musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Die Zeit nunmehr vorhanden ist - Weihnachtliche Vokalmusik in bedrängter Zeit" (The time now is there - Vocal music for Christmas in troubled times)

Schola Heidelberg; Bodo Primus, reciter
Dir: Walter Nußbaum

rec: May 29 - June 1, 2010, Dilsberg, Katholische Kirche St. Bartholomäus
Christophorus - CHR 77451 (© 2020) (62'43")
Liner-notes: D; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611): Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier a 5; Übers Gebirg Maria geht a 5; Jacob HANDL-GALLUS (1550-1591): Mirabile mysterium a 5; Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Dixit Maria a 4; Hans-Leo HASSLER / Johannes ECCARD: Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinder; Heinrich ISAAC (1450-1517): Puer natus est a 4; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Betrübet sehr a 4; Dixit insipiens a 3; Domine, quid multiplicati a 3; Domini est terra a 3; Salvum me fac, Deus a 3; plainchant: Veni redemptor gentium / Lucas OSIANDER ((1534-1604): Christum wir sollen loben schon a 4; Nun kom der Heyden heyland a 4; Caspar OTHMAYR (1515-1553) / Johann WALTER (1496-1570) / Johannes ECCARD: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her a 2/a 3/a 2/a 5; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571/72-1621): Es ist ein Ros entsprungen; Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern a 2/a 3/a 4/a 5; Andreas RASELIUS (1562-1602): Wahrlich, ich sage euch a 5; Jacob REGNART (?1540-1599): Dies est laetitiae a 4 / Orlandus LASSUS / Caspar OTHMAYR / Hans-Leo HASSLER: Der Tag der ist so freudenreich a 4/a 2/a 4/a 4/a 5; Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1589-1630): Die Zeit nunmehr vorhanden ist a 5

Dorothea Jakob, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, alto; Terry Wey, countertenor; Sebastian Hübner, tenor; Matthias Horn, bass

The Protestant part of Germany has a particularly rich tradition in the field of music for Advent and Christmas. This is largely due to the many hymns that were written by Martin Luther and those who followed in his footsteps, both poets and composers. These hymns were a source of inspiration for composers to arrange them in various ways, from simple harmonizations to large-scale sacred concertos, or to include them in their cantatas and oratorios. These arrangements are often far better-known than the original hymns, which are seldom performed in concerts, and of which often only a few stanzas are known, whereas the most of them - some hymns are pretty long - are never performed, as they are also not included in compositions.

For this programme a number of hymns have been included, which are then performed in different settings. Vom Himmel hoch, one of the best-known hymns, and sung across the world in translations, is performed here in versions by three different composers: Caspar Othmayr (a 2), Johann Walter (a 3) and Johannes Eccard (a 5). These three composers can be ranked among the lesser-known. Although Johann Walter has played a crucial role in the history of the German 'chorale', his name is better known than his music. One of the greatest composers of large-scale sacred concertos based on hymns was Michael Praetorius. His polychoral concertos are pretty often performed and recorded, but his oeuvre also includes more simple and straightforward settings, for instance of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, another hymn of world-wide fame. Four stanzas are performed in settings for two, three, four and five voices.

Some hymns are arrangements of older Latin chants, such as a number of Luther's hymns. A famous example is Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, which is an arrangement of the medieval hymn Veni redemptor gentium. In this programme we get Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich: the first two stanzas are a 15th-century version of a Christmas song from the 14th century Dies est laetitiae. First we hear this Latin text in a setting by Jacob Regnart. This is followed by settings of the German text by Orlandus Lassus, Caspar Othmayr and Hans-Leo Hassler. The settings by Lassus show that the German version is not specifically connected to the Reformation, as Lassus always remained loyal to the Catholic Church. This disc includes some familiar stuff, such as Eccard's motet Übers Gebirg Maria geht and Praetorius's 'evergreen' Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. However, there are also lesser-known items, such as some motets by Lassus, Hassler and Raselius. In the case of Hassler it has to be said that it is a bit of a mystery why so little of his large oeuvre is available on disc and is performed in concerts.

This disc looks quite interesting, and the performances of the five singers of the Schola Heidelberg are excellent. However, I find it hard to really recommend this disc to an international audience. First, the liner-notes are only in German. The German lyrics are not translated, and the Latin texts only into German. Moreover, in between the hymns, the actor Bodo Primus reads texts by the philosopher Enno Rudolph - in German; the booklet does not offer translations of these texts. That makes this disc almost irrelevant for the international market.

I also have to say that I am not enthusiastic about the insertion of those texts. To begin with, I wonder whether anyone who purchases this disc, is willing to listen to these texts each time he plays it. A CD player offers the possibility to skip them, but that needs extra effort. And then I question the relevance of these texts. I am not very happy with their content, but what is more relevant here is that they refer to situations in the world of our time, including the COVID-19-pandemic. If someone plays this disc in five or ten years time, does he know what these texts refer to? This concept seems more suitable for a live performance, where one can react to the state of the world at that time (if one feels the need to do so), than to a disc which has to survive more than a few years.

In short, I feel that the fine efforts of the singers have been wasted for a project that has little relevance, certainly for an international audience, but with time also for the German-speaking world.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Schola Heidelberg

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