The great oratorios and Passion settings of the High Baroque are effective in part because they successfully combine various forms of musical discourse; they draw on opera, on chorales and other forms of devotional music, on pastoral themes (where would Messiah be without those?), on political and military ideas, and more. In order for Bach and Handel to accomplish what they did, someone had to carve out a space in the sacred music sphere for them. Hamburg composer Reinhard Keiser, best known (when he is known at all) for his operas, was one of these figures, and this release from the specialist German label CPO, which has embarked on an intriguing project covering two centuries of church music from the Hanseatic city, does a top-notch job of illuminating the ways he did it and the circumstances under which he did it. The booklet notes (in English and German) by conductor Thomas Ihlenfeldt concisely and entertainingly explain the factors in play: arrayed against the musically conservative clergy of the city's large churches were smaller churches and also its cathedral, which was partly under foreign (for a time Swedish) control. And Hamburg was full of talented opera singers eager for work during periods (such as Lent) when theaters were closed. The three works here, collectively designated as Passion music but including a motet, a partial Passion setting, and a series of arias entitled Seelige Erlösungs-Gedancken (Thoughts on the Soul's Redemption), all anticipate the forms and modes of expression used by Bach, and especially Handel. All are made up of recitatives and arias, with the first two framed by very brief choruses and choral exclamations from the crowd, like those in Bach's or Schütz's settings, in Wir gingen alle in der Irre, setting material from the Passion According to Luke. The recitatives in this work are noteworthy in their depth and variety, but perhaps the most interesting are the Seelige Erlösungs-Gedancken, which have a reflective and inward tone suggesting that Keiser knew the slightly older and often magnificent chamber sacred music of Buxtehude. The performers, with an unusual variety of international backgrounds, turn in generally strong efforts; the quiet warmth of mezzo-soprano Olivia Vermeulen is especially in tune with the expressive dimensions of the music. Tenor Knut Schoch will be familiar to buyers of parts or the entire Bach cycle on the budget Brilliant label. The choruses are sung with one voice per part, simply by the assembled soloists, and indeed music like this, where the chorus doesn't really have much to do, provides a decent argument for the one-voice-per-part procedure (it's much more troublesome in chorale-based music like Bach's). A very strong outing from CPO's adventurous catalog, and it makes one want to check out other releases in the Hamburg series.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Ich liege und schlafe ganz mit Frieden|
|Wir gingen alle in der Irre|