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Matthias WECKMANN (1616? - 1674): "Sacred Works"

Himlische Cantorey

rec: June 10-11/17, 2002, Hamburg, Rolf-Liebermann-Studio
CPO - 999 944-2 (© 2003) (67'36")

Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg; Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend; Gegrüßet seist du, Holdselige; Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe; Weine nicht, es hat überwunden der Löwe; Wenn der Herr die Gefangenen zu Zion erlösen wird; Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste; Zion spricht: Der Herr hat mich verlassen

Veronika Winter, Hedwig Voss, soprano; Henning Voss, alto; Jan Kobow, Henning Kaiser, tenor; Ralf Grobe, bass; Elisabeth Schwanda, Katrin Krauß, recorder; Ulla Bundies, Anette Sichelschmidt, Fiona Stevens, violin; Hille Perl, Friederike Heumann, Frauke Hess, viola da gamba; Irmelin Heiseke, viola da gamba, violone; Michael Freimuth, theorbo; Jörg Jacobi, Alexander Weimann, organ

Matthias Weckmann – or Weckman, as his name is spelled in most manuscripts – was one of Germany’s most important composers of the mid-17th century. At a very young age his father brought him to Heinrich Schütz in Dresden, where he became a treble singer. After his voice changed, around 1632, he acted as an organist in the court chapel.
He was sent to Hamburg to study with the organist Jacob Praetorius, and there he also underwent the influence of Heinrich Scheidemann. From 1639 to 1642 he was a member of the chapel of the Dresden elector’s son, Johann Georg. After that he spent four years in the royal chapel in Denmark. After his return to Dresden Weckmann befriended another of Schütz' pupils, Christoph Bernhard, and also Johann Jacob Froberger, whom he met when Froberger visited Dresden.

In 1655 Weckmann was appointed organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg. Soon he became a leading figure in the musical life in the city, where in 1660 he founded a collegium musicum, which performed the newest music from Germany, Austria and Italy.
In 1663 Hamburg was hit by the plague, which killed his colleagues Scheidemann and Selle. On proposal of Weckmann Selle was succeeded by Christoph Bernhard as Kantor of the churches in Hamburg. When Weckmann died Bernhard was in charge of the music during the funeral service.

The number of surviving works by Weckmann is rather small, but of high quality. In his vocal works he stands out as a composer with a strong sense of drama. Through his musical education with Schütz he was well aware of the Italian concertato style, but he also possessed a large number of autographs with the newest Italian music, for example secular cantatas and excerpts from operas by Carissimi and Cesti. In his work he looks for possibilities to create a dialogue. In Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste – a piece on texts from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, written under the impression of the plague in Hamburg in 1663 – the soprano acts as witness of the fall of the city and the bass sings the words of the prophet. In the autograph Weckmann has indicated how it should be performed: “in this piece the discant must not be placed right next to the bass but a little away from him”, which underlines the importance of the dialogue character of this work.

Another concerto is the dialogue of the angel (tenor) and the Virgin Mary (soprano) about the annunciation of Jesus’ birth, Gegrüßet seist du, Holdselige. Both singers have their own accompanying instruments: the soprano has two recorders, the tenor two violins. They also sing in different keys. In the concluding ‘Alleluja’ the instruments merge and the key modulates from a minor (Mary) to F major (the angel).

More evidence of Weckmann’s preference for the theatrical style are the sinfonias, which display harmonic boldness and strong chromaticism. Striking examples of this are the introduction to Zion spricht: der Herr hat mich verlassen and the sinfonias in Weine nicht, es hat überwunden der Löwe. In this work we also find a real battaglia, reflecting the battle of the Lion (Jesus) with Evil. And the concluding ‘Amen’ is a ciacona on the bass of Monteverdi’s madrigal Zefiro torna, which was also used by Schütz in his concerto Es steh Gott auf from the Symphoniae Sacrae of 1647.

Remarkable are Weckmann’s sacred works also for their instrumental parts. Most concertos contain two or three parts for viole da gamba. This reflects the popularity of the English music for viol consort in Northern Germany. Some concertos have violin parts of considerable virtuosity. The Collegium Musicum had a huge reputation far beyond the borders of Hamburg. Weckmann could make use of such virtuosos as Dietrich Becker and Johann Schop, who were also active as composers.

This disc also contains a piece which was recently rediscovered: Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend, which Weckmann composed for the wedding of his friend Jacob Kortkamp, who was organist of the St Nikolai in Kiel and whom he knew from the time he studied with Jacob Praetorius.

Although most pieces have been recorded before, it is good to have a new recording of some of the most exciting works of Weckmann’s oeuvre. The inclusion of some shorter works – probably from relatively early in his career – is a nice addition to the portrait of Weckmann as composer of vocal music.
Therefore I wish I could recommend this recording without any reservation. Unfortunately I can’t. There is certainly a lot to enjoy. The playing of the instrumentalists is brilliant, and they understand the dramatic character of the music. They don’t hide the sometimes very harsh dissonants Weckmann has written down.

But vocally there are some shortcomings. No that there is anything wrong with the voices: they all sound fine, and blend well. The singers are all German, so there is no problem regarding pronunciation and articulation. But there is a general blandness in the singing which undermines the expressiveness of Weckmann’s compositions. This is partly due to the fact that most voices are a little colourless.
What is more serious, though, is that contrasts are insufficiently exploited, like in Wenn der Herr die Gefangnen zu Zion erlösen wird, a setting of Psalm 126. In the last section the antithesis between “Those who sow with tears” and “will reap with joy” doesn’t come across very convincingly. Partly as a result of this somewhat indistinctive approach there is a lack of tension in Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste – there is much more of it in a recording from the 1980s with Maria Zedelius, Michael Schopper and Musica antiqua Köln (Archiv).
This piece also reveals another weakness in the singing: the declamation leaves something to be desired. The key words within phrases should be more emphasized. In this music some passages are approaching the new Italian recitative. These should be more spoken than sung, with more rhythmic flexibility than the singers take here.

I am not saying this is a bad recording. But it is a pity this very expressive music doesn’t quite get the interpretation it deserves.
As far as the booklet is concerned, the liner notes are informative as usual, but the sources of the texts Weckmann has composed should have been given.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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