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"A German Soul - Devotional Music from 17th-century Hamburg"

Laia Frigolé, sopranoa; Juan de la Rubia, organb
Ensemble Méridienc

rec: Feb 2012, Alcora (Castellón), Iglesia parroquial de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Brilliant Classics - 94717 (© 2014) (64'06")
Liner-notes: E/S; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Trio sonata in d minor (BWV 527)c; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c1637-1707): Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab', cantata (BuxWV 38)ac; Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649-1725): Herr, auf dich trau ich, sacred concertoac [2]; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Christ lag in Todesbanden, chorale settingb; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (c1619-1684): Eja torpentes animae surgite, sacred concertoac; Sonata II à 2c [1]; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663): Praeambulum in D (WV 33)b; Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): Christ lag in Todesbanden, chorale fantasiab; Matthias WECKMANN (c1616-1674): Fantasia ex Db

Sources: [1] Johann Rosenmüller, Sonate a 2, 3, 4 è 5 stromenti, da arco & altri, 1682; [2] Johann Philipp Krieger, Musicalischer Seelen-Friede, 1697

Elisabeth Bataller, Maria Gomis, violin; Marta Vila, cello; Vega Montero, double bass, violone; Josep Maria Marti, theorbo

This disc's title suggests that it is devoted to the seemingly inexhaustible repertoire produced in North Germany in the 17th century. However, the title is more specific than the programme justifies. Only the organ pieces are connected to Hamburg, and the music of about half of the programme was not written in North Germany. It is rather odd, for instance, that the performers have included a trio sonata by Bach which not only has no connection to Hamburg but also doesn't belong to the category of 'devotional music'. The presence of Rosenmüller is also questionable. Accused of a paedo-sexual offence the composer fled to Hamburg and then to Italy. It seems unlikely that he was active in Hamburg as a composer.

Organ pieces take a notable place in the programme, and that is understandable. North Germany and especially Hamburg enjoyed the presence of some of Europe's largest and finest organs, and the organists who played them were among the greatest virtuosos of their time. They belonged among the best-paid musicians and played a key role in musical life in North German cities. In their compositions they combined traditional counterpoint with the influences of the latest Italian music - the so-called stylus phantasticus - and the impulses from Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. The latter was the main teacher of many German organists, and through him they became acquainted with the style of the English virginalists.

Three of the main organists of the 17th century are represented in the programme. Heinrich Scheidemann is considered one of the founding fathers of the North German organ school. He was a pupil of Sweelinck and his reputation was such that a large number of his works were disseminated across Germany by colleagues and pupils. His Praeambulum in D is a characteristic piece in free improvisatory style; such works were frequently played - mostly improvised - during the liturgy. Matthias Weckmann was a pupil of Heinrich Schütz in Dresden, and became organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg in 1655, following what was considered a 'spectacular audition'. In the Fantasia ex D we find some of the features of the North German organ school, such as brilliant passagework and echo effects. These are also present in the chorale fantasia Christ lag in Todesbanden by Franz Tunder. He became organist in Lübeck, and founded the Abendmusiken. The chorale fantasia is a genre which was mainly confined to North Germany. The chorale melody doesn't stay in one voice but moves through the voices and every line is extensively elaborated. The result is a long and brilliant piece in which the whole array of playing techniques of the time is displayed. Juan de la Rubia plays very well, but the brilliance of the organ pieces doesn't fully come off. That goes in particular for the chorale fantasia by Tunder, especially due to the rather slow tempo. As a result the contrasts within this piece - a feature of the stylus phantasticus - are somewhat understated.

Obviously vocal music played an important part in the liturgy as well. However, it seems that none of the vocal items in the programme has any connection to Hamburg or even the region. I have already referred to Johann Rosenmüller: part of his vocal music was written in Leipzig, but most of it dates from his time in Italy. It is very likely that the largest part of his sacred concertos was composed for performances in Germany. That said, I cannot rule out that his compositions on a Latin text, such as Eja torpentes animae surgite, may have been performed in Venice where he stayed until the last years of his life. It is introduced here by an improvisation on the theorbo. I can't tell anything about the connection between text and music as the lyrics are not included in the booklet and are also not available on the Brilliant Classics site. It is a purely Italian piece bearing witness to the composer's strong Italian leanings which date from well before his stay in Italy.

Johann Philipp Krieger was also not related to Hamburg. The largest part of his life he worked at the court of Weissenfels, southwest of Leipzig. He is an interesting link between the style of the 17th century and that of the 18th. In his oeuvre we find cantatas with recitatives and arias - which was to become the standard form in the 18th century - and sacred concertos as were common in the previous century. Herr, auf dich trau ich is an example of the latter and is taken from a collection printed in 1697. It is a setting of Psalm 31 in the translation of Martin Luther. There are marked contrasts between the various verses and the stylus phantasticus was almost tailor-made to expose these contrasts. This results in a quite dramatic piece in which the different feelings and thoughts as expressed in the text are drastically pointed out. Laia Frigolé gives an impressive performance and shows a good understanding of the content of this psalm, even though she is not a German speaker. Her pronunciation may be not perfect, but is certainly not bad - I have heard much worse.

Lastly, the instrumental pieces. Again, no connection to Hamburg, but highly enjoyable all the same. Rosenmüller's sonata is one of his best-known, and in my opinion one of his most beautiful. Since I heard the subject of the fugue of the second movement for the first time it has never left me. This piece is very well played here; I liked especially the improvisatory elements and also the ornamentation of the second movement when it is repeated at the end of the sonata. Bach's trio sonata is also given a very fine account. The rhythmic pulse comes off perfectly, and the Affekt of the second movement is not lost on the performers either.

The author of the liner-notes heaps praise on the performances of the ensemble. I think an author of a text in a booklet should be more neutral and leave these judgements to the listener. In this case I wholeheartedly agree with him. This young ensemble, founded in 2010, is a very fine group which should have a bright future. For the most part I have enjoyed these performances and would commend this disc to everyone who is interested in this kind of repertoire. That said, they should have been more critical in their choice of repertoire or have chosen a different title for their disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Laia Frigolé
Juan de la Rubia

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