Bollius: Johannes-Oratorium

Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble, Arno Paduch
73:17
Christophorus CHR77389

The Johannes in question is John the Baptist and this – perhaps the first true German oratorio? – tells of his birth and destiny. Most likely written for one of his employer, Archbishop and Elector Johann Schweikhard von Kronberg’ significant birthdays in the 1620s, the work has an opera-like structure: two acts, each of three scenes setting texts from St Luke’s gospel, follow a prologue from Isiah (sic) and are, in turn, followed by an epilogue (a Magnificat antiphon from the rite for St John the Baptist), each of the divisions being framed by sinfonias for a variety of instrumental combinations (two cornetti with bassoon, a pair of violins with “viola bastarda”, three recorders, cornetto, violin and recorder). I found these the most satisfying parts of the whole, but there were moments to enjoy in the “drama”, too, especially the choruses. The booklet is informative but I had to read the German to make complete sense of various passages. Personally, I think it was a miscalculation to follow the drama with another of Bollius’s compositions; surely the fact that it ends with a sonata for the same forces as it began with is enough of a framework. Bollius is best known today for his treatise on singing “after the modern Italian art”, but clearly his music deserves wider distribution!

Brian Clark