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Jason Victor Serinus
Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, March 2009

Of all the 200 plus cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps none is more challenging for performers than Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen (Praise God in All Lands), BWV 51, for solo soprano, trumpet, violins, viola, and basso continuo ensemble. In the course of 18 or so minutes, depending on how fast soprano and trumpeter can negotiate Bach’s demanding baroque vocal line, the singer jumps all over the place while singing God’s praises. Joyful, contemplative, and jubilant by turn, Bach’s music moves so fast that it leaves little place to hide.

Only the clarity of authentic instruments can fully convey Bach’s supreme mastery of contrapuntal texture and instrumental color. Soprano Ruth Ziesak has been singing for several decades, yet retains her fetchingly youthful vocal beauty. Flattered by an excellent, high-resolution recording that conveys vocal and instrumental lines with startling clarity, she, trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich, and the Berliner Barock Compagney turn in a revelatory performance.

The other vocal works on the disc, two sacred concertos by Johann Rosenmüller, and Jan Dismas Zelenka’s three-movement Laudate Pueri, are equally rewarding. (The soprano/trumpet interplay in Zelenka’s final “Amen” is jaw-dropping). In between come lovely instrumental sonatas by Johann Philipp Krieger and Gottfried Finger. But the Bach, with its marvelous closing “Alleluja,” is one of the great masterpieces of the baroque era.

Steven Ritter
Fanfare, January 2009

It was probably in 1731 that Bach wrote his cantata for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, Praise God in All Lands. The orchestration of this brilliant work typifies that found on this recital—high, florid coloratura passagework marked by equally fluent and virtuosic trumpet passages, often in contrast with one another. Bach’s piece has proven to be one of the most exceptionally and irresistibly engaging pieces he ever composed, and its popularity has never waned. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christine Schäfer, Lucia Popp, Emma Kirkby, Kathleen Battle, and many others have taken this work to heart and given us wonderful readings. I am particularly fond of Julianne Baird with Rifkin and the old Maria Stader recording with Richter. But Ruth Ziesak has a fresh and energetic voice perfectly suited for this music, and her version must stand with the very best. I should note that she and Reinhold Friedrich recorded this work eight years ago on Capriccio (10583).

Johann Rosenmüller (1619–84) was known in his day for producing rigidly crafted works of the older Schütz style with the melodic ebb and flow of the newer Italian forms. His two sacred concertos combine a sense of heightened festivity that serves as a fine foil for his more sentimental moments where the words are given an expressive pungency and often-virtuoso character with much vocal coloration. Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Laudate pueri brings us to the pinnacle of the high Baroque, though the soprano’s slower moments hint at the emerging Classical textures to come, sacrificing any sort of overt luminosity for a more declamatory, text-oriented presentation. Nonetheless, the outer movements are a wild ride indeed, presenting no little difficulty for the singer or player.

There are two pieces here for instruments alone. Gottfried Finger (1660–1730) worked for Queen Anne in London composing mainly instrumental works for varied and sundry combinations. This Sonata in C is a trio sonata for trumpet, violin, and basso continuo. Color, brightness, and various tempos play a large part in this demanding composition, making many facets of playing the clarion (high trumpet) show themselves in a very exposed way. All of these pieces are a bear to manage on the trumpet, and we should not for one minute take the early period attempts of these works as an example of how badly they must have sounded in the good old days; learning the art of clarion-playing required apprenticeship in a guild for many years, and if the type of music that was written for them is any indication, the performers must have been quite accomplished. Such is the case with Friedrich here. His playing is superb, and even those few difficult parts that seem to escape by the skin of their teeth are only indicative of how difficult this music is to bring off successfully, then and now. Such proves the case when hearing Johann Phillip Krieger (1649–1725). His Sixth Sonata for violin, viola da gamba, and basso continuo is from a collection of 12 sonatas published in 1693. This fugal, deeply contrapuntal music fits the stringed instruments like a warm glove, ending with a whirlwind display of fingered dexterity rarely matched in the era.

This is a sparkling release with nicely spread SACD sound, guaranteed to perk up your spirits and grant an hour’s relaxation and some terrific singing. Who could ask for more?

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