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Leipzig 1723

Ælbgut; Capella Jenensis (Accentus)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Leipzig 1723
JS Bach: Cantata ‘Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe’, BWV 22; Graupner: Cantata ‘Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden’;  Telemann: Ich muss auf den Berfen weinen und heulen, TWV 1:851
Ælbgut; Capella Jenensis
Accentus ACC 30598   67:09 mins

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When the St Thomas Cantor Johann Kuhnau died after 21 years as Leipzig’s revered musical panjandrum, locals doubted whether any composer could be found to adequately fill his shoes. The job was a big one: the Thomaskantorat had to teach 55 boarding students, organise their singing in four churches and conduct them in cantatas he himself had written. He also had to supervise the city’s pipers, oversee musical performances at weddings and funerals and the procuring of instruments.

The post was in the gift of the local council, who put it out to tender; in the resulting competition, each aspirant presented two compositions of their own. The initial winner was the prolific Georg Philipp Telemann, who accordingly resigned from his job in Hamburg, only to be seduced back with a pay rise. The next favourite was the Darmstadt Kapellmeister Christoph Graupner, but while the Leipzig councillors debated, a certain JS Bach stepped into the frame, conducting two short cantatas with the St Thomas Boys Choir. Graupner was offered the job, but under pressure from his employer in Darmstadt he too pulled out, magnanimously declaring that Bach was the best alternative. After nine months of deliberation, and with the mayor glumly suggesting that ‘somebody average’ would do, the third choice got the job which he would hold for 27 years.

Beautifully performed by the Ælbgut ensemble and Capella Jenensis, this recording allows us to compare the three candidates’ submissions. Telemann’s cantata has the expected smooth efficiency but little emotional engagement with its text; Graupner’s two works, on the other hand, are almost worthy of Bach in their graceful and inventive expressiveness. But every note of Bach’s two 15-minute cantatas – Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölf and Du Wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn – has the imprint of his great voice and his unique emotional authority.

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Michael Church