Johan van Veen
, April 2012
The oratorio describes the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to his disciples. His ascension is only treated rather briefly at the end of the work. In order to show how the subject of this oratorio is treated, let us look at two episodes. First of all, Jesus’ appearance to Mary who thinks he is the gardener. The very moment she finds out that she is talking to Jesus himself was always treated in a highly dramatic way, full of tension and emotion, by composers of previous eras.
The second episode is the appearance to the men of Emmaus. Jesus joins them, and then the recitative reports at length how he teaches them that he had to suffer and die and then be resurrected. Only at the end is it told very briefly, almost incidentally, that the men recognize him and that he disappears. Again the role of the orchestra is almost more important than that of the singer, expressing the emotion of the men of Emmaus.
The importance of the orchestra explains why most of the recitatives are accompanied.
The arias deliver the comment on the events, and the audience is supposed to share the feelings which they express. Here again the orchestra plays a major role. The aria ‘Ich folge Dir, verklärter Held’ portrays Jesus as a “hero” who has defeated death, and that is reflected in the scoring of a part for trumpet. In the aria ‘Ihr Tore Gottes, öffnet euch’, following the description of Jesus’ ascension, the bass is accompanied by an orchestra which includes three trumpets and three horns. The oratorio ends with a long chorus in three sections, concluding in a fugue on the text: “Let all that has breath, praise the Lord”.
It makes sense to add the Easter cantata Gott hat den Herrn auferwecket. This work dates from before Bach went to Hamburg, when he was still working at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin. It is not known for what occasion it was written. Wollny suggests it could have been a commission or a piece for the application of a post as Kapellmeister somewhere. It opens with a chorus and closes with a simple chorale setting. In between are an accompanied recitative and an aria for bass, a recitative and arioso for soprano and tenor and a soprano aria. It is characteristic of Bach’s style that in the B part of the latter aria every line has a different Affekt, according to the text.
These performances date from the 1980s when Hermann Max recorded several sacred compositions by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach for the German radio channel WDR3. These were then released on disc. At the time they were groundbreaking as Bach’s sacred works were virtually unknown. It was mainly his keyboard and chamber music which was played. Since then ensembles and conductors have discovered the high quality and individual character of Bach’s sacred oeuvre. Several of his cantatas and a number of sacred solo songs have been recorded. The discovery of the archive of the Berlin Singakademie in Kiev at the end of last century brought several of his Passions to light and these have been performed and recorded. Still, the quality of these interpretations by Hermann Max is unsurpassed. I haven’t heard a better performance of this oratorio. The line-up of soloists is impressive. Barbara Schlick—her part is relatively small—was at the peak of her career. Christoph Prégardien was at the start of his, and already impressive in his technical prowess and his interpretational skills. Stephen Varcoe was then a seasoned performer and frequently sang German repertoire which explains his flawless pronunciation. The choir and orchestra are just brilliant in displaying the colourful and differentiated way in which Bach has set the text to music. In the cantata Martina Lins, Paul Elliott and Gotthold Schwarz give fine performances as well. The way Elliott interprets his recitative is impressive.
The reissue of these two recordings was rather overdue, and despite their age they can easily hold their ground. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review