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"Lied der Liebe (Song of Love) - The Song of Songs in German Baroque"


rec: Jan 26 - 27, 2009, Sengwarden, St. Georgskirche
Christophorus - CHR 77378 (© 2013) (71'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703): Meine Freundin, du bist schön (Mein Freund ist mein und ich bin sein, Ciacona)a; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (BWV 49) (Mein Mahl ist zubereit', rec)ab; Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1692): Sie haben meinen Herren hinweggenommena [4]; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron (BuxWV 45)b; Ich suchte des Nachts (BuxWV 50)ab; Christian GEIST (1640-1711): Quam pulchra es amica meaab; Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611-1675): Ich schlafe, aber mein Herz wacheta [3]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSBERGER (1580-1651): Ego dormiob [1]; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684): Sinfonia à 5 [5]; Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Paduan Dolorosa à 4 (SSWV 178) [2]; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Nachdem ich lag in meinem öden Bette (SWV 451)ab

Sources: [1] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Libro primo di motetti passeggiati, 1612; [2] Samuel Scheidt, Ludorum musicorum quarta pars [Ludi Musici, IV], 1627; [3] Andreas Hammerschmidt, Musicalischer Andachten, dritter Theil, das ist, Geistliche Symphonien, 1642; [4] Christoph Bernhard, Geistliche Harmonien, 1665; [5] Johann Rosenmüller, Sonate da camera, 1667

Nele Gramß, sopranoa; Harry van der Kamp, bassb; Veronika Skuplik, Judith Steenbrink, violin; Catherine Aglibut, Klaus Bona, viola; Matthias Müller, viola da gamba; Andrea C. Baur, theorbo; Christoph Lehmann, organ

The Song of Songs, one of the books from the Old Testament, has exerted a great attraction on composers during the course of history. In the renaissance and baroque eras texts from this book were frequently set to music. This can be explained from the allegorical interpretation of the church since early times. The poems about the love between a young man and a young woman were considered to represent the love between Christ (the bridegroom) and the Church (the bride). This interpretation was the source of inspiration for Protestant composers in Germany to set texts from this book. Pietism which emerged in the 17th century felt attracted to the intensity of the feelings which are expressed here. Whereas the dissemination of the veneration of Mary since the Middle Ages had resulted in the woman being identified with the Virgin Mary, Pietism considered it an allegory for the soul of the believer.

This disc is devoted to that aspect as most composers were active in the Protestant part of Germany. Almost all compositions are from the 17th century. It was not hard for composers to set these texts in an expressive way. One could even argue that the baroque style, with its focus on affetti, was almost tailor-made for this kind of texts. The performances do them full justice. Nele Gramß and Harry van der Kamp have the ideal voices for this repertoire, and the instrumentalists are very well aware of the expressive qualities of the pieces performed here.

However, I am rather disappointed about this disc. The reasons are partly the choice of repertoire and partly the ensemble's decisions in regard to scoring.

In this programme of 17th-century music the recitative from Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata BWV 49 is a kind of misfit. Moreover, isolating such a fragment from its context is generally unsatisfying. Because of that and the fact that this fragment is so short its impact is rather limited. The same goes for the extract from the wedding cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön by Johann Christoph Bach. Besides, both works are available in various recordings. As there is a large repertoire to choose from it is rather disappointing that these well-known pieces have been selected.

The liner-notes say that the performers have confined themselves to German music. Strictly speaking Giovanni Girolamo (or Johann Hieronymus)Kapsberger can be considered a German composer as he was of German birth. But he was born in Italy and worked there all his life. Stylistically his vocal music is every inch Italian. He was a virtuoso on the theorbo, and the main part of his oeuvre consists of music for his own instrument. However, he also published various collections of vocal music. Very little of that is known, but I have heard better things than Ego dormio. This piece for bass and bc is more about vocal virtuosity, especially in the wide tessitura of the vocal part, than about text expression. In the latter aspect it is rather unimpressive. Harry van der Kamp seems to feel a little uncomfortable here.

Questionable is the scoring of Buxtehude's cantata Ich suchte des Nachts. It is about the girl being unable to sleep and deciding to go out and look for her beloved in town. The fifth section refers to the night watchmen: "The watchmen that go about the town found me. Saw ye him, whom my soul loveth?" Here the music imitates the calling of the night watchmen which is reminiscent of Biber's famous Serenade 'Der Nachtwächter'. Buxtehude requires here a pair of oboes, but these are omitted: their parts are played by the violins. Was it that hard to find some oboists to play these parts? This is most regrettable as the 'special effect' Buxtehude was looking for is lost, and so is the surprise of the entrance of two instruments which otherwise are not involved in this cantata. Equally regrettable is the scoring of the vocal upper part with a soprano rather than a tenor. The liner-notes state that it is interesting that the words of the woman are often given to a male voice. "Perhaps composers wanted to somewhat relativise the erotic overtones of the text". Then why is this fact is ignored in the performance of Buxtehude's cantata?

Most compositions are settings of texts from the Songs of Songs. However, there are also some pieces whose lyrics are not taken from this book but connote them. That goes especially for the poem by Martin Oppitz, which Schütz set: Nachdem ich lag in meinem öden Bette. The inclusion of the sacred concerto Sie haben meinen Herren hinweggenommen by Christoph Bernhard is surprising and highly implausible. It is written for Easter and is a dialogue between the resurrected Jesus and Mary Magdalene. She doesn't recognize him and thinks he is the gardiner. She asks him where Jesus might have been laid down and expresses her intention to take him away. In what way could this dialogue be connected to the subject of this disc? "Jesus and Mary Magdalene - a pair of lovers - and the parallels to the Song of Songs (Chapter 8) are unmistakable", the liner-notes say. One can only see these parallels if one considers the concept of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as lovers to be plausible. However, this is a distortion of the evangelists' accounts of the relationship between Jesus and his followers and not in line with the interpretations in Bernhard's time.

It is a shame that the booklet omits translations of the lyrics, especially because in this repertoire there is such a strong connection between text and music. In addition, the sources of the various pieces should have been given.

To sum up, there is nothing wrong with the musical interpretations - on the contrary. However, I had wished the performers to be more critical in regard to the selection of repertoire and more faithful to the intentions of the composers as far as the scoring is concerned.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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