Mattheson: Joseph (Oratorio) / Bonath, Pulchra Musica Baroque Orchestra

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In 1715 Johann Mattheson became music director at Hamburg Cathedral and took advantage of the opportunity to mix sacred music with theatrical style. In his 13 years of service he wrote 24 oratorios for high holidays and lent. The exquisite musical quality of the piece is impressive. The vocal parts are demanding throughout, they were, after all, written for the soloists of Hamburg’s Oper am Gänsemarkt, that first-rate musical institution and first ‘German-speaking’ opera house to which other baroque greats like Haendel, Graupner, and Kaiser were also contributing at the time. The work, which the libretto designates an “oratorio”, was first performed in 1727 under the composer’s direction.


This is the world premiere recording of a work from 1727 by Johann Mattheson (1681–1764). What took so long? The manuscripts were believed to be destroyed when his home city of Hamburg was severely bombed in World War II. But in 1998 many of them were discovered in Armenia. And here at last is Joseph, written for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, part 1 to be performed before the sermon, part 2 afterwards. While it’s only 50 minutes, this oratorio (as Mattheson called it) covers a lot of ground.

The most outstanding of Ensemble Paulinum’s cast of remarkable voices is tenor Klemens Mölkner as Joseph. In his “troubled heart” aria in part 1, his warm, lyrical sounds are meltingly beautiful but fail to convey the anger that others’ cruelty causes. In part 2, however, Joseph has an aria in which “my quickened heart and blood are throbbing, as my mouth is gnashing its teeth,” as he thinks of his brothers who sold him into Egyptian slavery, yet his “heart still swims in tears of love.” Here Mölkner’s lithe voice buoyantly cascades through the contrasting emotions and trails of 16th notes with a versatility that matches the trickiest challenges in Bach and Handel.

Perhaps the most glorious section of all is the nine-minute madrigal in part 1, adapted from a madrigal by Antonio Lotti (1667–1740) and performed by a soprano, alto, tenor, two extra tenors, and a bass, accompanied by a simple organ. It’s an exquisite fugue, buoyantly sung with crystal clear texts, phrasing, and transparent balances. Once again, the underlying emotion and theological conviction are the point. There’s also a fugue for four tenors (a canon, really) that simply flows—despite all the repeated “Minimalist” harmonic repetition—with more excitement that much Renaissance music that it resembles.

Based in Worms, Germany, both ensembles are devoted to true authenticity, even trying to perform in the kind of spaces in which the works were originally performed. But, believe me, there is no dry authenticity-with-a-vengeance here. So musical and exhilarating are the performances that I never once was aware of things like vibrato versus no vibrato. In brief, here is “new” music, superbly performed and recorded, with full texts, thorough and easy-to-read background notes, concise artists’ notes, and who’s singing what, all very handsomely packaged.

-- Fanfare

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 04, 2022

  • Catalog Number: C5448

  • UPC: 845221054483

  • Label: Capriccio

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Classical

  • Composer: Johann Mattheson

  • Conductor: Christian Bonath

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Pulchra Musica Baroque Orchestra, Ensemble Paulinum