musica Dei donum

CD reviews

German Hymns for Advent and Christmas

[I] "Dass sich wunder alle Welt - German Advent Songs"
Miriam Feuersinger, sopranoa; Daniel Schreiber, tenorb
Les Escapades
rec: April 29 - May 1, 2015, Karlsruhe, Katholische Pfarrkirche Herz Jesu
Christophorus - CHR 77387 (© 2015) (72'41")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1620-1684): Lieber Herre Gott, wecke uns aufa
[1st Sunday of Advent] planchant: Ad te levavi animam meam, introitusb; Lukas OSIANDER (1553-1604) / Balthasar RESINARIUS (c1480-1544/46) / Andreas RASELIUS (c1561-1602) / Michael PRAETORIUS (1572-1621) / Johannes ECCARD: Nun komm, der Heiden Heilandab; Johannes ECCARD: Übers Gebirg Maria geht a 5a; Johann SCHOP (c1590-1667): Paduan; Allemande
[2nd Sunday of Advent] plainchant: Populus Sion, introitusb; Michael PRAETORIUS / Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594) / Johann STADLMAYR (1575-1648): Conditor alme siderumab; Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612) / Jacob PRAETORIUS (1586-1651) / Johannes ECCARD / Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinderab & Eustache DU CAURROY (1549-1609): Fantaisies XXXI & XXXII
[3rd Sunday of Advent] plainchant: Gaudete, introitusb; Hans-Jörg KALMBACH (*1951): Es kommt ein Schiff, geladena; Matthias WECKMANN (c1616-1674): Canzon in Gc; Melchior VULPIUS (1570-1615) / Heinrich FINCK (1445-1527) / Michael PRAETORIUS / Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1657): [Komm, Du Heiland aller Welt]; Johann GRABBE (1585-1655): Paduan
[4th Sunday of Advent] plainchant: Rorate, coeli desuper, introitusb; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Ave Maria, gratia plena, tractusab; Ecce virgo concipiet, communionab; Johann GRABBE: Canzone; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Toccata in G (BuxWV 164)c
Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimmea

Sabine Kreutzberger, Adina Scheyhing, Franziska Finckh, Barbara Pfeifer, viola da gamba; with: Evelyn Laib, organ (soloc)

[II] "Euch ist ein Kindlein heut geborn - Luthers Weihnachtslieder"
Ina Siedlaczeka, Veronika Winterb, soprano; Jan Kobow, tenorc
Hamburger Ratsmusik
Dir: Simone Eckert
rec: May 19 - 22, 2015, Ratzeburg, Dom
Carus - 83.390 (© 2015) (64'56")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

Martin AGRICOLA (1486-1556) / anon / Adam GUMPELZHAIMER (1559-1625) / Caspar OTHMAYR (1515-1553) / Georg POLARIUS (16th C) / Michael PRAETORIUS (1572-1621) / Balthasar RESINARIUS (c1480-1544/46) / Johannes STOMIUS (1502-1562) / Johann WALTER (1483-1546): Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christabc
anon: Nun komm der Heiden Heilande
anon / Heinrich FINCK (1444/45-1527) / plainchant / Thomas STOLTZER (1475-1526): Veni redemptor gentiumab
anon / Lucas OSIANDER (1534-1604) / Michael PRAETORIUS / Balthasar RESINARIUS / Johann WALTER: Johannes HARTUNG (1493/94-1554) / Paul LUETKEMAN (c1555-1616)/ MORITZ, Landgrave of Hesse (1572-1632) / Lucas OSIANDER / Michael PRAETORIUS / Balthasar RESINARIUS / Johann WALTER: Nun komm, der Heiden Heilandabc
Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611) / Georg FORSTER (1514-1568) / Adam GUMPELZHAIMER / Hans-Leo HASSLER (1562-1612) / Caspar OTHMAYR/ Michael PRAETORIUS: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich herab
plainchant: O solis ortus cardineb
Michael PRAETORIUS: Bransle double; Vom Himmel kam der Engel Scharab
Esaias REUSNER d.Ä. (bef 1618-bef 1679): Nun komm der Heyden Heylandd; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich herd

