What sounds, except the dinner bell, could be as exhilarating as a baroque cantata for soprano and trumpet? Bach's solo Cantata #51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, is deservedly one of his most popular and oft-performed, not only because its rousing strains could wake a congregation of beefy Bürghers any Sunday of the year but also because it's brilliantly constructed, a composition so refined that every phrase is crucial. The performance of it on this CD is as polished as any I've ever heard, and that would be enough to justify five-times-five stars, but the other soprano/trumpet pieces -- two sacred concerti by Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684) and a setting of Psalm 113 Laudate Pueri by Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) are NOT overshadowed by the Bach. All three are thrilling both in affect and in musical originality -- works that Bach himself would not have been ashamed to claim. Wisely, I think, these joyous barn-burners are insulated from each other by two elegant instrumental sonatas, by Johann Krieger and Gottfried Finger.
Soprano Ruth Ziesak and trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich are not narrow "early music" specialists. Ziesak has recorded Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Mahler as well as Bach. Friedrich has performed Luciano Berio and plays modern trumpet for conductor Claudio Abbado. "For him, New and Old Music are one instead of a contrast..." Nevertheless, both Ziesak and Reinhold bring complete understanding of "historical performance practices" to their interpretation of these very specifically Baroque masterworks. As the cover art shows, Friedrich plays a keyless Baroque trumpet by preference on this CD.
The Baroque trumpet is not a "half-way" step toward the modern trumpet with pistons. It was already an ancient and sophisticated piece of musical technology by the 17th Century, with very high standards of expectation for its well-paid masters. Trumpeters were governed by guilds that insured competent instruction. The instrument itself was longer, narrower, and straighter in tubing. The smaller mouthpiece had a sharper rim and a more conical shape. Expert players performed in the 'clarino' register, the highest octaves of overtones, in which a full diatonic scale can be produced simply by the lips, without the need for keys. Players can change 'crooks' to perform in various keys. The timbre of the Baroque trumpet is brighter and more vocal than the modern. Trills and rapid ornaments can be, for a virtuoso player, more facile and elegant. Reinhold Freidrich is certainly a virtuoso player.
Together, Friedrich and Ziesak match phrasing and timbre as tightly as if they had musical ESP. This is not a sterile-sounding studio recording, however. For once, the SACD technology really succeeds in bringing a live concert right into your living room. The strings and organ of the Berliner Barock Compagney offer a rich continuo and acoustic backdrop for the voice/trumpet fireworks, and if you listen on two levels, you'll hear some 'not bad at all' Baroque bassoon obbligato passagework.
If Rosenmüller and Zelenka are unfamiliar composers to you, this CD would be a very convincing introduction to their excellence.