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Georg Caspar SCHÜRMANN (1672/73 - 1751): "Nimm das Opfer unsrer Hertzen - Cantatas"

Weser-Renaissance Bremen
Dir: Manfred Cordes

rec: Jan 27 - 29, 2020, Stiftskirche Bassum
CPO - 555 374-2 (© 2021) (61'54")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Georg ÖSTERREICH (1664-1735) (attr): Nimm das opfer unsrer Hertzenb; Georg Caspar SCHÜRMANN: Auff! Jauchzet, lobsinget dem König der Ehren!abcde; Siehe, eine Jungfrau ist schwangeracde

Verena Groppera, Marie Luise Werneburgb, soprano; David Erler, altoc; Hans Jörg Mammel, tenord; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, basse
Susan Williams, Alexandra Mikheeva, trumpet; Eduard Wesley, Georg Fritz, oboe; Eva Maria Horn, bassoon; Veronika Skuplik, Franciska Hajdu, violin; Werner Saller, Alice Vaz, viola; Thomas Pitt, cello; Christine Sticher, violone; Thomas Ihlenfeldt, chitarrone; Detlef Bratschke, harpsichord, organ; Frithjof Koch, timpani

The German label CPO pays much attention to the country's music history. Several series of discs are devoted to a particular court or region, and that is also the case with the disc reviewed here. It is the fifth in a series with music written at the court of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, in lower Saxony, south-east of Hanover, which was the seat of the House of Welf. When Duke Julius (1529-1589) ascended the throne in 1568, Wolfenbüttel embraced the Lutheran doctrines. His 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 next century and a half, Wolfenbüttel developed into one of the main centres of music in Protestant Germany. In the course of its history, it had some of the best composers of their time in its service. Among them are such celebraties as Michael Praetorius and Johann Rosenmüller, but also composers who have become known mainly thanks to recordings released by CPO, mostly with performances by Weser-Renaissance Bremen. Among them are, for instance, Daniel Selichius and Georg Österreich. This disc is the first with music by Georg Caspar Schürmann. In 2018 CPO released a disc with extracts from Schürmann's opera Die getreue Alceste, which is not part of this series, as this work was performed at the Oper am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg.

However, the very fact that Schürmann wrote operas is an important element in his biography. He was born in Idensen, near Hanover. His career started in Hamburg, where he sang as a male alto in the opera and in churches. This must have inspired him to contribute to the genre of opera. Unfortunately very little of his output in this department has survived. In 1697 he travelled with the Hamburg opera to the court in Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel for a series of guest appearances. This resulted in his being appointed as a singer by Duke Anton Ulrich. Soon he was also given the duty of conducting the opera and performances in the court church. Schürmann remained in Wolfenbüttel until his death.

When I reviewed the opera recording mentioned above I was astonished by the quality of Schürmann's music, which I had never heard before. I came to the conclusion that he was an outstanding composer, and the fragments from one of his operas made me curious about other parts of his oeuvre. I wondered who would take care of his sacred cantatas. The answer: Manfred Cordes, with his ensemble Weser-Renaissance Bremen. I should have seen that coming. The disc under review here includes three different cantatas from the unfortunately very few that have come down to us. It has to be said that one of the cantatas performed here, later has turned out not to be from Schürmann's pen, but from that of Georg Österreich.

The disc opens with a cantata for a special occasion. It dates from the time Schürmann was still working as a singer in Hamburg. He was just 21 when he received the commission to compose the music for the dedication of the palace chapel of Duke Anton Ulrich's summer residence in Salzdahlum, which at the time was called 'North German Versailles'. It was the time that many German aristocrats were highly impressed by the splendour of Louis XIV's court and aimed at imitating it. The text was written by Christian Friedrich Bressand, the ducal intendant, who also wrote several opera librettos. In it, the dedication of the chapel is connected with the birthday of Duke Anton Ulrich's wife Elisabeth Juliane, which was the reason for the simultaneous dedication of the palace, which she received as a gift from her husband. The cantata is scored for five voices (SSATB) and an orchestra of two trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings and basso continuo. The entire ensemble participates in the opening chorus in ABA form; the B section is fugal. Next are two short arias for soprano and tenor, a chorus, another sequence of short arias for the various voices and a chorus. Then follow an aria for soprano, a duet for the two sopranos, a chorus, a trio - notably on the text "Holy Trinity, you have built yourself this house" - and the closing chorus. The latter opens with the first line of the opening chorus and closes with an Hallelujah, again in the form of a fugue. Obviously in this chorus the entire ensemble takes part.

Siehe, eine Jungfrau ist schwanger is a cantata for the first day of Christmas. It probably dates from before 1735. It is scored for four voices (SATB) and an orchestra of two oboes, strings and basso continuo. The arias are not that long and omit dacapos. The text is a mixture of biblical dicta and free poetic texts. The bass aria which opens the cantata brings together texts from Matthew 1 (vs 23) and Isaiah 7 (vs 15). A recitative and aria for soprano are followed by a chorus, which is again a dictum (a quotation from the Bible), this time from Paul's letter to the Galatians (ch 4, vs 4-5). Here Schürmann makes again use of the form of the fugue. Next are an aria for alto, with an obbligato part for violin, and two recitatives for bass and tenor respectively, which then sing a duet. In the bass recitative the word "zittre" (tremble) is illustrated by a tremolo, the tenor recitative includes quite some coloratura. An aria and recitative for alto lead to a chorus, which turns into the chorale: two stanzas from Martin Luther's hymn Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her.

The third cantata, Nimm das Opfer unsrer Hertzen, has come down to us without the name of the composer. For a long time it was attributed to Schürmann, but it is now assumed that this work is from the pen of Georg Österreich, who was in the service of the court in Wolfenbüttel from 1702 to 1735. It is easy to understand why this cantata was once attributed to Schürmann, as the arias in this solo cantata for soprano, two oboes, strings and basso continuo are unashamedly operatic and technically very demanding. The soprano needs a wide tessitura and a perfect breath control. And then she also has to deal with the coloratura and the elements of text expression. The cantata is for New Year's Day, and as it refers especially to the ruler of the land - "The highest joy of the land is again rejuvenated in you, most serene highness" - it has some elements of the serenata. The cantata comprises four dacapo arias, separated by recitatives.

This solo cantata is a brilliant piece, musically and technically. Marie Luise Werneburg delivers an astonishing performance. One won't often hear better singing in such a demanding piece. It makes great demands on the soloist's skills, and Werneburg meets them impressively. The two other cantatas receive equally outstanding performances. All soloists are in superb form here, and the instrumental ensemble acts at the same high level. This disc confirms my impression that Schürmann was an excellent composer and that the loss of so many of his compositions has to be considered a major blow. This disc is a worthy monument of a great master, and the performers deserve the highest praise for bringing some of his extant music to life in such an engaging manner.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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