J. L. BACH Trauermusik • Hans-Christoph Rademann, cond; Anna Prohaska (sop); Ivonne Fuchs (alt); Maximilian Schmitt (ten); Andreas Wolf (bs); RIAS Ch; Akademie für Alte Musik (period instruments) • HARMONIA MUNDI 902080 (77:27 Text and Translation)
As I noted in my other review in this issue of music by the prolific and talented Bach family, there were many, over generations, who became professional musicians and whose music has fallen by the wayside in the shadow of JohannRead more Sebastian Bach and his sons. Bach himself attempted even during his lifetime to give the various branches of the family credit, but to no avail. This Bach was Kapellmeister in Meiningen at the court of Duke Ernst Ludwig of Saxe-Meiningen, a nobleman from a family not terribly important during this period. Born near Eisenach, Johann Ludwig (1677–1731) studied with his father, a local organist (and which one of any of them wasn’t), then after schooling in nearby Gotha went on to the one and only position he was to have his entire life. There he lived beneath the radar (or is that too anachronistic in reference to a late Baroque composer?), composing a variety of music such as cantata cycles, passions, and even operas as he rose through the ranks. It would seem that he might be ripe for rediscovery, save that much of his music has not survived the vicissitudes of time. This is a pity if this disc is a sample of his compositional style, a rather pointed contrast to the various motets in my other review.
The Trauermusik is an enormous work in three parts, meant to be performed pretty much at a single go. It was written for the death of Bach’s patron in 1724, and the funeral obsequies apparently were arranged in advance by the Duke himself, who penned at least the second part of the text. Unlike most rulers who fancied themselves poets (for better or usually worse), Duke Ernst Ludwig was a thoughtful and talented author, whose texts for cantatas, many of which Bach set in his two cycles, reflect a more philosophical than dogmatic bent. No doubt he meant for only his contribution to be set initially, but he probably felt that the two flanking sections were needed to put the entire issue of his demise into context. The authorship of these is unknown, but the quality and imagery of the words show no departures from the Duke’s portion, allowing Bach to compose in a seamless manner. The piece begins with a series of reflections on the soul approaching heaven with an emphasis upon bonds and chains being cast asunder. In the second, the Duke hopes to be welcomed into heaven, but wishes only to be a gatekeeper, while in the brilliant third, there is a vision of the New Jerusalem. This transcends the sort of conventional funeral music of the time, making it more like that of members of later generations such as C. P. E. Bach, who favored such large-scale odes. Bach uses a huge ensemble, alternating between one orchestra of strings and a second with full winds and brass. The soloists weave in and out of the choral numbers, while the chorales are often accompanied pieces with countermelodies and ornamented tunes that are highly unconventional in style. The brilliant high clarion trumpets that open the third part create an ethereal sound, and in choruses such as “Meine Bande sind zerissen” in the first part the breaking of chains is depicted through dissonant harmonies that resolve sequentially to consonance, often enharmonically veering into new and uncharted tonalities. Often Bach will use a ground bass much in the manner of Henry Purcell, allowing for constant variation to occur on top, such as in the brief bass aria “Das, was ich meinem Gott versprochen.” On the other extreme, the wandering chromatic line of the opening chorus “O Herr, ich bin dein Knecht” contrasts with the same text sung by the alto a few movements later in a lovely weaving duet with the oboes in a style that would be better placed some 30 or 40 years later. Bach is every bit as adventurous as the later Telemann, and his music certainly foreshadows that of his relative C. P. E. in its use of abrupt and unanticipated non-sequiturs in harmony, scoring, and melody.
This work, and indeed the motets and cantatas of Johann Ludwig are not strangers to the world of recording. The latter have appeared within the last five years on the Carus label in excellent recordings by Das kleine Konzert and the Orpheon Consort, while two of the instrumental works, an overture and a concerto, were done a decade ago by Musica Antiqua Köln on Deutsche Grammophon. The Trauermusik itself was perhaps the first to be revived, again by Das kleine Konzert in 1998 on Capriccio. Having listened to the last, a fine recording in Hermann Max’s usual excellent interpretation, I find this one superior on all counts. Anna Prohaska has a light and flexible soprano, melting into the rich alto of Ivonne Fuchs in their two duets in the second part. Maximilian Schmitt’s tenor and Andreas Wolf’s bass bookend the vocal range with precision, outstanding intonation, and tremendous expressivity. The tempos are kept moving, not at a breakneck “let’s get through this” pace, but rather flexibly altered according to the text. In short, this is the combination of excellent recording and fabulous work that will keep it on my must-have list.
Trauermusikby Johann Ludwig Bach Performer:
Andreas Wolf (Bass),
Ivonne Fuchs (Contralto),
Anna Prohaska (Soprano),
Maximilian Schmitt (Tenor)
Academy for Ancient Music Berlin
Period: Baroque Written: 1724
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Excellent Music from Bach's FamilyJanuary 13, 2013By Clifford H C. (Thompson, MB)See All My Reviews"Johann Ludwig Bach - Trauermusik This is a really enjoyable recording from the multi-talented Bach family. The talents of this family just never ends, the Bachs just keep coming. It is almost unimaginable how many talented composers existed in such a short period of time in the Baroque period. And even harder to imagine is the massive output that they achieved. The music of JL Bach is lively and entertaining. This is funeral music of the highest order fit for the death of a Prince. This project is of massive scale. For a small court in central Germany it must have taken every musician in the principality. JL Bach uses these resources to his best advantage making remarkable music. This recording is highly recommended."Report Abuse