HANDEL St John Passion. Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder
An anonymous Passion oratorio based on the Gospel of St John survives in Berlin and its aria texts are by the Hamburg poet Christian Heinrich Postel (d1705) – hence conjecture that it probably originated in Hamburg at some point at the turn of the century, set by a capable composer proficient in the suitable style. There has been wishful thinking that this was the young Handel soon after his arrival in Hamburg and on these slender grounds the 19th-century musicologist Friedrich Chrysander included it in his monumental edition of Handel’s complete works. Roland Wilson’s booklet note exaggerates this possibility and plays down convincing scholarly arguments that it was probably written by Reinhard Keiser for Hamburg’s Jakobikirche in 1697 (an attribution and scenario that makes much more sense). CPO’s cover simply says ‘Händel’, but inside the booklet the sung texts more sensibly add the caveat of attribution.
The accomplished instrumentalists of Musica Fiata and eight singers of La Capella Ducale vividly exploit a wide range of textures: fruity oboes and bassoon are accorded prominence in several movements (eg the tenor duet ‘Welche sind des Heilands Erben?’), two interpolated chorales by Johann Crüger and the final slumber chorus are shaded eloquently, and Wilson’s attention to musical details ensures a compelling interpretation. Hans Jörg Mammel declaims the Evangelist’s narrative boldly and an assortment of short arias are sung expertly – there are notably fine contributions from Ulrike Hofbauer (‘Durch dein Gefängnis’, in dialogue with Anette Sichelschmidt’s assertive concertante violin) and Wolf Matthias Friedrich (‘Erschüttere mit Krachen’, a thunderous response to the crowd baying for Christ’s Crucifixion).
Similar problems of authorship relate to the chorale cantata Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder: a manuscript copy (now lost) features a dubious attribution to ‘Hendel’ but the only sensible deduction is that it was written by a proficient musician in middle Germany in about 1700. Wilson concludes ‘The music speaks for itself; appreciate it for what it is, whoever composed it.’ Quite so – the inventive setting of six verses of the famous Lutheran hymn tune is performed superbly, replete with juicy organ continuo played on a modern copy of an instrument by Silbermann.