CPE Bach: Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: CPE Bach
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu
PERFORMER: Uta Schwabe (soprano), Christoph Genz (tenor), Stephan Genz (bass); Ex Tempore, La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67364
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach rated his Resurrection cantata Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu as one of his finest masterpieces. His contemporaries agreed; and the work’s success following its Hamburg premiere in 1778 culminated in three Viennese performances directed by Mozart himself. Handicaps for listeners today are the mawkish text and the total lack of dramatic action: true to the Age of Sensibility, the work depicts the emotions aroused by the Resurrection and Ascension rather than the events and personalities themselves. As you might expect, it has its share of soulful, elegiac numbers, full of characteristic halting phrases and sighing appoggiaturas. But when the text throws up a graphic image, Bach responds with music of striking dramatic power: the angular opening recitative, punctuated by spectacular timpani rolls, the apocalyptic bass aria ‘Open ye gates of God’, or, best of all, the magnificent final chorus, with its Handelian thunderbolts and rollicking closing fugue – a kind of celestial jig.

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At times I could have done with a more incisive attack from the fresh-toned chorus. But Kuijken and his lively, stylish period orchestra have keen feeling both for the moments of heightened colour and for the work’s particular vein of Empfindsamkeit. Textures are lucid, phrasing natural, tempi unforced but vital. Of the three nimble, youthful soloists, baritone Stephan Genz is outstanding, compensating for a lack of true bass depth with his vigour of attack, firmness of line and, in the recitatives, vivid declamation. Pace Bach himself, I wouldn’t rate Die Auferstehung as highly as his finest instrumental music. But it’s a touching and sometimes exciting piece that deserves to be heard for that thrilling final chorus alone. Richard Wigmore