Ernst Wilhelm Wolf Christmas Cantatas bring holiday cheer
Though hardly remembered today, Ernst Wilhelm Wolf was well-known in 1790s Germany. He was a child prodigy at the harpsichord. His compositions impressed Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (son of J.S.), and the two became friends. He married the daughter of composer Franz Benda. And he was Kapellmeister of the Weimar court.
Wolf has an impressive catalog of works, and it was widely published and performed. But after his death in 1792, it all faded away.
Wolf wrote in the empfindsamer Stil. The Classical Era which followed was more complex. By the early 1800s, Empfindsamer Stil works were considered too superficial. Which accounts for Wolf’s slide into obscurity.
But Wolf’s style is what makes these four Christmas cantatas so appealing. Melodies are flowing with minimal ornamentation. Polyphony is present, but the textures stay thin and transparent. The choruses are homophonic, making their melodies easy to follow.
In other words, these are cheery, tuneful works that just might have you humming along. And what else could one want during a Christmas service?
The Kölner Akademie, directed by Michael Alexander Willens, plays to perfection. The instrumentalists perform with just the right touch. They keep the music nimble and light.
The recording also features a chorus of nine vocalists and three soloists. They also produce a clear, clean sound in keeping with the style.
If you’re interested in seasonal cantatas, give this release a listen. I found them a welcome alternative to the heaviness of late Baroque cantatas.
Ernst Wilhelm Wolf: Auf, jauchzet ihr Christen
Beate Mordal, soprano; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, baritone
Kölner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens, conductor