musica Dei donum
"Heart & Soul - Devotional music from the German Baroque"
Ryland Angel, altoa;
Matthew Dirst, harpsichordb, organc
Ars Lyrics Houstond
Dir: Matthew Dirst
rec: Feb 2013, Houston, Tex., St Philip Presbyterian Church
Centaur - CRC 3426 (© 2015) (79'32")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703):
Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hättead;
Dietrich BECKER (1623-1679):
Paduana a 5d ;
Suite a 5d ;
Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1692):
Was betrübst du dich, meine Seelead ;
Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707):
Auf meinen Lieben Gott (BuxWV 179)b;
Nun lob mein Seel' den Herren (BuxWV 213)c;
Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657-1714):
Trocknet euch, ihr heißen Zährenad ;
Adam KRIEGER (1634-1666):
Der hat gesiegt, den Gott vergnügtad ;
Der Liebe Macht herrscht Tag und Nachtad ;
Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649-1725):
O Jesu, du mein Lebenad;
Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684):
Sonata X a 5 in Fd ;
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654):
Warumb betrübstu dich mein Hertz (SSWV 106)c 
 Samuel Scheidt, Tabulatura nova continens variationes aliquot psalmorum, fantasiarum, cantilenarum, passamezzo et canones, 1624;
 Christoph Bernhard, Geistlicher Harmonien erster Theil, 1665;
 Adam Krieger, Neue Arien in 6 Zehen eingetheilet, 1667;
 Dietrich Becker, Musicalische Frühlings-Früchte, 1668;
 Johann Rosenmüller, Sonate a 2, 3, 4 è 5 stromenti, da arco & altri, 1682;
 Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde, Zweiter Theil, 1710
Sean Yung-Hsiang Wang, Oleg Sulyga, violin;
James Brown, Burrett Sills, Deborah Dunham, viola da gamba;
Michael Leoold, theorbo;
Matthew Dirst, harpsichord, organ
One of the main questions in regard to German sacred music of the 17th century is where and under what circumstances it was performed. That is not so much a problem as far as large-scale compositions are concerned, for instance the polychoral music by Heinrich Schütz. He was in the service of the court in Dresden and there can be little doubt that such pieces were performed as part of Sunday services or at special occasions. It is much more difficult when we turn to sacred concertos for one or two voices and bc, sometimes with violins and/or viole da gamba. That is not only a matter of scoring but also regards the choice of texts.
In Lutheran Germany the mysticism of the Middle Ages was still very much alive. One of its main representatives was Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) who was held in high esteem by Luther. In Luther's theology the direct relationship between the individual believer and God was a central issue: Lutheranism did away with the role of the priest as mediator between the believer and God. In particular the Vier Bücher vom Wahren Christentum (1606-09) by the Lutheran theologian Johann Arndt (1555-1621) played a crucial role in the spreading of Bernard's mysticism in the world of Lutheranism. He also translated the Rhythmica Oratio into German which provided the text for Buxtehude's famous cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. During the 17th century this aspect of Lutheran thinking was enhanced by the rise of pietism, which was in favour of accommodating the subjective sentiments of fervour, compassion and emotion. The title and subtitle of this disc suggest that this is the kind of music being performed here. That is to say: the vocal music. Obviously the two sets of chorale variations by Scheidt and Buxtehude respectively are written for liturgical use. This, and the fact that some instrumental music is included lends this disc a certain dichotomy. That in itself should not be a reason for criticism, just something to keep in mind.
The disc opens with one of the most famous sacred concertos of the 17th century, Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte, by Johann Christoph Bach. It belongs among the genre of the lamento which was very popular at the time across Europe and could be of a sacred or a secular nature. It is scored for alto, violin, three viole da gamba and bc. The inclusion of parts for viols reflects a widespread practice in Germany: sacred concertos often included parts for viole da gamba and these instruments were considered particularly appropriate for pieces with a mournful text. The opening phrase says it all: "O, if my head held enough water to allow tears to flow from my eyes like streams, then I would lament my sins day and night". Although the text is put together from three books of the Bible, its character points into the direction of private worship rather than a liturgical function.
Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele by Christoph Bernhard is a setting of the opening verses of Psalm 43. It is for alto - Bernhard's own voice type - with an accompaniment of viola da braccio (here played by a violin), viola da gamba and bc. It is from a collection of sacred concertos for two to five voices which suggests that they were - or could be - used in the liturgy. The two sacred songs by Adam Krieger are very different. They are taken from collections of largely secular songs, the genre for which he was best known. But at that time there was no clear watershed between the sacred and the secular. In his liner-notes Matthew Dirst states: "Joy and sorrows are (...) freely mixed in devotional musical works (...), some of which straddle the sacred-secular divide with lyrics that seem both spiritual and earthy in more or less equal parts". Der Liebe Macht has the character of a love song; it addresses a certain Diana and ends with the line: "When you awake tomorrow allow me to be with you". Der hat gesiegt, den Gott vergnügt (He who delights in God has triumphed) is clearly sacred in content. The closing line sums it up: "And when He [God] commands, in good time, and on that joyful day [the Day of Judgment], then He and His Word will raise the faithful from the grave". Both songs are strophic.
