Carus has been doing yeoman’s work in its cataloging the many and delicious works of Homilius (1714-85). This Saxony composer, the son of a clergyman, was a member of J.S. Bach’s inner circle while the latter was residing in Leipzig. He finally ended up as music director for two of Dresden’s main churches, the Frauenkirche and the Kreuzkirche. The man was quite prolific, executing over 300 pieces including 180 church cantatas, 60 motets, and 11 oratorios. The nearly 1,400 existing copies of his work testify to the tremendously popular nature of his music, considered one of the finest church composers of his day.
His Passion Cantata was perhaps the most widespread opus of Homilius’s during his lifetime. What is interesting about it is that is does not follow the traditional passion narrative like we are used to from the works of Bach. The text of this piece was created by one Ernst August Buschmann (1725-75), a pastor who fashioned a purely contemplative version of the story. Many of the choruses (which play a huge part here) are indeed based on the biblical texts, but for the most part it is a meditation on what exactly Christ accomplishes in His passion, and the congregational reaction to this. For instance, at the point where Christ dies and is taken down from the cross, we hear from the soprano “Now I, a sinner, shall not die. The Father will grant pardon, His Son will be tried to free me from execration. How, Father, can I best extol you and your Son? My whole heart rejoices, I shall not see death!”
The writing has many purely homophonic moments, some brilliant orchestral writing, and a deluge of wonderful melodies. It is, upon hearing, quite perplexing as to why this work faded from history’s vision. It easily holds its own even in the presence of the great Bach, and one would think that choral societies everywhere would find it fodder for sagging inspirations in their yearly performances. This volume is the third of the cantatas, and we can assume that Carus will continue with their efforts. They have also waded into the St. John Passion and the motets in previous releases. The surround sound is gleaming and full of life in its breadth and spread, and you simply can’t ask for better productions values, including the wonderful orchestra and dead-on soloists. This is a superb release that should have a wide appeal, especially to those hankering for some unknown baroque fare.
— Steven Ritter