Sunday 4 January 2015

The choir and orchestra of Ensemble Pygmalion directed by Raphaël Pichon together with a fine line up of soloists make their debut disc for Harmonia Mundi in a new performing edition of Bach’s long lost Köthener Trauermusik

When Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothän (1694-1728) died, his former Kapellmeister, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), wrote a cantata dedicated to his memory based on the music of two major works of the mid 1720’s his Trauer Ode and St. Matthew Passion. Although the score to the Köthener Trauermusik is lost, the word book and other sources have now made it possible to create a performing edition.

In his first recording for Harmonia Mundi Raphaël Pichon leads the Ensemble Pygmalion  in a rediscovery of this little known work.

HMC 902211
The choir and orchestra of Ensemble Pygmalion are joined on this new recording by soloists soprano Sabine Devieilhe ; alto Damien Guillon ; tenor Thomas Hobbs  and bass Christian Immler .
Leipzig poet Christian Friedrich Henrici (1700-1764) provided twenty four stanzas, divided into four parts which Bach set to music. Records show that Bach was responsible for the music on the evening of 23rd March 1729 and the funeral service the following day. It was the cantata Köthener Trauermusik that was performed on the morning of the funeral service. Musicians came from Leipzig, Halle, Merseburg, Zerbt, Dessau and Güsten and, in addition to Bach himself, included his wife Anna Magdalena and his son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.

In the absence of the actual music it is only the texts that survive. However, it seems that Bach reused the opening and closing choruses of his Trauerode BWV 198 (1727) for nos. 1 and 7 of his new cantata and ten arias from the St. Matthew Passion probably first performed in 1727. Here Morgan Jourdain has built on previous research to bring us this performing edition of the Köthener Trauermusik.

Part I opens with the chorus Klagt, Kinder, klagt es aller Welt (Chorus) (BWV198). There is a lightness of touch, full of rhythmic bounce with the choir, when they enter, nicely balanced with the orchestra and showing with a fine flexibility. The next five sections take the music from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Alto Damien Guillon has a lovely pure voice that well compliments the flutes of the orchestra in the recitative Land! Bestürztes Land! before Raphaël Pichon and the orchestra subtly pick up the tempo and rhythm for the Aria Weh und Ach with Guillon showing great control and flexibility in this beautifully shaped section. There is some sprightly, light textured orchestral playing as tenor, Thomas Hobbs brings the recitativo Wie wenn der Blitze Grausamkeit, another fine, clear, beautifully voiced soloist.

Hobbs shows even more his fine voice in the aria Zage nur, du treues Land weaving a lovely line with the orchestra. Soprano Sabine Devieilhe enters for the recitative Ah ja! Wenn Tränen oder Blut bringing a light and pure voice before the final chorus of Part 1 Komm wieder, teurer Fürsten-Geist from the Trauerode BWV 198 where there is a lovely flowing orchestral opening that has a lovely sway before the chorus joins, equally aware of the rhythmic sway and weaving some terrific lines with the orchestra.

Bach turned to his Mass in B minor BWV 232 for the opening chorus of Part II, "Dictum" Wir Haben Einen Gott, Der Da Hilft, a more sombre piece with some especially fine singing from the male chorus before the music expands beautifully with the whole choir. Damien Guillon is again fine voiced in the recitative Betrübter Anblick voll Erschrecken with music from the Trauerode BWV 198 before the aria Erhalte mich from the St. Matthew Passion as are the following three numbers. There is an exquisite orchestral opening, with some lovely string textures and harmonies in one of the finest sections with Guillon in excellent voice, a pure joy.

Soprano Sabine Devieilhe re-joins for the brief recitative Jedoch der schwache Mensch erzittert nur before the aria Mit Freuden sei die Welt verlassen with an orchestral opening full of exquisite playing from the woodwind and with Devieilhe providing some lovely decorations. Bass Christian Immler joins for the recitative Wohl Also Dir (Recitativo making a compliment of fine soloists. Bach’s B minor Mass appears again in the chorus "Repetatur Dictum" taken at a fine flowing pace to end Part II.

With Part III all of the music is taken from the St Matthew Passion opening with the aria Lass, Leopold, dich nicht begraben where Christian Immler re-joins for a more extended part accompanied by just pizzicato bass strings and lute, a very distinctive setting with Immler showing his rich rounded tone and fine flexibility in the lovely subtle little decorations. Damien Guillon brings the recitative Wie könnt es möglich sein before taking us into the aria Wird Auch Gleich Nach Tausend Zähren.  There is a lovely lilt to the orchestral opening before Guillon joins, blending and weaving around the orchestra.

Tenor Thomas Hobbs brings the recitative Und, Herr, Das Ist Die Spezerei nicely pointed up by the woodwind and leading to the aria Geh, Leopold, zu deiner Ruhe (Aria a 2 Cori) with a spritely orchestral opening with fine transparency of sound before tenor and chorus join to lead to the end of Part III.

Part IV opens with the aria Bleibet nur in eurer Ruh which, like the following two numbers, is from the St Matthew Passion. It receives a richly blended, rhythmically swaying orchestral opening before bass Christian Immler enters with his very fine rich, flexible voice in this particularly fine aria. Soprano Sabine Devieilhe returns for the recitative Und du, betrübtes Fürstenhaus with a lovely orchestral accompaniment before the aria Hemme Dein Gequältes Kränken with more lovely individual instrumental sounds and the very fine voice of Sabine Devieilhe showing great flexibility, such a musical voice.

Christian Immler returns for the lovely flowing, slightly melancholy recitative Nun Scheiden Wir from Bach’s BWV 105/4, so sensitively done. There is a fine orchestral opening before the chorus enter in a glorious final chorus Die Augen Sehn Nach Deiner Leiche from the St Matthew Passion to which the soloists join, a glorious and at times quite moving conclusion.

With an excellent orchestra and choir and a very fine line up of soloists this is an opportunity to hear a fascinating re-construction of an occasional cantata probably not heard since 1729. If much of the music comes from the St Matthew Passion that is no bad thing particularly in a performance as fine as this.

Of extra interest is the fact that the recording was made in the Chapelle Royale, Versailles, its acoustic providing a lovely sound. There is a nicely produced booklet with a photo of Chapelle Royale, excellent booklet notes on the music, its origins and notes on the reconstruction as well as a performer’s note. There are full texts and translations. There is also a useful two page chart showing clearly the works from which the various sections of the Köthener Trauermusik are taken.

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