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"Conversations avec Dieu"

Le Concert Étranger; Anne-Marie Blondel, organa
Dir: Itay Jedlin

rec: June 16 - 19, 2015, Champcueil, Notre-Dame de l'Assomption de la Très Sainte Vierge
Ambronay - AMY045 (© 2015) (77'17")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697): Hemmet eure Tränenflutbegi; Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611-1675): Ach Gott, warum hast du mein vergessen?bcgi [4]; Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gottbcgi [3]; Ergo sit nulla ratio salutisc [5]; Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen?begi [3]; Inter brachia salvatoris meif [5]; Pavane I à 5; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Sinfonia; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684): Sinfonia XI à 5 [6]; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663): Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (WV 4)a; Prelude No. 5 in d minor (WV 33)a; Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn? (SSWV 255)bcefghi [2]; Warumb betrübstu dich mein Hertz (SSWV 106)a [1]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Ach Herr, straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn (TWV 7,3)dehj

Sources: Samuel Scheidt, [1] Tabulatura nova continens variationes aliquot psalmorum, fantasiarum, cantilenarum, passamezzo et canones (Tabulatura Nova, I), 1624; [2] Geistlicher Concerten ... ander Theil, 1634; Andreas Hammerschmidt, [3] Musicalischer Andachten, ander Theil, das ist, Geistliche Madrigalien, 1641; [4] Dialogi, oder Gespräche zwischen Gott und einer gläubigen Seelen, erster Theil, 1645; [5] Motettae, unius et duarium vocum, 1649; [6] Johann Rosenmüller, Sonate da camera, 1667

Maria Valdmaab, Cécile Grangerc, Maïlys de Villoutreysd, soprano; Lucile Richardot, contraltoe; Leandro Marziotte, altof; Jeffrey Thompsong, Stephen Collardelleh, tenor; Geoffroy Buffièrei, Nicolas Brooymansj, basse
Olivier Briand, Bérangère Maillard, Myriam Mahnane, violin; Andreas Linos, Marie-Suzanne de Loye, viola da gamba; Benoît Vanden Bemden, Julie Dessaint, violone; Miguel Henry, theorbo; Yoann Moulin, harpsichord, organ

"Conversations with God" is the unusual title of this disc. It refers to compositions in which the believer addresses God. It should not be taken too literally: only in a few cases such pieces include God's answer, either directly or through people. The latter is the case in Scheidt's Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn, a setting of a text from the prophet Jeremiah.

The items are ordered in a kind of dramaturgical sequence. The largest part is about sin and the longing for forgiveness. The last section consists of a cantata for Easter and a piece which expresses the joy about a life without fear as a result of Jesus' Passion and resurrection.

The programme opens with compositions on two of the seven penitential psalms which were especially sung during Lent. In his cantata Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn Telemann has set Psalm 6: "Oh Lord, do not punish me with your fury". After an instrumental introduction the soprano sings the first line of the cantata. It is followed by a sequence of solos and tutti episodes. The sixth verse - "For in death no one thinks of you; who will thank you in hell" - is scored for bass and the key words 'death' and 'hell' are set to very low notes. Telemann effectively splits the word "Seufzen" (sighing) into two by a short pause.

The second penitential psalm included here is Psalm 50 (51), known under the Latin title of Miserere mei Deus. The two compositions by Scheidemann and Hammerschmidt are based on the versification of this psalm by Erhart Hegenwalt, Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott. Scheidemann is considered the founder of the north German organ school. Anne-Marie Blondel plays two variations on two stanzas from this hymn. The second includes echo effects which betray the influence of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. They embrace a vocal arrangement of the first stanza by Andreas Hammerschmidt. He takes a central place in the programme and that is well justified because his oeuvre is of excellent quality and has been given relatively little attention to date. He was certainly influenced by Heinrich Schütz but was no epigone.

