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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783): "Te Deum - Sacred Works"

Barbara Christina Steude, soprano; Susanne Langner, contralto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Matthias Lutze, bass
Sächsisches Vocalensemble; Batzdorfer Hofkapelle
Dir: Matthias Jung

rec: Jan 9 - 11, 2009, Dresden, Lukaskirche
CPO - 777 462-2 (© 2010) (68'24")

Litaniae Lauretanae; Regina coeli in D; Sub tuum praesidium; Te Deum in D; Tantum ergo in c minor; Tantum ergo in E flat

The period between baroque and classicism is sometimes difficult to get a grip on. Several styles seem to coexist, and it is not always easy to position composers in the musical landscape of the time. In comparison to the early 18th century relatively few composers of this period are regulars at concert programmes and in the catalogues of record companies. It is quite easy to record music by a composer hardly anyone knows. But even composers whose names are rather well-known are often underrepresented on disc. That is certainly the case with Johann Adolf Hasse. He was one of the most prolific and versatile composers of his time, but today very little of his large oeuvre is known.

In his liner-notes to this disc Gerhard Poppe rightly states that Hasse was first and foremost famous as an opera composer, but today is best-known for his sacred music. The reason, he writes, is that it is far more complicated and expensive to perform operas than sacred music. But his operas are not even performed in concertante form, whereas operas by other composers are. And a staged performance may indeed be expensive, that shouldn't prevent labels from producing CD recordings of his operas. It could well be that the very fact that Hasse's oeuvre is so large works against him.

This disc doesn't change the state of affairs as it also brings sacred music. Hasse may have written less sacred music than secular, there is still much to be discovered. So far mostly large-scale compositions have been recorded, like masses and mass movements. This disc concentrates on smaller pieces, even though the work which opens this disc is written for a full ensemble of four solo voices, choir and an orchestra which includes trumpets and timpani. A large part of Hasse's sacred music was composed for the court in Dresden, and the Te Deum in D is no exception. It was written for the dedication of the new court church on the feast of St Peter and St Paul in 1751. The setting is dominated by homophonic writing for the tutti with short episodes for solo voices. Notable is the verse 'Salvum fac populum tuum', which is set as an aria for soprano. There is a specific reason for that. It was common practice that a celebrant sang this verse in plainchant and then pronounced his blessing; meanwhile there was no music from the choir. Originally Hasse hadn't set this verse as there was no use for it. Later he added it in the form of an aria, so that it could be used in other churches. It is just an example of the practical approach to music which was common among composers of the 18th century. The aria shows some influence of opera, and includes a cadenza, but it isn't overly operatic and virtuosic as many arias in other sacred pieces of the later 18th century. In his sacred music Hasse sometimes links up with tradition. That is also the case here, for instance in the concluding verse, 'In te Domine speravi', which has the form of a fugue. In one of the previous verses he has effectively singled out the words "sine peccata" (without sin) - an example of baroque text expression.

The Litaniae Lauretanae have been set by many composers. It is a special challenge to prevent monotony because of the almost endless repeat of the words "miserere nobis". Hasse has divided the text over the tutti and eight vocal soloists. One section, 'Solus infirmorum', is set for soprano solo, the first two sections of the Agnus Dei for tenor solo.

The programme includes two different settings of the Tantum ergo. The text consists of two stanzas from the hymn for Corpus Christi, 'Pange lingua'. These were used independently as a hymn for the sacramental blessing at the end of masses, vespers and prayer services. The setting in c minor was probably written for Vienna where such pieces were often used, unlike in Dresden, whereas the setting in E flat dates from the end of Hasse's life, when he was living in Venice. The latter setting is divided into three sections: the first is for tenor and bass, the second for soprano and alto, whereas the last is for the tutti. The former is written as a unity, with episodes for soprano and alto or tenor and bass, and also ends with a tutti episode.

Regina coeli is a Marian antiphon for the Saturday before Easter. The date of composition is not known. It is scored for alto solo and tutti. Sub tuum praesidium is the shortest piece in the programme which takes less than three minutes. It is an antiphon for the 'Nunc dimittis' of the Compline. It is scored for tutti with some short solo episodes.

This disc offers an interesting survey of some of Hasse's liturgical music. It is particularly useful to find here several smaller-scale compositions which are mostly overlooked. Matthias Jung should be congratulated with his choice of soloists. In the past I wasn't very impressed by Barbara Christina Steude, but here she is doing much better than on her disc with cantatas by Buxtehude, although I still don't find her voice particularly interesting. Susanne Langner shines in the Regina coeli and Georg Poplutz and Matthias Lutze are giving good accounts of their solos. The voices blend very well, which is especially important in the sections for two voices I referred to above. With its 27 voices the Sächsisches Vocalensemble is almost twice as large as the choir at the court in Dresden, which according to Gerhard Poppe counted between 12 and 16 singers. It produces a nice, bright and warm sound, and shows good rhythmic flexibility. Strangely enough it does sound a bit restrained, and one wouldn't think it is as large as it is. But that could well be due to the modest volume of the recording. I had liked more presence of in particular the choir. The soloists and the orchestra come off better. The latter is playing excellently and makes the most of Hasse's score.

In short, a fine disc which should encourage the interest in Hasse who is still underestimated.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Susanne Langner
Matthias Lutze
Georg Poplutz
Barbara Christina Steude
Sächsisches Vocalensemble
Batzdorfer Hofkapelle

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