musica Dei donum

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Johann Philipp FÖRTSCH (1652 - 1732): "Ich freue mich im Herrn - Musica sacra"

Monika Maucha, Barbara Büblb, soprano; Alex Potter, altoc; Hans Jörg Mammel, tenord; Markus Flaig, basse
L'arpa festante
Dir: Rien Voskuilen

rec: Sept 7 - 9, 2009, Zwerenberg, Evangelische Kirche
Carus - 83.363 (© 2011) (69'44")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Ach, dass die Hülfe aus Zionae; Adesto mihi Dominee; Aus der Tiefena; Herr, wer wird wohnenac; Ich freue mich im Herrnab; Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebtcd; Lobet den Herren, alle Heidenad; O adoranda trinitasde; Träufelt, ihr Himmel, von obenac; Veni Creator Spiritus (Hymnus)ae; Verbum caro factum estcde

Christoph Hesse, Michael Gusenbauer, Margarethe Härtl, violin; Freek Borstlap, Gregor Anthony, viola da gamba; Matthias Müller, viola da gamba, violone; Haralt Martens, violone; Ursula Bruckdorfer, dulcian; Johannes Vogt, theorbo; Rien Voskuilen, harpsichord, organ

In 2008 CPO released a disc with sacred concertos by Johann Philipp Förtsch, as part of its series Musica Sacra Hamburgensis. This is largely based on the years he spent in Hamburg. Here he was a member of the Ratschor and also participated in performances of the Oper am Gänsemarkt. This disc contains 11 sacred concertos; as a matter of good fortune it includes only one piece which was also recorded by La Capella Ducale and Musica Fiata (Aus der Tiefen). All the other pieces are recorded here for the first time.

Förtsch is a remarkable character, and the liner-notes to this disc give some additional information which also explains the style of Förtsch's sacred compositions. He was born in Wertheim am Main; his father was the mayor which means that he could enjoy a good education. He studied medicine, law and philosophy in Jena and then in Erfurt. Music was not something he planned to devote his time to on a professional basis. In his Musicalischer Lexikon Johann Gottfried Walther mentioned Johann Philipp Krieger as his teacher in composition, but there is no documentary evidence of this. He must have enjoyed a good musical education; otherwise he wouldn't have acted as a tenor in sacred music and opera in Hamburg. Moreover, in 1680 Duke Christian Albrecht of Holstein-Gottorf appointed him as Kapellmeister in 1680 as successor to the highly reputed Johann Theile. Interestingly he also received another offer, to succeed Samuel Franck as Kantor in Lübeck. In her liner-notes Dorothea Schröder suggests this offer could have made to him at the instigation of Dietrich Buxtehude.

The working conditions at the Gottorf court were not ideal as the Duke was in constant political conflict with Denmark and therefore didn't have much money to attract a large number of musicians. Förtsch himself sang as tenor, he had three or four boys to sing soprano and alto and for the bass parts he could rely on Johann Carl Quellmaltz, the first bass of the Hamburg opera. Moreover there were a violinist, a lutenist and an organist, and two of the five court trumpeters also participated in sacred music. There were also three musicians who could play several instruments. It is likely they were acting mainly as string players as in several of Förtsch's sacred concertos two violins or two or even three viole da gamba are needed.

In 1683 Duke Christian had to flee to Hamburg, and that was the end of Förtsch's activities as Kapellmeister. He turned to medicine again and settled in Husum as a doctor. In the next years he wrote twelve works for the Hamburg opera; none of these has survived. When Christian returned to Gottorf Förtsch was appointed as court physician, whereas the post of Kapellmeister was given to Georg Österreich. After the Duke's death in 1694 Förtsch entered the service of the bishop of Lübeck, August Friedrich, the Duke's brother, and here he not only acted as the bishop's personal physician, but was also entrusted with diplomatic assignments. Until his death Förtsch was active as a doctor and as a counselor of justice.

The rather short period in his life in wich Förtsch devoted his time to music explains the character of his music. One would expect some clear developments in his compositional style considering his life span of 80 years. But all his compositions date from the 1670s and 1680s and reflect the style of Heinrich Schütz. That is the reason he is generally considered a rather conservative composer. The CPO disc reveals that there is another side of Förtsch, though: the largest part of that disc is devoted to sacred concertos with a dialogue character. These are quite dramatic and reflect his involvement in the Hamburg opera. From that perspective the Carus disc is a perfect supplement as here only pieces are performed which meet the orientation towards the style of Schütz.

The large majority of the pieces on this disc are on biblical texts, mostly from the Old Testament, and in particular from the Book of Psalms. Verbum caro factum est is the only text from the New Testament (John 1, vs 14). The other three pieces in Latin are on free texts: Veni creator spiritus (attr to Hrabanus Maurus, 776-856), Adesto mihi Domine (Anselm of Canterbury, c1033-1109) and O adoranda trinitas (Notker Balbulus, c840-912). In all these compositions the text is in the centre, and Förtsch avoids everything that could distract from it. There are not many harmonic surprises, but there are various moments where the text is eloquently translated into music. The role of the instruments is reflecting the practice in northern Germany, in particular the important role of the viola da gamba. In many pieces it has a solo role, and in O adoranda trinitas Förtsch included three gamba parts, which can be explained from the opening line: "O Trinity to be worshipped!". The piece begins with an instrumental introduction of the three gambas. Ach, daß die Hülfe aus Zion and Lobet den Herren, alle Heiden consist of four lines, and here the instruments play a ritornello between the second and third line.

The performance is pretty much ideal: the singers have the perfect voices for this repertoire and their delivery is immaculate. The balance between the voices in the duets and trios is excellent. The instruments deliver colourful and speechlike performances; the main roles are for Christoph Hesse (violin) and Freek Borstlap (viola da gamba). I was quite impressed with the music by Förtsch when I heard the CPO disc. This recording has only enhanced my interest in his oeuvre. More than 80 of his sacred concertos have been preserved. Therefore there is still much to be explored. Hopefully we will hear more from Förtsch in years to come.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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