Julia Fritz, recorder, cornett; Barbara Homann, Hermann Hicketier, Simone Eckert, viola da gamba; Ulrich Wedemeier, lute (solod), guitar; Michael Fuerst, organ (soloe), regal

If one wants to put together a disc with music for Christmastide there is much to choose from. This not only reflects the popularity of this feast since ancient times, but is also due to the fact that this period in the ecclesiastical year is rather long: four weeks of Advent, the week of Christmas, New Year and the first week of the new year, until the sixth day, known as Epiphany. Obviously some repertoire is performed time and again, like Bach's Christmas Oratorio. But is it perfectly possible to perform less common repertoire. The two discs to be reviewed here seem quite conventional: the hymns which appear in the respective track-lists are well-known. However, their popularity has resulted in a large number of different settings and arrangements, from the 16th century - the time most of them were originally written - until our own time. These discs focus on the 16th and 17th centuries, whereas especially Hamburger Ratsmusik includes much earlier pieces as Martin Luther turned to the tradition of the Christian church for some of his own hymns.

Both programmes are divided into a number of chapters. Les Escapades focuses on the four Sundays of Advent. Every chapter is devoted to one of them and each opens with the introitus for the Sunday in question. They set the tone for the ensuing pieces. The first section opens with Ad te levavi animam meam: "I will lift up my soul to you". It is the sixth verse which inspired the choice of Luther's hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland as both refer to God's son descending to heaven and then returning to his Father. The stanzas are sung in settings by various composers, mostly with voice and instruments; these are separated by settings which are performed instrumentally. This section closes with one of the most famous motets for this time of the year, Übers Gebirg Maria geht by Johannes Eccard, which is about Mary visiting her cousin Elisabeth who is pregnant of John the Baptist.
,br> Populus Sion opens the second section; it is the introitus of the second Sunday of Advent which focuses on the second coming of Christ and the Day of Judgement: "People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations". Conditor alme siderum is a Vesper hymn which goes back to around 1000. As this was not translated and adapted by Luther we hear it only with its original Latin text in settings by Orlandus Lassus. The hymn Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinder (Valentin Thilo Jr., 1607-1662) fits well into this section: "Ye sons of men, oh, hearken: Your heart and mind prepare, To hail the almighty Saviour, O sinners, be your care." The melody is also known as Von Gott will ich nicht lassen and Une jeune fillette in France; the latter was used for instrumental variations by Eustache du Caurroy. This section closes with the only setting from the 18th century, from a cantata by Christoph Graupner. Unfortunately there is no indication as to which cantata it is; the lack of documentation - and the omission of English translations of the lyrics - is a serious shortcoming of this production.

The third section is introduced by the introitus for the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete; it gives this Sunday its name (Sunday Gaudete). It is a setting of verses from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice." Joy is the central issue here; we return to the same hymn as in the first section, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland but now on a different text, Komm Du Heiland aller Welt, a new translation of the Latin original, Veni redemptor gentium by Markus Jenny (1924-2001). It is preceded by a setting of a text which dates from the 14th century, Es kommt ein Schiff, geladen (A ship is coming laden). "The lyrics are typical for the allegory in the Middle Ages as a vital element in the synthesis of biblical and classical traditions. Biblical motifs compare the pregnant Virgin Mary with a loaded entering ship. The ship is set in motion under sail (correspondent to love) and mast (correspondent to the Holy Spirit)" (Wikipedia). The setting is from the pen of Hans-Jörg Kalmbach, a German choral conductor. Stylistically one wouldn't expect this to be from the 20th century and that makes it fit well into this programme.

The last section opens with Rorate, coeli desuper, the introitus of the fourth Sunday of Advent: "Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just." Its text expresses the longing for the Messiah. The pieces by Heinrich Isaac, Ave Maria, gratia plena - the angel's greeting of the Virgin Mary - and Ecce virgo concipiet (Behold, a virgin shall conceive) reflect the fulfilling of that longing. These pieces are a bit out of step with the rest of the programme in that they are considerably older.

