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CD reviews

Johannes ECCARD (1553 - 1611): "Mit Freude musizieren - Sacred & Secular Works"

Opella Musica; Ensemble NOEMA
Dir: Gregor Meyer

rec: July 10 - 13, 2011, Mühlhausen, Marienkirche
CPO - 777 700-2 (© 2011) (59'18")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Johannes ECCARD: Christ ist erstanden [4]; Der große Tag des Herren [5]; Der heilig Geist vom Himmel kam [3]; Der Musik Feind seind Ignoranten [2]; Der Zacharias ganz verstummt [5]; Dieweil umsonst itzt alle Kunst [2]; Ein Fuhrmann, der fort kommen will [2]; Es ist viel Not vorhanden [1]; Gut Singer und ein Organist [2]; Herr Christe, tu mir geben [1]; Im Garten leidet Christus Not [5]; Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott [4]; Maria, das Jungfräuelein [5]; Missa a 5 vocibus super Mon coeur se recommende à vous; Nu komm, der Heiden Heiland [4]; O Freude über Freud [5]; Übers Gebirg Maria geht [5]; Wir singen all mit Freudenschall [5]; Zu dieser österlichen Zeit [3]; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Mon coeur se recommende à vous

Sources: Johannes Eccard, [1] Zwentzig Newe Christliche Gesäng Ludovici Helmboldi, 1574; [2] Sammlung weltlicher Lieder, 1578; [3] Dreißig Geistliche Lieder auff die Feste durchs Jahr, 1585; [4] Sammlung geistlicher Lieder, 1597; [5] Johann Stobaeus (ed), Preußische Festlieder, 1642/44

Heidi Maria Taubert, Isabel Meyer-Kalis, soprano; David Erler, alto; Tobias Hunger, tenor; Friedeman Klos, bass; Friederike Otto, cornett; Rahel Mai, violin; Katharina Schlegel, viola da gamba; Benjamin Dreßler, viola da gamba, violone; Sebastian Krause, sackbut; Zita Mikijanska, virginal, organ

The German composer Johannes Eccard died in 1611, and that has been the reason various concerts took place in Germany, and several discs with selections from his oeuvre were released. No less than three discs appeared more or less simultaneously which I have reviewed here. In that review I have given information about the life and career of Eccard, and there is no need to repeat that here. So let me summarize what his music is about.

Eccard is one of the composers who were active on the brink of a new era which we call 'baroque'. But he died too early for the concertante style to leave a mark in his oeuvre. His style is rather influenced by Lassus, from whom he received lessons during his time in the Bavarian court chapel. There are several traces of Lassus' compositional style in Eccard's oeuvre. He mixes polyphony and homophony, and in his only mass setting he sometimes reduces the number of voices. There are also many examples of madrigalisms in his compositions; in Lassus' oeuvre we find a much closer connection between text and music than in earlier repertoire.

Eccard didn't only live in a time of musical changes, he also experienced the coexistence of Catholicism and Lutheranism. Despite having been at the service of the Catholic court in Munich and the Catholic Fugger family in Augsburg Eccard was a Protestant. His settings of German sacred texts and in particular his use of Lutheran hymns bear witness to that.

The three discs which I reviewed earlier offered various programmes of sacred and secular music. Together they gave a good picture of the versatility of Eccard's oeuvre. This disc is an attempt to give a survey of his oeuvre within barely one hour. I wouldn't have minded if the performers would have been more generous. The musical director, Gregor Meyer, may be right when he states in the booklet that "our recording does not fully realize our aim of depicting Johannes Eccard's compositional versatility (...)", I think he has managed to give a fairly good impression of his oeuvre. All genres are represented, and so are the various options performers have in regard to scoring. In some respects this disc is more convincing than the discs I have reviewed previously.

First of all, the ensemble Opella Musica contains of only five singers. As I have stated in my previous review it is impossible to tell what is the ideal size of a vocal ensemble in this kind of repertoire. The number of performers will have widely varied according to the forces musical directors had at their disposal. Even so, small ensembles like Opella Musica were probably the rule rather than the exception. As the ensembles on the other three discs are considerably larger, this is a good alternative. There can be little doubt that secular music was performed with one voice per part as a rule. The Staats- und Domchor Berlin, the only ensemble which also performed secular music, is far too large. Moreover, secular music is not the most suitable repertoire for boys to sing, and that makes this recording much more convincing. Thanks to the smaller scoring the madrigalisms come far better off here.

The second issue is the use of instruments. Once again, the Ensemble NOEMA Leipzig is smaller than the enssembles which participated in the two Carus recordings I previously reviewed. That is the logical consequence of singing with one voice per part. The instruments are used here in most pieces with a German text, both sacred and secular. That makes this disc a good alternative to the Norddeutscher Kammerchor which sung all pieces a capella. I am a little disappointed that Opella Musica sings the Missa a 5 vocibus super Mon coeur, after Lassus' chanson Mon coeur se recommende à vous also without instruments, just like the Norddeutscher Kammerchor. I believe that a performance with instruments playing colla voce would be a legitimate option, probably even the most plausible one.

On the whole I am happy with what is on offer here. The singing is fine and so is the playing of the instruments. There are a couple of issues which need to be made, though. The booklet mentions Maria Jonas helping the performers "to master the historical French". This, of course, regards the pronunciation of the chanson by Lassus. Apparently a historically 'correct' pronunciation was considered important. From that perspective the Italian pronunciation of Latin in the mass is rather odd. A German pronunciation seems to be much more plausible. It is a shame, in particular considering the short playing time, that mostly only a couple of stanzas from hymns are sung. That was also the case on the other discs. It would be preferable to perform all stanzas. There is no need to fear monotony; that can easily be prevented by various scorings. I also need to note that the two sopranos allow a slight vibrato to creep in. This should have been avoided.

Lastly, the booklet includes a most interesting quotation from Eccard himself regarding the performance of his music - probably specifically referring to his hymn settings. "Eccard warned the local choirmaster-organist that when these songs were sung 'he should made a great effort to cultivate and use a fine, slow tempo, whereby he might cause the common man to hear the ordinary melody the more clearly, so as to go forward with his choir the more easily and the better'". What exactly he meant with 'fine, slow tempo' is open for debate, but I don't think anyone will say that the tempi on this disc are 'slow'. This quotation delivers much food for thought, I would say.

Anyway, I have enjoyed this disc, and anyone who does want to become acquainted with Eccard's music and doesn't want to purchase three discs can turn to this one. He will be impressed by the quality and variety of Eccard's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Ensemble NOEMA

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