One can hardly think of a better bass-baritone in the early music realm than Klaus Mertens, and he keeps up such a busy slate of live appearances and recordings that one wonders if he keeps his bedroll next to the recording console. CPO's Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich: Baroque Bass Cantatas from Central Germany puts Mertens through the paces of six very obscure early 18th century sacred cantatas for low voice, supported by the Accademia Daniel under Shalev Ad-El. What the cantatas all have in common is their source; all are known from copies kept at the Kantoreizarchiv at the church of St. Johannis in Mügeln. About the only composer one is in danger of knowing anything about is Georg Philipp Telemann, and although the cantata heard here is ascribed to him the style of the recitatives suggests that it actually might not be by him; indeed, whomever it's really by, Kaum ist der Heÿland auf der Erden does not shine with Telemann's usual ingenuity and brilliance. One composer is identified only as "Hoffmann" and nothing more is known about him; interestingly enough, Hoffman's is one of the better cantatas on the album.
Mertens, as always, is terrific, but some of these cantatas are not so hot. Johann Theodor Roembildt's cantata Es gebt kein andrer Weg zum Himmel has fairly nice solo passagework for the German flute, but the writing for the singer is rather strident, sing-songy, and pompous. One thing this disc makes clear -- and this may or may not be something one would want to know -- is that there are Baroque solo cantatas even more obscure than the most obscure Telemann cantatas, the repertoire's equivalent of observing planets orbiting around distant stars in the universe. For those obsessed with the knowledge of such extra-extra-terrestrial bodies, CPO's Baroque Bass Cantatas from Central Germany might well seem as manna from heaven. For more terrestrial tastes, no amount of contextualization will further clarify why it is worth getting out the telescope to observe works as plain and past their expiration date as these are.