Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hermann Max, cond; Veronika Winter (sop); Markus Schäfer (ten); Bernhard Scheffel (ten); Immo Schröder (ten); Ekkehard Abele (bs); Das Kleine Konzert; Rheinische Kantorei
cpo 777 328 (64:20
Text and Translation)
We should understand this latest release by enterprising 18th-century music specialist Hermann Max in the context of cpo’s celebration of the role of sacred music in the municipality of Hamburg from 1600–1800. This period often saw
responsibilities for music in all of the city’s churches consolidated in the hands of a single, freelance composer; the production of sacred music was a civic rather than congregation-specific duty. While such towering figures as Georg Philipp Telemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach most famously held this consolidated post, several lesser figures contributed significantly to the repertoire, among them Andreas Jakob Romberg (1767–1821). Although he composed a handful of operas and over 100 opuses, he is known today, if at all, for a series of flute quintets and other assorted chamber works that are his sole representation in the CD catalogs, apart from the present recording. Although
Grove Music Online
mentions his setting of Schiller’s
Lied der Glocke
as enjoying enduring popularity during the 19th century, that work has gone forgotten (and it is hard to imagine it being as colorful as Max Bruch’s impressively splashy setting of the same text, which I reviewed in 30: 2).What makes this recording additionally interesting is that Romberg built the text of his oratorio on the poem by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), completing it a year before the poet died. Perhaps the most influential 18th-century poet of Christian spirituality in the German language, Klopstock is best known for the “Resurrection” poem adapted by Mahler for his Second Symphony, as well as for a clutch of poems set to music by the young Franz Schubert. However, neither Klopstock nor even Romberg was to hear this work performed during his lifetime. In his cover letter to his publisher, Simrock, Romberg stressed the work’s seriousness and appeal to an exclusive circle of connoisseurs, on which grounds the publisher rejected it. It was not performed in its complete form until 2003, in the edition recorded here.
The stars of this premiere recording, beyond the surprisingly successful work itself, are the chorus and orchestra. From the outset, one is impressed by the dramatically pulsed, contrapuntal, sensitive choral work, clearly enunciated and impeccably tuned, enlivening the sometimes-workaday contrapuntal writing and breathing sighs of energy into homophonic passages. The reduced string section is particularly rewarding in its vivid, variegated textures. Among the vocal stars is Markus Schäfer, who brings to his Evangelist a judicious use of vibrato and an experienced Lieder singer’s feeling for phrasing and the weighting of words. His first aria is followed by a striking chorus of seraphs, dramatic in its hushed intensity.
Soprano Veronika Winter brings a light, clear, yet warm hue to her sound, attacking high notes with a straight tone that softens into natural vibrato. Some transitional turbulent passages in her first aria seem to foreshadow Weber’s
. Similarly, Adam, in the warmly voiced bass of Ekkehard Abele, sings an air that occupies a middle ground between Haydn’s and Mendelssohn’s oratorios, chromaticisms leaning toward the later style, supported by a light string undercurrent redolent of Haydn. This is music very much of its time.
The work itself is mostly understated, introverted, and veers toward the pastoral in its tone. Dramatic outbreaks are relatively sparse, but when they are called for, blare with an almost Berliozian intensity, as in the opening to Eloa’s call to earth “No. 12.” This passage gives way to the offstage “voice of the Messiah” (Abele again) which rises up as a ghostly mist over the pulsing eighth notes of the accompanying strings. There is also a remarkable passage for the tenor voice and double bass in octaves. Apart from these striking and passing effects, Romberg seems to have aspired to a kind of “establishment-serious” style that would have been most famously represented in his generation by the music of Johann Reichardt. That is, one encounters straightforward and clear settings of Klopstock’s poetry, animated by an understated sense of drama and rhetorical clarity, but an orchestral support that remains in the background. Nothing overstays its welcome, but it is not exactly heaven storming. The final fugal chorus floats calmly over a motoric string accompaniment, but seems doggedly duty-bound in its unfolding, falling short of the exuberance one might expect from the text. Still, it opens out to a satisfyingly sunlit conclusion, propelled by the excellent pure sopranos of the Rhenische Kantorei.
Although, due to its restricted emotional range, Romberg’s
is perhaps not the sort of work that would benefit from the endlessly varied perspectives attending oft-recorded masterworks of the choral repertoire, the loving care shaping almost every measure of this recording makes the most potent possible argument for its serious consideration. Cpo’s Cologne-based engineers acquit themselves admirably, capturing voices and instrumentalists in a realistic balance, with a natural bloom that suggests a concert venue, though by all indications these are studio recordings. If only such attention could be routinely expected from every premiere recording of obscure music! This may be the finest recording I have heard of music of this sort. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Christopher Williams
Works on This Recording
Der Messias by Andreas Romberg
Immo Schröder (Tenor),
Veronika Winter (Soprano),
Markus Schäfer (Tenor),
Bernhard Scheffel (Tenor),
Ekkehard Abele (Bass)
Das Kleine Konzert,
Period: 20th Century
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