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Leonhard LECHNER (1553 - 1606): "Mein süße Freud auf Erden - Sacred Choral Music"

Athesinus Consort Berlin
Dir: Klaus-Martin Bresgott

rec: Feb 23 - 26, 2013, Berlin, Christuskirche
Carus - 83.384 (© 2013) (79'40")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ [2]; Christ, der du bist der helle Tag [1]; Christ ist erstanden [1]; Danket dem Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich [4]; Das erst und ander Kapitel des Hohenliedes Salomonis [5]; Deutsche Sprüche von Leben und Tod [5]; Dieweil Gott ist mein Zuversicht [4]; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ [5]; Gott b'hüte dich [3]; Mein süße Freud auf Erden [5]; Nackend bin ich aus meiner Mutter Leib kommen [1]; Nun schein, du Glanz der Herrlichkeit [2]; So wünsch ich ihr ein gute Nacht [1]; Wann wir in höchsten Nöten sein [1]; Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet [4]

[1] Der ander Theyl neuer teutscher Lieder, nach art der welschen Villanellen, 1577; [2] Neue teutsche Lieder, 1582; [3] Neue lustige teutsche Lieder nach art der welschen Canzonen, 1586; [4] Neue geistliche und weltliche teutsche Lieder, 1589; [5] Neue geistliche und weltliche deutsche Gesänge samt 2 lateinischen, 1606 [ms]

Ulrike Barth, Susanne Wilsdorf, soprano; Inge Clerix, Claudia Ehmann, mezzo-soprano; Katharina Padrok, Wiebke Kretschmar, contralto; Stephan M. Gähler, Thomas A. Volle, tenor; Sebastian N. Myrus, Stefan Q. Drexlmeier, bass
Simon Borutzli, recorder; Arno Schneider, organ; Michael Metzler, percussion

German composers who were active around 1600 don't fare that well in today's concert life. Their music is part of the repertoire of German choirs, but seldom makes it to recordings which are available on the international market. It seems that they are largely overshadowed by Lassus, one of the last representatives of the Franco-Flemish school, on the one hand, and by early representatives of the concertato style, such as Schein and Schütz, on the other hand. It is probably due to the upcoming celebrations of 500 years Reformation in 2017 that some of these composers receive the attention they deserve, as some of them were convinced Lutherans. The latter also goes for Leonhard Lechner to whom the present disc is devoted.

Fairly recently I reviewed a disc by the ensemble officium which concentrates on music in Latin. At the end I wrote: "[One] can only hope that more of Lechner's oeuvre will be examined and performed." I didn't have access to the present disc at the time and didn't realize it had been released. It is fortunate that it focusses on another aspect of Lechner's oeuvre: his music on German text. In particular here his Lutheran conviction comes to the fore. The disc's subtitle isn't quite correct: the last items in the programme (Mein süße Freud auf Erden, Gott b'hüte dich and So wünsch ich dir ein gute Nacht) are secular.

Lechner was born in South-Tirol. It seems likely that in his early years he sang as a choirboy in the Munich court chapel under Lassus, who had a strong influence on his development as a composer. From 1575 at the latest onwards he was assistant teacher at St Lorenz school in Nuremberg. He played a key role in the town's music life, which is reflected by the fact that he often wrote music for special occasions. Some of that is included in the recording of the ensemble officium.

Lechner's Lutheran convictions brought him into conflict with Count Eitelfriedrich IV von Hohenzollern-Hechingen who appointed him as Kapellmeister in 1583. The next year Lechner dedicated his Liber missarum to his employer, but as the Count was a vehement supporter of the Counter-Reformation he left his job and found the protection of Duke Ludwig of Württemberg. Here he entered the court chapel, first as a singer, then as assistant to the Hofkapellmeister. In 1595 he was appointed in that position which he held until his death.

His extant oeuvre is not that large, compared to that of some of his more famous contemporaries, such as Lassus and Hassler. His output in the realm of motets and secular songs in the vernacular is especially important as here he combines the influences of Lassus and that of Italian contemporaries. From Lassus he adopted the use of counterpoint, from Italian composers the way they treated the text, especially in the use of madrigalisms. The sacred pieces on this disc show various specimens of Lechner's skills in depicting words and phrases. Some of his compositions have become well-known and have been performed and recorded in the past. That goes especially for his Deutsche Sprüche von Leben und Tod and the secular song Gott b'hüte dich.

His adherence to the Lutheran faith is also exposed in his use of various chorale texts which were written in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation. However, he not always used the melodies which were written to them. This disc includes just one: Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ. Wann wir in höchsten Nöten sein and Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ are written in free polyphony. Even in such cases he often divides the text into various sections. That is the case, for instance, in Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet, a setting of Martin Luther's translation of Psalm 12, which comprises eleven sections, according to the verses. The last section returns to the first verse.

Klaus-Martin Bresgott has found the right approach to the interpretation of these pieces in regard to text expression. There is a clear connection between text and music, but one should not exaggerate by stressing single words or syllables - this is no baroque music. The texts are mostly clearly understandable, and the vocal ensemble produces a beautiful and transparent sound.

This could have been a fine complement to the ensemble officium's disc, but unfortunately Bresgott has damaged this recording by odd liberties, especially in the use of instruments which have nothing to do with Lechner's world, such as a Jew's harp, wind-chimes, koshi and sansula. Their involvement makes no sense at all and greatly damage many of the pieces on this disc, even though they are mostly used between sections of a piece. This has nothing to do with historical performance practice.

Considering the lack of recordings of Lechner's oeuvre and its quality it is very sad that, despite its merits, this disc can't be taken seriously as a worthwhile contribution to the discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Athesinus Consort Berlin

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