musica Dei donum
"In Nativitate Domini - Festliche Weihnachtsmusik"
Emma Kirkbya, Susanne Rydénb, soprano
Dir.: Annegret Siedel
rec: March 7 - 10, 2007, Berlin, Siemens-Villa
Berlin Classics - 0016242BC (© 2007) (63'24")
Michael ALTENBURG (1584-1640): Gott sei Dank durch alle Weltab;
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704): Sonata VI in F ;
Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER (1607-1683): Magnificat anima mea Dominuma ;
Constantin Christian DEDEKIND (1628-1715): Uns ist ein Kind geborenab ;
Christian GEIST (1640-1711): Wie schön leuchtet der Morgensternb;
Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611-1675): Wie bin ich doch so herrlich frohb;
Benedikt LECHLER (1594-1659) (attr): Alma Redemptoris Materab;
Vincent LÜBECK (1654-1740): Willkommen süßer Bräutigamab;
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern;
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c1623-1680): Venite ocius! Transeamus usque in Bethlehemab;
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Verbum caro factum est (SWV 314)ab ;
Johann STADEN (1581-1634): Gloria in excelsis Deoab ;
Pavel Josef VEJVANOVSKY (c1640-1693): Sonata Laetitiae in C;
Johann VIERDANCK (1605-1646): Ich verkündige Euch große Freudeab 
 Johann Staden, Harmoniarum sacrarum continuatio, 1621;
 Heinrich Schütz, Kleine Geistliche Konzerte, II, 1639;
 Johann Vierdanck, Erster Theil geistlicher Concerten, 1641;
 Philipp Heinich Böddecker, Sacra Partitura, 1651;
 Constantin Christian Dedekind, Musicalischer Jahrgang und Vesper-Gesang … Deutsche Concerten, 1673-74;
 Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes, 1676)
Annegret Seidel, Ulrike Titze, violin;
Rebeka Rusó, Arno Jochem, viola da gamba;
Matthias Müller, violone;
Michael Freimuth, theorbo, archlute;
Margit Schultheiß, organ
Because of the popularity of Christmas there is a huge repertoire to be performed during the last months of the year. Therefore there is no excuse for repeating the same pieces over and over again in concerts or recordings. Of course, the masterworks by the likes of Bach, Schütz or Handel is worth to be performed regularly, but it is a shame every year new discs are released with repertoire which is available in many other recordings. A disc like this is a breath of fresh air, as it brings a programme of pieces most of which are hardly known. Due to the fact that all pieces are written in German speaking regions there is a strong cohesion within the programme.
There is a lot of variety in the forms compositions made use of as well as in the content. In the Protestant part of Germany hymns played an important role in the liturgy, and it doesn't surprise that a number of pieces contain hymns in the form of chorale arrangements. Michael Altenburg's Gott sei Dank durch alle Welt is a five-part chorale arrangement, whereas Christian Geist uses the popular hymn 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern' for chorale variations; the cantus firmus is sung by the soprano whereas the variations are played by three instrumental parts.
Another important genre is the sacred concerto, in which voices and instrumental parts are fully integrated. Johann Vierdanck's setting of the message of the angel to the shepherds belongs to that genre, as well as Verbum caro factum est by Heinrich Schütz. Constantin Christian Dedekind and Andreas Hammerschmidt both belonged to his circle, which is reflected in their respective sacred concertos.
These compositions are all from northern and central Germany, and so is Vincent Lübeck's cantata which is probably the latest work in the programme. This is a cantata, in which the voices play a solo role and the instruments are playing preludes and interludes.
The southern part of Germany is also represented. Johann Staden worked in Nuremberg as organist of the St Sebalduskirche, Philipp Heinrich Böddecker worked in Strassbourg and Stuttgart. The latter's setting of the Magnificat is written in the style of the Italian monody.
Austria is represented by Father Benedikt Lechler, choirmaster of the monastery of Kremsmünster. He compiled an important collection of sacred music from Italy and Germany, which includes the antiphon Alma redemptoris Mater which he probaby composed himself. Also from Austria is Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, whose cantata is about the shepherds going to Bethlehem to see the new-born child. There are clear reminiscences of popular pastoral music, which is typical for Christmas music in this area, and probably for music in Roman-Catholic regions in general, in contrast to Protestant regions.
In addition to the vocal works this disc contains two instrumental items. None of them are specifically written for Christmas. Vejvanovsky's Sonata Laetitiae was written for liturgical use and recalls the Seven Joys of Mary. The collection Biber's sonata comes from is for either secular or liturgical use; although this sonata has no formal connection to Christmas it well fits in with this programme.
Emma Kirkby and Susanne Rydén give outstanding performances of the vocal parts. They pay great attention to the delivery of the text, in a strongly declamatory and rhetorical manner. They also sing the chorale melodies beautifully. The instrumental parts are also reflecting the text, and the ensemble Bell'Arte Salzburg is well aware of that. It plays these parts very well, and there is an excellent balance between voices and instruments.
This is a disc which greatly enriches the catalogue of Christmas discs. If you look for music which you haven't heard many times before, this disc would be an excellent choice. Music, interpretation and recording technique are of oustanding quality. The booklet contains programme notes in German and English, but unfortunately no English translations of the German lyrics are given, and the Latin items only have a German translation. In Michael Altenburg's Gott sei Dank durch alle Welt the fourth stanza is missing from the booklet. These are minor blots on an otherwise splendid production.
Johan van Veen (© 2008)