These recordings, originally released by Capriccio, have been reissued by Brilliant Classics as we celebrate the 300th
anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach.
The main offering here is the oratorio on the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ which Bach composed to a libretto by his friend Karl Wilhelm Ramler (1723-1798). First heard in Hamburg, it was well received there and elsewhere; three performances in Vienna in early 1788 were conducted by Mozart. It’s an interesting work, cast in two parts and lavishly scored for an orchestra including horns, trumpets and drums.
There’s a good deal of attractive music in the score and, unsurprisingly, quite a bit of rejoicing. I liked the attractive duet for soprano and tenor in Part I and shortly thereafter we hear another side of Christoph Prégardien’s artistry in the aria ‘Ich folge dir, verklärter Held’ with its flamboyant outer sections. He and Stephen Varcoe have most to do in this work; the soprano solo role is more limited in scope but Barbara Schlick’s contributions are good. Though he is described as a bass I’ve always thought that Stephen Varcoe sounds more like a bass-baritone and here the often high-lying music suits him well. He offers an excellent account of the graceful aria ‘Wilkommen, Heiland! Freut euch, Väter!’ in Part II, in which he also brings strength to the contrasting middle section. Both he and Prégardien are highly effective in their several recitatives, some of which are quite extensive; both show a fine sensitivity to words in these passages.
So the piece is well served by the soloists. I have to admit to some reservations about the contributions of the Rheinische Kantorei. I don’t know how big a choir this is though judging by the sound they produce the numbers are on the small side. Their singing is accurate, clean and spirited. What worries me, however, is that it is just too light. The sopranos and tenors produce a bright sound, which is welcome, but I don’t hear enough depth in the overall tone of the choir and the bass line is insufficiently strong for my taste. The problem is that for the most part the choir’s role is celebratory and they’re often pitted against a full orchestral ensemble that includes festive horns, trumpets and drums. Whilst not wanting something that is too heavy in music such as this I don’t think that the choir has sufficient presence. That’s a pity for they have some important music to sing, not least the substantial closing chorus, which is really three choruses rolled into one.
The orchestral playing from Das Kleine Konzert is often spirited – as in the brass contributions to the bass aria ‘Ihr Thore Gottes, öffnet euch’ or to any of the jubilant choruses. However, the players are just as capable of sensitivity, as in the delicious and florid bassoon part which splendidly complements the singer in ‘Wilkommen, Heiland! Freut euch, Väter!’
In addition to the oratorio the set includes the earlier Easter cantata Gott hat den Herrn auferwecket
(‘God has raised up the Lord’). As is appropriate to the season the cantata opens with a celebratory chorus, replete with trumpets and drums. There is a different team of soloists on duty and all do well. Gotthold Schwartz is very impressive indeed in his recitative and aria, singing with a firm full-toned voice and putting the music across very convincingly. The most substantial movement in the piece is the soprano aria ‘Wie freudig seh ich dir entgegen’. It’s a most attractive piece and Martina Lins does it very nicely.
Hermann Max conducts both works very well, obtaining spirited performances from his forces.
There are good notes and I’m glad that Brilliant Classics have provided the German texts. An English translation would have been the icing on the cake.
Both these works display fine craftsmanship on the part of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach though I’m not sure that they possesses the spark of genius that so often characterised his father’s music. Nonetheless, it’s very good that these excellent performances are back in the catalogue and at a reasonable price.