Notes and Editorial Reviews
Mein Jesu A und O. Begebet eure Leiber zum Opfer
Ludger Rémy, cond; Veronika Winter, Gesine Adler (sop); Britta Schwarz (alt); Andreas Post (ten); Matthias Vieweg (bass); Cantus Wettinianus; Les Amis de Philippe (period instruments)
CPO 777-611 (60:33
Text and Translation)
Ludger Rémy and CPO seem to be in the process of a veritable revival of the sacred music of Georg Gebel Jr. (1709–53), having produced over the past decade four discs including this one. It is labeled as the second volume of Christmas cantatas, almost all of them written for the court of Prince Johann Friedrich of Rudolstadt. Gebel’s early career was at the court of Count Heinrich von Brühl in Dresden, which means that he was well acquainted with the music of his colleagues Jan Dismas Zelenka and Johann Pisendel, among others. He was probably present when Bach delivered his Mass in B Minor, and certainly was aware of the work of Telemann as well. This would explain his somewhat eclectic style present in these and other works. He might well have risen to their heights had he not succumbed to the “malo hypochondriaco,” or exhaustion and burnout, that led to his premature death at the age of 43.
Given that he was primarily focused upon sacred music, these four discs represent but a small tithe of the material yet to be unearthed and recorded. Nonetheless, this second volume of Christmas cantatas is a good continuation of what one hopes will be a rather extensive compendium eventually. The first,
Jesu mein A[lpha] und O[mega]
, was composed for the New Year’s celebrations at Rudolstadt in 1748. Like most celebratory works, it is rather longer than the usual Lutheran church cantata, being 14 movements performed in two sections before and after the sermon. It is a cautious, perhaps even conservative work where each section begins and ends with a straightforward chorale; even the addition of a pair of flutes doesn’t change the rigid four-part homophony. This might contrast with Bach, who in such cases sometimes adds a really nice countermelody or otherwise uses his extra instruments in innovative ways. Gebel’s opening chorus, the only one with high trumpets, has a rolling triplet line in the violins that reminds one of Handel, but in the next aria, admirably sung in a light, transparent bass by Matthias Vieweg, one is instantly transported to the sinuous lines of Johann Sebastian’s Thomaskirche cantatas. This doesn’t last long, for in the next aria, the addition of the flutes and the subtle accompaniment finds analogs in the world of Telemann, with some interesting and unexpected harmonic shifts. The same can be said for the soprano aria “Nimm, Jesu” with its equally active violin part.
The second cantata,
Begebet eure Leiber
, is a strange duck. The opening chorus is extremely solemn and funereal, with a strumming of lower strings that seems to emphasize a march rhythm. On the other hand, the aria “Heiliger Geist, verneure ganz” has a wonderful series of cascades in the string accompaniment, almost as if the Holy Spirit is showering grace upon the audience. The sequence is mirrored several minutes later in the bass aria “Geist der Weisheit,” where the sequences are reversed, climbing up the scale in a series of unfolding suspensions. As a nod to the emerging new classical style, Gebel even includes a moment in the final aria for a cadenza for the singer; this tenor Andreas Post polishes off with a brief flourish instead of dwelling on the opportunity. In only one movement, the chorus “Ihr seid alle Gottes Kinder” of the first cantata, does Gebel insert any real counterpoint at all. Here the fugal subject is quirky, bending chromatic tones to twist and turn the voice-leading until, far afield, he devolves at the end into a homophonic chorale.
We are clearly in a musical stylistic halfway-house here; the movements are clearly Baroque in structure, but there is enough dynamic and rhythmic variation to indicate the emerging style of North German
. Rémy’s direction of his small ensemble is precise and measured. He takes his time with the tempos, which in turn make the phrases stand out instead of the full throttle ahead one sometimes finds with other early-music ensembles. This also allows the singers to flow with their musical lines. Vieweg, especially, has a knack for a great
mezzo di voce
, and one cannot fault the musicality of sopranos Veronika Winter and Gesine Adler, whose clear and accurate voices give life to the music. I am also impressed by alto Britta Schwarz, whose two arias on the disc are done with considerable grace and ease. Her blend in the first cantata with the two flutes is especially effective. Tenor Andreas Post has some awkward moments with the coloratura in his first aria, “Mein bester Schmuck” (and there is always the tongue-in-cheek desire to translate this as “My Dear Schmuck,” which of course is not what it means), but he settles down to a nice, transparent tenor in his final aria, “Lass mich nach verbotner Frucht,” with its intertwining lines with the first violins. All in all, this is a fine disc, and while the overall tone may be a bit melancholy for many, if you are following the Gebel series, it too complies with the high standards of the other discs. For cantata lovers of this late-Baroque period, you might want to check out this offering.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer