Thursday, May 1, 2014

Soprano Heidrun Goettsche and organist Gunther Martin Goettsche in an all-Bach recital at the Jerusalem Redeemer Church

An event of the Israel International Organ Festival, now in its 4th year, was a program of music of J.S.Bach performed by Gunther Martin Goettsche and Heidrun Goettsche at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 26, 2014.

Born in Germany, Gunther Martin Goettsche studied in Mannheim and Berlin, working as organist and choir conductor in Aalen/Württemberg and Braunschweig. From 1992 to 2013, he was director of the Schleuchtern Academy of Church Music and, from 2008 to 2013, he taught organ improvisation at the Heidelberg University of Church Music. Goettsche composes and arranges organ- and choral works for German publishers. As of 2013, he has been first organist of the Lutheran Redeemer Church, Jerusalem.

German-born soprano Heidrun Goettsche is presently working as a voice teacher at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts, where she also trained, at the Schleuchtern Academy of Church Music and at the Schmidt Girls College, Jerusalem. A lyric soprano, she has performed in Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Estonia, the USA and Israel. The founder of the “Voce libera” voice course (using the Corneius Reid method), she is a member of the German women’s sextet “Allegria-Vokalensemble”.

The program opened with Gunther Goettsche’s performance of “Christ ist erstanden” (Christ is risen), a chorale prelude based on an Easter carol published in 1529 (but probably three or four centuries older) in Bach’s “Orgelbüchlein” (Little Organ Book) BWV 627. The largest of the four works dealing with the Resurrection from this 46-work collection, it was composed when Bach was nearing the end of his service in the Weimar court of the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar (1708-1717), by which time Bach himself was a keyboard master. Opening with a forthright, brassy timbre, Goettsche chose to color each verse differently as the work became progressively more complex and more contrapuntal, the final section, animated and triumphant, encapsulating the religious meaning behind the piece and Bach’s profound belief. Of the large-scale organ works grouped under the title of “Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes” composed in the last decade of Bach’s life, Goettsche played the substantial organ partita that uses the Good Friday hymn “O Lamm Gottes unschuldig” (O innocent lamb of God), beginning in a reedy, personal timbre, intensifying and spiraling into anguished chromaticism, the final eighth notes flowing in veiled tranquility.

Still in the spirit of Easter, soprano Heidrun Goettsche and her husband presented two Easter songs from the “Schemelli” songbook. It is not sure how much involvement Bach had in the production of this hymnal, a historic selection of 950 sacred Lieder and arias published in Leipzig in 1736, collected by Georg Christian Schemelli, the musical director of Zeitz Castle. The two strophic, homophonic songs we heard were clearly arranged for home use, the artists addressing their simplicity in the spirit of house music of the time. Three arias from cantatas and oratorio represented a more sophisticated and challenging genre, starting with “Oeffne dich, mein ganzes Herze” (Open yourself, my entire heart) from “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (Now Come, Savior of the Heathens) BWV 61, an early cantata for Advent from Bach’s Weimar days. The artists gave expression to this introspective aria, addressing its personal aspect, presenting its rhythmic ambiguity. From the St. Matthew Passion, the joyful “Ich will mein Herze schwenken” (I will give you my heart) Gunther Goettsche chose bright, reedy registrations to replace the oboes d’amore and bassoon in the original scoring. In “Mein gläubiges Herze” (My faithful heart) from Cantata 68 “Also had Gott die Welt geliebt” (God so loved the world), with its tricky vocal line, the artists preserved the piece’s joyous energy throughout. This aria is a reworking of a piece from an earlier secular cantata. “Bist Du bei mir” (Be thou with me), from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook, a piece misattributed to Bach, is thought to be a popular aria composed by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel. This was followed by a poignant reading of “Schlummert ein” (Slumber, my weary eyes) the central aria from Bach’s sublime cantata “Ich habe genug” (It is enough) BWV 582. The aria also appeared in Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook in a version with continuo accompaniment. The artists gave this lullaby a sympathetic, mellifluous reading, its mostly tranquil message ( with some dark undercurrents) coming across. Heidrun Goettsche chooses to present Bach’s sacred music in a straightforward, unmannered way, offering the listener the freedom to interpret each piece in his own way. Her firm, stable voice carried well into the church.

The concert ended with Gunther Goettsche’s imposing performance of one of J.S.Bach’s supreme masterpieces for organ, the Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor BWV 582. Robert Schumann described the 20 passacaglia variations as “intertwined so ingeniously that one can never cease to be amazed”. Following his majestic, richly-colored playing of the chaconne, Goettsche launched attacca into the large double fugue, its multi-layering articulate and gripping. The organ of the Redeemer Church, built in Berlin by Karl Schuke (1971), has 21 registers connected to two manuals and the pedal. It is an instrument rich in colors, character and warmth. Making fine use of its attributes, Gunther Martin Goettsche’s performance was articulate, easeful and genuine, offering an interesting, unmannered and learned approach to J.S.Bach’s organ repertoire.

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