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CD Review

Gottfried August Homilius

Complete Organ Chorales

  • Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, HoWV VIII.38
  • Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, HoWV VIII.37 (Mesto)
  • Ach bleib mit deiner Gnade, HoWV VIII.34 (Col affetto trio à claviere col pedal)
  • Wer nur den lieben Gott lösst walten, HoWV VIII.41
  • Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, HoWV VIII.36
  • 32 Chorale Preludes
  • I. Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, HoWV VIII.4
  • II. Hilf, Herr Jesu, lass gelingen, HoWV VIII.5
  • III. Christ lag in Todesbanden, HoWV VIII.6 (Un poco allegro ma non molto)
  • IV. Christ lag in Todesbanden, HoWV VIII.7
  • V. Wer nun den lieben Gott lösst walten, HoWV VIII.3 (Allegro)
  • VI. Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn, HoWV VIII.2 (Adagio)
  • VII. Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut, HoWV VIII.8 (Adagio)
  • VIII. Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud, HoWV VIII.9
  • IX. Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut, HoWV VIII.10
  • X. Meine Hoffnung steht auf Gott, HoWV VIII.11
  • XI. Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, HoWV VIII.12
  • X. O grosser Gott, du reines Wesen, HoWV VIII.13
  • XII. Komm, Heilger Geist, Herre Gott, HoWV VIII.14
  • XIII. Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht, HoWV VIII.15 (Vivace)
  • XIV. Christ lag in Todesbanden, HoWV VIII.16 (Vivace ma non presto)
  • XV. Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, HoWV VIII.17
  • XVI. Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, HoWV VIII.18
  • XVII. Jesus, meine Zuversicht, HoWV VIII.19
  • XVIII. Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag, HoWV VIII.20
  • XIX. Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit, HoWV VIII.21
  • XX. Jesus, meine Zuversicht, HoWV VIII.22
  • XXI. Der am Kreuz ist meine Liebe, HoWV VIII.23
  • XXII. Helft mir Gottes Güte preisen, HoWV VIII.24
  • XXIII. Mein Gott, das Herze bring ich dir, HoWV VIII.25
  • XXIV. Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, HoWV VIII.26
  • XXV. Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, HoWV VIII.27
  • XXVI. Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, HoWV VIII.28
  • XXVII. Wo soll ich fliehen hin, HoWV VIII.29
  • XXVIII. Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot, HoWV VIII.30
  • XXIX. Der am Kreuz ist meine Liebe, HoWV VIII.31
  • XXX. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, HoWV VIII.32
  • XXXI. Wie soll ich dich empfangen, HoWV VIII.33
Felix Marangoni, organ
Brilliant Classics BRI94458 2CDs 120:50
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You don't have to listen to many minutes of the exciting yet restrained sacred solo organ music on this two-CD set by Felix Marangoni on Brilliant to regret that Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1784) is usually introduced as "one of Bach's pupils". While not having the insight and profundity of Johann Sebastian Bach, the music of Homilius certainly bears investigation. The majority of the ten other CDs in the current catalog devoted to his music are collections. Here are all the Chorale Preludes grouped intelligently and without fanfare for the first time. And performed very well.

Homilius was organist at the Annenkirche in Dresden, then with Bach at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, moving back to Dresden, where he lived from 1742 until his death. He served in Dresden as both Kantor and organist; the bulk of his compositions dates from these later years. The influence of Johann Sebastian Bach is evident; though not perhaps as might be expected: there is little or no deep, far-reaching counterpoint or slow, inevitable progression of a work to its monumental conclusion. On the other hand, Homilius' style is not of the galant or lighter pre-Classical filigree and delicacy. Homilius' pieces are robust, substantial; each says something in a way that leaves you eager for the next. Melodies are clearly articulated and developed; tonality is usually unambivalent. The grace and restraint of the developing Empfindsamen Stil is evident, though Homilius loses no expression or emotion to its apparent reserve. In fact, the composer has no need to rein in or subvert emotion. Just understand it; before then exploring it in composition. In this might be reflected the fact that several of the works which are played here were obviously intended for use at home, in domestic environments.

Felix Marangoni was born in Venice and graduated from Verona and Padua Conservatories, then receiving a Master's in "Musicology and Musical Heritage" summa cum laude from Venice. It's hard not to see the brilliance and light of Venice in his playing; yet it's just as clearly blended with the precision of his Austrian heritage (on his mother's side). Every bar of charged playing is informed by reflection. Nothing in these two CDs is spurious, or for show. Yet there is "style" in his playing from first note to last. He's conscious of the need to acknowledge and include an awareness of the world in which Homilius found himself, and marry it to the various essences, kernels, of the music in its own right.

This ability to work with expression and control are perhaps reflected in Marangoni's time in nearby Mantua, where he was professor of "organ practice and Gregorian chant". After masterclasses in German Baroque organ and work as a juror in organ competitions, he has now moved to Bologna where he is Professor of Philosophy of Music, Gregorian chant, musical aesthetics and the notation of ancient music. His work as continuist with a variety of ensembles and solo keyboard player is obviously informed by the breadth of his research interests. You can hear a clarity, a perception, a sense of exactly what the music can and must do in all the pieces on these CDs. Listen, for instance, to the penetration and precision in Nun komm der Heiden Heiland[CD.2 tr.11]… not a note out of place, not a waver from what the tempo markings demand; but at the same time, nothing dry or inconsequential. Marangoni carries us along with him as he explores the emotions and statements of Homilius perfectly.

Marangoni's playing has a distinctly "modern" feel and sound to it. The phrasing of works like Schmücke dich [CD.1 tr.2], for instance, is snappy, unfussy; it avoids trying to bring in superflous color. At the same time, his is idiomatic playing which doesn't have to reach very far to encompass the full range of expression with which Homilius seems to have delighted in infusing his music. And Marangoni captures that delight. It has to be stressed that it's music of great variety: there's passion, sorrow, regret, awe, admiration and love. And also music of joy, celebration and exaltation.

Marangoni's achievement is also to present a sufficiently clear and rich portrait of Homilius that you're left wanting to hear more; more – especially – of the nearly dozen oratorios, 60+ motets and almost 200 sacred cantatas. Here is a composer who deserves greater attention, dissection, examination. His work is distinguished, varied, enjoyable, colorful and all to a purpose. This introductory, yet complete and authoritative, selection by Maragoni does the composer proud. Brilliant Classics are also to be congratulated for this release.

The recordings were made in the nicely resonant Sant'Antonio Abate church at the Collegio Don Nicola Mazza in Padua. The acoustic is correspondingly rich and forward, allowing the specific sonorities of the organ (by Francesco Zanin, 2007, after an C18th North German original) to be projected easily and effectively. The slim booklet has some background by Marangoni in a rather wooden translation into English; and details and a picture of the organ with a list of the stops used on each track. The works here are varied and enticing. If it's a repertoire which you enjoy, you shouldn't hesitate. Nor if Homilius is new to you. If you already know his choral music and want to explore these fresh and imaginative explorations of the organ in the period after Bach, this set will satisfy in every respect.

Copyright © 2015, Mark Sealey