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GRAMOPHONE ( Awards 2021 - 11/2021)
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CPO 5553112 

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Reviewer: David Vickers

Stölzel’s Passion oratorio Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld was originally written in about 1720 for Gotha, where its composer had recently been recruited as court Kapellmeister – but its claim to fame is that Bach performed it in Leipzig for Good Friday Vespers in 1734. Stölzel’s own libretto is divided into 22 ‘reflections’ in which personifications of the Faithful Soul and the Christian Church offer meditative responses to the Evangelist’s poetic narrative, which is shared between tenor and bass soloists. György Vashegyi’s excellent 2019 recording was based on a manuscript in the Berlin State Library containing an anonymous later revision of the score that is somewhat altered and abridged, whereas the intrepid Hermann Max has edited the score from a source in the Schlossmuseum Sondershausen that preserves something much closer to Stölzel’s original and complete version. Max’s performance, recorded at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche in June 2019, features responsive and perfectly balanced chorales sung tenderly by Rheinische Kantorei, and excellent orchestral and concertante playing by Das Kleine Konzert. Veronika Winter conveys solemn piety in response to the crown of thorns (‘Ach! welch ein Mensch bin ich’, featuring solo recorder and judiciously gentle continuo), and the soprano sings with impeccable sentimentality and beauty in a proto-Classical quiet aria ‘Ich finde mich beizeit’ that praises Christ’s tireless mercy (a spellbinding viola da gamba obbligato ebbs and flows over softly stepping strings). Countertenor Franz Vitzthum’s fragile voice tends to sound thin but his fusion of indignant description and reverential contemplation of the Crucifixion is spot on (‘Hier an diesem Kreuzesstamm’). Bass Martin Schicketanz sings with honeyed assurance when observing that Christ did not forget his mother’s feelings (‘Kann mein Jesus in dem Tod’). Markus Brutscher’s sensitive handling of words and melodic shaping are exemplary in ‘Ach, wo nehm ich Tränen her’ (featuring an eloquent solo oboe over pizzicato strings), albeit with a few moments of unease in his high register; another highlight of the oratorio is the tenor’s graceful conversation with concertante bassoon and violin in ‘Dein Kreuz, o Bräut’gam meiner Seelen’.

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