Kuhnau: Complete Sacred Works I

Opella Musica, camerata lipsiensis, Gregor Meyer
70:08
cpo 777 868-2
Daran erkennen wir, Es steh Gott auf, Mein Alter kömmt, Tristis est anima mea, Wenn euch fröhlich seid an euren Festen, Welt adieu ich bin dein müde

Like many composers of his generation (as well as the one following), Johann Kuhnau has long languished in the shadow cast by the giant who is Johann Sebastian Bach. A valiant effort by The King’s Consort to rectify that situation sadly came to an end, but this new releases shows that there is hope. David Erler, camerata lipsiensis’s alto, plans to complete a scholarly edition of Kuhnau’s complete surviving church music in time for the 300th anniversary of his death in 1722, and hopefully all of it will appear on cpo recordings of this high quality. The only piece to have appeared on disc before is the motet Tristis est anima mea, which Bach turned into Der Gerechte kommt um but Michael Maul, author of the excellent notes, suggests that actually it may not be by Kuhnau at all (the first attribution is dated 1823!), having so very little in common with the musical language of all the other surviving works (even conceding that huge quantities must have been lost over time), and is more likely to be by Antonio Lotti, who apparently sent Kuhnau music from Dresden. The other five works on the disc are cantatas for Easter (one opens the disc, the other closes it), the Purification of Mary (for tenor solo with a chorus as the last movement), Whitsun and the 24th Sunday after Trinity. This last is interesting as it is based on a funeral song by Johann Rosenmüller, who might have been Kuhnau’s predecessor as Thomaskantor, had he not caused a stir in the mid 1650s. camerata lipsiensis sing one to a part, and are accompanied by flute, oboes, bassoon, horns (especially made smaller instruments with trumpet mouth-pieces), trumpets, trombones, five-part strings (including “Kontrabass”), lute, harpsichord and organ. I especially enjoyed the festive music, with some neat singing and playing from all concerned, but – having listened to Ich hebe meine Augen auf earlier in the day – I kept thinking how old-fashioned this music felt. I look forward to having that impression corrected as the series proceeds, and I am sure the performers will love exploring the music as it becomes available.

Brian Clark