, men such as Johann Balthasar Christian Freislich, and Johann Gotthold Siewert. Others are anonymous works.

Two of the composers in this disc lived and worked in the city – Johann Jeremias du Grain and Johann Daniel Pucklitz – whilst Johann Theodor Roemhildt probably never even visited Gdansk, but his music was widely performed there. This last composer came from Thuringia, studied under Johann Jacob Bach, and worked in Meresburg where he became court Kapellmeister in 1731. He was a prolific writer of cantatas, composing no fewer then 236. Kommt, ihr Herzen, kommt ihr Lippen (1727) is a sprightly compact work with a ‘bugle’ concertante role and confident writing for a pair of horns in the fifth movement duet, which is the best movement by some distance. Nun danket alle Gott is an urgent, appealing work, half the size of its companion cantata, and revealing again Roemhildt’s highly competent absorption of prevailing stylistic conventions in such music. The performances are rather uneven with technical uncertainties in the soloists’s divisions.

Pucklitz (1705-1774) left cantatas, oratorios and masses. His cantata Freue dich Danzig was written for none other than Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, of Variations fame. A city musician, he was highly active in its musical life and we hear two of his eight surviving Christmas cantatas. In Ist jemand in Christo the male alto Jan Medrala displays a quite graphic example of two-voiced singing, sounding like a counter-tenor one minute and a mezzo the next. I had to check it was him all the way through. He is not unappealing actually, but it’s certainly not the kind of virtuosic, even florid sound to be found from Americans in this kind of repertoire nor the imaginative but sometimes hooty English sound either. Denen zu Zion wird ein Erlöser kommen, despite its brevity, is an attractive watertight piece.

Du Grain (d.1756) was not a local musician, and studied in Hamburg under the tutelage of Telemann. He became organist at St. Elizabeth’s in Gdansk. Five religious pieces have survived the years, of which Wilkommen, Erlöser der Erden seems to be a representative example. It shows very clearly a Telemann influence and is one of the most confident and attractive of all these works with its ceremonial brass, and fine bass solo – here a bit touch-and-go in performance terms. This is the only piece to have been recorded before. Everything else is heard in apparently premiere recordings.

Finally there is Friedrich Christian Mohrheim (c.1719-1780) whose Preise Jerusalem den Herrn is the longest of the six cantatas in the disc. Mohrheim had taken lessons from J.S. Bach in Leipzig and became one of the copyists of the older man’s music. He was appointed Kapellmeister if Gdansk’s city council ensemble in 1764. Thirteen cantatas have survived. This one is written for five voice choir, soloists, and orchestra. One can immediately sense a really confident handling of the vocal writing. The Chorales have Bachian strength, the extensive recitative – unusually so in the context of the other works - is well sustained, and the whole work in fact makes a splendid impression. The band plays pretty well, the arias once again though less impressive.

This is the thing about this interesting disc. The ensemble is decent, sometimes a lot more, but the solo singing is very variable indeed. Its occasional fallibility doesn’t obscure the cantatas’s strengths and points of interest, but it doesn’t always help to enhance them either.

Jonathan Woolf

An interesting disc but the solo singing is very variable indeed.