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"Habe deine Lust an dem Herren" - Sacred concertos by Johann Rosenmüller and contemporaries

Miriam Feuersinger, soprano
Les Escapades

rec: Oct 16 - 19, 2017, Karlsruhe, Herz-Jesu-Kirche
Christophorus - CHR 77425 (© 2018) (66'51")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Sonata à 6 [3]; Johann Balthasar ERBEN (1626-1686): Ich freue mich im Herrn; Christian FLOR (1626-1697): Es ist gnug; Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690): Sonata V à 4 viole da gamba ò come piace, op. 10,17 [4]; Augustin PFLEGER (c1630-after 1686): O barmherziger Vater; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (c1619-1684): Habe deine Lust an dem Herren [1]; Ist Gott für uns [2]; Wie der Hirsch schreiet nach frischem Wasser; Georg Christoph STRATTNER (c1644-1704): Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen; Nicolaus Adam STRUNGK (1640-1700): Sonata a 6. Viol.

Sources: Johann Rosenmüller, [1] Kern-Sprüche, 1648; [2] Andere Kern-Sprüche, 1652; [3] various, Partiturbuch Ludwig, 1662; [4] Giovanni Legrenzi, La Cetra, Libro quarto di sonate a due, tre e quattro stromenti, op. 10, 1673

Sabine Kreutzberger, Franziska Finckh, Adina Scheyhing, Barbara Pfeifer, viola da gamba with: Cosimo Stawiarski, Christoph Riedo, violin; Simon Linné, theorbo; Evelyn Laib, organ

Johann Rosenmüller is generally considered one of the main German composers between Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach, alongside Dieterich Buxtehude. Whereas the latter until fairly recently was mainly known for his organ music, Rosenmüller has become known for his sacred works and his music for instrumental ensemble. The latter is probably better represented on disc than the former. However, considering the size of his sacred output, it can hardly come as a surprise that the largest part waits to be discovered, performed and recorded. In recent years a number of recordings of his music have been released. That is undoubtedly inspired by the fact that this year his birth is commemorated. That is to say: we don't know exactly when he was born. In New Grove the year of his birth is given as "c1619". In some recordings 1617 is also mentioned as a possibility. Whatever is correct, one does not need a special reason to pay attention to his oeuvre. His sacred music shows the mixture of the Italian style of his time and German contrapuntal tradition.

Johann Rosenmüller was one of Germany's most promising composers in the mid-17th century. His talent was acknowledged by none other than Heinrich Schütz, musicus poeticus and the source of inspiration of generations of German composers. It is telling that in 1653 the city of Leipzig assured him that he was going to be the successor of the ailing Thomaskantor, Tobias Michael. It resulted in his refusing to apply for the position of Kreuzkantor in Dresden. However, his fast rise to fame came to an abrupt halt when he was accused of a paedosexual offence. Before the investigation started he fled to Hamburg and then travelled to Italy where he settled in Venice.

For Rosenmüller that was the place to be. In 1645/46 he had already been in Italy and this had a decisive influence on his development as a composer. In 1648 and 1652/53 he published two collections with sacred concertos, under the title of Kern-Sprüche, and these already show a strong Italian influence. From 1658 onwards he worked in San Marco as a player of the sackbut and for two periods he was active as maestro di coro at the Ospedale della Pietà. He also created a large oeuvre of sacred music but it is not clear whether his compositions were performed at the San Marco or other churches in Venice. As his music was much sought-after in Germany it seems more likely that he composed his sacred oeuvre for courts and chapels in his native country.

Rather than completely focusing on Rosenmüller, the present disc puts him into his historical context by including pieces by other German composers from the second half of the 17th century. The programme impressively demonstrates how many outstanding composers were active at that time, and how much there is still to be discovered. It is telling that all the sacred pieces, with the exception of Christian Flor's Es ist gnug, appear on disc here for the very first time.

What they all have in common is the scoring for a solo voice and an ensemble of four to five strings. Five-part instrumental writing was the standard in the 17th century, not only in Germany, but also in Italy. The difference is that whereas in Italy the ensemble was dominated by violins, German composers liked to give an important role to the lower strings. Pieces for two violins and three viole da gamba, or even for one violin and four viols, were not uncommon. Such scorings regularly appear in sacred concertos but also in instrumental pieces (Strungk, Sonata a 6 Viol.).

I already mentioned Heinrich Schütz. He was generally considered the father of German music, and his influence manifests itself in the oeuvre of many composers of later generations. In the pieces included here that comes to the fore in the way the composers have connected text and music, and how they use musical figures to illustrate particular words or phrases. However, we also note the influence of the modern Italian style, which was something Schütz was not happy with. One of the representatives of that modern trend was his successor in Leipzig, Marco Gioseppe Peranda. Many pieces in the programme include virtuosic coloratura, as was common in Italian opera of the time.

Ich freue mich im Herren by Johann Balthasar Erben is a setting of two verses from Isaiah 61. The opening phrase - "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord" - is illustrated by rising figures, and the word "fröhlich" (joyful) by virtuosic coloratura. But Erben would not be a German composer in the Schütz tradition, had he overlooked the contrast in the phrase "for as the earth bringeth forth her bud": low notes on "the earth" are followed by a rising figure. Georg Christoph Strattner set Psalm 13 in Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen. It is a highly expressive text, and Strattner does not miss the opportunity to depict that in his music. He plays particular attention to the phrase "lest I sleep the sleep of death": the vocal part moves to the lower end of its tessitura, and the tempo almost comes to a standstill.

In Rosenmüller's Habe Lust and dem Herren the voice and the instruments are strongly connected, as the latter mostly imitate the figures in the vocal part. This way the statements of the singer are emphasized. Obviously the composer could not avoid rising figures in the opening episode of Wie der Hirsch schreiet nach frischem Wasser, a setting of verses from Psalm 42. In his setting of verses from chapter 8 of Paul's letter to the Romans, the opening statement - "If God be for us, who can be against us?" - is used as a framework, repeated halfway and at the end of the piece. Christian Flor's Es ist gnug is a remarkable piece. In this performance it takes a little over eight minutes, and about two thirds are spent to the opening words "es ist gnug" (it is enough). Notable is also the frequent use of general pauses, a device used to emphasize the emotion in the text.

It was a good idea to include some instrumental pieces by Italian contemporaries, in order to accentuate the close relationship between the sacred music and the Italian style. The choice of the Sonata V by Giovanni Legrenzi is particularly interesting, as he worked in Venice and it seems not unlikely that he and Rosenmüller knew each other. Whereas the German sacred concertos point in the direction of the sacred cantata of the 18th century, for instance in their exploration of the technical and expressive possibilities of the solo voice, Legrenzi is considered the link between the stylus phantasticus of the 17th century and the sonatas and concertos which developed in Italy around 1700.

Miriam Feuersinger has delighted us with some very fine recordings in recent years, and here she shows again that there are few sopranos at the time who are her equals in the performance of German sacred music. Her treatment of the text is exemplary, and here she also demonstrates the flexibility of her voice in the often demanding coloratura. This disc is another jewel in her crown. The choice of repertoire can only be applauded. Every piece is of excellent quality and every composer represented here deserves to be further investigated. Rosenmüller has been the subject of other recordings, but the other composers are mostly represented in anthologies. Augustin Pfleger seems the only exception, as Weser-Renaissance recorded a programme of sacred cantatas. Les Escapades is a top-class ensemble, and strongly contributes to the impact of this disc with its expressive and differentiated playing.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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Miriam Feuersinger
Les Escapades

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