The Kölner Akademie under its director Michael Alexander Willens now offers a beautiful and almost unknown alternative: this year, the orchestra has recorded four of six Christmas cantatas by Ernst Wilhelm Wolf. Wolf, who plays virtually no role in today’s musical life, was born in Gotha in 1735. His decisive place of activity finally became Weimar, where he was to leave his mark on musical life for over 30 years: First, the Duchess Anna Amalia hired him as a piano teacher, and then entrusted him with pretty much all musical offices as they became vacant. In 1768, he was finally court kapellmeister. He was greatly influenced by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Carl Heinrich Graun. The four Christmas cantatas are stylistically on the threshold of the early classical period and the empfindsamer Stil. For the recording, the Kölner Akademie has brought on board as soloist trio Beate Mordal, Georg Poplutz and Matthias Vieweg.
“The man with the phenomenal memory” is how one would like to describe Francesco Durante, a master of the Neapolitan Baroque. There is a beautiful anecdote that his wife, who was fond of gambling, lost all his manuscripts while gambling, but he wrote them down again from memory. Lucky for the Kölner Akademie and for posterity! For this is how the recording “Neapolitan Music for Christmas II” could be made, which follows the success of the first recording. It contains sacred works by Durante, who was born in 1684 and later counted Giovanni Paisiello and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi among his pupils.
The Kölner Akademie takes us back to Christmas in Leipzig, far before Bach, with the Christmas cantatas of Johann Schelle. As a singer, he was influenced at an early age by none other than Heinrich Schütz and was himself a Thomaner before becoming Thomaskantor in 1677 until his death. He introduced the choral cantata in Leipzig and created mainly vocal-instrumental church music. The Kölner Akademie has now recorded excerpts from his cantatas, which were unusual for the time, with the Christmas cantatas.