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Mattheson: Das Großte Kind (Christmas Oratorio) / Willens, Koelner Akademie

Mattheson / Kolner Akademie / Willens
Release Date: 11/16/2010 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777455   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Mattheson
Performer:  Melissa HegneyAnne SchmidSusanne RydénNele Gramß,   ... 
Conductor:  Michael Alexander Willens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Koelner Akademie
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MATTHESON Das größte Kind Michael Willens, cond; Susanne Rydén (sop); Nele Gramiß (sop); Anne Schmid, Melissa Hegney (alt); Gerd Türk, Ulrich Cordes (ten); Wolf Matthias Friedrich, Thilo Dahlmann (bs); Köln Academy (period instruments) CPO 777 455 (56: 01 Text and Translation)

MATTHESON Die heilsame Geburt. Magnificat Read more Michael Willens, cond; Nickin Kennedy, Anna Crookes (sop); Ursula Eittinger, Dorothee Merkel (alt); Andreas Post, Sven Hansen (ten); Stephan MacLeod, Johannes Gsänger (bs); Köln Academy (period instruments) CPO 777 274 (55:20 Text and Translation)

We tend to think of Johann Mattheson (1681–1764) as a theorist first and foremost, and as a composer almost as an afterthought. To be sure, he competed in a world in Hamburg that at one time or another featured Reinhard Keiser, Georg Philipp Telemann, and George Frederick Handel; indeed, all of these were friends, sometimes rivals, and in one case, he and Handel even fought a duel over an opera, Cleopatra (Mattheson would have won, but a metal coat button deflected his sword, fortunately both for posterity and Handel). As a singer, he was well regarded, but by 1705 he had traded his performance chops for a real job as private secretary to the English ambassador. Although this was his day job, he also functioned as the cantor of the cathedral in Hamburg, for which he wrote a huge amount of sacred music that is only now becoming recognized alongside that of his colleague Telemann as pivotal works of the late Baroque.

Mattheson’s music has been slowly revived over the past decade, with several recordings on Alpha and Ramée of instrumental sonatas, and of course the inevitable inclusion of his music in vocal compendia of the Hamburg opera, such as the Brockes Passion or Cleopatra . The three recordings released on the cpo label by the Köln Academy under Michael Willens may well herald a more concentrated effort to making his music better known. Two of these—the third an oratorio titled Der Liebreich und Geduldige David I have not yet heard—are devoted to Christmas music, consisting of a short work barely 36 minutes in length, to which Mary’s expostulation known as the Magnificat has been added to complete the disc, and a rather longer one of more exegetical nature, Das größte Kind . In the first disc, one can discern Mattheson’s mastery of the Lutheran sacred genre. The opening chorale has a running string line punctuated by trumpets that would grace a Bach oratorio, while the first aria, “Der Väter Wunsch,” has a pair of obbligato horns that sounds very much like Telemann. But Mattheson is no slavish imitator, for the double flute and viola of the aria “Man darf dir einen kleinen Raum” forms a unique coloristic counterpart to the melismatic soprano. Mattheson is not afraid to insert things that would be slightly suspect, like a stately dance ritornello for oboes and strings that seems decidedly secular. The Magnificat has two bookend choruses that feature high trumpets (and soprano lines in the upper registers) and a nice call-and-response format. The work that really demonstrates Mattheson’s style, however, is the longer oratorio apparently written about 1729. It is richly scored, with trumpets and horns used in a manner that is identical to Handel’s Water Music of a decade earlier. The opening chorale, with its high soprano line, is a gigue or gavotte, no doubt masquerading as a pastoral, but with a much brisker tempo. Surprises come rapidly one after the other. In the aria “Wer kann dieses recht erwegen?” the unison string accompaniment and the weaving of two sopranos is right out of Vivaldi, while in the second part Mattheson repeats a traditional German chorale, In dulce jubilo, three times with new Latin text in an otherwise all-German text. There are several nice, reflective accompanied recitatives for the Bride of Christ, a character that seems a bit awkward from a Protestant liturgical standpoint, because it hints at taking the veil. Finally, the arias are replete with long sections of melismatic lines that often veer into unusual harmony, as one might expect of Hamburg’s most famous composer, Telemann. Mattheson pays homage but is no imitator, using in the fashion of the time the various styles and techniques of his friends and colleagues to weld together a unified work.

Michael Willens keeps his ensemble moving along with crisp tempos and excellent phrasing. The singers are spot-on in terms of pitch, and the gnarly part of Maria in the large oratorio is adeptly handled by Swedish soprano Susanne Rydén. The chorus consists of all eight principals in this work, sounding as if there were many more, but allowing for the accompaniment to come through without muddying the sound. In short, these are two excellent discs, and as the leader in the field of North German Baroque music, Hermann Max, advances in age, Willens is a worthy successor of the mantle of music revival. These discs will certainly give an insight into Mattheson the composer, and I would highly recommend both for every collection.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

Das größte Kind by Johann Mattheson
Performer:  Melissa Hegney (Alto), Anne Schmid (Contralto), Susanne Rydén (Soprano),
Nele Gramß (Soprano), Gerd Türk (Tenor), Thilo Dahlmann (Bass)
Conductor:  Michael Alexander Willens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Koelner Akademie

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