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Briefly Noted: Johann Wilhem Hertel, Christmas Cantata

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J. H. Hertel, Die Geburt Jesu Christi, B. Solset, A. Rawohl, M. Ullmann, W.-M. Friedrich, Die Kölner Akademie, M. A. Willens

(released on November 19, 2013)
cpo 777 809-2 | 63'35"
If you have even heard of Johann Wilhelm Hertel (1727-1789), it is likely because of his trumpet or oboe concertos, already revived in the search for concertos for those instruments. He was the son of a viola da gamba player and violinist, who was a close friend of Johann Gottlieb Graun, and he served as court composer for the Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Like J. S. Bach and other composers in this period, his compositional output varied according to the tastes and interests of his employer. During the life of Duke Christian Ludwig II, Hertel wrote mostly instrumental music, but from 1777 to 1783, he composed a series of long cantatas or oratorios for the new Stadtkirche in Ludwigslust, where his employer Duke Frederick the Pious had retired from worldly life, a building of considerable architectural and artistic interest. (Since World War II, the town has unfortunately become better known for the Wöbbelin concentration camp, located near it.) Michael Alexander Willens, who grew up in Chevy Chase (Md.), leads his Kölner Akademie in the premiere recording of Hertel's Christmas cantata, Die Geburt Jesu Christi. We have already given high marks to Willens's recording of Graun's Easter oratorio and his Mozart cycle with Ronald Brautigam, and the pile of discs I received from him just before Thanksgiving, when he comes to the area to visit family, is going to keep me busy for a while. This cantata receives an easy recommendation for those tired of listening to the same Christmas masterpieces, with some lovely arias, especially the showpiece for soprano near the end, Freuet seiner euch mit Beben. The one duet (Da prangt der Sieger ohne Heere!), for both sopranos, is particularly beautiful, with an extended cadenza for both voice, sung quite exquisitely on this recording (sopranos Berit Solset and Alexandra Rawohl), as are the choral movements at the beginning and end. This fine little recording is rounded out with authoritative program notes by Prof. Dr. Franziska Seils, the musicologist from the Evangelische Hochschule für Kirchenmusik Halle an der Saale who edited the score. A refined stocking-stuffer for that early music person in your life!

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