Best of Christmas Past: Christmas In The Dresden Frauenkirche

Review by: David Vernier

christmasindresden

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Carus continues to bring previously unrecorded–and often unpublished–music to renewed life in distinguished performances and authoritative printed scores. In this case, with the disc’s title and musical program the label capitalizes on the attention given to the event of the re-opening of the historic Dresden Frauenkirche, recently re-consecrated after a 10-year, multinational restoration project, returning the church (Bach played its Silbermann organ on at least one notable occasion) to its former glory following its complete destruction in the firebombing of the city near the end of World War II. In fact, this wonderful recording, filled with gorgeous, inexplicably neglected music, was made at another Dresden church, the Lukaskirche, before restoration at the Frauenkirche was complete. The point, however, is that the program–four church cantatas for Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s Day–leaves nothing to be desired from a musical standpoint. These compact, expertly written works are not only functional (their primary purpose), but are enormously, immediately appealing (not a bad thing for church service music!), with grand, lively opening choruses, vibrant orchestral accompaniments, and strong, perfectly singable arias where even the brief formulaic stuff sounds absolutely right and natural.

From 1742 Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785) was an important figure in the vital 18th-century Dresden music scene, spending most of his career as organist at the Frauenkirche and Kantor of the Kreuzschule, during which time he composed a couple of hundred church cantatas. Although he was a pupil of Bach, and some of his music retains significant (and well-learned) elements of that style, most of the works on offer here–all world-premieres–demonstrate aspects of the developing “classical” style, especially in the choral writing and use of the orchestra. And yet throughout each work, there’s an interesting and invariably effective mix of baroque and classical mannerisms that makes for absorbing listening.

The singing and playing is first rate–Homilius could not have asked for better advocates of his music!–and there’s a variety of scoring from cantata to cantata, ranging from double choir with soprano and tenor soloists, to single choir with SATB soloists. The cantata for Christmas Day, Ein hoher Tag kömmt, contains a wonderful trio for two sopranos and tenor, and there are excellent solo arias in each work. As mentioned, the choruses, which serve as the cantatas’ opening movements, are outstanding and ideally convey the celebratory mood of their respective texts and occasions. After all of this, it probably goes without saying that the sound engineering is top-notch–full and dynamic and faithful to the Lukaskirche’s space and ambience. Highly recommended. [10/23/2006]



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Recording Details:

Album Title: CHRISTMAS IN THE DRESDEN FRAUENKIRCHE

GOTTFRIED AUGUST HOMILIUS - Cantatas for Advent, Christmas, and New Year's Day


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