The tale of the Messiah used in this work is not the Jennens text set by Handel, but an excerpt from a massive epic poem by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, one of the forerunners of German Romanticism. Telemann also set a different version of it. Like Milton, who took two books to do it, Klopstock condenses the biblical story, from the Fall of Man to Christ's resurrection, into a single arc, adding nonbiblical characters while he's at it. The setting is by Andreas Romberg, a North German composer who probably knew the young Beethoven in Bonn and later moved on to Hamburg (no word on whether he's related to Sigmund Romberg). It was there where the first version of this work was composed, in 1793. The work is a small oratorio, with solo parts for three angels, Adam, Eve, and an imagined offstage "voice of the Messiah," but a good deal of the action takes place in the choir, which embodies several different groups over the course of the work's three sections. Annotator Klaus Werner tries to set Romberg up as a kind of missing link in an early Romantic style that began with C.P.E. Bach and bypassed Viennese Classicism. You can see what he's driving at: an ambition toward new expressive scope is evident in the concept of the work and in Romberg's conscientious recitative and arioso settings of Klopstock's long speeches of Adam, Eve, and the soloist angels who observe the doings on earth. Yet there are reasons this work fell into disuse. The recitatives are too long and ponderous, and, paradoxically, the work lacks big moments; the final chorus is an entirely academic fugue. Though the piece is not long, it is sprawling. The performances by German early music veteran Hermann Max and Das kleine Konzert are solid, with warm sound from the Rheinische Kantorei counterbalancing solo singing that for the most part is at a businesslike level. This disc is for large collections of German music, or for libraries where students have theses to write; the average listener is going to find the music rather tough going.
Andreas Romberg: Der Messias Review
by James Manheim
|Der Messias, oratorio|