Krieger worked most of his life at the court in Dresden but also had close contacts to Leipzig. His namesake Johann Philipp Krieger was not related; he was born in Nuremberg and from 1680 until his death was Kapellmeister at the court of Weissenfels. The largest part of his oeuvre consists of sacred music; he is an important link between the sacred concerto of the 17th and the cantata of the 18th century. In his oeuvre we find cantatas with recitatives and arias, the form which would become the standard in the 18th century. Jesu, du mein Leben is an example of a sacred concerto; it is divided into five sections, the last of which is followed by a repeat of the second. Liturgical use cannot be excluded but as the text has strong pietistic traces it seems more likely that this piece was intended for private worship.
Philipp Heinrich Erlebach was Kapellmeister in Rudolstadt. In 1735 a large part of his oeuvre was destroyed by fire and the quality of the music which has been preserved is such that this has to be considered a terrible shame. Trocknet euch ihr heißen Zähren is from Harmonische Freude musicalischer Freunde, a collection of 50 "moral and political arias" - obviously not intended for liturgical use - which was printed in 1697 for solo voice(s), two violins and bc. It was reprinted in 1710 and that same year a second collection was published with another 25 arias. These are very nice works which show Erlebach's skills in setting a text. This aria comprises three stanzas in ABA structure which are connected through ritornellos of the strings.
The chorale variations by Buxtehude and Scheidt are written for liturgical use. But the former's variations on Auf meinen lieben Gott have the form of a suite which is clearly intended for a strung keyboard, such as the harpsichord - played here - or the clavichord. As the subtitle of this disc is "devotional music" this piece and Scheidt's variations fit better into the programme than Buxtehude's Nun lob mein Seel den Herren. It would have been nice if the text of the chorales had been included in the booklet.
The ensemble plays some instrumental pieces by Rosenmüller and Dietrich Becker. The former is pretty well known, unlike the latter. He was born in Hamburg and was educated as a keyboard player and violinist. After having worked in Ahrenburg, in Sweden and in Celle he moved to Lübeck and then returned to Hamburg where in 1662 he became a member of the Ratsmusik. In 1668 he was appointed Kapellmeister of the city, and as a sign of his appreciation he dedicated his collection Musicalische Frühlings-Früchte to the city council. From this collection the Suite à 5 and the separate Paduana à 5 are taken.
For several reasons I have quite enjoyed this disc. First of all, we have several pieces here which are hardly known, in particular the songs of Adam Krieger and the pieces by Erlebach and Johann Philipp Krieger. Secondly, Ryland Angel has a nice voice and avoids the vibrato which annoys me so often in the performances of some of his more renowned colleagues. Being British his German is not bad at all although it is certainly not idiomatic. Especially words like "werden" give him problems, like many other English-speaking artists. Only in Adam Krieger's Der Liebe Macht I noted clear pronunciation errors. I like his use of his chest register in Bernhard's sacred concerto.
But that leads to one of the issues in regard to performance practice: the pitch. In church music the pitch in 17th-century Germany - and certainly in the northern part - was a=c465 Hz. If Bernhard's concerto was intended for liturgical performance it was probably performed at a higher pitch and the lower notes would have been easier to sing for a falsettist. However, if it was sung in private surroundings the pitch may have been much lower, a=415 Hz or even 392 Hz. Considering that Bernhard himself was an alto the former option seems the most likely. Matthew Dirst plays the basso continuo and the solo pieces on a modern organ which - judging by the disposition printed in the booklet - was built in the style of German baroque organs but its pitch is not mentioned. It is tuned in "Kellner-Bach Temperament"; for the pieces in this programme meantone temperament would have been preferable.
All in all I am a little unsatisfied with this disc, despite my appreciation of several aspects of the performances. Although Ryland Angel's interpretations are certainly not devoid of expression, they sometimes lack the depth that in particular Johann Christoph Bach's lamento requires. The strophic arias have something superficial which seems partly due to his not being really familiar with the German language; a native German speaker would have made more of the songs by Krieger, for instance. Unfortunately the instrumental contributions are also largely unstatisfying: they are a bit bland and dynamically too flat. This music requires a more rhetorical and gestural approach. Dirst gives good performances of the organ pieces but too straightforward. I would have liked a bit more freedom and a more improvisational interpretation. As nice as the organ is it is not comparable with the glorious historical instruments of northern Germany for which the organ works were conceived.
Johan van Veen (© 2016)
Ars Lyrica Houston