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Michael Carter
Fanfare, September 2009

With the sole exception of one of two surviving settings of the Advent text Nun komm der Heiden Heiland by Sebastian Bach, the music on this compact disc was at the time of its release [1996] and still is largely unknown by the broader music-loving public.

Johann Philipp Kreiger (1649–1725), Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657–1714), and Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663–1712) all held positions of prominence in their day. Krieger was especially well known and respected, not to mention quite prolific. His fame was based in part on over 2,000 (!) church compositions that he listed in a self-compiled catalog. Krieger, along with the poet Erdmann Neumeister, collaborated on some of the earliest cantatas for the Lutheran church. Erlebach worked for much of his career in Thuringia, and left behind two catalogs of his music, the bulk of which succumbed to fire in 1735. As for Zachow, he was from a musical family in Leipzig where his father taught at the Thomasschule. Zachow’s command of the organ and his mastery of composition qualified him for the post of organist at the Marienkirche in Halle, where he counted none other than George Friedrich Handel among his students.

The scoring for these works is varied, ranging from strings only in Bach’s Nun komm der Heiden Heiland and Zachow’s Danksaget dem Vater, to trumpet and strings in Erlebach’s Lobe deb Herrn, and strings, oboes, trumpets, and timpani in Krieger’s Magnificat. Composers generally turned out their best work for the Christmas season, and the music on this 1996 release is no exception. It is not only inspired and imaginative but also of an unquestionably high quality. This gives significant weight to the contention that much of the music of these and other long neglected minor figures is just that: neglected and not negligible. After all, there was only one Sebastian Bach, and while his music is something akin to a musical Gibraltar, there were many, many lesser composers whose gifts—though not equal to those of Bach—were sufficient enough for them to craft pietistic and appropriate music for the liturgical year.

I can’t remember when I purchased this CD, but after hearing it again I certainly remember why. It is a compelling collection of first-rate performances with exceptionally small forces. The SATB chorus is divided 2-2-2-3 with male sopranos and altos and the strings playing one to a part; the continuo is enriched by an archlute and a chittarone. The singing is ravishingly beautiful, displaying vitality, precision, and exceptional diction, while the instrumental support is sturdy and equally committed.

Baroque music-lovers should ask Santa for this stocking stuffer; they won’t regret it!

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