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Johann Ludwig KREBS (1713 - 1780) Der einzige Krebs im Bache- Organ works
Toccata (Prelude) and fugue in a minor (Krebs-WV 411) Wir glauben all an einen Gott (Krebs-WV 554) Fantasia sopra Jesus, meine Zuversicht (Krebs-WV 535) Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (Krebs-WV 520) Jesu, meine Freude (Krebs-WV 502) Jesu, meine Freude (Krebs-WV 706)* Meine Seel ermuntre dich (Krebs-WV 709)*
Trio in E flat (Krebs-WV 442) Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her (Krebs-WV 545) Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (Krebs-WV 552)
Fantasia for oboe and organ in f minor (Krebs-WV 604)*
Trio in d minor (Krebs-WV 439)
Fantasia in F (Krebs-WV 419)
Prelude in c minor (Krebs-WV 403)
Prelude in C (Krebs-WV 414)
Sonata IV in D (Krebs-WV 835)
Annette Unternährer-Gfeller (organ), Thomas Unternährer (oboe)*
rec. 24-26 September 2014, St.-Walpurgis-Kirche, Großengottern (Thuringia), Germany. DDD GENUIN GEN16399 [74:04]
In 2013 the birth of Johann Ludwig Krebs in 2013 was commemorated. That 300th anniversary did not receive much attention except in the east of Germany - Leipzig and Thuringia - where he studied and worked for most of his life. As a composer he is fairly well-known but almost exclusively for his organ works and his close ties with Bach. From the catalogue numbers in the track-list one may conclude that his oeuvre is quite large. It includes not only organ works but also pieces for stringed keyboard instruments, chamber and orchestral music as well as sacred vocal works. Hardly any of his contributions to the latter genres are available on disc.
Johann Ludwig Krebs was born in Buttelstedt where his father Tobias was organist and also Johann Ludwig's first music teacher. In 1726 he entered the Thomasschule where he became the favourite pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach. He sang as a treble in the choir and learnt to play the violin and the lute. After leaving the Thomasschule he studied law and philosophy at Leipzig University but remained close to Bach, assisting him at the Thomaskirche and playing the harpsichord in the Collegium Musicum. From 1737 to 1743 he acted as organist in Zwickau and moved to Zeitz in 1744. In 1750 he applied for the position of Thomaskantor after the death of Bach but was not elected. In 1755 he became organist at the court of Prince Friedrich of Gotha-Altenburg. There he remained until his death, largely due - as Annette Unternährer-Gfeller suggests in her liner-notes - to the presence of an organ built by Heinrich Gottfried Trost which he loved "more than a father", as a contemporary wrote. The organ played here is from that same builder.
Bach's pupils held their teacher in high esteem and his influence is clearly discernible in their own oeuvre. However, few have been so close to the old Bach's style than Krebs. Several organ pieces are attributed to either Bach or Krebs, and sometimes it is hard to tell them apart. This disc fittingly starts with the Toccata and fugue in a minor which shows Bach's influence. The toccata takes the thematic material from Bach's Toccata in F (BWV 540) and the fugue is based on his Fugue in e minor (BWV 548,2). The next piece, Wir glauben all an einen Gott, could easily pass for a chorale arrangement by Bach. The Fantasia sopra Jesus, meine Zuversicht is quite different and more closely reflects the style of the post-baroque era, the time of the Empfindsamkeit and the galant idiom. The same goes for the Sonata IV in D, one of a set of six sonatas for a stringed keyboard which has been preserved in the archive of the Berlin Singakademie. The organ trios are also modern in comparison to some free organ works and chorale-based compositions.
Among the latter the two pieces with an obbligato part for oboe are especially noteworthy. They belong to a genre which became quite popular around the mid-18th century. The first composer who published pieces for organ with oboe was Georg Friedrich Kauffmann (1679-1735). Krebs was one of the main exponents of this genre, alongside Gottfried August Homilius, another Bach pupil. Such pieces were clearly intended for a performance with a large organ which would allow the oboe - or another instrument, such as the transverse flute or the trumpet - to be treated like a stop of the organ. For that reason the two chorale arrangements here are much more satisfying than comparable pieces on a recent disc by the ensemble Austral Harmony (review).
The collection Clavier-Übung I, on the other hand, includes pieces for domestic performance, to be played on the harpsichord or a chamber organ. It comprises thirteen chorales each of which is represented in three different forms. The first is a prelude, the second a chorale arrangement in which the cantus firmus is ornamented, and the third a chorale setting with a figured bass. Vom Himmel hoch is another chorale arrangement for two manuals without pedal. It is based on a ritornello which is in the bass with the chorale melody in the right hand. Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is for two manuals and pedal; the ritornello is in the upper part and the chorale melody unaltered in the tenor.
The acoustic of the St. Walpurgis-Kirche in Großengottern is less than ideal; I would have liked a bit more reverberation. On the other hand, it delivers clarity when it comes to the various lines in these polyphonic pieces. This would probably get lost in a more reverberant church. That clarity is also the effect of Annette Unternährer-Gfeller's playing, and especially her good articulation and fine registration. Sometimes I would have liked a little more freedom in her playing, for instance in the toccata which opens the programme. The fact that another Trost organ was Krebs' favourite instrument lends these performances some additional authenticity. Thomas Unternährer produces a beautiful tone on his baroque oboe and the balance between the two instruments is just right.
Krebs' organ oeuvre is available in several complete recordings. Felix Friedrich is responsible for one of them. He is a Krebs expert, wrote his biography and put together a catalogue of his works. However, a series of eleven discs of Krebs will be a bit too much for some. They should investigate this disc which offers an excellent opportunity to get to know Krebs's organ oeuvre. It is nice that several genres in his keyboard output are represented. The liner-notes are informative and well written.