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Easter Cantatas
Johann Friedrich AGRICOLA (1720-1774)
Der Gottmensch jauchzt [11:39]
Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785)
Frohlocket und preiset den göttlichen Held, Oratorium auf Ostern HoWV I.11 [32:47]
Johann Friedrich AGRICOLA
Die Auferstehung des Erlösers [32:40]
Kölner Akademie / Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 2019, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany
CPO 555 332-2 [77:21]

A little too late for the rather muted Easter celebrations, this disc was only released in May, but I feel that it would have made a wonderful addition to the seasonal round-up and an engaging alternative to Bach’s Passions and Oratorio.

Johann Friedrich Agricola’s name is new to me. He was an important German composer, organist, singer, teacher and music theorist. He was born in Dobitschen, Thuringia and studied Law at the University of Leipzig from 1738 to 1741. He also undertook the study of music under the tutelage of Johann Sebastian Bach. He went on to be held as one of the finest organists of his generation, and entered the court of Frederick the Great, rising to the post of conductor of the royal orchestra after the death of Carl Heinrich Graun in 1759.

Bach’s influence can be heard especially in Der Gottmensch jauchzt. A glorious mix of solo and choral singing, the work is well supported by the wonderful playing by the instrumentalists, especially the winds. It brings to mind Bach’s B minor Mass in places.
Agricola’s other work on this disc, Die Auferstehung des Erlösers, nearly three times as long, shows less of Bach’s influence. If anything, there is an operatic influence. The composer is after all remembered for his Italianate operas. This is especially so in the tenor Aria and Recitativo, which Georg Poplutz sings wonderfully. The soprano Hannah Morrison also deserves a special mention for her great singing of the Aria Steigt Engel, steigt Freunde der Helden, hernieder.

To be honest, it was the name of Gottfried August Homilius that drew me to this disc. Agricola’s pieces served as a real bonus. Regarded as one of the greatest church composers of the generation after Bach, with whom he studied organ, Homilius was born in Rosenthal, Saxony. He first came to my attention when I was looking into the golden age of music in Dresden. That was when – during the reign of Augustus the Strong – a celebration of the arts made the city known as the Florence of the North or Florence on the Elbe, with a flowering of the visual arts, theatre and music. I have since acquired splendid and noteworthy CDs of Homilius’s music, especially on the Carus label, but CPO are no strangers to his music either. This disc follows their recording of Advent and Christmas cantatas released last year with the same ensemble (CPO 555 278-2).

Die Auferstehung des Erlösers is a big and bold work, quite wornderful. It is easy to see why Homilius may be the better known composer of the two. There is some very fine duet and trio writing. The soprano Rachel Maas relishes in the role of Maria Magdalena, with good support from the soprano Bethany Seymour and the alto Elisabeth Popien. All the soloists, chorus and instrumentalists of the Kölner Akademie under the direction of Michael Alexander Willens are on excellent form. This is a highlight in my Homilius holdings. The recording is bright and detailed, the acoustic of the hall well suited to this music. Klaus Winkler’s booklet notes are detailed and informative, placing the music in its historical context. Included are the full German texts with English translations. Do not wait for next year’s Easter season. This disc should be enjoyed now and throughout the year.

Stuart Sillitoe

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