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"Wenn ich nur Dich hab"

Richard Resch, tenor
Ensemble La Silla

rec: Jan 25 - 29, 2022, Berlin, Kirche Zum heiligen Kreuz
Carpe Diem Records - CD 16330 (© 2022) (73'04")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

?Friedrich Nicolaus BRUHNS (1637-1718) / ?Reinhard KEISER (1674-1739): St Mark Passion (Wein, ach wein jetzt um die Wette); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Herr, wenn ich nur Dich hab (BuxWV 38); Christian FLOR (1626-1697): Es ist gnug; ?Christian FLOR / ?Kaspar FÖRSTER d. J. (1616-1673): Inter brachia Salvatoris mei; Gottfried Philipp FLOR (1682-1723): Redet unter einander; Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764): Ach Absalom; Johann Friedrich MEISTER (c1655-1697): Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht; Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): Ach Herr, lass deine lieben Engelein; An Wasserflüssen Babylon

Sources: Franciska Anna Hajdu, violin; Uwe Ulbrich, violin, viola; Irene Klein, Liam Byrne, viola da gamba; Kit Scotney, violone; Gianluca Geremia, theorbo; Sabine Erdmann, organ

There is no lack of recordings of sacred music from 17th-century Germany, especially its Lutheran part. The size of the repertoire is astonishing, especially if one realizes that a substantial part of what was written, has been lost. Even so, many recordings include the same pieces. That makes the disc that is to be reviewed here, all the more welcome, as it contains several items that are little-known, and even two first recordings. The programme focuses on what was written in the northern part of Germany. This is the region, known for its large organs and its brilliant organists and keyboard works. The composers represent what is known as the North German organ school. One of its features is the so-called stylus phantasticus, which has its origins in Italy. The composers represented in the programme of the present disc translated this style into vocal music. Like their Italian counterparts, they aimed at communicating a piece's content and the Affekte it wanted to express. As a result, the text is always in the centre. Heinrich Schütz was one of the pioneers of the declamatory style in vogue in Italy, which he became acquainted with during a stay there in 1628/29. He later recalled that "during my recent journey to Italy I engaged myself in a singular manner of composition, namely how a comedy of diverse voices can be translated into declamatory style and be brought to the stage and enacted in song - things that to the best of my knowledge ... are still completely unknown in Germany." This resulted in his first collection of Symphoniae Sacrae, which he published while still in Venice.

The present disc shows how this style disseminated in the next decades. Each single piece shows a close connection between text and music. The programme opens with a characteristic specimen of this style. Inter brachia Salvatoris mei is attributed to Christian Flor. He was born in Oldenburg in Holstein (now part of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein) and probably a pupil of Scheidemann or Tunder. His first job was as organist in Rendsburg, and later in Lüneburg. The text is perfectly illustrated in the music. "In the arms of my Saviour, Jesus Christ, I want to live and I want to die". The first line expresses peace and quiet, depicted by a slow tempo in the strings. The first half of the second line is in a vivid tempo, and the second half is slow again. The piece ends with the word "mori" ([I wish to] die); the soprano and the instruments fall silent. There is some doubt about the authenticity of this piece. It may be from the pen of Kaspar Förster the younger. There is no doubt about Flor's authorship of Es ist gnug, one of his best-known compositions. It is an impressive piece with a short text; the first phrase - "It is enough" - is repeated a number of times and is the heart of this concerto. The text is taken from the Old Testament book 1 Kings; the words are from the prophet Isaiah.

Johann Friedrich Meister is a relatively little-known composer, although he has been saved from complete oblivion thanks to a recording of six trio sonatas from his collection Il giardino del piacere of 1695 by Musica antiqua Köln. It was the last commercial recording of this ensemble before its being disbanded. Later the Ensemble Diderot recorded the remaining sonatas. Not that much is known about Meister. It is assumed that he was born around 1638, but that cannot confirmed, and there is also a suggestion that he may have been born in 1655. What is known is that Meister was recruited by the Hanoverian Kapellmeister Nicolaus Adam Strungk in January 1677 as music director of the court chapel of Duke Ferdinand Albrecht I of Brunswick-Lüneburg at Schloss Bevern. In 1683 he became organist of the Marienkirche in Flensburg where he also was responsible for the composition of sacred vocal music. All his compositions in this category have been preserved in the Bokemeyer-Sammlung, one of the major sources of German music from the decades around 1700 which is now in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek. Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht is a setting of Psalm 6, one of the seven penitential psalms. The opening figures express the urgency of the protagonist's longing for forgiveness. The words "Ich bin so müde von Seufzen" - I am so tired from sighing - do really sound tired, due to the slow tempo. It literally drags on. The piece ends abruptly, on the word "plötzlich" (suddenly). This was very much a topos of that time: later Telemann does the same in his setting of this text.

