C.P.E. Bach’s “Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu”

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C.P.E. BACH: Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu / Tehila Nini Goldstein, sop; Christoph Strehl, ten; Johannes Weisser, bar; Solisti e Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzeria; I Barocchisti; Diego Fasolis, cond / available for free streaming on YouTube

Even though I have become very familiar with a great deal of C.P.E. Bach’s work, both from Berlin where he wrote good but fairly conventional music for Frederick the Great and from Hamburg, where he explored a much more radical style (particularly in his symphonies and concerti), I hadn’t run across this particular work before. This is partly due to the fact that there have only been three commercial recordings of it, and somehow I missed hearing each of them.

Yet this live performance, uploaded on YouTube, played by the Swiss historical orchestra I Barocchisti under Diego Fasolis and featuring soloists and a chorus of Swiss Radio and TV, is absolutely wonderful in every respect. I compared it to other live performances available on YouTube and the commercial recording made by Philippe Herreweghe, and I can attest that, on balance, it is the best of the lot.

For one thing, Fasolis, like Sigiswald Kuijken in a live performance uploaded on YouTube (not his commercial recording for Hyperion, which I haven’t heard), has the advantage of first-rate vocal soloists. Only soprano Tehila Nini Goldstein has a bit of a flutter in her voice, which although it does not spread I found a bit disconcerting. Tenor Christoph Strehl and baritone Johannes Weisser are far better in both vocal and interpretive quality to the other singers I listened to.

As for the work itself, Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus) is considered a landmark of late 18th-century religious oratorios. Premiered in 1774 at a private performance directed by the composer, it was revised four years later and given a public performance at the Auf dem Kamp concert hall in Hamburg. After more revisions it was published by Breitkopf and Hartel, whereupon it received several performances in Vienna in 1788 sponsored by Baron von Swieten and conducted by Mozart. As with his concert performances of Handel’s Messiah, Mozart tinkered with the orchestration to suit his own lights, but these never were put in the score. Thus all modern performances and recordings use the composer’s original orchestration.

I found the music to be sort of a cross between Bach’s own modernistic style and that of his father, as in the case of his Magnificat in D. Apparently, C.P.E. held back a bit on innovation of form when writing religious works, but as in the case of the Magnificat there is a great deal to admire. One thing is the unusual introductions to both halves of the oratorio, played only by the strings and the lower strings at that. Another is the highly dramatic recitatives, several of which are composed almost like mini-arias and a couple of which are quite extended in length. Of course, Carl Bach could write music like this in his sleep, having learned the basics from his father, yet there are so many interesting little touches in the full score that it captivates your attention from first note to last.

For instance, after the soft opening chorus, Bach uses rolling kettledrums to underscore the first bass recitative, followed in turn by the aria and then a chorus that repeats itself twice in the second section of the oratorio (“Triumph! Triumph!”). The soprano aria begins slowly, but then has a fast section with some coloratura runs in it (but no trills). The tenor aria “Ich folge dir” is extremely difficult to sing, jumping from the mid-range to the upper notes over the break in the voice at breakneck speed, but Christoph Strehl manages it very well. The ensuing chorus, “Tod! wo ist dein Strachel” is also quite tricky, with a great deal of counterpoint for the different sections to negotiate. In Part 2, the bass aria “Wilkommen, Heiland!” contains one of the jolliest bassoon accompaniments I’ve ever heard in my life; the soloist sounds as if he’s having a ball playing it, too. The final chorus, which goes through some amazing changes, ends with a jolly little fugue in 6/8.

If you enjoy the religious angle of the music, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this piece, but even if you don’t, the music itself is interesting and uplifting. Check it out!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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