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"Rosa Mystica - Magnificat for organ"

Manuel Tomadin, organ; Giuseppe Maletto, tenor

rec: Nov 29 - 30, 2016 & Jan 4, 2017, Pinerolo (Turin), Chiesa di Madonna di Fatima
Brilliant Classics - 95506 (© 2017) (77'19")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1596-1663): Canzon in F; Dic nobis Maria (after Giovanni Bassano); Dixit Maria ad angelum (after Hans-Leo Hassler); Magnificat 6. toni; Melchior SCHILDT (1592-1667): Magnificat 1. modi; Delphin STRUNGK (1601-1694): Magnificat 9. toni 'Meine Seele erhebet den Herren'; Matthias WECKMANN (1616-1674): Magnificat 2. toni; Toccata IV in a minor

The Magnificat, one of the canticles from the New Testament, also known as the Song of Mary, has taken an important place in the liturgy of the Christian church from early times. Over the course of history, from the Middle Ages to our own time, it has been set to music numerous times, sometimes in entirely original music, but often with the plainchant melody as cantus firmus. Although the representatives of the North German organ school were firm Lutherans, in their organ verses they also made use of the traditional melody. This was in line with Luther's approach to the liturgy: he wanted to change what was not acceptable, but keep intact what was good and valuable. This explains why the Latin text was set by Johann Sebastian Bach for performance as part of the liturgy in the Leipzig Thomaskirche. Today it is one of his most popular sacred works.

The present disc includes organ verses by some of the most brilliant representatives of the North German organ school. Many organists from northern Germany went to Amsterdam to hone their skills under the guidance of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. His influence manifests itself, for instance, in the frequent use of the echo technique in North German organ music. Two of the composers included here were pupils of Sweelinck: Heinrich Scheidemann, often considered the 'father' of the North German organ school, and Melchior Schildt. Both Delphin Strungk and Matthias Weckmann are of a later generation, but they also incorporated the influences of Sweelinck into their organ works. However, the North German organ composers were also inspired by the latest developments in Italy, known as the stylus phantasticus. This comes to the fore in their virtuosic improvisational toccatas, which comprise different sections of contrasting tempo and metre, and include fugal episodes. The application of dissonances also shows the Italian influence. These features are noticeable in the various Magnificats that Manuel Tomadin has brought together for this recording.

As is so often the case, the organ settings of the Magnificat are alternatim compositions. In this recording the plainchant is sung by Giuseppe Maletto. Scheidemann's Magnificat 6. toni comprises four verses, of which the second is the longest and the most elaborate; here we hear the echo effects which show the influence of Sweelinck. Here Scheidemann also impressively explores the colour palette of the organ he had at his disposal. The North German organs were by far the largest in Europe, with up to four manuals and pedal-board. The latter is explored in the first variation, when the plainchant melody is played on the pedals. In the last verse the cantus firmus is in the upper part.

Melchior Schildt, born into a family of organists in Hanover, is one of the lesser-known representatives of the North German organ school. From 1609 to 1612 he studied with Sweelinck in Amsterdam. Nothing is known of his whereabouts in the next ten years, but from 1623 to 1626 he worked as organist in Wolfenbüttel, then acted for three years as court organist in Copenhagen. In 1629 his father died, and Melchior was appointed his successor as organist of the Marktkirche in Hanover. His oeuvre includes one sacred vocal work; nine further pieces have been lost. The rest of his extant oeuvre comprises keyboard works, among them an arrangement of Dowland's Pavana lachrymae. His Magnificat 1. toni consists of five verses; the first and the third include some dissonances, whereas the echo technique is applied in the second verse. In the first and fourth verse the cantus firmus is in the tenor, in the last verse in the upper voice.

Two composers with the name Strungk are known; the better-known of the two was the director of the Leipzig opera. He was the son of Delphin, who figures on the present disc. Little is known about him; we don't know where he was born and who his teacher was. From 1630 to 1632 he was organist in Wolfenbüttel, then for five years at the court in Celle and from 1637 until his death in Brunswick. His extant oeuvre is very small: six sacred vocal works and six organ pieces, among them his arrangement of Luther's translation of the Magnificat: Meine Seele erhebt den Herren. It was usually sung to a German variant of the tonus peregrinus, associated with the 9th mode. That is also the mode of Strungk's arrangement, which comprises three verses. It is a relatively modest piece, in comparison with the other arrangements on this disc. The second verse is for manuals alone. The third verse includes echo effects.

Matthias Weckmann was one of the main composers in northern Germany in the mid-17th century. He was a pupil of Heinrich Schütz at the Dresden court, receiving lessons in singing and in playing the organ. In 1633 Schütz took him to Hamburg, where he continued his education with Jacob Praetorius and Scheidemann. He then worked in Dresden again and in Copenhagen. In 1655 he was appointed organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg, a post he held until his death. He was a key figure in music life in Hamburg; in 1660 he founded the Collegium Musicum, which performed the newest instrumental music. His Magnificat 2. toni comprises four verses. The first is in five parts, with the cantus firmus in the tenor. In the second verse the cantus firmus is in the upper voice and strongly ornamented. The third verse is again in five parts, the fourth in six.

Manuel Tomadin has added some other items by these four composers to his programme. From the oeuvre of Scheidemann three pieces are selected. Two of them are organ intabulations of motets by Hans-Leo Hassler (Dixit Maria ad angelum) and Giovanni Bassano (Dic nobis Maria). These are well chosen, considering the fact that this disc is devoted to the Song of Mary. The Canzon in F attests to the Italian influence in Scheidemann's oeuvre. The same goes for the Toccata IV in a minor by Weckmann, which is mostly ranked among the harpsichord works. Weckmann became acquainted with the Italian style through Johann Jacob Froberger, with whom he became friends when the latter visited the court in Dresden.

Tomadin has recorded German organ music in the recent past, and I have enjoyed his performances, which attest to his understanding of the character of this repertoire. He also chooses the appropriate instruments: here it is an organ of 2011, constructed after the organs of the famous Arp Schnitger. His performances are captivating, and he explores the contrasts within these pieces to the full. His tempi are mostly convincing; only in Weckmann's Magnificat I found the last verse a bit too fast. Giuseppe Maletto does pretty well in the plainchant, but the Italian pronunciation is historically wrong, and his German pronunciation in Luther's translation leaves something to be desired.

Overall this is a very fine disc, which impressively demonstrates the brilliance of the North German organ composers and their instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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