Le Banquet Céleste & Damien Guillon - P.H. Erlebach: Lieder - Gramophone

Recordings of music by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach – the much-admired Kapellmeister of the court at Rudolstadt from 1681 to his death in 1714 – have trickled through over the decades, reaching back even to the 1930s, when you could expect to hear a piano in the band. But while it has usually been his handful of orchestral suites and trio sonatas that attract attention, his vocal output has mostly popped up only in mixed anthologies of German Baroque. An enormous portion of his music – including four operas, 24 Masses and well over a hundred church cantatas – was lost in a fire in 1735 but there is still quite a bit surviving, including the 75 free-standing arias published in two volumes in 1697 and 1710 as Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde (‘Harmonious joy, musical friends’). The arias set strophic texts treating moral and secular subjects such as lamenting a lost love, a farewell to happiness, trust in heaven, scorn for ‘the carpers’ and love for beauty, but with an expressive, melancholy eloquence that makes it easy to imagine that some were sourced and parodied from operatic or sacred contexts.

The eight we hear on this release – most of which I suspect have not been recorded before – show the harmonic richness and nobility so common in German 17th-century music, along with a graceful gift for pliable and satisfying melody. They are cast for solo voice, two violins and continuo, the violins throwing in solemn ritornellos between verses or sometimes interacting more intimately with the vocal line. The singing of Damien Guillon – whom I so admired in his recent ‘Lamento’ recording with Café Zimmermann (A/20) – is again a perfect fit for the music, voice soft yet focused, moodily expressive and untempted by dramatic over-projection. The two trio sonatas that swell the programme call to mind the snugly satisfying chamber-music world of Buxtehude and Pachelbel, even while Le Banquet Céleste’s classy performances infuse them with something of the serious atmosphere of the rest of the music.

01 August 2021