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Leonhard PAMINGER (1495 - 1567): "Sacred vocal works"


rec: April 20 - 23, 2010, Schwäbisch Hall, Auferstehungskirche im Evang. Diakoniewerk
Christophorus - CHR 77331 (© 2010) (71'39")

Leonhard Paminger: Ad te, Domine, levavi; Agni paschalis; Descendi in hortum meum; Disce crucem; Dixit Dominus; Domine, ne in furore tuo; In exitu Israel de Aegypto; O Trinitas; Pater noster; Sicut lilium inter spinas; Virgo prudentissima; Sigismund Paminger (1539-1571): O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß

Franz Vitzthum, alto; Klaus Wenk, Gerhard Hölzle, tenor; Marcus Schmidl, bass; with David Erler, alto

If you have never heard of Leonhard Paminger you are excused. None of his more than 700 compositions seem to have ever appeared on disc, and probably also ever been performed in a live concert. Until the German ensemble Stimmwerck discovered him, that is. Considering the number of compositions from his pen one wonders why he has been ignored so long. It is mainly the composers of the Franco-Flemish school who is given attention to, and composers who didn't belong to that mainstream have been ignored as a result of that.

In some countries of Europe composers were active during the 15th and 16th century which are yet to be rediscovered. The more vocal ensembles in such countries are founded the better the chances are their oeuvre is explored. Stimmwerck is an ensemble like the Hilliard Ensemble or the Orlando Consort. For a long time such groups seemed to be an English specialty. But nowadays ensembles of the same size and composition come forward from other parts of the world. Germany has several of them, and Stimmwerck is one of the most prolific. It prefers to concentrate on lesser-known composers, and Leonhard Paminger certainly belongs to this category.

After his death his sons - composers themselves - aimed at printing his complete oeuvre in ten volumes. Only four of those have actually been published. His oeuvre is typical for composers in Germany of the 16th century, showing the cohabitation of the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran church, with their respective liturgical characteristics. Both have left their mark in Paminger's oeuvre. This disc concentrates on his motets on Latin texts, but he also has written a large number of pieces which are based on hymns as sung in the Lutheran liturgy. This disc ends with a four-part setting of such a hymn, O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß, by Paminger's son Sigismund, which was added to one of the volumes of pieces by his father.

Paminger was born in Aschbach on the Danube and studied artes liberales in Vienna from 1513 to 1516. It is assumed he may have become acquainted with Ludwig Senfl and Paul Hofhaimer, who were active there at the time. From Vienna he moved to Passau where he would remain the rest of his life. He became a teacher at the Augustinian Choir School of St. Nikola, and was later promoted to head of the school. Paminger became a follower of Martin Luther, and he himself wrote several books on theological issues which were only published in the year of his death. He received a personally signed book from Luther and dedicated two compositions to another reformer, Philippus Melanchthon. He also sent his sons to the University of Wittenberg. Apparently his religious affiliation didn't cause any problems in Passau, but at the end of his life the climate of tolerance changed. This could be the reason Paminger became secretary of the monastery which meant that he didn't teach anymore.

The largest part of Paminger's oeuvre consists of sacred music. As he never had a position as Kapellmeister much of his music is probably first and foremost written for private use. Other pieces can be used in liturgy as well. Paminger may not be counted among the representatives of the Franco-Flemish school, in his oeuvre the influence of Josquin Desprez is noticeable, for instance in the inclusion of passages for reduced forces. He sometimes uses them to single out elements in the text, for instance in Disce crucem, a motet which calls for patience in difficult times. The list of things which can threaten human beings is set for two voices which contrasts with the tutti passages. Text illustration can be found in Descendi in hortum which opens with a descending motif.

In exitu Israel de Aegypto and Agni paschalis are alternatim compositions. In the former the tutti verses are set in the form of faux-bourdon. In Ad te, Domine, levavi - a setting of Psalm 25 - the four voices are joined by a fifth part, the quintus which sings a text from Psalm 4: "Mirificavit Dominus sanctum suum" (The Lord makes his holy place wonderful). In the second section this part must be sung backwards.

Stimmwerck is a vocal quartet which for this recording was extended by a second alto. The five singers deliver splendid performances. The blending of the voices is good but I find the recording a bit too close. If one listens with headphones the focus is too much on the individual voices. Questionable is the performance of the last item, O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß by Sigismund Paminger. Two of the four parts are sung on the text of the hymn, two are sung 'instrumentally' which is rather odd. But that doesn't take anything away from my admiration for the stylish performances of Stimmwerck and my appreciation for their sense of adventure which has resulted in a new name in the catalogue of polyphonic music of the renaissance. I would like to hear more of Paminger, and in particular his settings of Lutheran hymns.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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