Scherchen was one of the leading conductors in the middle part of the twentieth century, especially valued for his pioneering performances of the contemporary music of his time. He was essentially self-taught as a musician and became a violist in the Blüthner Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic when he was 16. In 1911 he was an assistant to Arnold Schoenberg in the preparation of Pierrot Lunaire for performance.
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.