One of the main representatives of the North German organ school was Franz Tunder. In 1632 he studied in Copenhagen, probably with the court Kapellmeister Melchior Borchgrevinck, who was a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli. At the end of that same year Tunder was appointed organist at the court of Duke Friedrich III of Holstein-Gottorf. According to Johann Mattheson, Tunder studied with Girolamo Frescobaldi. There is no firm evidence of that, but the Italian influence in Tunder's oeuvre is unmistakable. Even if he had not been in Italy himself, there were plenty opportunities to become acquainted with what was written there. Tunder has become best known for his organ music, but also for the fact that he initiated the so-called Abendmusiken. These public concerts, probably meant to entertain businessmen awaiting the opening of the stock exchange at noon on Thursdays, started as organ recitals. In the course of time, vocal and instrumental music was added. It was Buxtehude who started to perform large-scale vocal works. An Wasserflüssen Babylon is certainly one of Tunder's best-known vocal works. It is an arrangement of a versified paraphrase of Psalm 137; the text and melody are attributed to Wolfgang Dachstein and were published in 1525 in Strasbourg. Tunder's arrangement, which is full of chromaticism, is scored for soprano and an ensemble of strings with basso continuo. Here the solo part is performed one octave lower, and I can't see any problem with that. Ach Herr, lass deine lieben Engelein has become best-known in Bach's setting, closing his St John Passion. It is the third stanza of the hymn Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (Martin Schalling, 1569). Tunder treats the chorale melody with considerable freedom.

The last great representative of the North German organ school was Dieterich Buxtehude. He has become best-known for his organ music, which is the result of his activities as an organist, for most of his life in Lübeck. Nearly his entire vocal oeuvre has been preserved as part of the so-called Düben-Sammlung. Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab - which gave this disc its title - is a setting of two verses from Psalm 73: "Lord, if I have you alone, I do not care for heaven and earth here". The entire piece, scored for soprano (here tenor), two violins and basso continuo, is based on a basso ostinato. In this case its use may be interpreted as a symbol of the steadiness of the protagonist's trust in God.

With Gottfried Philipp Flor and Johann Mattheson we are in a different time. Flor's cantata Redet unter einander is telling: it comprises two arias and two recitatives and closes with a chorale. Flor was the son of the above-mentioned Christian and worked in Lüneburg and the Duchy of Mecklenburg. Only two cantatas from his pen have been preserved. This cantata, written for New Year's Day, is scored for tenor, two violins and basso continuo. It opens with a dictum, taken from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The second aria has a dacapo. The closing chorale has form of a canon; the tenor sings the chorale melody, the strings deliver the counterpoint. This piece is typical of the time around 1700. The texture of the chorale is reminscent of the closing chorales in, for instance, Johann Ludwig Bach's cantatas.

Johann Mattheson has become best-known as an author of several books. He was also active as a composer in the Hamburg opera, and in his capacity as director of Hamburg Cathedral he wrote a substantial number of oratorios. Ach Absalom is a rather surprising piece: at first sight it seems a through-composed sacred concerto - an old-fashioned form, common in the previous century. However, in fact it consists of two recitativic episodes, embraced by a refrain, which also opens the piece, on the text of David's lament about his son Absalom. The text of the recitatives is not taken from the Bible.

With Friedrich Nicolaus Bruhns we meet a completely unknown quantity. I have never heard any piece by him, and here he is represented with an aria from a St Mark Passion that has always been attributed to Reinhard Keiser, and as such been recorded several times. This explains why listeners may recognize the aria 'Wein, ach wein jetzt um die Wette'. Whether this son of Nicolaus Bruhns is indeed the true composer may be hard to prove. It is known that he directed a performance of this work in 1707 in Hamburg, and therefore it certainly is a possibility. This aria is highly expressive, and dominated by Seufzer.

Although the programme includes some well-known pieces, most of the items are not very familiar to many music lovers and, as mentioned, two are first recordings. That cannot be appreciated enough. For me, one of the first recordings is a highlight of this disc, both with regard to the music and the performance. Meister's concerto Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht is an outstanding specimen of the style of the time: every nuance of the text is effectively translated into the music. In his trio sonatas he showed himself to be a true master, and that is confirmed here. Richard Resch delivers a superb performance, in which every detail is explored. The urgency of the opening statement is perfectly conveyed through an effective use of dynamics, including the messa di voce. And the tiredness halfway is impressively emphasized. The lament of David in Mattheson's piece is another impressive part of this recording. It is an indication of the general level of these performances. I have heard Resch first in a recording of sacred concertos by Nicolaus Bruhns, and I am happy that my positive impressions are confirmed here. Resch is very well aware of the rhetorical nature of this repertoire, and pays utmost attention to the text and the communication of the Affekte. The instrumental ensemble is the perfect partner; the players also show good awareness of the content of each piece, in using its colour palette and its dynamic shading.

I am happy with this recording and I recommend those who are interested in this kind of repertoire, to add this disc to their collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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Richard Resch

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