Several instrumental pieces are included in the programme which have no immediate connection to the disc's subject. The programme is encompassed by two sacred concertos with a comparable content. Both Johann Rosenmüller's concerto Lieber Herre Gott, wecke uns auf and Franz Tunder's Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme refer to Jesus's parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25); the five wise virgins prepare for the bridegroom's coming. This way these two pieces put the Advent in the perspective of the second coming of Christ.

All the pieces performed here - with the exception of the plainchant - are polyphonic. They are either played or performed in a mixture of voice(s) and instruments. In the renaissance this was a common practice but in music of the 17th century this is not always possible. The performers do a very fine job; the singing and playing is outstanding. However, the balance between voices and instruments is too much in favour of the former. It is not so much a problem in the chorales if the singers who usually sing the chorale melody are a little dominant. It is a problem in the pieces by Isaac; I am not sure whether it is historically plausible to perform these liturgical pieces from Isaac's Choralis Constantinus this way. But if it is the voices should be much more part of the ensemble. I don't known whether the fact that the singers tend to dominate is due to the recording or the result of the playing of Les Escapades. I also find Eccard's motet rather unsatisfying: it is almost turned into a sacred concerto. Another issue is the fact that treble and tenor viols are probably not the most appropriate instruments in Rosenmüller and Tunder.

The second disc is not unlike the first. Here the programme is also divided into five sections, but now according to the five hymns for Christmastide from Martin Luther's pen. Again every hymn is performed in a number of settings, either instrumentally or by one or two voices and instruments. In addition we hear some arrangements for lute and for organ.

The first part is devoted to Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; it opens with the original hymn, Veni redemptor gentium. In this section we find various pieces which are older than Luther's adaptation. This way his hymn is put in a historical perspective which underlines the fact that Luther wanted to link up with tradition. The way the melody is treated is different; some settings are not more than harmonizations with the chorale melody almost unchanged but in other pieces the composer has treated the melody more freely.

Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ is also derived from an old liturgical chant, a so-called leise, "a devotional, Germanic song stanza in the nature of a refrain" (New Grove). The most free treatment of the melody comes here from Michael Praetorius in his bicinium and tricinium settings. Christum wir sollen loben schon is an arrangement of the medieval hymn A solis ortus cardine whose text was written by Caelius Sedulius (died c450). Vom Himmel kam der Engelschar is an original text by Luther and was originally intended as a sequel to Vom Himmel hoch; the melody was taken from the secular song Mit Lust tret ich zu diesem Tanz. Michael Praetorius's setting is the only one included here. I don't know what the reason may have been; I can't imagine this to be the only setting available.

The disc closes with the song I already mentioned, Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her which is in fact a children's song. It was inspired by the secular song Ich kumm auß frembden landen her; the melody is also from Luther's pen and was first published in 1539. The twelve stanzas give many opportunities to perform all sorts of settings and arrangements.

Most settings are for four voices and the cantus firmus is usually in the upper part. It is especially in the older pieces that the melody is in the tenor, for instance in the settings by Baltasar Resinarius and Johann Walter. One of the reasons that in later settings the melody is in the soprano is that these were mostly intended for singing at home and in schools; that made it important, especially from an educational point of view, to make sure that the melody was as clearly noticeable as possible.

The balance between voice(s) and instruments is here better than in the first recording. That is also due to the playing of Hamburger Ratsmusik which produces a stronger and more penetrating sound than Les Escapades. Obviously the inclusion of a recorder and a cornett also makes a difference. Playing and singing are first-class and the performers have found the right approach to this repertoire. There is just one thing I did not like: Veronika Winter sings Veni redemptor gentium - the opening item - as if it was written in the baroque period, with the articulation and dynamic accents one expects in such music. In a medieval hymn like this that is simply wrong. But that is only a very small issue. The documentation is much better than that of the first disc: the booklet includes a list of all the sources with reference to the tracks.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Miriam Feuersinger
Ina Siedlaczek
Hamburger Ratsmusik
Les Escapades

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