Fritz Näf

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes; Magnificat

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This Carus Verlag disc, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Magnificat, featuring soloists, the Basler Madrigalisten, and period band L'Arpa Festante under the direction of Fritz Näf, represents the first recording of Bach's Magnificat in a "new" version, along with a Christmas cantata, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Göttes, a work rediscovered among Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's personal manuscript collection that emerged in Kiev in 1999. The disc is a little misleading in that it lists both pieces as "first recordings"; the Magnificat in D minor (Wq. 215, H. 772) comes not from the Singakademie collection but is an already well-known work that isn't commonly done without the trumpet and timpani parts added in its later, revised version. This earlier version, minus the louder instruments, has the virtue, at certain points, of sounding a bit more like "Dad" than it does in the revision, and that's none too surprising, as it was written in 1749 as a kind of a job application for the elder Bach's position as kapellmeister to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. It's a decent recording; however, those familiar with the Magnificat will likely miss the trumpets and timpani, and it is certainly more exciting with those elements included. However, it makes sense that Carus Verlag would record it this way, as it has published an edition of the work that handles the additional parts as ad-lib instruments.

However, Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Göttes (The Heavens are Telling), is a different matter, a "new" C.P.E. Bach cantata and one not indicated in Eugene Helm's thematic catalog for the composer as being among "a considerable number" of lost Christmas cantatas by Bach. Helm, however, did identify a work by that incipit as a pastoral inauguration cantata, and the Christine Blanken's liner notes indicate that such a cantata by C.P.E. Bach, with the same words and music, was indeed used for a pastoral inauguration in 1772. So wouldn't it be the same cantata? We're confused. Even Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Göttes, though, is not entirely new; apart from its opening and closing choruses, it is identical to Auf, schicke dich recht feierlich, Wq. 249, H. 815 (1775), the only other Christmas cantata by Bach known to survive.

Both cantatas are given pleasant, though not by any means enthralling, performances. Some of the C.P.E. Bach works that have emerged from the Singakademie collection have done much to clarify and restore his reputation as a major composer of sacred music in the eighteenth century beyond what was already known. This disc, though, really doesn't do much in that regard; only two of its 17 tracks contain music of Bach that we haven't heard before and seems to be paying heed to the nitpicky details of Bach's music rather than to essentials, the kind of stuff you record when you are way down at the end of a complete series of a composer. Bearing all that in mind, one can't help to think Carus Verlag's emblazoning of this product as containing "two world premiere recordings" as being at least a little disingenuous.

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