Even more than the Christmas Oratorio, Gebel’s Andacht Auf den Heiligen Neujahrs-Abend (Devotions For New Year’s Eve) is directed at Biblically-inspired congregational contemplation. Here, the four sections are a suitably more concentrated continuation of the internal structure, characterised by his settings of Bible texts – recitative – aria – chorale. The “Exordium” in the oratorio Erzählet, ihr Himmel, die göttlichen Werke! (Tell of God’s works, ye heavens) (No. 1) which praises God’s works in the form of a festive story – is immediately integrated into the the first section and the oratorio-style “Conclusio” (Nos. 15 and 16) into the final part.
Bible verses relevant to the year’s end are interpreted in the accompagnato or chorus, and Gebel’s selection of extempore ideas elevates them to the status of general praise: in the accompagnati (Nos. 2, 13) he sets the words out concisely, with strings accompaniment in a chamber music style and spiced up with colourful tones. He gives them more weight in the two central choruses – the chorus of thanksgiving Danket dem Herrn (Give thanks to the Lord) (No. 5). Here vocals and instrumentation are closely linked; the chorus basks in a warm radiance of horns and oboes, whose verbally-induced homophony and illusory polyphony culminate in an emphasised fugue which inspires the whole work. The inner hope of Wünschet Jerusalem Glück (Rejoice, O Jerusalem) (No. 9) breaks forth from a restrained tension in the dominant to a trumpet accompaniment.
In turn, the madrigal recitatives (Nos. 2, 6, 10, 13) attempt to reach out to and uplift their listeners. Each aria is preceded by an arioso, which stands out qualitatively in its profession of faith, which is at once personal and tending towards the more generally valid.
Gebel always introduces this contemplative lyricism instrumentally at first, sketching likeable and characterful melodic settings. Thus the bass aria Fliehe nur, gemessne Zeit (Flee, reticent time) (No. 3) draws its strength – evidently before the basso continuo – from the “fleeing” semiquavers in the first violins and the counterpoint or contrasting “eternal” crotchets from the vocalist; in the aria duetto Herzensdank ist ein Magnet (Heart-felt thanksgiving is a magnet) (No. 7), entwined smaller note values force the skipping, swaying passion onwards on the offbeat. The sensitive transparency of the basso continuo “piano staccato sempre” triggers the tenor’s prayer Gebet kann Gottes Majestät (If prayer can reach God’s majesty) (No. 11). This is carried along with cantabile fervour in a motif which pauses on a high note and then falls into a second-note interval. And the charming sweetness of the euphemistic alto aria Neue Stadt, ach komm, du Schöne! (Come o beautiful new city!) (No. 14) comes from its gallant style with its at times triplet-based motion and emphasised syncopation.
The chorales act as a synthesis of the various incarnations of mood which were treated as separate themes in each section – the exploration of elapsed time fuses with the final, summarising verse of the popular song Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig (Oh how vain and fleeting) (No. 4, Michael Franck 1652 / after a tune by Johann Crüger 1661), whose variations deal with the subject of the soul; and the thanksgiving, supplicatory prayer or a reevaluated laying bare of the soul fuses with a verse of the song, or is based on the song Nun danket alle Gott (Now thank we all our God) (Nos. 8, 12, 16, Martin Rinckart 1636 / Johann Crüger 1648). Here Gebel is once more affirming the intensity of belief peculiar to the 17th century, making it topical and linking the vocally-characterised Lutheran Saxon and Thuringian church music tradition with the confessional and devotional orchestral church music of the 18th century, with its wind instrument and string accompaniments. The final chorale ends this Musicalische Andacht (Musical Devotions). Following the Schluss-Chor (Final Chorus) (No. 15), which lays particular emphasis on the “pleading” thoughts as they call on God – and withdrawing from the full festive orchestral sound, Gebel leads the congregation optimistically into the future towards its final summing-up and profession of faith.
(Ute Omonsky, translation by ar.pege-translations, Brussels)