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Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611/12 - 1675): "Dialoge, Concerte & Madrigale"


rec: Jan 7 - 8, 2011, Sengwarden, St.-Georgskirche
Christophorus - CHR 77344 (© 2011) (65'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

Aria in F [1]; Aria in g minor [2]; Courente in a minor [1]; Gott, es ist mein rechter Ernst [5]; Herr, nun lässt du deinen Diener im Friede fahren [9]; Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen [4]; Komm Nordwind du, o Süd steh auf [6]; Lobe den Herren, meine Seele [5]; Mein Freund ist mein [8]; Nun treten wir ins neue Jahr [5]; O barmherziger Vater [4]; Paduan in E [2]; Paduan in a minor [1]; Sei nun wieder zufrieden [3]; Suite a 5 in G/g (Paduan - Gaillard) [1]; Vulnerasti cor meum [7]; Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh [5]; Wie der güldnen Rosen Zier [6]

Sources: [1] Erster Fleiß allerhand neuer Paduanen, 1636; [2] Ander Theil neuer Paduanen, 1639; [3] Musicalischer Andacht, erster Theil, 1639; [4] Musicalischer Andachten, ander Theil, 1641; [5] Musicalischer Andachten, dritter Theil, 1642; [6] Geistlicher Dialogen ander Theil, 1645; [7] Motettae unius et duarum vocum, 1649; [8] Kirchen- und Tafel-Music, 1662; [9] Fest- und Zeit-Andachten, 1671

Nele Gramß, soprano; Harry van Berne, tenor; Veronika Skuplik, Judith Steenbrink, violin; Catherine Aglibut, Klaus Bona, viola; Matthias Müller, violone; Michael Freimuth, lute, chitarrone; Christoph Lehmann, organ

It is the fate of many composers who were highly respected in their time that they are forgotten in modern times. In many cases they are the victim of some especially famous contemporaries who belong to the canon of modern performance practice. Andreas Hammerschmidt had the bad luck, in a way, to be a contemporary of Heinrich Schütz, who is considered the most important master of the German 17th century. To some extent that was already the case in his own time, but that didn't lead to other composers being ignored.

Hammerschmidt was certainly not overlooked in his time. He was one of the most prestigious composers and died a rich man. The number of his published collections of music and the regularity with which they were printed are an indication of the high esteem in which he was held. His oeuvre is sizeable and consists of mainly vocal music, largely sacred but also including some books with secular songs. His oeuvre reflects the strong influence of Heinrich Schütz, as the music of so many German composers of the mid-17th century. One aspect in which Hammerschmidt is different from his elder colleague is the use of Lutheran hymns which frequently appear in his oeuvre whereas they are largely absent in Schütz' output.

This is not the first disc which is entirely devoted to Hammerschmidt. The Knabenchor Hannover has recorded two discs with mostly larger-scale music, whereas the ensemble Weser-Renaissance also recorded sacred concertos for small scorings. Fortunately there is no overlap between that disc and the present one.

We get here an instructive survey of Hammerschmidt's music from several periods in his career. Obviously the Thirty Years War must have had its effect on his oeuvre just as it had on Schütz's. It is probably telling that before 1648 - when the Peace of Westfalia brought the war to an end - only one collection with large-scale sacred music was printed. More large-scale music followed in the 1650s and 60s. The largest part of the pieces on this disc are from collections which were printed between 1639 and 1645. Four pieces are from a collection of 1642 in which the voices are supported by two violins and bc, the most common instrumental scoring in sacred music. Like Schütz Hammerschmidt mixes the traditional German counterpoint with the modern concertante style from Italy. In 17th-century German music the text is always in the centre, and that is also the case here. Hammerschmidt singles out key words in the text with musical means, such as long notes on "Gnad" (grace) in Lobe den Herren, meine Seele and on "Friede und Ruh" (peace and tranquillity) in Nun treten wir ins neue Jahr.

Another way of emphasizing a part of the text is by repetition. He does so quite effectively in the dialogue Mein Freud ist mein, on a text from the Song of Solomon. In Wie bin ich doch so herzlich froh the line "Komm du schöne Freudenkrone" (Come, o lovely crown of joy) is repeated several times, every time at a higher pitch. This is a feature of Hammerschmidt's style of composing, as I signalled in my review of the recording by Weser-Renaissance. The latter piece is a setting of a stanza from the hymn Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern. The original melody of the hymn is the basis of Hammerschmidt's setting, but he treats it with considerable freedom.

Mein Freund ist mein is written in form of a dialogue, as are so many pieces on texts from the Song of Solomon. Komm, Nordwind du, o Süd steh auf is also a dialogue. The strophic text is - like the next piece, Wie der güldnen Rosen Zier - a setting of a poetic paraphrase of the Song of Solomon by the famous German poet Martin Oppitz who is considered as the 'reformer' of German poetry in the 17th century. The first stanza is sung by the soprano, the second by the tenor, after which the soprano repeats the first. Then the closing stanza is sung by the two voices together. Vulnerasti cor meum is also a setting of a text from the Song of Solomon, this time for solo voice. It is much more in Italian style than the other settings of texts from this book.

At the end of the programme we find several pieces for four, five or six voices and basso continuo. Two parts are sung, the others are performed instrumentally. In particular O barmherziger Vater is a highly expressive piece, with some harmonic pecularities which can be explained from the text: "O thou merciful Father, I, a poor sinner, come to thee with heartfelt repentance". These would probably come ever better to the fore with a strictly vocal performance. It is given a very good interpretation here, though.

And that goes for this whole disc. It isn't that easy to find the right approach to this kind of music, which is a mixture of counterpoint and Italian expression. It is dangerous to do too much, and perform this music in an overly theatrical style which I have signalled in some recordings of music by Schütz. On the whole I think that the interpreters here have found the right way of performing Hammerschmidt's music. Only now and then I probably would have preferred a more extroverted performance, and sometimes a bit more ornamentation, such as in Sei nun wieder zufrieden, meine Seele. Nele Gramß and Harry van Berne have the ideal voices for this repertoire, and their treatment of the text is impeccable. The instrumentalists greatly contribute to the impact of this recording. The vocal items are interspersed by dances from two collections which Hammerschmidt published early in his career. This is fine music and is played very well. For those who would like to hear more of this I refer to a disc by Hespèrion XX (Ars Musici, 1996; recorded 1986) which is entirely devoted to music from these two collections.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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