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"Davon ich singen und sagen will - Martin Luther und die Musik" (Whereof I now will say and sing - Martin Luther and music)

Monika Maucha, Ina Siedlaczekb, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, altoc; Nils Giebelhausend, Georg Poplutze, tenor; Markus Flaigf, Jens Hamanng, bass
Bach-Chor Siegenh; Johann Rosenmüller Ensemblei
Dir: Ulrich Stötzel

rec: Oct 6 - 8, 2011, Siegen, Martinikirche
CPO - 555 098-2 (© 2017) (70'59")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Christ lag in Todesbanden (BWV 4); Johann ECCARD (1553-1611): Vom Himmel hoch a 5bhi; Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich a 5abcefhi; Werner FABRICIUS (1633-1679): Jauchzt ihr Himmel (Jubilum Evangelorum Lutheranorum)abdefhi; Martin LUTHER (1483-1546): Non moriar sed vivam a 4cdef; Hans NEUSIDLER (c1508-1563): Dein hübsch und schönj; Der Hupffauffj; Der rechte Studententantzj; Lucas OSIANDER (1534-1604): Ein feste Burg ist unser Gottahi; Lucas OSIANDER / Heinrich SCHÜTZ / Johann Sebastian BACH: Aus tiefer Notabcefhibcefhi; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Jesaja dem Propheten das geschahacehi; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1617-1684): Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungenacdefi; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (SWV 417)acdefghi; Thomas STOLTZER (c1480-1526): Melodia 3. tonii; Melodia 7. tonii; Johann WALTER (1496-1570): Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist a 6cdgi

Friedemann Immer, Paul Rhe, trumpet; Arno Paduch, Friederike Otto, cornett, mute cornett; Robert Schlegel, Gerd Schnackenberg, Henning Plumeyer, sackbut; Arie Hordijk, dulcian; Anette Sichelschmidt, Christiane Volke, violin; Annegret Meder, Anke Hörschelmann, viola; Jörg Meder, viola da gamba, violone; Johannes Vogt, lute (soloj); Dennis Götte, chitarrone; Michaela Hasselt, organ

The commemoration of 500 years Reformation in 2017 has cast its shadows for several years. The present disc was released in a special edition in 2011. It was only this year (2017) that it was released by CPO, which means that it is available to a wider audience than only Germany.

What exactly was the concept behind its programme is a mystery. The booklet includes a very short introduction about "Martin Luther and music", as the subtitle of the disc says, but that's all. There are no programme notes about the music or the composers. The order of the programme is not chronological: it opens with a piece by Johann Fabricius, a composer of the 17th century, which is followed by pieces from the 16th century.

Fabricius' sacred concerto Jauchzet ihr Himmel is on a text from the book of the prophet Isaiah (ch 49, vs 13) and Psalm 147. The composer studied in Hamburg and worked most of his life in Leipzig as organist of two churches. It says much about the appreciation of his music that when he applied for the position of director musices in Hamburg as successor to Thomas Selle, he came second, after Christoph Bernhard, with a difference of just one vote. This piece seems to have been written for a special occasion, probably Reformation Day, as it has a Latin title, referring to Luther: Jubilum Evangelorum Lutheranorum.

This piece is followed by a short motet by the reformer himself, showing that he was skilled in the art of counterpoint. Johann Walter and Lukas Osiander represent early stages in the development of the Lutheran chorale. Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist is a 6-part chorale motet on Luther's German adaptation of the traditional sequence Veni sancte Spiritus. Osiander wrote hymns in strict homophonic style, which allowed choir and congregation to sing together. Johann Eccard is another very important composer of music for the Lutheran liturgy. He had taken lessons from Lassus, which had a lasting influence on his development as a composer. Übers Gebirg Maria geht, which in the Anglo-Saxon world has become known as When to the temple Mary went, is by far his most famous piece. Here two chorale motets for five voices are included. Whereas he held on to the stile antico, Michael Praetorius embraced the latest trends in Italy, first the cori spezzati technique as practised in Venice, and then also the monodic style, which he integrated in his large-scale vocal works. More than any other composer he contributed to the dissemination of the Lutheran chorale and other pieces for the Lutheran liturgy, such as Jesaja dem Propheten das geschah, Luther's German version of the Sanctus.

Two of the main composers of Lutheran music in the new Italian concertato style were Heinrich Schütz and Johann Rosenmüller. In the former's oeuvre that style manifests itself especially in the three volumes, which were published under the title Symphoniae Sacrae. Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott is from the third volume, and here it is the only piece based on a chorale. Lutheran hymns play a relatively minor role in his oeuvre, mainly because his ideal was that the music should depict the text, and a hymn, with its sequence of stanzas of different content, offers limited possibilities in that regard. It is notable that in this concerto the strophic structure is recognizable, but the hymn melody is only hinted at. It has two obbligato instrumental parts, played here on violin and cornett. Rosenmüller's setting of Psalm 84, Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, is for five voices, four strings, five brass instruments (cornetts, sackbuts) and bc. No date of composition is given, but it is likely that Rosenmüller wrote it during his time in Venice. As pieces on a German text could not be performed in Italy this kind of compositions were intended for use in German churches and court chapels. It is a good example of Rosenmüller's expressive style. Like Schütz he aimed at a close connection between text and music.

The disc ends with one of Bach's best-known cantatas, Christ lag in Todesbanden (BWV 4), which is an arrangement of Luther's Easter chorale. It is one of Bach's earliest cantatas and dates probably from 1707. Stylistically it is rooted in the 17th century. Bach uses here the technique of the chorale variation per omnes versus. It means that the chorale melody is kept in all stanzas. The cantata opens with a sinfonia, which is followed by the seven stanzas. These are set for one to four voices and instruments or bc alone, in a strict symmetrical order. The verses 1, 4 and 7 are for four voices, verses 2 and 6 for two voices and verses 3 and 5 for solo voice. The last verse causes a problem. The original parts have not been preserved; this cantata has come down to us in a version of 1724. Here the last verse is a four-part harmonization, which was newly written. However, the symmetrical structure has been taken as an indication that originally the structure of the last verse was to be identical with that of the first. Therefore some performers (for instance Cantus Cölln; Harmonia mundi, 2000) perform the text of the last stanza on the same music as the first. Here we hear the traditional harmonization. Notable is also the second verse: each of the two soloists is accompanied by an instrument, playing colla parte: the soprano by a cornett, the alto by a sackbut. Interestingly, parts for cornett and three sackbuts were only added in 1725. These instruments were outmoded at the time as was the habit to use them in a colla voce role.

As much as the release of this disc on the international market deserves to be welcomed, the lack of liner-notes is a serious shortcoming, especially as several composers included in the programme are hardly known. The soloists and the instrumental ensemble are the main assets of this recording. These are all first class. The choir is a little problematic. It is a fine ensemble, but too large, and its sound is not as transparent as one would wish. Moreover, all the music performed here is ensemble music. This means music for a group of singers and instrumentalists which take care of both solo passages and tutti episodes. If you have a group of soloists and a choir, as is the case here, there is a lack of integration of soli and tutti. The fact that the choir is rather large and produces a quite dense sound makes it even worse.

It doesn't withhold me from recommending this disc, but it explains why these performances, despite their considerable merits, are not entirely convincing.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Markus Flaig
Nils Giebelhausen
Jens Hamann
Monika Mauch
Georg Poplutz
Ina Siedlaczek
Franz Vitzthum
Bach-Chor Siegen
Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble

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