After a dance by Hammerschmidt - taken from one of the three volumes with instrumental music published between 1636 and 1650 - we hear his dialogue Ach Gott, warum hast du mein sogar vergessen, for four voices, one instrument and bc. It is from a collection from 1645 which has the title of Dialogi, oder Gespräche zwischen Gott und einer gläubigen Seelen - Dialogues or Conversations between God and a faithful soul. That is the explanation of the title of this disc. Here the tenor (Geoffrey Thompson) represents the faithful soul, the reply comes from three other voices (two sopranos and bass). It is a setting of a free text which includes references to Psalm 13 and quotations from Psalm 42 (43): "Why are you so aggrieved, my soul, and so restless within me? - Trust in God, our God who gives us succour". The piece ends with the tenor joining the three other singers in a repetition of the latter text and the concluding Alleluia.

Psalm 13 is also the starting point of Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen, again from the pen of Hammerschmidt: "How long, Lord, will thou thus forget me?" The text of the Psalm is extended by a free text. It is scored for five voices and bc but surprisingly it is performed here a cappella. The rather short liner-notes don't mention the issue and the reason for this decision is anybody's guess. However, it is a little masterpiece which shows Hammerschmidt's skills in the setting of a text.

Next - after an organ prelude by Scheidemann - follows a solo motet by Hammerschmidt, Ergo sit nulla ratio salutis which refers to Jesus' Passion; it is scored for soprano and bc. It is divided into four sections. In the first and second the believer asks whether there is no salvation "amidst the clouds of hell?" In the third he says: "Sweetest Jesus, your wounds are my rock and my safe asylum". In the fourth he expresses his joy about his salvation. The contrasts in content are eloquently translated into music. In the third section Hammerschmidt uses the rhetorical tool of the exclamatio on the name of Jesus.

Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn which I already mentioned above is also about God's salvation: "Is not Ephraim (referring to the Jewish people) my dear son and my delightful child? (...) I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord". Samuel Scheidt, a composer of the generation of Schütz and for most of his life director musices in Halle, juxtaposes high and low voices by splitting the six voices into two groups which join each other at the end of a verse. This sacred concerto is followed by a set of organ variations on the hymn Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz? - the words from Psalm 42 (43) quoted above.

Nicolaus Bruhns is best-known for his small number of organ works; he worked as organist in Husum from 1689 until his early death. He also composed twelve sacred concertos and cantatas which show the influence of the Italian style. Hemmet eure Tränenflut is for Easter: "The tomb is empty, the corpse is no longer there; the Lord is resurrected among the dead". It is scored for four voices, strings and bc and is divided into five sections. The bass has an important role here, for instance in the third section in which the stone that closed the tomb is used as a metaphor for the "heavy burden of sins".

It is notable that the programme ends not with a piece for the whole ensemble but with a solo motet. The alto Leandro Marziotte sings another piece by Hammerschmidt, Inter brachia salvatoris mei: "In the arms of my Saviour I wish to live and die". This motet is about the effects of Jesus' Passion and resurrection: "[You] have lifted me up; you did not wish my enemies to rejoice about me".

The start of this disc is a little shaky. First we hear the ringing of bells, probably inspired by the sinfonia which opens Telemann's cantata and also includes bell ringing motifs. Fortunately it is very short and not very loud - it is something you don't want to hear every time. Then Mailys de Villoutreys sings the first phrase with considerable vibrato. When I heard this I feared this disc would be a disappointment, but it is only a short aberration. I am happy to say that Le Concert Étranger presents itself here as a very fine ensemble which has a really good feeling for this repertoire. The German pronunciation is remarkably good, considering that none of the singers is a German speaker. Much attention has been given to the texts and the Affekts which they want to express. Telemann's cantata receives an incisive performance. The singers and players here turn out to be eloquent advocates of Hammerschmidt's music which is unjustly neglected. The ensemble is excellent as is amply demonstrated in Hammerschmidt's Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen. The organ works are very well played; it is a shame that the booklet doesn't give any information about Anne-Marie Blondel's instrument. On the internet I have found that the organ was built in 2010 and is modelled after 17th-century Franco-Flemish instruments.

This is not just another disc with German 17th-century music; we have here a production which is an essential addition to the discography. I hope to hear more from this ensemble. A disc entirely devoted to Hammerschmidt would be very welcome.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Le Concert Étranger

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