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C.P.E. Bach: Die Auferstehung Und Himmelfahrt Jesu

C.P.E. Bach: Die Auferstehung Und Himmelfahrt Jesu

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Radical, daring and extremely refined: that’s how C. P. E. Bach saw his new path for the Oratorio, after his father’s Passions had marked the climax of the baroque era. Encouraged by his godfather Telemann and liberated from the yoke of the capricious Frederick of Prussia, he found himself in Hamburg with an audience hungry for new music. And he brought them his oratorios, no longer in churches but in concert halls, where he demanded the listener’s undivided attention for sudden changes of mood and color. Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu did indeed leave its traces: both Haydn and Beethoven showed great interest after a series of three performances conducted by Mozart in Vienna. Not only did it pave the way for Haydn’s oratorios, but there are also clear influences on the Pamina arias in Die Zauberflöte written a few years later. C. P. E. Bach wrote to his publisher Breitkopf, “I think this is the best work I have ever written.”


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach worked on what he deemed his finest composition, Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu Wq 240 (H. 777), a two-part oratorio to a libretto by Karl Wilhelm Ramler, between 1774 and 1787, when it was published by Breitkopf in Leipzig. The care that Bach took in continuing to revise this work after its first public performance on 18 March 1778 in the Concertsaal auf dem Kamp in Hamburg shows how much value he attached to it. Ramler’s libretto was esteemed before Bach set it to music; Georg Philipp Telemann had already done so in 1760.

The oratorio consists of 22 musical numbers, two of which are short orchestral preludes to each part; the first half pertains to the resurrection of Jesus, the second to his ascension. One characteristic that distinguishes this work from the more famous oratorios by his father (i.e., the Johannes-Passion and the Matthäus-Passion) is that it was meant to be performed in concert rather than as part of a liturgical service. Following its publication, the work received attention from Franz Josph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who directed three performances of it in Vienna at concerts for Gottfried van Swieten’s Gesellschaft der Associierten Cavaliers in 1788. Haydn used an identical distribution of solo voices (one soprano, one tenor, and one baritone) in Die Schöpfung (1798) and Die Jahreszeiten (1801). Despite its initial success and enormous influence on other composers, Bach’s oratorio did not find favour during the nineteenth century; performances remain infrequent.

The recording by the Vlaams Radiokoor and Il Gardellino Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Bart van Reyn conveys thorough commitment to this lesser-known masterpiece. The chorus sings with precision and emotion; the orchestra plays on period instruments with brisk tempos that never feel rushed and a textural clarity that is not dry. Lore Binon, the soprano soloist, has clear diction and a lyrical voice; Kieran Carrel, the tenor, delivers the recitatives and arias with authority; and Andreas Wolf, the baritone, has a strong voice that imparts warmth and reverence, two emotions critical to the subject matter.

Knowledge of CPE Bach’s oratorio is essential for understanding the development of Austro-German music in the late eighteenth century. Haydn’s oratorios and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would not have been possible without Bach’s precedent. This recording will hopefully draw attention to this work that not only inspired other composers but is great music that belongs in the oratorio repertoire.

--MusicWeb International (Daniel Floyd)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Passacaille
    • UPC/Barcode: 5425004841155
    • Item Number: PAS1115