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Joy and Gladness in Abundance
Ute Engelke (soprano), Elisabeth Schwanda (recorder), Ulfert Schmidt (organ)
rec. 10-12 June 2014, Marktkirche, Hanover, Germany. DDD
No lyrics included RONDEAU ROP6095 [65:49]
"We designed this production as a concert programme, which is why we placed great emphasis on a high degree of variation in topic and musical style". Thus Ulfert Schmidt explains how this disc was put together. Most of the pieces are from the baroque period; the works by César Franck and Otto Olsson are the exceptions. This production proves once again that what probably works in a live performance cannot simply be transported to a disc - which is for repeated listening.
There are several factors which I find disappointing. Firstly, several items are extracts from larger compositions which are easily available in complete recordings. Examples are the arias from cantatas by Bach and Telemann. In the case of the Bach arias, these are all performed in a different scoring than the original. Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt is the first aria from Bach's cantata BWV 151; the original scoring is for soprano, transverse flute, and ensemble of oboe d'amore and strings plus basso continuo. Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn opens Bach's cantata BWV 131; here the original scoring is soprano, oboe, strings, bassoon and bc. The performances with a recorder and organ take much away from the character of the respective arias.
The inclusion of pieces with a pastoral character can be justified by the fact that this facet plays a significant part in the Christmas landscape, even though it has little to do with the Christmas story as related in the Gospels. Even so, the choice of the aria Schafe können sicher weiden is rather odd as it is taken from Bach's 'Hunting Cantata' BWV 208, and has no connection with Christmas at all. It is also a mystery why the cantabile from Vivaldi's Concerto 'Il gardellino' puts in an appearance in this company. Again, the arrangement of this piece - originally for transverse flute and strings - doesn't help its case.
One could probably overlook these flaws if the performances were outstanding, but that is not the case, I'm afraid. The aria by Telemann which opens the programme is marked vivace but that character indication doesn't come across at all. Ute Engelke is far too restrained here. The aria from Bach's cantata BWV 151 is too slow; even Gustav Leonhardt - someone who never took very fast tempi - needs fewer than eight minutes whereas this performance takes 9:43. Schafe können sicher weiden is another piece which just drags on. Monteverdi's Exulta filia Sion needs a more energetic approach; here it is lacking in expression.
The organ is a kind of 'universal' instrument, meant to be suited to every kind of music. The result is that it is not really suitable for any. The picture in the booklet suggests that this example is pneumatic, hardly the most appropriate medium for the baroque. In the pieces where it is used for the basso continuo it is alright, but the solo pieces are different. Bach's Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (BWV 648) comes off not at all well and the problem seems to line with the registration which is unsatisfying. The two pieces by Franck and Olsson seem to fit the character of the organ much better.
All in all, this disc is a rather disappointing affair. That is especially regrettable as the programme includes some little-known pieces, especially the two bicinia by Michael Praetorius and the compositions by Michael Altenburg. However, the way the programme has been assembled and the fact some of the arrangements don't work very well tell against this disc. Add to this that the performances leave something to be desired, especially in terms of expression.
Johan van Veen
Track listing Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude (TWV 1,1040):
Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude, aria [4:18] Michael ALTENBURG (1584-1640) Intrada Nun komm der Heiden Heiland [2:25] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt (BWV 151):
Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt, aria [9:43] Jacob VAN EYCK (c1590-1657) Puer nobis nascitur [3:18] Johann Sebastian BACH Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (BWV 208):
Schafe können sicher weiden, aria [4:53] Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D, op. 10,3 'Il gardellino' (RV 428):
cantabile [2:57] César FRANCK (1822-1890) Pastorale op. 19 [9:54] Johann Sebastian BACH Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (BWV 648) [2:17] Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Exulta, filia Sion (SV 303) [5:13] Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621) Gelobet seis du, Jesu Christ, bicinium [2:38] Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, bicinium [1:37] Otto OLSSON (1879-1964) Jul [4:06] Michael ALTENBURG Ein wunderschönes Kindelein - In dulci jubilo [2:32] Johann Sebastian BACH Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (BWV 606)/ Adam GUMPELZHAIMER (1559-1625) Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, chorale setting/ Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612) Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (simpliciter)/ Johann Sebastian BACH Magnificat in E flat (BWV 243a):
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her [3:28] Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn (BWV 132):
Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, aria [6:30]