OAE: Sea Voyages and Salvation

Sea Voyages and Salvation
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Roderick Williams, Kati Debretzeni
Recorded at New St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence
First broadcast on OAE Player 8 June 2021

Graupner Fahre auf in die Höhe 
Telemann Concerto for 3 oboes & 3 violins in Bb
Bruhns Mein Herz ist bereit  
JS Bach Cantata BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen 

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment continue with their Covid series of on-line OAE Player concerts with Sea Voyages and Salvation, with music by Grauper, Telemann and Bruhns, culminating in Bach’s cantata Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen. Whether by design or default, two of the composers were the first and second choices for the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig which Bach was eventually offered after Graupner and Telemann turned it down.

Christoph Graupner (1683 –1760) was a contemporary of Bach, Handel and Telemann, their stiff competition rendering him little-known nowadays. His Fahre auf in die Höhe (GWV 1146/46) was composed in 1746 for the 5th Sunday after Trinity, and should have been enough to put him the top league of Baroque composers. The eight movements open with a unusually, but accuratly, entitled Dictum, the words Rise up and cast your nets setting the nautical scene for the piece and for much of the whole hour long OAE concert. The mood is summerised by the texts of the chorale: The world has judged me deceitfully, with lies and false words, with many snares and secret ropes. Lord, pluck me from these dangers, protect me from lying malice! The aria Großes Haupt der Menschen Fischer is underlain by an obligato bassoon, expressively played by Zoe Shevlin.

Telemann’s Concerto for 3 oboes & 3 violins in Bb (TWV 44:43) is not his finest work. The enclosing Allegros are too predictable, although the lyrical central Largo is attractive. Its inclusion may stem from the fact that the OAE’s principal oboe player, Katharina Spreckelsen, was part of the team organising this event.

Nicolaus Bruhns (1665–1697) was the most favoured pupil of Buxtehude and a child protegy. His tragically short life means that only around 12 vocal and 5 organ pieces have survived. The vocal concerto Mein Herz ist bereit (c1690) is based on a text from Psalm LVII. It is a single-movement, mutli-sectional cantata in the typical stylus phantasticus of the period. It could be one of the pieces than Bruhns is reputed to have directed from the organ bench, with his hands playing the violin while his feet played the continuo bass. The violin part is certainly virtuosic, with double and triple stopping here played by Kati Debretzeni, whose inventive additions to the musical line are excellent. The repeated cries of Wache auf! make for a gripping moment.

Bach’s Cantata BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, includes obligato oboe in the central aria Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch, here elegently played by Katharina Spreckelsen. Roderick Williams’s singing, here, as in the two other vocal items, was compelling in it expression of the texts. The audio and video quality are both excellent.

Also of interest was the recording venue, the curious New St Lawrence Church in Ayot St Lawrence, north of London. Built by an18th-century land-owning slave trader, it was an alternative to repairing the medieaval parish church, which remains in ruins to the day. Clearly intended as a landscape feature, the usual church orientation is reversed so the the ‘front’ elevation faces the estate house. To rub the deceipt in, it the only elevation treated to any sort of architectural interest – the remaining walls facing away from the house being of stark bare brick. That said, the architectural interest is its early English reference to ancient Greek architecture. It is not, as its popular name suggests, as ‘Palladian’ church, but an example of Greek revivial design.