Reinhard Keiser: Passion Music / Ihlenfeldt, Capella Orlandi Bremen

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KEISER Ich liege und schlafe. Wir gingen alle in der Irre. Seelige Erlösungs-Gedanken Thomas Ihlenfeldt, cond; Eeva Tenkanen, Doerthe Maria Sandmann (sop); Olivia Vermeulen (alt); Knut Schoch, Julian Podger (ten); Raimonds Spogis, Matthias Jahrmärker (bs); Capella Orlandi Bremen (period instruments) cpo 999 821 (79:24 Text and Translation)

I confess that I’ve always had a soft spot for early 18th-century Hamburg. Here is where German opera was really born, not as an experiment but rather as a full-fledged genre that survived for more than 30 years as a going concern. Here is where Handel got his start, Telemann came to enjoy a long tenure, and Johann Mattheson began to theorize on all and sundry. It was a quirky place, allowed to be established by the Pietist faction of the city on the marketplace where they sold geese (and everyone knows what they sound like) and evolving into the first diverse opera house, where individual works would have a blend of German, Italian, and occasionally even French. The composer who oversaw much of its halcyon days was Reinhard Keiser, a figure who looms large in the history of the German Baroque. He was the major figure who likewise accomplished much during his work in the city, bringing a certain renown to the house for its music.

All was not rosy, of course, since there were continual battles between the Pietists and traditional Lutherans who ran the place, often resulting in odd conflicts, not to mention continual threat of closure to the opera. But as entertaining as the opera was, there were other needs, and Kapellmeister Keiser attempted to accommodate them all. Among these were the occasional need for sacred music, particularly during Lent, when the opera was closed, which brings us to this disc comprising some of Keiser’s Passion music, as the title of the recording states. In the world of early 18th-century religion, the conflict at this time of year manifested itself in how one was to set the four Gospels to music, or whether this was to be more allegorical or exegetical than literal. For the Pietists, of course, no music at all beyond simple congregational singing was best, but often attempts were made to flesh out the terse Biblical Passion by elaborate texts with exotic titles. My favorite is Brocke’s Der für die Sünden der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus (Martyred and Dying Jesus for the Sins of the World), a catchy title even if a bit epic. Keiser, who set this in 1711, turned out to be as prolific and interesting a composer of these sorts of things as he was for opera, and this release of three examples of other Passion music of a smaller sort are fully representative of his often progressive musical compositions.

Part of a series on sacred music in Hamburg, this disc explores some quite different aspects of the music of the season. The first work, described as a motet but really more of a self-contained cantata, begins and ends with the same chorus, “Ich liege und schlafe ganz mit Frieden” (I lie and sleep wholly at peace), consisting of lyrical imitative vocal entrances above an ostinato ground bass that is so soft and gentle that one hardly seems to notice its entrance. Pairs of arias and a central lilting chorus fill the inner movements. The second work is, alas, only a fragment of a larger St. Luke Passion. It ends abruptly when Pilate asks the question “Are you the Son of God?” We may not have the beginning either, but the chorus that starts it, “Wir gingen alle in der Irre” (We have all sinned), has a decidedly Purcellian feeling, with its insistent oboes and perpetual-motion line; one is reminded of the “Wondrous Machine” in his Ode to St. Cecelia . The recitatives and dialogue move along smartly, and the arias would not be out of place in Bach. It is truly a pity we don’t have the whole thing. The cantata that ends this triumvirate of works is a self-contained sequence of recitatives and arias taken from a larger oratorio titled Der zum Tode verurtheilte und gekreutzigte Jesus (Jesus, condemned to death and crucified), which Keiser published separately in 1715 as a sort of reflective work. While it seems a bit incongruous, the quality of the music, from the dramatic accompagnatos to the spooky final aria with its ground bass and pizzicato strings, is uniformly high.

Thomas Ihlenfeldt’s early-music group, the Capella Orlandi Bremen, is superb. They blend well, are in tune, and, even though largely one on a part, create a nice, colorful texture. The soloists, who double as the “choir,” are also excellent. I am always impressed with Baroque improvisation, which soprano Doerthe Sandmann does with grace and simplicity, and I do like the light baritone à la Max von Egmond of Raimonds Spogis. I would, of course, really like for a thicker texture in the choruses, but this ensemble simply works well together. I think this really ought to be a part of one’s Baroque collection, particularly since it shows something more common than the sometimes idiosyncratic Passions of Bach. Keiser is no slouch, and this proves him to be versatile and dramatic. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 999821-2

  • UPC: 761203982127

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Reinhard Keiser

  • Conductor: Thomas Ihlenfeldt

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Capella Orlandi Bremen