Although somewhat obscured by the momentous discovery in 1999 of the Singakademie Collection in Kiev, a no less significant find was the slightly earlier recovery of manuscripts once belonging to the Hamburg City Library of music by Johann Mattheson, looted in 1945, but found in Armenia and returned to Hamburg in 1998. When Mattheson's opera Boris Goudenow was revived -- actually premiered, as the original 1710 premiere had been canceled for political reasons -- in 2005 it was widely and erroneously reported that this manuscript had been found in the Singakademie Collection. Rather it formed part of the Mattheson material located in Armenia, as does this 1724 recorded for the first time on CPO, Der liebreiche und geduldige DAVID, which translates rather uncomfortably into English as The loving and patient DAVID. David, of course, is the biblical King David, and this oratorio deals with the tragic story of the conflict between David and his rebellious son Absalom, who sought to dethrone his father but wound up wearing a crown of oak branches, not to mention three javelins thrust through his torso. While contemporary Bible study tends to ruminate on whether David's grief over Absalom and his rebellious ways nearly cost him his Kingship -- the Bible is pretty clear that God wasn't going to let that happen -- for Mattheson's pious though freethinking audience, a culture overwhelmingly Lutheran and Swedish-influenced, this Old Testament story served as an allegory for Christ's patience and concern for those estranged from the faith.
Michael Alexander Willens leads Die Kölner Akademie and Chorus through what appears to be a fairly modest affair, though this is in keeping with the work that employs five soloists, a small choir, and band. Among the five are two basses and only one soprano, Nicki Kennedy, who gets a fair workout as Meditatio, a character serving both as David's alter ego and as narrator of the piece. All of the soloists are strong, though tenor Max Ciolek gets to struggle like Jacob wrestling with the Angel with Mattheson's rather prissy writing for the character Ithai, a gung-ho Israelite army commander whose zeal for Absalom's defeat only tends to deepen David's great sorrow for his wayward son. The "Chorus of the Fleeing Israelites" is genuinely beautiful and haunting, and David's final expression of sorrow for Absalom, "Das heilsst gestrafft," is genuinely affecting, though restrained. Moreover, that restraint marks the whole of the work; choruses begin in unison and spread out into parts, much like Low German hymn settings, and the first part has a strong stylistic resemblance with serenata or intermezzo-styled opera rather than oratorio. In this respect and yet others, Der liebreiche und geduldige DAVID is unlike any other reasonably familiar eighteenth century oratorio, and this first recording confirms that Mattheson -- whose works were considered lost and therefore unknown before the Armenian discovery -- is a composer who was singular in the pantheon of the Western canon and well merits such revival as this recording exemplifies.