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Daniel SELICHIUS (1581 - 1626): "Opus novum - Sacred Concertos"

Weser-Renaissance Bremen
Dir: Manfred Cordes

rec: Jan 29 - 31, 2018, Bassum, Stiftskirche St. Mauritius und St. Viktor
CPO - 555 223-2 (© 2019) (73'00")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Deo dicamus gratias a 6; Der Herr erhöre dich in der Not a 9; Freut euch des Herren, ihr Gerechten a 9; ; Gelobet sei der Herr a 9; Gott sei uns gnädig a 11; Herr, der du bist vormals gnädig gewest deinem Lande a 8; Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen a 2; Ich freu mich des, dass mir geredt ist a 8; Jauchzet dem Herrn ihr Völker all a 10; Laudate Dominum de caelis a 8; Laudate pueri Dominum a 10; Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn a 10; Siehe, lobet den Herrn a 7; Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied a 7; Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet a 9

Verena Gropper, Marie-Luise Werneburg, soprano; David Erler, alto; Manuel König, Mirko Ludwig, Georg Poplutz, tenor; Dominik Wörner, bass
Gebhard David, Anna Schall, cornett; Juan Martinéz, Andreas Neuhaus, Detlef Reimers, sackbut; Eva-Maria Horn, dulcian; Veronika Skuplik, Franciska Hajdu, violin; Marthe Perl, Hannah Kilian, Dávid Budai, Christian Heim, viola da gamba; Thomas Ihlenfeldt, chitarrone; Jörg Jacobi, organ

This is the third disc in a series devoted to music connected to the House of Welf in Wolfenbüttel, a town in Lower Saxony, south-east of Hanover. When Duke Julius (1529-1589) ascended the throne in 1568, Wolfenbüttel embraced the Lutheran doctrines. Julius's son Heinrich Julius (1564-1613) founded a court chapel and a theatre, and started to collect books, art and antiquities. He established connections to the court of Saxony, and this resulted in a musical exchange between Wolfenbüttel and music centres in Central Germany. In 1595, Michael Praetorius entered the service of the Duke as organist; in 1604 he was appointed Kapellmeister. The first disc in this series was devoted to sacred music from his pen.

In 1621 Praetorius was succeeded by Daniel Selichius (or Selich), who was born in Wittenberg, where he matriculated at the University in 1601. Here he had been strongly influenced by Lutheranism. He entered his service at the court under uncomfortable circumstances. Heinrich Julius had been succeeded by his son Friedrich Ulrich, who was generally considered a weak ruler. He left most of the business of government to his councillors. His military campaign against the city of Brunswick was a financial disaster, and Wolfenbüttel was in serious danger of suffering the consequences of the Thirty Years War. Apparently the Duke did not expect the effects of the war to be that serious, and did not hesitate to appoint Selichius as his Kapellmeister.

The extant oeuvre of Selichius is very small, partly due to his early death. However, according to the work-list in New Grove two collections of instrumental music are lost. It seems quite possible that these are not the only parts of his oeuvre that have not survived. Apart from some separate pieces in manuscript, the only music by Selichius that has come down to us, are the 24 sacred concertos published under the title Opus novum in Hamburg in 1625. The texts are taken from the Book of Psalms and are either in Latin or in German. They are scored for two to twelve voices. The track-list indicates the line-up of every piece, but unfortunately the indications in the score with regard to the intentions of the composer are neither mentioned nor discussed in the liner-notes.

Thanks to the Petrucci Music Library I was able to have a look at the basso continuo part, which has a preface in which Selichius discusses the way these concertos should be performed. He starts by saying that detailed instructions are not needed, because in particular Heinrich Schütz had included them in the preface to his Psalmen Davids. However, for those who may not have access to them or to comparable pieces, he points out some basics with regard to the line-up. The indication Favo refers to a choir of favoriti or solo voices, whereas the words tutti or capella mean that the whole ensemble should be involved. Such episodes may be performed with additional voices, either vocal or instrumental. Selichius also suggests that in these episodes a singer may be supported by an instrument and vice versa. To that end the instrumental parts are also texted. He then adds that it is to the discretion of the performer to decide how to proceed in this matter.

Manfred Cordes decided to perform the fifteen pieces he has selected, with one voice per part, vocal or instrumental. Only in some cases all the parts are sung, such as in Deo dicamus gratias. However, as his ensemble includes seven singers and most pieces are for eight voices or more, some of the parts had to be performed instrumentally. Siehe, lobet den Herrn is in seven parts; here only two parts are sung: soprano and tenor. The same goes for Jauchzet dem Herrn ihr Völker all in ten parts; the remaining parts are performed by four strings and four winds. Laudate pueri Dominum is also for ten voices; five of these are sung and five are performed by strings. Not all the pieces for eight or more voices are divided into separate choirs. Gott sei uns gnädig is for 11 voices, divided into three choirs, whereas Laudate Dominum de caelis is for eight voices in two choirs. This is a special case, as the second choir acts as the echo of the first. The most modest piece on the programme is Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen, which is for two voices (soprano, tenor) and basso continuo.

There are several moments where Selichius illustrates words and phrases in his music. In some cases he singles out a particular verse of a psalm through repetition. In Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied the first two lines are repeated, in Laudate pueri Dominum the lines 3 and 4: "Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and evermore". This procedure is a way to emphasize the importance of those verses.

This disc is a most welcome addition to the discography of German music of the 17th century. The booklet does not say so, but I am pretty sure that this is the first recording of any work by Selichius, who was completely new to me. As the reference to Schütz in the preface to the basso continuo already suggests, Selichius is clearly influenced by him, for instance with regard to the use of instruments and the alternation of episodes for solo voices and the tutti. Michael Praetorius, who composed many large-scale sacred concertos, must also have been a source of inspiration.

The way Selichius's concertos are performed here is just one of the options. As I already indicated with the reference to the composer's preface, it is perfectly possible to perform these concertos with a larger line-up, for instance one or two additional ripieno singers in the way of a capella. The advantage of a performance with one voice per part as is practised here, is that the text is always clearly intelligible. That is also due to the singers. As always, Manfred Cordes has excellent singers at his disposal, who are all native German speakers and who pay much attention to the text. The players do the same, and that results in strongly vocal performances of the instrumental parts.

These are pretty much ideal performances of music by a composer who fully deserves our attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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