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"Polychoral splendour"

Cappella Murensis; Les Cornets Noirs
Dir: Johannes Strobl

rec: July 25 - 28, 2011, Muri (CH), Abteikirche
Audite - 92.652 (© 2012) (73'07")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Parts Gabrieli, 1597
Scores Schütz, Psalmen Davids
Scores Schütz, Symphoniae Sacrae III

Giovanni GABRIELI (c1555-1612): Canzon 1. toni a 8 (C 170) [1]; Canzon 4. toni a 15 (C 185) [1]; Canzon 7. toni a 8 (C 171) [1]; Canzon VIII a 8 (C 202) [2]; Canzon in echo 12. toni a 10 (C 180) [1]; Sonata XVIII a 14 (C 211) [2]; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Alleluja! Lobet den Herrn a 8 (SWV 38) [3]; Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen a 8 (SWV 34) [3]; Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott a 8 (SWV 417) [4]; Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? a 8 (SWV 415) [4]; Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel a 7 (SWV 411) [4]; Warum toben die Heiden a 8 (SWV 23) [3]; Zion spricht: Der Herr hat mich verlassen a 12 (SWV 46) [3]

[1] Giovanni Gabrieli, Sacrae Symphoniae, 1597; [2] Canzoni et sonate, 1615; [3] Heinrich Schütz, Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten, 1619; [4] Symphoniarum sacrarum tertia pars [Symphoniae Sacrae III], 1650

[CM] Stephanie Petitlaurent, Siri Karoline Thornhill, soprano; Rolf Ehlers, Mirko Ludwig, Jürgen Ochs, Manuel Warwitz, tenor; Kees Jan de Koning, Simon Schnorr, bass
[LCN] Gebhard David, Bork-Frithjof Smith, cornett; Amandine Beyer, Cosimo Stawiarski, violin; Simen van Mechelen, Henning Wiegräbe, Eckart Wiegräbe, Detlef Reimers, Franck Poitrineau, Joseph Bastian, sackbut; Tore Eketorp, Matthias Müller, violone; David Blunden, Jörg-Andreas Bötticher, Angelika Hirsch, Markus Märkl, organ

The connection between Giovanni Gabrieli and Heinrich Schütz is well documented. Although Schütz received thorough training in music he and his parents didn't aim at a musical career for him, but after Landgrave Moritz of Hessen-Kassel had heard him sing, he insisted that he should enter his service. This happened in 1599. It was the Landgrave who sent him to Venice to study with Gabrieli. Schütz had, according to his own testimony, a "poor start", but soon made such progress that Gabrieli himself urged the Landgrave to allow him to stay longer than was originally planned. Schütz left Venice soon after the death of his teacher.

Schütz was not the only German musician who went to Italy to become acquainted with what was going on there. In fact, there was a strong connection between Germany and Italy since the second half of the 16th century. In his liner-notes Philipp Zimmermann points out that Gabrieli himself was once a student of Orlandus Lassus, Kapellmeister at the court in Munich. Lassus, on his turn, had stayed some years in Italy which left its marks in his development as a composer. That comes especially to the fore in his writing of madrigals in which one can observe a close connection between text and music.Obviously the connections between Germany and Italy were bilateral.

Giovanni Gabrieli is often considered one of the last representatives of classical polyphony. That in itself is not incorrect, but it is not the whole truth. He was also an important link between the old style of the 16th and the new style of the 17th century. He didn't compose in the monodic style which emerged in the first decade of the 17th century, but in his later works its influences are traceable. In particular the collection of Symphoniae Sacrae of 1615 includes pieces with declamatory elements and a greater independence of the voices. They also show a greater freedom in the treatment of harmony. For this disc only instrumental pieces from two of Gabrieli's collections have been selected. These are quite unique for the time they were composed. They seem to reflect the quality of the instrumentalists Gabrieli had at his disposal in St Mark's. It is the virtuosity of his instrumental music which points to the standard of playing and composing for instruments of the 17th century.

Like in many of his vocal compositions Gabrieli makes use of the technique of cori spezzati for which St Mark's was an ideal venue. It allowed him to create a dialogue between the two instrumental ensembles, sometimes with special effects such as the echo. The variety in the number of parts allows for a dynamic differentiation between 'soli' and 'tutti'. This effect is present in his vocal music too, and can also be found in the vocal works of Heinrich Schütz. He was one of various German composers who embraced the cori spezzati technique; another composer who made use of that was Michael Praetorius. It is not surprising that Schütz composed music for two choirs in his Psalmen Davids. These were printed in 1619, not long after his return from Venice. The impressions of the splendour of St Mark's must still have been in his ears. In his later years he seldom returns to this technique. This programme include several pieces from his Sacrae Symphoniae III which was printed in 1650. Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich and Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott are scored for six solo voices and two violins, with two additional capellae. However, in both pieces these are ad libitum which means that, if they are omitted, the double choir texture is lost. Vater unser is scored for five voices and two violins; here Schütz suggests the option - again ad libitum - of adding four vocal and instrumental voices. Whether in this case he had a spatial division of the soli and the additional group in mind is impossible to prove.

The vocal items bear witness to Schütz's nickname as musicus poeticus as he pays much attention to the text. The use of the cori spezzati technique and the juxtaposition of 'soli' and 'tutti' serves the expression of the text. The latter can be used, for instance, to emphasize specific phrases or episodes. Repetition of parts of the text - often with different musical material - has the same purpose. In Alleluja! Lobet den Herrn, a setting of Psalm 150 which closes the programme, Schütz effectively illustrates the various instruments mentioned in the text. Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich is one of the most dramatic pieces Schütz ever wrote. In Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen he pays tribute to his teacher Giovanni Gabrieli by quoting the latter's madrigal Lieto godea in the doxology which is preceded by an instrumental episode.

The space of the church in Muri is well suited for this repertoire, and has been effectively used to give an impression of how this music could have been heard in the time it was written. The ensemble also makes use of the two large organs in this church. The performances are generally quite good, although I believe that more could have been made of this repertoire, in particular in this venue. Stronger dynamic contrasts and a generally more passionate approach would have made these performances even better. I also feel that the tempi are a bit too modest, but that could well be the effect of the acoustical circumstances. It is notable that technical means, such as extra microphones, to "balance artificially the singers, or violins, or middle voices were consciously rejected in order to remain true to the feeling of the space and to the many different resulting 'desired effects', in particular of the text."

Some reservations notwithstanding this disc can be welcomed as a worthwhile addition to the discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Les Cornets Noirs

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