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Friedrich SCHNEIDER (1786 – 1853)
Das Weltgericht, Oratorium in three parts (1820)
Gabriel – Martina Rüping (soprano)
Michael – Marie Henriette Reinhold (contralto)
Raphael – Patrick Grahl (tenor)
Uriel – Daniel Blumenschein (bass)
Satan – Joachim Holzhey (bass)
Eva/Maria – Viola Blache (soprano)
camerata lipsiensis/Gregor Meyer
rec. live, 16 & 20 November 2016
German libretto with English translation enclosed
CPO 555 119-2 [58:50 + 35:57]

Johann Christian Friedrich Schneider is one of many composers from yesteryear who blossomed during their lifetime but then fell into oblivion. Born in Altwaltersdorf at Zittau he studied with his father and later in Leipzig, where he became organist at St. Thomas Church in 1812 and conductor at the State Theatre in 1817. He is supposed to have been the piano soloist of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto at the premiere in 1811. From 1821 he was conductor of the Court Orchestra in Dessau, where he also died. His list of works is long and includes “seven operas, four masses, six oratorios, 25 cantatas, 23 symphonies, seven piano concertos, sonatas for violin, flute, and cello, and a great many shorter instrumental pieces, some of them for piano, some for organ. He also left numerous solo songs and part songs” (Wikipedia). But as early as 1878 Mendel and Reissmann’s Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon said that he was ‘half-forgotten’ only a few years after his death. Times change, tastes change and new composers with new ideas outmanoeuvre their predecessors. Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn set the fashion in the generation after Schneider. But when he presented Das Weltgericht in 1820 it was a thundering success and spread around Germany during the next few years. It was regarded as the greatest German language oratorio since Haydn’s The Seasons and remained in vogue until Mendelssohn’s Paulus premiered in Düsseldorf in 1836. But even so discriminating musician and critic as Robert Schumann wrote very appreciatively of Das Weltgericht when he at a performance of Paulus in Zwickau in 1837 recalled a performance of Schneider’s oratorio in the same church many years earlier when he at the age of 11 accompanied the work, standing at the piano. Richard Wagner, on the other hand, had little positive to say about the work, finding it hopelessly old-fashioned. He wrote in 1834: “Is it not a blatant misconstruction of our times that a composer should write oratorios in whose contents and form no one believes anymore? Who believes in the mendacious rigidity of a Schneiderean fugue simply because it happens to have been written by Friedrich Schneider?”

Das Weltgericht (The Day of Judgement) is a largescale work in three parts: Death, The Resurrection and The Judgement. It is more than most oratorios dominated by the chorus, which occupies about four-fifth of the score, and it represents various roles: angels, believers and apostles; holy warriors, infernal spirits and conquerors; souls of the blessed, the arisen, the redeemed, the unrighteous and the pious; martyrs and mothers with children; human beings and the souls of the damned. A quartet of solo voices represent the archangels, who appear individually as well as consorted, sometimes together with other angels. Satan, bass, has one of only two arias, the other aria belongs to Raphael. There are some recitatives and one duet for Gabriel and Raphael and short appearances in Part III by Eva and Maria, sung by the same soprano. But first and foremost this is a monumental choral oratorio and it opens pompously and powerfully with an orchestral introduction, followed by brass fanfares – skilfully orchestrated and melodically attractive – before the chorus of angels sing Heilig, der da ist und der da war! (Holy, He who is and ever was!). The archangels then introduce themselves and the piece ends with a grand fugue.

There are many great choral movements, some magnificent, some beautiful and touching. The Chorus of Believers and Conquerors (CD 1 tr. 6) and the Chorus of the Blessed which opens Part II (CD 1 tr. 10) are of the latter kind; the Chorus of Believers, Angels and Humans, which rounds off Part I (CD 1 tr. 10) and the triumphant Chorus of Angels in Part II (CD 1 tr. 13) are of the former. In the final part there is an abundance of great choruses, not least the dramatic Chorus of Angels (CD 2 tr. 12), where the text says Erden flammen, Monde fallen, Düstre Feuermeere wallen (Earths burst into flame, moons fall, grim seas of fire rage) and of course the jubilant finale, where Maria appears and Angels, Apostles, Holy Warriors and Humans join in and unite in a magnificent fugue. It is a riveting experience even in my modestly sized listening room and I can imagine that the effect is even greater in a more spacious venue. The work was set down live on two days in November 2016, but there is not a sign of an audience, not even in the generous silences between the numbers. Some of the soloists are better than some others but as a whole the solo singing is more than acceptable and the GewandhausChor is great, while the Camerata Lipsiensis make the most of the orchestral parts. When it comes to large-scale choral music, Das Weltgericht is for me the find of the year. Even though it may not be the greatest oratorio of the 19th century it is with all probability the greatest between Haydn and Mendelssohn – and that’s not bad either!

Göran Forsling

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