musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Te Deum laudamus - Music on Freiberg Cathedral"

Ensemble Freiberger Dom-Music; chordae freybergensis
Dir: Albrecht Koch

rec: July 15 - 18, 2013, Freiberg, Dom
CPO - 777 928-2 (© 2014) (55'48")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Albinius FABRICIUS (1570-1635): Cantate Domino a 6 [2]; O sacrum convivium a 6 [2]; Alfonso FERRABOSCO (I) (1543-1588): O lux beata Trinitas; Leonhard LECHNER (1553-1606): Si bona suscepimus [1]; Rogier MICHAEL (1552/54-1619): Te Deum laudamus a 6; Philippus DE MONTE (1521-1603): Ad te levavi [1]; Missa super Mon coeur se recommande

Sources: [1] Leonhard Lechner, ed, Harmonia miscellae cantionum sacrarum, 1583; [2] Albinus Fabricius, Cantiones sacrae sex vocum, 1595

[Ens FDM] Dorothea Wagner, Isabel Meyer-Kalis, soprano; David Erler, alto; Oliver Kaden, Benjamin Glaubitz, tenor; Cornelius Uhle, bass
[cf] Thomas Friedlaender, cornett; Christian Braun, Nathaniel Wood, sackbut; Susanne Scholz, Jonathan Talbott, Dario Luisi, Marc Vanscheeuwijck, renaissance violin; Albrecht Koch, organ

The German city of Freiberg in Saxony, southwest of Dresden, is well known for its organ, built in the cathedral between 1711 and 1714 by the famous organ maker Gottfried Silbermann. This disc sheds light on another interesting aspect of Freiberg's music history, the repertoire which is preserved in the library of the Latin School which was closely connected to the cathedral.

Freiberg was a major city in the Middle Ages, and it comes as no surprise that early in its history a school system was established there. In 1515 the town school turned into a Latin School and in 1537 merged with other educational institutions. The number of pupils increased considerably and for some time even exceeded a thousand. The boys who had the task of singing in the liturgy alongside adult members of the clergy received an extensive musical education. The library of the Latin School gives some insight into the repertoire which was sung in the cathedral and also the way it was performed.

The Reformation had been introduced in Freiberg as early as 1537. This had an influence on the liturgy in that pieces on German texts were added to the repertoire. At the same time Latin was still very much part of the liturgy. The programme of this disc shows that pieces by Catholic composers were not banned from the church, as long as the texts were not incompatible with Lutheran doctrine. An interesting piece is the setting of the Te Deum by Rogier Michael. He was from the Netherlands and entered the service of the court in Dresden in 1574. Here he became Hofkapellmeister in 1587; in 1619 he was succeeded by Heinrich Schütz. In this setting every line of Luther's translation of the Te Deum is followed by a homophonic six-part setting of the corresponding lines in Latin.

The main work on this disc is the Missa super Mon coeur se recommande by Philippe de Monte, another composer of Flemish birth who was in the service of members of the Habsburg dynasty for most of his life. The title refers to the chanson by Lassus which Monte chose as cantus firmus for his mass. Like most of the pieces in the Freiberg library this is a copy of a printed edition, but it is interesting for its adaptations. The text underlay is different from the printed version which is part of a collection of masses printed in Nuremberg. Apparently the singers in Freiberg considered the original text underlay as less convenient and didn't bother to change it. The indication of the upper voice is changed from cantus to discantus. "Might this be an indication that the work, scored in a high-clef position and therefore to be transposed down, was in fact sung in a higher register in order to do justice to the tenderness of the voices of the little schoolboys?", Christa Maria Richter asks in the liner-notes. She probably makes too much of this. It could well be just an adaptation to a term which was generally used for the upper voice in Freiberg. As far as I know the two words were interchangeable and tell us nothing about the identity of the singers who were to sing those parts. Moreover, transposition was mostly done a prima vista, and not written out.

The least-known name in the programme is Albinius Fabricius, a German composer who after two years in Denmark spent his career in Austria, and became an exponent of the Counter-Reformation. It is telling that this fact was no obstacle to his music being sung in Lutheran Freiberg. The texts of the two motets recorded here are not contradictory to Lutheran convictions. Leonhard Lechner is the only truly Lutheran composer in the programme. His motet Si bona suscepimus is a compilation of passages from the Book of Job. To this he adds the text "fiat voluntas Domini" (The will of the Lord be done) which is repeated a number of times by one of the upper voices as a kind of cantus firmus. In this performance the soprano is supported by a cornett.

That is not indicated in the booklet: the track-list says that this piece is sung by voices alone. All the other pieces are performed by voices and instruments mostly playing colla voce and sometimes replacing some of the voices. This was common practice at the time, depending on the possibilities in a cathedral or at a court. In this case there is a special reason to make use of instruments, and in particular renaissance violins. At the end of the 16th century 30 instruments were placed in the hands of golden angels in the funeral chapel. These have survived virtually unchanged and have been measured and copied. These copies are played by the members of chordae freybergensis which has performed in festivals and at conferences across Europe. They are joined by instruments commonly played in sacred music: one cornett and two sackbuts, plus organ.

The mass is interspersed by motets, which is rather odd: such a procedure only makes sense in case of a liturgical reconstruction. There is nothing like that here. All the pieces are performed with one voice per part. That is certainly a legitimate option but considering the involvement of the boys from the Latin School in the 16th century a larger line-up might have been historically more likely. That said, the performances are very good and singers and players deliver stylish interpretations. The balance between voices and instruments is just right and they also blend beautifully.

This is a most interesting disc which deserves a better booklet. It is riddled with errors: the tracklist spells Philippe de Monte's name consistently as "Pilipp" which is quite embarrassing. The additional text in Lechner's motet mentioned above is omitted from the booklet, and so is the first Osanna from the mass. The title of the first piece is printed as Cantate dominum instead of Domino, and the beginning of the Credo says "Credo in unum Deo" instead of "Deum". I am also puzzled by the subtitle of this disc "Music on the Freiberg Cathedral". Such things don't spoil the enjoyment of the music but gives this production a rather amateurish look. Fortunately there is nothing amateurish about these performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

chordae freybergensis
Albrecht Koch

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