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Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER: "Vespro" & Johann Caspar KERLL: "Missa"

Cantus Cölln; Concerto Palatino
Dir: Konrad Junghänel

rec: March 3 - 4, 2013, Cologne, Trinitatiskirche
Accent - ACC 24286 (© 2013) (73'38")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list
Biber, Parts

Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704): Psalmi de Beata Maria Vergine (Dixit Dominus; Laudate pueri; Laetatus sum; Nisi Dominus; Lauda Jerusalem; Magnificat) [3]; Sonata III in d minor (C 80) [2]; Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Ave Regina (No. 5) [1]; Exultate corda devota (No. 7) [1]; Missa in fletu solatium obsidionis Viennensisa; Salve Regina (No. 3) [1]; Salve Regina (No. 26) [1]

Sources: [1] Johann Caspar Kerll, Delectus sacrarum cantionum, op. 1, 1669; Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, [2] Fidicinium sacro-profanum, 1683; [3] Vesperae longiores ac breviores, 1693

[CC] Magdalena Harer, Monika Mauch, soprano; Elisabeth Popien, Margot Oitzinger, contralto; Hans Jörg Mammel, Manuel Warwitz, Mirko Ludwiga, Immo Schrödera, tenor; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, Markus Flaig, bass; Ulla Bundies, Cosima Taubert, violin; Friederike Kremers, Volker Hagedorn, Klaus Bundies, viola; Matthias Müller, violone; Sören Leupold, lute; Carsten Lohff, organ
[CP] Bruce Dickey, cornett; Simen Van Mechelen, Charles Toet, Wim Becu, sackbut

The two composers represented on this disc are best known for their contributions to other genres than vocal music. Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber's reputation is based on his skills as a violinist and his compositions for his own instrument and for instrumental ensemble. Kerll is almost exclusively known for his organ works. However, both composed a considerable number of vocal pieces, and Biber's contribution to the genre of sacred music was greatly extended when the monumental Missa Salisburgensis was attributed to him. The music on this disc is of much more modest proportions.

Biber's vocal works date from his time in Salzburg. In 1670 he entered the service of the Archbishop, Maximilian Gandolph von Kuenburg. To him Biber dedicated his famous Mystery Sonatas. He soon rose to prominence; in 1679 he was appointed deputy Kapellmeister, under Andreas Hofer. When the latter died in 1684 Biber succeeded him. In 1690 he was raised to the noble rank of knight by Emperor Leopold.

The Vespers performed here are from a collection of Vesper music which was printed in 1693. It contains eight individual works and three complete Vesper cycles, each comprising five to nine psalms and a Magnificat. Here we hear the second of these cycles which includes five psalms and the Magnificat. The scoring is for four voices - soli and tutti -, strings, two sackbuts and bc. The sackbuts mainly play colla voce and in this performance they are joined by the cornett. The vocal settings are according to the fashion of the time, with a mixture of solo and tutti episodes. Biber shows great responsiveness to the text, even though his settings are rather concise. The dramatic elements of Psalm 110 (109), Dixit Dominus, are not specifically underlined, even though these are set as a solo for the bass. Laudate pueri and Nisi Dominus are written over a basso ostinato. This figure opens the proceedings but is then gradually taken over by the voices and the instruments.

"In the present recording, the six-part cycle of "Psalmi de B.M. Virgine" has been expanded into a small Vesper of St. Mary. In accordance with the liturgical customs of the time, brief sonatas and solo motets are performed in place of the introductory antiphons", Peter Wollny writes in his liner-notes. That is not quite correct. Motets and instrumental pieces could be used as substitutes for the repeat of the antiphons after a psalm or the Magnificat, but - as far as I know - they did not replace the antiphon which was sung before a psalm. In any case, in a Vesper service one needs two antiphons, embracing a psalm or the Magnificat. And if Kerll's motets and Biber's sonata are meant as substutes, we still miss a piece after the Magnificat.

The motets are from a collection of sacred concertos by Johann Caspar Kerll, printed in 1669. They are scored for two to five voices and bc, in some cases with two violins. The pieces selected for this disc are all with basso continuo alone. Kerll shows his skills in setting a text, with much coloratura and florid figures. The Salve Regina (No 26) has a strong amount of intimacy, especially in the closing verses. This collection not only includes liturgical texts, such as Salve Regina and Ave Regina, but also texts which reflect a rather personal devotion, like Exultate corda devota: "Rejoice, your faithful hearts, intone songs of praise and say prayers to the most holy Virgin".

The most astonishing work by Kerll is his Missa in fletu solatium obsidionis Viennensis which dates from 1689. It was written at the occasion of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 which the composer experienced at first hand. Whether it was performed during or after the siege - the city was liberated by an army which Emperor Leopold had called together -, it reflects the anguish of the inhabitants in various ways. The trials and tribulations are particularly expressed in the 'Amen' sections of both Gloria and Credo, through the simultaneous statements of a chromatic line and its inversion. The basso continuo part includes the warning: "avoid consonances". There are other moments of great expression as well, for instance the incisive Kyrie and the 'Crucifixus' in the Credo. In the latter part the phrase "and his kingdom will have no end" is followed by a general pause.

Kerll may have become most famous for his organ works - for many years he was court organist in Vienna - he certainly knew how to write expressive vocal music. The mass and the motets from the op. 1 collection may be very different in character and scoring, they are all supreme examples of his art.

Cantus Cölln is one of the oldest ensembles of its kind, founded in 1987, but is still going strong as every recording shows. Music of the 17th-century belongs to its core business, and that shows: they know exactly what they have to do to bring every detail of the score to the fore. The homogeneity which was always one of its assets is still present, despite some changes in the line-up. The voices blend perfectly without losing their individual character, and the text is always clearly communicated. There is a good balance here between the voices and the instruments. They build a unity which is in line with the aesthetics of the time in which there is no such a thing as a vocal or an instrumental ensemble. The perfect intonation is a prerequisite for music from a time in which harmony was used for reasons of expression.

Once again Cantus Cölln has delivered a benchmark recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Cantus Cölln
Concerto Palatino

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