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Johannes HEROLDT & Teodoro CLINIO: Passions after St Matthew and St John

Ensemble Triagonale
Dir: Michael Paumgarten

rec: May 27 - 29, 2015, Sekirn/Wörthersee (A), St Hubertus
CPO - 555 025-2 (© 2016) (79'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/I; lyrics - translations: E/D/I
Cover & track-list

Teodoro CLINIO (1548/49-1601): Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem; Johannes HEROLDT (c1550-1604): Historia des Leidens und Sterbens unsers Herrn und Heilands Jesu Christi

Teresa Dlouhy-Staber, soprano; Terry Wey, Michael Gerzabek, alto; Michael Paumgarten, Christian Paumgarten, tenor; Ulfried Staber, bass

In the course of music history many composers have set the accounts of Jesus's suffering and death as found in the four Gospels in the Bible. In our time we mostly hear settings from the 18th century: the two Passions by Johann Sebastian Bach and some other comparable pieces or the various settings of the so-called Brockes-Passion whose text is a paraphrase of and meditation on the Passion story. Passions from earlier times are mostly little known. That goes especially for the polyphonic settings which were common in the 16th century. Two specimens of such passions have been recorded by the Ensemble Triagonale and released by CPO.

It may seem a little odd to bring together two Passions by a German and an Italian composer respectively, the former on a German text, the latter in Latin. However, there are some similarities between them and the composers did not live that far away from each other. Passions on a German text were a product of the Lutheran Reformation. The Passion of Christ is the heart of Lutheran theology, often characterised as 'theology of the Cross'. The Passion was part of the liturgy and aimed at making the congregation 'relive', as it were, Christ's Passion, and that way be reminded once again of its own sins and the necessity of Jesus's suffering and death. What is remarkable about Herold's St Matthew Passion is that it was not written in what is generally considered Lutheran heartland - the central and northern part of Germany - but in Austria. Today the interest in early music from Austria focuses on what was composed and performed at the Habsburg court in Vienna. The Habsburg emperors were convinced Catholics; in the 16th century Charles V was one of Luther's most vehement opponents. What is hardly known is that the Reformation was embraced in Austria in the 16th century. Heroldt was born in Jena in Thuringia but worked for a number of years in Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola). In 1593 he settled in Klagenfurt where he acted as Kantor of the Protestant collegiate school and director of plainchant and polyphony at the church of St Egyd. In 1601 he had to leave Klagenfurt under the influence of the Counter-Reformation. He settled in Weimar where he became Kapellmeister of the court chapel. The St Matthew Passion was printed in Graz in 1594; in his preface the composer states that he had performed this work more than once "at the prescribed times" and that he had been asked to publish it.

Heroldt's Passion is a specimen of a so-called 'motet Passion' which was the dominant form in the 16th century. A better-known example of such a Passion is from the pen of Leonhard Lechner (interestingly also from Austria - he was born in South Tyrol). His Historia der Passion und Leidens Christi which was published in 1593 is not based on one of the Gospels but on a harmony of the accounts from the four Gospels. Heroldt's text is taken from the Gospel of St Matthew but the biblical text is strongly abridged, as is already indicated by the fact that the performance of the entire work takes a little more than 12 minutes. The entire work is sung polyphonically, but in the episodes which quote the words of one of the soliloquents the number of voices is reduced. In Pilate's words we hear the higher voices, in Jesus's words the lower ones. There are some dramatic moments, especially the shouting of the crowds. The Passion is divided into three sections. In this performance these are separated by two stanzas from the hymn O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß. They don't belong to Heroldt's Passion, which is not entirely clear from the track-list or the liner-notes. They are sung in unison by the lower voices of the ensemble.

Johannes Heroldt may be little-known, Teodoro Clinio is an entirely unknown quantity. ArkivMusic doesn't list any other work than the Passion included here. Clinio was born in Venice, but the year of his birth is not known. He was a canon regular, a member of a Venetian order called the Lateranesi di S Salvador; he seems to have spent most of his working life at Treviso. During three periods he acted as maestro di cappella of the cathedral. In many of his works he makes use of the cori spezzati technique for which Venice has become famous. Only two editions with his works were printed in his lifetime, one of them Sacrae quatuor Christi Domini passiones which dates from 1595 and includes the Passio secundum Joannem recorded here.

The similarity with Heroldt's Passion is in the fact that it is a polyphonic work; the words of the various characters are also sung to polyphony. However, there is also one notable difference. The part of the Evangelist (testo) is set for a solo voice and in the traditional Passion tone. The range of this part is limited and the setting of the text is syllabic. However, the last section - from Joseph of Arimathaea's request for Christ's body until the end of the account - is different: the Evangelist's part includes several melismas and the tessitura is higher and wider. One could consider this as part of the "dramatic intensity" which Jolando Scarpa in the liner-notes attributes to Clinio's setting. Another token of that is the differentiation in the number of voices: the turbae are for six voices, the words of the various soliloquents (Pilate, Peter) for four and the words of Christ for three. This creates a kind of dramatic contrast within this Passion.

The description in the liner-notes causes some confusion. "At the close of the Passion, a final verse sees all thirteen voices united in polyphony". This suggests that the various groups should be allocated to different voices, but that is not the case here as the ensemble comprises only six singers. Moreover, what about that "final verse"? The work ends with the solo section of the Evangelist I just described; it includes no tutti episode. It is a bit of a mystery to me what exactly Scarpa refers to. I find it hard to believe that this 'final verse' was omitted. Or was it indeed because it required 13 voices? If so, that should have been mentioned in the booklet and should be considered a serious shortcoming.

This recording sheds light on a part of the Passion repertoire which is hardly known but deserves to be. Ensembles wondering what they should perform during Passiontide should look to the 16th-century Passions which were written especially in Germany but also elsewhere. This disc is a very important addition to the discography. It is nice to note that the interpreters do these two Passions ample justice. The voices blend perfectly and are very responsive to the text which is always clearly understandable. It is not mentioned who sings the part of the Evangelist in Clinio's Passion; I assume it is the ensemble's director Michael Paumgarten and he does an admirable job here.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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