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"Christian Flor & Dietrich Becker: 'Musicalische Frühlings-Früchte'"

Musica Poetica
Dir: Jörn Boysen

rec: Oct 18 - 21, 2008, Valthermond (Neth), Onder de Linden
Challenge Classics - CC72332 (© 2009) (61'11"")

anon: Suite No 1 in e minor; Suite No 2 in e minor; Dietrich BECKER (c1623-c1679): Sonata a 3 in G [1]; Sonata & Suite in G [1]; Christian FLOR (1626-1697): Auf, höret meine Sinnen (Hochzeitlicher Freuden-Klang, 1659)a; Dantz-Suite in Gb; Suite I in d minorb; Suite IV in Cb

(Sources: Dietrich Becker, Musicalische Frühlings-Früchte, 1668)

Helen Thomson, sopranoa; John Ma, Prisca Stalmarski, violin; Marja Gaynor, Leticia Moros Ballesteros, viola; María Sánchez Ramírez, cello; Silvia Jiménez Soriano, violone; Jörn Boysen, harpsichord [solo: b]

When the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was over German music life tried to regain its former glory. That didn't happen overnight, but the second half of the 17th century saw a pretty large number of compositions being published. In addition a respectable corpus of music can be found in various manuscripts. This disc presents examples of both: the works by Dietrich Becker come from his collection Musicalische Frühlings-Früchte which was published in Hamburg in 1668 and which gave this disc its title. The anonymous compositions and the works by Christian Flor are both from unpublished manuscripts.

The programme on this disc is interesting for various reasons. Firstly, although Becker and Flor are not unknown quantities - both have been recorded before - they aren't household names either, and most of the music on this disc is recorded here for the first time.
Secondly the music is not what one would expect from composers working in the north of Germany. The composers in this region were mostly influenced by the Italian style - the so-called stylus phantasticus - which was especially translated in the organ music by, among others, Dietrich Buxtehude. They usually mixed this with typical German elements like the use of counterpoint. And if they wrote dance movements these were often leaning towards the English consort music which was introduced in Germany by William Brade. But what we get here are examples of the French style.

Christian Flor, to begin with, 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. Here a manuscript has been preserved which contains a number of harpsichord suites. These are fully French in style, despite the fact that the first two of the three movements of the Suite in d minor have Italian titles: aria and corrente. The concluding movement is called sarabande. All of them are followed by a variatio - stylistically nothing else than a French double.
The Suite in C contains the four classical movements of a French keyboard suite: allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue. Interestingly the suite opens with a praeludium which was often preceding a suite and used to test the instrument and the tuning. It is strongly improvisatory in style and reminiscent of the North-German toccata. Jörn Boysen has used this prelude as an excuse, as it were, to improvise his own prelude at the start of the Suite in G. That is a good idea but I think it is too long: it lasts longer than any of the movements of the suite itself, and that is a bit odd. I also have some reservations in regard to the style of this prelude. This suite is different from the Suite in C in that it begins with a 'ballet' and closes with two minuets. Interestingly the middle movement, which is called 'air Rolandi', is an arrangement of a piece from Lully's opera Roland.

Dietrich Becker was born in Hamburg. He 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 as Kapellmeister of the city, and as a sign of his appreciation he dedicated his collection Musicalische Frühlings-Früchte to the city council.
The disc begins with the Sonata & Suite in G, a combination of Italian and French elements which is remarkable, considering the fact that the mixture of Italian and French elements in German music is a phenomenon of the 18th century. The combination of sonata and suite is characteristic for Becker. The sonata is written in the stylus phantasticus and consists of several short contrasting sections. Here we find the typical mixture of Italian and German elements. But the suite then contains the four dances which were the model of the French keyboard suite as indicated above. In fact, Becker was the first in Germany to write suites in the sequence of allemande-courante-sarabande-gigue.
The Sonata in G - without a suite - is partly French too: the last section is a gigue.

This disc also contains two anonymous suites. They have been preserved in the so-called 'Düben-collection', a manuscript with music from North Germany, compiled by Gustav Düben, a German composer working at the court in Stockholm and friend of Buxtehude. These suites are unashamedly French: the Suite No 1 in e minor begins with an overture in the style of Lully and ends with a chaconne, which was so frequently used by French composers both in operas and in instrumental music. The Suite No 2 in e minor begins with an 'entrée' and the second movement is a 'tombeau'.

As strongly French as the largest part of the music on this disc may be, it is nevertheless also clearly German. There is more counterpoint than in genuine French music, and it is hard to imagine French composers of the 17th century making use of such strong dissonances as we find here in the overture of the anonymous Suite No 1 or the chromaticism of the 'final' from the Suite No 2.

The disc ends with Auf, höret meine Sinnen, a vocal piece which Christian Flor wrote at the occasion of the wedding of his friend Heinrich Elers, pastor of St Johannis in Lüneburg, where Flor was acting as organist. The name of his bride is mentioned in the text: Margret-Katrina Langen, which gave the poet an opportunity to play with the name 'Langen' (long) and the verb "verlangen" (longing). It is exploited by Flor by setting 'Langen' on a particularly long note. This piece is a combination of a song with basso continuo and an instrumental dance suite. Allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue plus a ballo are played as ritornellos between the five stanzas.

On this disc Musica Poetica presents a fascinating and very entertaining programme of first-rate music which shed a light on an aspect of North German music which is too often overlooked. When in 2007 several recordings were released of Dietrich Buxtehude's keyboard music the strong French flavour of his suites was remarkable. This disc shows he wasn't the only composer to be influenced by the French style.

The playing is through and through German, though, and rightly so. There are strong dynamic accents and a clear articulation. The sound is very transparent - which is especially important in the polyphonic sections - and brilliant. Jörn Boysen plays the harpsichord pieces very well, although sometimes I found his tempi a bit too slow.

Like I wrote most pieces on this disc are recorded here for the first time, but that is not the case with Flor's Suite in C. In contrast to what is indicated in the booklet it was recorded previously, by Richard Egarr on a disc with violin sonatas by Paolo Mealli (with Andrew Manze on Channel Classics). Egarr plays three suites (also one in A and one in d minor, different from the Suite in d minor recorded here). In the booklet he writes about suites which probably can be attributed to Flor. It would be interesting to know why in the booklet of this disc there is no reference to any uncertainty about the authorship of Flor at all. Has the authenticity of these suites been established since Egarr made his recording?

Anyway, I strongly recommend this disc and I hope that more of both Flor and Becker will be recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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