This release had me scratching my head. Why was an album of Advent and Christmas music released in February? Most folks (even me) have our Christmas decorations dismantled and packed away for another year.

Of course, these cantatas by Gottfried August Homilius don’t really have a Christmassy sound. Homilius wrote in the empfindsamer style, which supplanted the high Baroque style of Bach and Handel. With the exception of the texts, the music would have been appropriate for any church service throughout the year.

The empfindsamer (or sensitive) style meant to be a more natural form of musical expression. Counterpoint was minimized. Melodies had a fluid character to them. Homilius was the pre-eminent practitioner of empfindsamer in the Lutheran church. His music remained popular through the mid-19th Century.

The four cantatas in this release were written for Advent and Christmas, 1776. Choruses are mostly homophonic, though the structure for each cantata varies.

“Siehe, der Herr kömmt mit viel tausend Heiligen” (Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of

his saints), features a soprano recitative and aria (matched with flutes).  “So du mit deinem Munde bekennest Jesum” (If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus) opens with the bass soloist declaiming a phrase, then the choir responding in stretto several times.

The Christmas cantata “Merk auf, mein Herz, und sieh dorthin”(Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes) quotes the hymn “Vom Himmel hoch” The alto soloist has a substantial role, with some demanding vocal passages.

The four soloists perform well both together and separately. The Kölner Akademie has a smooth ensemble sound. The basso continuo is kept well in the background, as befitting the empfindsamer style. With the distinctively Baroque elements downplayed, it’s easy to understand how Homilius’ music retained its popularity. It’s tuneful and straightforward music that readily appeals to the ear.

And, I guess if you don’t speak German, you can enjoy this music at any time of the year. Even in February.

Gottfried August Homilius: Siehe, der Herr kömmt
Christmas & Advent Cantatas
Hanna Herfurtner, soprano; Franziska Gottwald, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Mauro Borgioni, bass
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, director
CPO