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Johann Caspar Kerll: Sacred Works

Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble
Dir.: Arno Paduch

rec: Oct 8 - 10, 2001, Mandelsloh, Ev. Kirche St Osdag
Christophorus - CHR 77249 (© 2002) (75'42")

Admiramini fideles a 2; Ama cor meum a 4 [1]; Angelorum esca a 12; Canzona a 3; Missa In fletu solatium obsidionis Viennensis [2]; Passacaglia in d minor; Sonata a 3; Tota pulchra es Maria a 10; Triumphale sidera a 18

(Sources: [1] Delectus sacrarum cantionum, 1669; [2] Hoc opus, hic labor. Missae sex a IV., V., VI. vocibus, 1689)

Eva Lebherz-Valentin, Annegret Kleindopf (soprano), Ralf Popken (alto), Jörn Lindemann, Nils Giebelhausen (tenor), Martin Backhaus (bass), Anette Sichelschmidt, Christiane Volke (violin), Beatrix Hellhammer, Klaus Bohna, Hella Hartmann (viola), Irmelin Heiseke (viola da gamba, violone), Arno Paduch, François Petit- Laurent (cornett), Sebastian Krause, Steffen Schwartz, Gerd Schulz, Fernando Günther (trombone), Kristina Filthaut (dulcian), Ulrich Wedemeier (chitarrone), Eckhart Kuper (organ)

Johann Kaspar Kerll (1627-1693) is mainly known nowadays for his organ works. But in his own time he was most admired for his sacred vocal works and his instrumental compositions. This CD presents some examples of his output in both categories.
Kerll was born into a Protestant family in Bohemia. He became organist at the court of archduke Leopold Wilhelm in Vienna, which probably led to his conversion to Catholicism. He received lessons from the imperial Hofkapellmeister Giovanni Valentini. He was sent to Rome to study with Carissimi; there he composed his earliest works. In 1656 he became Hofkapellmeister at the court of the Bavarian elector Ferdinand Maria in Munich, where he stayed until 1673. His reputation became such that he received various gratuities and was even given noble rank by emperor Leopold I in 1664. From 1677 on he was organist at the imperial court in Vienna. Kerll has influenced next generations of composers and musicians. Agostino Steffani was one of his pupils. His compositions seem to have been known by the likes of Krieger, Händel and JS Bach. As late as 1764 masses by Kerll were published.

The main composition on this CD is the Missa In fletu solatium obsidionis Viennensis. It was written during the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 which Kerll experienced at first hand. It is a 'missa in angustiis' - as Haydn's Nelson Mass was called -, a mass in troubled times, and it shows. There is frequent use of chromaticism, in particular in the 'Amen' at the end of both the Gloria and Credo. What is quite unique is that here the chromaticism appears in all parts at the same time: it is a jumble of heavy dissonances without any direction. Here Kerll goes further than any composer. In comparison Michelangelo Rossi's famous Toccata VII is a model of modesty. But there are more features of this mass, for example the very expressive "Crucifixus" from the Credo. And we can recognize the rhetorical character of this work from the frequent use of ascending scales, symbolizing the prayers to God - which appear very appropriately especially in the Kyrie - or the sudden general pause after "cuius regni not erit finis" from the Credo.
Kerll seems to have liked chromaticism, since there are chromatic passages in his Passacaglia for organ as well. Some of the instrumental works performed here also have some interesting characteristics: in the Sonata a 3 for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo, there is a long passage for viola da gamba and bc only. The Canzona a 3 contains a virtuoso part for the dulcian.
The sacred concertos are on texts which are not liturgical, but are very personal in their devotion, like Tota pulchra es Maria - in praise of and a prayer to the virgin Mary - or the concertos Admiramini fideles and Angelorum esca, both on the Eucharist.

The performance by the Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble is almost ideal. Both singers and players argue strongly in favour of Kerll's music. Only the bass Martin Backhaus is disappointing: his voice lacks the power to lay the foundation for the vocal ensemble. In the solo pieces the voices blend very well, and there is no lack of virtuosity in the instrumental parts.
This is a most welcome and recommendable recording of fascinating repertoire, which - at least for the largest part - has never been recorded before.

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

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Johann Caspar Kerll

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