Hertel’s Compelling Passion Music
Following our recent release of Johann Wilhelm Hertel’s opulent Christmas Oratorio (cpo 777 809-2), the Cologne Academy led by Michael Alexander Willens is now presenting one of this composer’s passion cantatas on CD.
Der sterbende Heiland (The Dying Savior) was performed for the first time in Schwerin on Good Friday 1764. It was the earliest of the total of ten fully dimensioned sacred cantatas that Hertel composed during his three decades of service to the noble house of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The
librettist Johann Friedrich Loewen reduced the passion narrative to its most highly affective moments (prayer and arrest in Gethsemane, Peter’s denial and remorse, flagellation, crucifixion, and death). Moreover, instead of reporting these events in the traditional manner, he has them reflected in the emotions of a lyrical first person. The musical style of Hertel’s cantata is distinguished, first, by a strong affinity to baroque tone painting, with its detailed work being more strongly obliged to
counterpoint, and, second, by unconventionality and impulsiveness precisely in the harmonic sphere. This very unique combination of traditional features and what is in part a very innovative expressivity accounts for the great appeal of Hertel’s passion music.