musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611/12 - 1675): "Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt"

Gli Scarlattisti
Dir: Jochen Arnold

rec: Feb 19 - 20, 2001b, Sept 25 - 27, 2011a, Gönningen, Peter-und-Paul-Kirche
Carus - 83.377 (© 2013) (50'56")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDTa: Also hat Gott die Welt geliebet [7]; Danket dem Herrn [2]; Der Herr ist mein Hirt [1]; Herzlich lieb hab ich dich [3]; Jauchzet dem Herren [5]; Lobe den Herren, meine Seele [1]; Oster-Dialog [4]; Schmücket das Fest mit Maien [6]; Vom Leiden Christi [6]; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684)b: Dixit Dominus

Sources: [1] Musicalischer Andacht, erster Theil, das ist, Geistliche Concerten, 1639; [2] Musicalischer Andachten, ander Theil, das ist, Geistliche Madrigalien, 1641; [3] Musicalischer Andachten, dritter Theil, das ist, Geistliche Symphonien, 1642; [4] Vierter Theil, Musicalischer Andachten, geistlicher Moteten und Concerten, 1646; [5] Chormusic auff Madrigal Manier: fünffter Theil Musicalischer Andachten, 1652/53; [6] Fest-, Buss- und Danklieder, 1658/59; [7] Fest- und Zeit-Andachten, 1671

[soloists] Iris-Anna Deckerta, Susan Eitricha, Konstanze Fladtab, Katja Schilda, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, altob; Daniel Schreibera, Hans-Joachim Weberb, Andreas Wellerab, tenor; Matthias Begemanna, Jens Hamanna, Dominik Wörnerb, bass

Andreas Hammerschmidt was one of the main composers of religious music in Germany in the mid-17th century. Today he is overshadowed by the towering figure of Heinrich Schütz, whom he greatly admired and who once wrote a laudatory poem for one of Hammerschmidt's publications. It is not known for sure when he was born: either in 1611 or 1612. As a result commemorations of his birth took place in 2011 and 2012; parts of these are various recordings. Gli Scarlattisti have produced two discs of which this is is the second.

Hammerschmidt was born in Brüx in Bohemia, where his family belonged to the Protestant community. During the Thirty Years War Bohemia became Catholic again, and Hammerschmidt's father decided to move to Freiberg in Saxony. Very little is known about his musical education. Some quite important musicians and composers were active in Freiberg during the time Hammerschmidt lived there, like Christoph Demantius and Stephan Otto, but there is no firm evidence that he was their pupil, even though he certainly knew them.

In 1635 Hammerschmidt was appointed organist at the Petrikirche, and in 1639 he moved to Zittau, where he became the organist of the Johanniskirche. It was his last position, and here he composed the largest part of his oeuvre. The position of organist was increasingly important, as he was responsible for composing and performing all church music and directing the soloists from the school choir and the instrumental ensemble of town musicians. In the early years in Zittau, though, Hammerschmidt – like so many of his colleagues in Germany – had to deal with the disastrous effects of the Thirty Years War. His activities as composer and performer not only made him a man of reputation, but also brought him considerable wealth. In the early 1670's he suffered from ill health. He died 1675; his tombstone calls him the Orpheus of Zittau.

The first disc was entirely devoted to music for the Christmas period. The present recording spans the period in the ecclesiastical year from Chistmas to Pentecost. Also hat Gott die Welt geliebet is a piece for Christmastide, Schmücket das Fest mit Maien (Adorn the feast with green branches) is a concerto for Pentecost. In the centre we find a piece for Passiontide: Vom Leiden Christi, a setting of a free poetic text. It is a short description of Jesus' Passion at the cross, interrupted by a repeated phrase: "Turn, o God, to our trouble; Christ, your blood makes all good". The contrasts within the piece are created by juxtaposing passages in various scorings, for two, three or five voices. This work is followed by a dialogue for Easter (Oster-Dialog), in which three sopranos represent the women who have come to Jesus' sepulchre, and two tenors representing angels. The musical figure on "wälzet" (roll away) is one example of many in Hammerschmidt's music where he eloquently illustrates the text. After the dialogue between the women and the angels we hear about the meeting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene; the latter continuously sings "Rabboni" when Jesus is urging her not to touch him and to go to his brethren to report his resurrection. Notable is the chorus in the middle which is repeated at the end, with a text in Latin: "Surrexit Christus hodie" (Today Christ is arisen, a comforter of the whole world, alleluja).

The last piece by Hammerschmidt is Danket dem Herrn, a setting of Psalm 136, in which every statement is followed by the phrase "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever". It is set in a differentiated way, which creates nice contrasts between the verses of this Psalm. It is one of the more extroverted works by Hammerschmidt on this disc. The inclusion of a piece by Johann Rosenmüller underlines that they were quite different in their approach, although they were almost exact contemporaries.

Rosenmüller is well represented on disc, and in all his music the influence of the Italian style shines through. Even before he settled in Venice, where he mainly worked as a sackbut player, he was strongly attracted to the dramatic style which was in vogue in Italy. That comes clearly to the fore in his setting of Dixit Dominus, scored for five solo voices, four-part tutti, two violins, three viole da gamba and bc. The text of this psalm (109/110) includes some very dramatic passages, such as "The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies". Rosenmüller doesn't miss the opportunity to set this part in a quite theatrical way. If you know the setting which Handel would compose much later during his stay in Rome, you will notice strong similarities.

The line-up of the ensemble is a bit different in Rosenmüller from that in the rest of the programme; it was recorded at a much earlier date. His setting of Dixit Dominus comes off best: the dramatic traits of this work are perfectly conveyed. The solo parts are well sung, for instance by Franz Vitzthum (alto) and Dominik Wörner (bass). The difference between the two composers is clearly demonstrated, although I believe that Hammerschmidt should have been performed with more intensity than is often the case here. There can be no doubt about the qualities of Gli Scarlattisti which consist of fine singers and players. The solo passages are all sung by members of the ensemble which guarantees a great amount of stylistic unity. That said, parts of the text could have been singled out more clearly, and the dynamic contrasts are too modest.

All in all, this disc gives a nice survey of Hammerschmidt's oeuvre, although the short playing time is disappointing. On this site you will find reviews of some other recordings of his oeuvre. This composer certainly deserves serious investigation.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Gli Scarlattisti

CD Reviews