Johann Wilhelm Hertel was a German composer, violinist, and harpsichordist of some renown in the late 18th Century. Today, not so much.

So it’s not surprising that every work in this new release is receiving its world recording premiere. What might be surprising is why they weren’t better-known before.

Hertel, like many of his contemporaries, composed prolifically in all genres. When he served the duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, he wrote mostly instrumental music; concertos, symphonies, and sonatas. For Frederick II “The Pious” Hertel wrote mostly sacred music; oratorios and cantatas.

The instrumental works in this collection come from that earlier period and all feature wind instruments. The centerpiece is the three works for organ and obbligato organ.

Willi Kronenberg performs with the chamber organ built for Prince Frederick (Hertel’s employer) in 1753. The restored instrument has a modest range. It’s volume also sounds appropriate to an instrument meant to fill a small drawing room rather than a church sanctuary.

The sound of the instrument works well with that of Karla Schröaut;’s baroque oboe. The instrument has a broader, less focussed sound than a modern instrument. It’s timber — combined with the timbre of the organ — produce a sound that sounds quite plaintive at times. Perhaps even more so than modern instruments could achieve.

Schröter and Kronenberg make a good team. Their instruments combine beautifully and are especially effective in articulating Hertel’s phrasing. The other instrumental works use winds in various combinations.

The Concerto a 5 in D major for trumpet, two oboes, and two bassoons, has a refreshing sound. The trumpet provides highlights in key passages, the bassoons provide the basso continuo (sort of), and the oboes carry the melody.

The Sonata a 4 in E-flat major for 3 horns and 3 bassoons is even more unusual. The horns provide both melody and supporting harmony. The bassoons delineate the bass, and also provide some of the harmonies. The overall sound has a rich darkness to it that I quite enjoyed.

This is a hybrid SACD release. So if you’re purchasing a digital download, invest in the high-res version. The true artistry of Karla Schröter and the Ensemble Concert Royal Köln can only be fully appreciated when you can hear all the details. The sense of space is also enhanced when heard in high-resolution.

Johann Wilhelm Hertel: Chamber Music for Winds
Karla Schröter, baroque oboe
Ensemble Concert Royal Köln
Musicaphon M56958 SACD