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Antonín BROSSMANN (1731 - 1798): Vesperae Solennes in C, Litaniae Lauretanae

Czech Enssemble Baroque
Dir: Roman Válek

rec: Sept 2017, Bilá Voda
Arta Music - [without number] (© 2018) (39'36")
Liner-notes: D/CZ/SK; lyrics - translations: D/CZ/SK
Cover & track-list
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Antonín BROSSMANN: Litaniae Lauretanae; Magnificat; Vesperae Solennes in C; Antonín MASÁT (1692-1748): Te Deum

It seems very likely that almost no music lover has ever heard of Antonin Brossmann. ArkivMusic doesn't mention any composition from his pen, and therefore it seems safe to assume that the present disc is the first ever devoted to his oeuvre. It is a shame that the booklet includes only liner-notes in Czech, Slovak and German. This won't help to make him better known. Moreover, at least the German translation of the liner-notes leaves something to be desired. Fortunately, Brossmann has an entry in New Grove (where his name is spelled as Brosmann).

Brossmann, of Czech-German descent, was born in Fulnek in Moravia. Here he received lessons at the violin and the cello from the choirmaster of the Augustinian monastery. In 1749 he entered the Piarist college in Lipnik nad Becvou. After completing his studies, he worked for most of his life at the seminary at Bílá Voda, but now and then he was active elsewhere, for instance in Kremsier (Kromeriz). He came in close contact to Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who worked as Kapellmeister to Count Philipp Gotthard von Schaffgotsch, Prince-Bishop of Breslau (Wroclaw), who lived in exile in the castle of Johannisberg (Jánský Vrch), near Jauernig (Javorník).

His duties left Brossmann little time for composing. Even so, he left a considerable oeuvre, of which only sacred works have survived. His compositions for the stage as well as several treatises, for instance on singing, conducting and composition, are lost. The present disc includes three works, which are all scored for four voices and a small instrumental ensemble of two violins and bass, sometimes with additional trumpets and timpani.

The sacred works by Brossmann include elements of the late baroque period as well as the early classical era. The Vesper psalms all consist of a sequence of soli and tutti. Some are largely set for choir and include some short solos, whereas others are mostly for solo voices with some episodes for tutti. The solos are mostly rather short; there are no operatic arias. The tutti are dominated by polyphony; several psalms in the Vesperae solennes end with a fugal section. The trumpets often play colla voce; sometimes they are used to emphasize a particular phrase. There is some text expression, especially in Dixit Dominus and the Magnificat. But most of these pieces are too short to fully explore the text. Now and then harmony is used for expressive purposes, such as on the words "desiderium peccatorum peribit" (the desire of sinners will perish) in Beatus vir, and at the phrase "Salus infirmorum, refugium peccatorum, consolatrix afflictorum, auxilium Christianum, ora pro nobis" (Health of the infirm, refuge of sinners, comforter of the afflicted, help of Christians, pray for us) in the Litaniae Lauretanae.

According to the liner-notes, Brossmann was one of the most influential Czech composers of his time. That justifies a more thorough analysis of his life and oeuvre than is offered here, and also in English. This disc includes only a small part of Brossmann's oeuvre, which makes a fair assessment almost impossible. The article in New Grove mentions "carefully thought-out motivic development of his arias", but this disc does not include any arias. It also refers to Brossmann's use of trombones and violas in pairs; these are also absent here. Therefore I would like to hear other works by Brossmann, and hopefully in performances as good as what is on offer here. The performers are excellent advocates of Brossmann's oeuvre. The vocal ensemble consists of eight singers, six of whom also take care of the solo episodes, and they do so very well. The instrumentalists also deliver good performances. The Italian pronunciation of Latin is historically untenable.

The disc opens with a setting of the Te Deum by a certain Antonin Masát, which is thoroughly baroque in style, and an interesting contrast to the pieces by Brossmann. Unfortunately the booklet does not mention him, and he has no entry in New Grove. It attests to the lack of documentation of this disc.

Because of the quality of the performances, this disc deserves to be welcomed, and it certainly contributes to our knowledge of the musical developments in a part of Europe, whose music does not figure prominently in modern performance practice.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Czech Ensemble Baroque


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