Although his name might not rate very highly on the recognition meter even of classical music buffs, Franz Tunder was a consequential entity in the early history of the German Baroque. Tunder served as organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck from 1641 to his death in 1667, and during that time instituted the Abendmusiken, the first series of public concerts to take place in Germany. Seventeen vocal "concertos" exist from Tunder's pen and they were created for these special events; little more than half of them appear on this generous and well-performed CPO disc, Franz Tunder: Concerti. Conductor Hermann Max leads Das Kleine Konzert and the singing group Rheinische Kantorei in 10 concerti, which uses a variety of singers in frontline combinations. Tunder must have had some good basses in his chorus, as they have most of the hardest music in the Concerti, and five of these ten works are sung by bass or basses alone. Both men used here, Ekkehard Abele and Yoshitaka Ogasawara, do an excellent job. The string parts are crisp and do not dawdle, and Max never allows the music to get too grandiose, wisely keeping it within the boundaries of the chamber idiom to which it belongs. The music is never ornately busy and has a relaxed, soothing effect.
In an age of artistic conformity, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) had a refreshingly individual voice. In his own time he was described as 'a reserved, bigoted Catholic, but also a respectable, quiet, unassuming man, deserving of the greatest respect'. His music earned Bach's respect for its serious contrapuntal procedures; today's listeners, though, are more immediately charmed by Zelenka's quirky turns of phrase and flashes of original genius. There are plenty of these in the Passion oratorio Gesù al Calvario (1735), one of the composer's three late oratorios. This is an essentially contemplative oratorio. All the 'action' is concentrated into a single scene in which the three Marys and St John are waiting on the Mount of Calvary for Jesus after he has been sentenced to death. The crucifixion itself is not depicted, just the emotional reactions to it.
Hermann Max keeps on impressing me with his interpretations (I've heard his Bach Matthew passion and liked it very much). In this case he brings together a reverent but emotionally filled production of just a few of the many, many, many Telemann choral pieces that have been neglected over the years. Special praise goes to the counter-tenor Cordier, the tenor Wilfried Jochens, and the two basses Wimmer and Shreckenberg. But really, all the soloists are exceptional. The choir is wonderful. I've never heard such good sopranos, except for maybe Hengelbrock's women. Max really pushes the envelope on a couple pieces, especially one of the bass solos that he pushes along so fast that you can hardly hear the words. Amazingly, the interpretation works for the song and the energy is like nothing I've heard. The orchestra is as professional as any period ensemble I've heard. For those who like to follow Suzuki's Bach cycle, they might be interested in knowing that Achira Tachikawa, the 1st counter-tenor used by Suzuki in his cycle, is one of the four altos in the choir (this recording was made before Suzuki's first recording was). This is my first experience with Telemann, so I can't give a fair comparison to Bach, but I can say that I loved this cd and believe anyone who loves baroque Lutheran sacred music should pick this up as a wonderful find. I can't believe that nobody else has reviewed this yet! I am happy to be the first. Five enthusiastic stars!
Hermann Scherchen's performances of these Brandenburg Concerts avoids the normally expected exaltation of opening and closing movements conferred by most performances. Instead, he opts for a beautifully serene approach to the score, making it more reflective, thoughtful and expansive, hightlighting the lyrical flow that emanates from it.