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"Jauchzet dem Herren - The Psalms of David in the 17th Century in North Germany"

Hans Jörg Mammel, tenora
La Feniceb
Dir: Jean Tubéry

rec: August 2009, Mariendrebber, St. Marienkirche
Alpha - 179 (© 2011) (68'22")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F

Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1692): Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr, zu dirab; Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697): Jauchzet dem Herren alle Weltab; Prelude and fugue in e minorc; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c1637-1707): Dixit Dominus Domino meo (BuxWV 17)ab; Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin & Klaglied (BuxWV 76)ab; Johann Philipp FÖRTSCH (1652-1732): Aus der Tiefe rufe ich Herr zu dirab; Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Canzon Cornettob; Johann SOMMER (c1570-1627): O höchster Gottab; Canzon a 4b; Matthias WECKMANN (1616-1674): Sonata a 4b; Julius Johann WEILAND (c1605-1663): Jauchzet Gott alle Landea

Jean Tubéry, cornett; Gerhard David, cornett, treble viol; Stéphanie Pfister, violin, viola; Katharina Heutjer, violin; Félix Knecht, cello; Martin Bauer, viola da gamba; Krzystof Lewnadowski, bassoon; Juan Sebastian Lima, theorbo; David Van Bouwel, harpsichord, organc

In the 17th and early 18th centuries northern Germany was one of the most prosperous parts of the country. In particular the Hanseatic cities were centres of economic activity which in turn resulted in high artistic standards. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) heavily affected every part of society, but when the war came to an end with the Peace of Westfalia the recovery was remarkably quick.

Cities in the north of Germany were able to attract eminent musicians and composers, and both sacred and secular music flourished. This disc sheds light on the music written for the liturgy, with concertos and cantatas for solo voice and instruments. In addition a couple of instrumental pieces are played which reflect the high skills of the collegia musica in the various cities and their ensembles of Stadtpfeifer. The only organ piece bears witness to the high standard of organ playing and explains why organists were held in such high esteem.

The organ played a key role in the liturgy. It was used for solo pieces, but also to accompany congregational singing. Moreover, it played the basso continuo in sacred concertos and cantatas. Recently performers have tried to restore this practice as an alternative to the common use of positive organs. The main problem is finding an organ with the right disposition, pitch and temperament as well as enough space in the organ loft to position all the participants. Apparently Jean Tubéry, the director of La Fenice, has found such an organ. In his liner-notes Hans Jörg Mammel gives concise information about the history of the organ, but unfortunately there is no mention of pitch and temperament nor a list of the stops. I am a little disappointed that the use of this organ doesn't really affect the performances. It has surprisingly little presence in comparison with other recent recordings in which large organs play the basso continuo.

It is also rather surprising that the acoustic is so dry. If one didn't know where this recording had been made one would think that the space was quite small and intimate. Apparently the miking was very close. I also wonder whether measures were taken in order to keep the reverberation in check. If that is the case they have gone too far: this music needs more space than it gets here.

The programme is a mixture of hardly known compositions and pieces which have been recorded before. Nicolaus Bruhns is one of the famous masters of the North-German organ school. His organ works have been recorded completely several times, and never fail to make an impression. He was a great virtuoso, and his Prelude and fugue in e minor is a specimen of the stylus phantasticus which is the main feature of the North German organ school. It consists of a sequence of contrasting sections; some of them could have been played a bit faster. Unfortunately only a small number of organ works by Bruhns are known. He also composed vocal music, and although this part of his oeuvre is also not very large his contributions to the genre of the sacred concerto for voice(s) and instruments are substantial. Jauchzet dem Herren alle Welt is a brilliant piece which shows the influence of the Italian concertante style which was enthusiastically embraced by most composers from this region.

In fact, North Germany in the 17th century had its own version of the 'mixed taste'. This term was used in the 18th century for the mixture of the Italian and French styles. In this case it could be used to describe the mixture of German, Italian, English and Dutch influences. The Dutch influence was mainly audible in the organ works: many German keyboard players went - or were sent by their employers - to Amsterdam to study with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Through him they became acquainted with the music of the English virginalists which had influenced him. But there was also a more direct influence of English music, especially consort music. In particular William Brade (1560-1630) was responsible for that as he had lived in North Germany since the 1590s. This was mixed with the more virtuosic style of the Italian violinist Carlo Farina, who worked in Dresden from 1625. These influences come together in, for instance, the brilliant Sonata a 4 by Matthias Weckmann. The Italian style is predominant in the Canzon by Johann Sommer in which the two cornetts and the two violins are in dialogue and imitate each other's motifs. The two pairs of instruments are juxtaposed very much in the style of the Venetian cori spezzati.

Johann Sommer is one of the little-known masters of the programme. He was an organist and cornettist, and died in Bremen. He worked in this city as well as at the court of Gottorf in what is now known as Schleswig-Holstein. His playing of the cornett explains the scoring of the Canzon. Two cornetts are also playing in the concerto O höchster Gott, which is an arrangement of the rhymed version of Psalm 8 by Ambrosius Lobwasser, who translated the Genevan Psalter in German and used the Genevan melodies.

The other unknown here is Julius Johann Weiland. He worked mainly at the court of Brunswick-Wolffenbüttel, east of Hanover. All of his surviving music is sacred, and shows a clear influence of Heinrich Schütz. Jauchzet Gott, alle Lande is a sacred concerto for voice, four instruments and bc. More modest in its scoring is a setting of Psalm 130 (De profundis), here on a German text, Aus der Tiefe rufe ich Herr zu dir by Johann Philipp Förtsch. It is for solo voice, violin, viola da gamba and bc. Förtsch was not from North Germany, but worked there since the 1670s. He played a major role in the Hamburg opera. This sacred concerto concentrates on an accurate expression of the text.
In the recording of Roland Wilson this piece is performed by a soprano. That doesn't necessarily exclude a performance by a tenor; it depends on the composer's indications. In this case I don't know, but at least Buxtehude's cantatas aren't scored only for a high or low voice, but specifically for a type of voice. From that perspective the performance of the two pieces by Buxtehude on this disc by a tenor is questionable.

The lamento Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin was written for the funeral of Meno Hanneken, the Lübeck superintendent, in 1671. Buxtehude performed it again, together with a Klaglied on a text of his own, in 1674 at the funeral of his father Johannes. It is a moving piece beginning with a simple chorale setting which is then elaborated in three parts, and can be played either at the organ or - as here - with instruments (cornett, two violins). In Buxtehude's poem the strings weave a web around the voice which sings the simple melody. It is a shame that only three of the seven stanzas are performed (not indicated in the booklet).

Hans Jörg Mammel is one of the best interpreters of this kind of repertoire. He has made a career in which German music plays a key role. A complete command of the German language and a thorough knowledge of the character of German sacred music are essential to explore the close connection between text and music. That is exactly what makes this disc such a great achievement. It is a compelling portrait of the rich musical culture of North Germany in the 17th century. The high level of instrumental playing is well reflected by the performances of La Fenice. Anyone who is interested in this repertoire should add this disc to his collection. The inclusion of several hardly-known pieces makes it even more worthwhile. The liner-notes - in French and English - are well-written, but it is a serious omission that no information is given about the two unknown composers, Sommer and Weiland. The lyrics contain some errors and the translations could have been more precise.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Hans Jörg Mammel
La Fenice

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