Johann Wilhelm Hertel Concertos – light and airy

Johann Wilhelm Hertel is classed today as a transitional composer. He was active in the mid-1700s and wrote in the Empfindsamer Stil. The idea behind this “emotional style” was to express natural emotion. This was a departure from the formalized — and focussed — emotional expression of the Baroque.

From the Empfindsamer Stil, Classical Era composers would go a step further. Contrasting emotions in the same movement would generate tension and drama. Sturm und Drang would come after Hertel’s time.

This release features two cello concertos, an organ concerto, and two sinfonias by Hertel. His aesthetic lay between what was and what was to come. But his music works on its own merits.

The sinfonias are light and airy. Melody is more important than counterpoint. And Hertel does know how to write a melody. It’s easy to hum along with these works.

The concertos seem to have a higher degree of intensity. Cellist Bettina Messerschmidt performs a concerto in A minor from 1759 and one in A major from 1755. Her instrument has a clean, clear sound. I found it especially pleasing in the upper register.

Her use of glissandi is interesting. She uses it judiciously to give the phrases stronger cohesion. Her performances convey the essance of the Empfindsamer Stil.

Michael Schöenheit conducts the Mersburger Hofmusik. The ensemble is ideal for this music. Their sound is almost transparent. And under Schöenheit’s direction, they play with both delicacy and conviction.

To me, Schöenheit’s performance as a soloist sounded more formal than Messerschmidt’s. Hertel’s Organ Concerto in G major places a lot of technical demands on the soloist. But those demands seem to lean more towards the older Baroque style of playing.

As you listen, you can hear where Haydn and Mozart will start. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear where Hertel was. And there’s nothing lacking in his compositional skills.

Johann Wilhelm Hertel: Cello and Organ Concertos
Bettina Messerschmidt, cello; Michael Schönheit, organ and director
Merseburger Hofmusik
CPO 555 203-2

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